I’ve watched some emerge stronger from harrowing ordeals, while others crumble from comparatively minor setbacks. This made me wonder what it is that makes some resilient while others remain fragile? Sometimes it’s the final straw that makes us appear weak when we crumble from a seemingly petty incident, while others have no insight into how many straws we carried on our backs up to that point. Yet at other times it is something that surprises even us when we find ourselves bewildered by the ferocity of a trial that strikes from a quarter from which we least expected.
Seeing something coming a mile off, or not expecting much from someone that eventually disappoints us has little impact to our composure. It takes a lot more of those anticipated occurrences to wear us down, as opposed to a single blow from someone we trust deeply. Our apparent resilience is therefore not something that is fixed or easily predictable, but rather it is relative to what we hold dear, or what we’re willing to do without. That suggests that what we tolerate is a deeply personal choice, some of which we’re aware of consciously, but most of which is shaped quite unconsciously throughout our lives.
Importantly though, we can’t assume that everyone is, or should be equally resilient, or that our tolerance to bear burdens or trials is equal. It’s not. We define our tolerance levels long before we reach it, and it is that tolerance level that often defines our resilience. On the other hand, our capacity to deal with troubling life events is largely the same. What we allow to consume that capacity versus what we let go of is what determines our resilience. Those choices are not so easy to make. Most often, that elusive state of mindfulness ensures that in the absence of mindfulness, we barely realise that we’re making such huge choices to begin with.
I always picture it as a wheel barrow that we push through life. As we go along, we pack in our troubles. As those troubles pass, we offload them from that wheel barrow and make space for new growth events. Sometimes we even allocate specific areas in the wheel barrow for different types of life events. When that specific area starts filling up, we grow anxious because it threatens to take up spaces that we set aside for other important life events. And in that way, challenges in one part of our life ends up threatening experiences in other parts of our lives. In such circumstances, we may find we lose patience in one area, like work, while we’re completely composed in another area, like a relationship with a significant other. When we don’t create those unique spaces, we find that one area of our life will more easily contaminate the quality of a totally and often unrelated other area of our life. Add to this the fact that many of us don’t ever offload those events because the events themselves have grown to define the state of our being, and you quickly see how easily it is that we sabotage our ability to carry our burdens through life in that little wheel barrow we were each given. That’s when that wheel barrow fills up until it either gives in under all that weight, or we lack the strength to push it any further. That is what determines our capacity to deal with new experiences. The more we hold on to the past, the less capacity we have to embrace the present. The less capacity we have, the lower our resilience to deal with what comes our way.
Before we can choose what we hold on to versus what we let go of, we need to know what we want. Sometimes we know what we want, but we don’t articulate it well enough to ourselves, so we go chasing after something we don’t really want, and then find ourselves devastated when we acquire it only to find that it is not what we were looking for to begin with. It sounds cryptic, but no more cryptic than how many of us live our lives.
Our ability to face adversity, smile, maintain our composure and move on is determined long before that adversity strikes. It is determined in those moments when we hold on to a bad memory and promise ourselves never to forgive or forget, or it is determined by those moments when we shrug, smile, accept what we could not change, and move on with the knowledge we gained from the experience.
Very simplistically, I see resilience as a sense of conviction driven from a deeply held desire to serve a greater purpose, which outweighs our need to exact retribution for a past event. But that begs the question at to what is purpose? Purpose must be greater than a selfish benefit. It has to benefit others as well. If it only benefits us, it’s not true purpose, it is more likely convenience or indulgence. Purpose becomes important for resilience because it is all that stands between us and the distractions that prevent us from reaching our goals. In fact, if your goal is not aligned with a specific purpose, it is more likely to have a fleeting effect on your happiness, rather than a lasting one. Goals without purpose tend to be instant gratification. Instant gratification doesn’t require conviction. It merely requires a short term satisfaction of a fleeting need. Such needs are usually instinctive and spontaneous, and feed an emotional state, not necessarily a spiritual one.
The expense associated with resilience is therefore the resolve we need to establish to let go of that which no longer serves our greater purpose. We choose those greater purposes that we wish to serve based on what we believe we are most capable of influencing as a beneficial outcome to those around us. The lower our self esteem, the less likely we are to be convinced of our ability to contribute in this regard. But before you feel pity for the one with the self esteem deficit, consider what it is that they are choosing to keep in their wheel barrows, as opposed to showing gratitude for the opportunities they have, and the growth they experienced?
Resilience is not cheap because it demands a level of conviction in who we are before anyone else is willing to invest in us. It demands that we recognise our abilities and take accountability for our contributions towards our lives, rather than pretending to be victims of circumstance or fate. Resilience dictates that we take charge, that we lead, that we own our space before it gets owned by others. When we give in and assume that life happens regardless of our input, or that we need saving before we feel significant, it confirms that we’re ungrateful for what we have. It also confirms that we choose not to learn from our mistakes nor accept accountability for our contributions to what weighs us down. When we get into that state, that victim mentality, we become a burden to others, a major deficit to society, and we test the resilience of those that have to pick up the slack because they see the value beyond the trials we placed in their paths instead of stopping and questioning why it is that they need to deal with what the fickle and ungrateful refuse to own.
Resilience is not cheap because anything in short supply is expensive to attain. The demand for resilience on those that live with conviction increases disproportionately with every wimp that cowers in the face of adversity.
[An incomplete thought process]