As a New Yorker, I know the dangers of a heavy snowstorm. Sometimes we get feet of snow with drifts that bury cars and sidewalks and collapse rooftops. (I realize this is a stretch to imagine in sweltering July, but trust me, it won’t be long). Yet when a healthy tree limb encounters the storm, it has a good chance of weathering the burden because it is able to bend. It has bowed and swayed with every breeze, every rainstorm, and every scampering squirrel. And with each movement, the branch has become stronger. That’s nature’s way: to accept what comes and keep on growing!
We, too, are resilient by nature–as children show us every day. (Remember the days of, “Anyone got a band-aid for this giant cut? Great. Play on!”) And now, science has proven that resilience–or the ability to overcome and even grow through adversity–is the rule, not the exception, for people of all ages. In a 2004 study by Linley and Joseph, up to 70% of people who had encountered a trauma reported positive psychological growth as a result of the challenging time.
Better still, research suggests that resilience can be practiced and strengthened! Dr. Lucy Hone, thought leader in the field of resilience psychology, understood this idea long before she had to learn it firsthand. She’d been working with hurricane survivors for years when, while on a family trip, her preteen daughter was tragically killed in a car accident. At that juncture, all the textbook advice seemed useless to her. She questioned everything, including her ability to go on living. Yet Dr. Hone did go on–and has since become a renowned author and speaker who has helped thousands of others through life-altering setbacks.
She identified the three most essential steps to greater resiliency:
1) Acknowledge that pain and setbacks are a part of life. To believe otherwise–despite what all those smiles on social media try to convince us–is to deny the truth of our existence. Yet, just as the shadow gives shape to form in nature, so do our challenges bring nuance and meaning to the big picture of our lives.
2) Look for–and accept–the good. It may be the kindness of friends during grief or illness, the new possibilities that open after a job loss, or other blessings for which you can still be grateful.
3) Seek positive thoughts and actions. This is the most important action we can practice every hour of every day. Continually ask yourself: Is what I am doing or thinking NOW good for me? Is it moving me forward… growing me… helping me heal? This is how we maintain a measure of control even when things feel out of control.
Kabbalah teaches that our darkest moments hold an opportunity for great light. That’s not to say that resilience will be snap-your-fingers easy. It takes time. It takes effort. And often, the gifts hiding within or around our challenges do not reveal themselves until much later. Michael and I never could have imagined the blessings to come after our second son, Josh, was diagnosed with Down Syndrome at birth. At the time, I was riddled with sadness and fear for the future (most of all, for his). Yet with each positive step we took in the days, weeks, months, and years that followed, more and more light shone through! Josh has brought more blessings than any of us who know him can count.
You don’t have to wait for a tragedy to practice your ability not only to survive, but to thrive, through life’s trying moments. Whether you experience an annoyance at work, a frustrating traffic jam, a minor health issue, or a more substantial setback, remember that you are not alone. Look for the good around you. Focus your thoughts and actions on healing and growth. Because cursing the driver in front of you won’t part the traffic Moses-style. However, playing that audiobook or listening to my podcast, Spiritually Hungry, might relax you and teach you a thing or two while you wait it out!
Finally, be kind to yourself. Take the time you need. Know that eventually, even the scorched forest will spring back with new life. New trees will grow, and they, too, will learn how to bend and not break–how to face life in all its fullness, come what may.