By Dr. Alexia Georgousis ND
I used to believe resiliency was related to my ability to recover quickly, to be less sensitive and to push through suffering. However, over the years I have come to realize my interpretation couldn’t be further from the truth. Resiliency is an expansive softening – more fluid vs elastic. I believe the experience of stress does change us, it needs to change us and hopefully for the better. We are not rubber bands returning to the same level of elasticity after being stretched. Rather, we are multidimensional beings with a nervous system highly linked to how we live and experience the world. Trying to be like a rubber band is a pathway to collapse because with repeated stretching, the elastic weakens and eventually breaks. There is no flow or value to the experience of being stretched when we act as rubber bands. And this is what happens when we expect ourselves to snap back to our original “shape” after stressful experiences.
Consider resilience as a fluid state where we have the ability to expand from and with the stressors. Suffering, then has the purpose to deepen our awareness and to open our hearts. The idea of expansive softening as resiliency may seem contradictory for some but ironically, when we allow ourselves to expand there is a grounded and powerful clarity that emerges. All because we are not blocked by our inability to feel uncomfortable feelings. Our energy remains centred even in the midst of chaos.
This intricate relationship between resiliency and expansiveness was reaffirmed for me when I had the privilege of meeting Cynthia Bourgeault PhD an Episcopal priest, teacher and conference leader. Here’s what she said about resilience:
” Resilience does not mean you don’t feel – you just trust in the pain now.”
Trust in the pain? Yes, that’s exactly right. When we turn and face our discomfort and lean into the experience with compassionate curiosity, we step through the portal to expansiveness. The key is to focus on a felt sense rather than the story. Letting go of needing to be right, wanting an apology, needing whomever or whatever to be different, dissolves the energy of clinging and grasping. In that moment, we no longer resist our experience. We have freed ourselves and can meet the painful feeling with courageous authenticity. We become more whole and our perspective shifts – all because we let our uncomfortable feelings be part of our experience. Feeling whole immediately increases our capacity to be compassionate for ourselves and others. We are now standing in the foundation of grounded awareness, we respond versus react. From here, our bodies have the felt sense of being a mountain rooted in the earth’s crust – stable and strong, while our minds become as open as a vast sky. We recognize ourselves in each other – there is no separation.
How to develop resilience? Here are a few ideas: First, let go of any belief of expecting yourself to bounce back or be unchanged from a stressful experience and instead, see resilience as an opportunity to expand. Secondly, begin a regular awareness/spiritual practice even if its something as simple as taking three conscious breaths. Dr. Bourgeault equates any type of practice to be like river banks where feelings can flow. Such a beautifully poetic way to communicate the real purpose of any awareness practice. It connects us to our life force and prevents energy blockages. Thirdly, try meeting any uncomfortable feeling without interpretation. Notice the feeling and name it. Be curious about it. Make the conscious choice to simply let the feeling be there without the story. After all, it is simply a feeling. Do this for as long as what is comfortable for you – it may be only a few seconds to start. Most importantly, remember to be compassionate with yourself, as this is a lifelong practice. Gradually, over time you will likely experience a felt sense of opening – this is resilient expansion. Body like a mountain, mind like the sky.