Merry Resilience to All!

Back when I worked the disaster trail, what I enjoyed most was watching resilience at play. In spite of neighborhood-flattening hurricanes, mass casualty losses, catastrophic flooding, and other mishaps, the strength of the human spirit was always quick to move in and carry people forward.

Resilience is not always obvious, at times proving quite subtle. And for everyfeather-and-earthone, it resounds in its own way. We each play our own special tune, even if we are not consciously aware of its unique melody.

Recently I’ve been struck by similarities between disaster survivors and emotional reactions to recent election fallout – yes, emotional trauma; fears and frustrations raised. It is all very much as people react to other disasters.

Yet I’m again gratified to see the many ways people move on, becoming better and stronger because of what they endured or continue to endure. For you see, trauma doesn’t just bring pain. It also brings growth. In fact, research finds post-traumatic growth more often among those who say they felt significantly affected than those who say the unfortunate incident was no big deal.

There’s no need to continue on as a traumatized nation. We are better than this, and we know it. Tapping back into connectedness is happening all around us, as we participate as both cheerful givers and receivers.

Does your resilience feel lost in translation? Here are some ways you might begin to relocate it:

  • Rekindle an old friendship with a phone call or letter
  • Start a new creative project, in whatever your medium of passion may be
  • Look for ways to “pay it forward,” even if it is something as simple as holding a door for a stranger, or putting a piece of litter in its proper place
  • Offer a smile, kind word or “hello” to someone who looks down in the dumpsjoy
  • Look into a new interest
  • Join a group focused on doing for and/or giving to others
  • Take a small step toward a simple self-improvement goal, such as taking a walk as a way to get  more exercise
  • Revisit your faith, no matter whether it stems from a higher power, joint spiritual connectedness, or awe and respect for the natural world
  • Help others deal with their fears in ways that are productive, rather than destructive: never underestimate the power of leading by example

The proof of the pudding? Examine your inner self after taking part in any of the above. Sense what is different, whether you experience it as emotional, physical, belief-oriented, or spiritual. That can be your beginning point.

And, a Merry Resilience to all!

Rio de Janeiro: A Lesson in Wholeness

Why did the competitors who finished last in the summer Olympics so often seem rioexhilarated? They dedicated entire lives to excelling at their sport. Winning was their goal. How can they be so happy in the face of defeat?

This year’s presidential election represents another type of training and competing – but not just among candidates. It also drives the hard work and dedication of those who support them, hoping to promote causes dear to their hearts.

This year toxicity achieved an all-time high, human decency and basics of logic at times tossed to the wind, the two even confused with or dismissed as mere “political correctness.” Abandoning our humanity traumatizes. It robs us of respect for self and others alike. It leaves us suffocating in a toxic waste dump of suspicion, hate, and fear.

This particular political juncture will soon end, at least for the current set of candidates. But what about the rest of us? How do we preserve our humanity and wholeness, after being bombarded with such destructive divisiveness?

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Peace Like a River

big benRight now is all we have. That’s it, the sum of our existence.

Yes, we do plan for an expected future–probabilities certainly suggest that time will continue its trek. And we can’t ignore that the past once was. That is where learning occurred, how we each accrued personal encyclopedias of how to be or do in the world. But experiencing peaceful presence in day to day life, and achieving genuine connectedness with fellow human beings–that only happens in the now.

Now is as an ongoing flow, begging us to dip in our feet and appreciate its gentle currents. This is easier said than done in today’s world. Inner peace at times seems so evasive, so often dammed away somewhere upriver, leaving us to stew in our own juices. Judging, blaming, criticizing, uncertainties, fears, self-doubt–all prevent us from achieving the glow and peace of inner presence.

We do not purposely strive to be dysfunctional. If we did, our species would not have saber-toothed tigersurvived. On the contrary, roadblocks to peace are typically protective, standing guard for imminent threat or other forms of crisis. There is value in being constantly on the alert if the hostile tribe next door could attack anytime, or a saber-toothed tiger could be lurking around any corner. But most of us do not live in such a world. The adversities of modern society do not often require constant awareness of them in order to survive. But our neurochemistry does not know that.

Is it a lost cause, then? Are we slaves to the neurochemical dictates of trauma and survival? Continue reading

San Bernardino: Overcoming the Assault on Resilience

This time, tragedy struck in San Bernardino. Since the alleged shooters came forward without any known hint of a violent streak, implications are especially difficult to absorb.

The media bring up the usual debates that follow these incidents: gun control, access to mental health services, how to protect ourselves if we personally facerigidityd something similar. The arguments of both sides eventually fall to the wayside: The inadvisability of adopting extreme positions eventually takes hold, we sensibly agree, and we move on, letting our individual resilience take form.

But wait–what’s wrong with this picture? Isn’t that exactly what terrorists do? Look at the extreme interpretation of a position, then act accordingly? Is that truly logical, adaptive, or resilient? Does this approach place us at the same level of functioning as the terrorists?

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Helping Others Regain Their Footing

“I don’t have time to think about how I feel.” The disheveled woman gestures at tornado-ravaged debris that once had been her home. “Look at everything we’re contending with!” Her family members are aimlessly stumbling, poking at this or that. She spends the rest of her day dabbing away grime from salvaged silver.

How do we help those in such circumstances? This week our hearts go out to those learning about destruction and personal loss due to flooding in South Carolina. Where do their feelings leave them? How do we comfort, and help them move on?

When circumstances are overwhelming, it’s easy to get stuck. There is so much to attend to immediately following disaster. Especially if the damage is personally catastrophic:

  • The entire house is gone, and most of what it held.
  • What about the all that paperwork, the ID that tells the world who I am?
  • Where are my insurance papers?
  • What about my job?South Carolina Floods
  • How do I still get to work?
  • Is my place of employment still up and running?
  • My parents! Did they make it out okay?
  • Are they injured? Do they have their heart medications?
  • Where are they, anyway? Did they find a place to stay?
  • Where will my family and I sleep tonight?
  • How will we get food, or changes of clothing?
  • What do we do about money?
  • What about Suzie’s big test next week—her schoolbooks?
  • Is the school even open?

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When the Ground Beneath Us Vanishes

Disaster is like that. Trauma often is, as well. It’s like the rug being pulled out from under. All that flying carpetseems solid, all that props up our self image, our routines, the view of our world and our place in it, is suddenly no longer there. We are vulnerable, protective coatings somehow stripped away.

How can we go on, in the face of any adverse life event that has left us feeling so exposed? How do we regain a sense of safety, and wholeness?

An adversity’s rightful place on the shelf of our recollections shifts throughout a lifetime. Still, there are ways to coax back a present sense of wholeness and wellbeing, even after disaster. Continue reading

Why Are There Anniversary Reactions?

Another September 11th has come and gone. Remembrances were shared, stories told, honors given. We pick up, we move on.

Yet feelings may linger. Perhaps it is something you can’t exactly put a finger on–some timevague discomfort. Maybe it’s an unidentifiable sense of loss, anxiety, or anger. Whatever it is, it followed a crescendo as the date approached, and now slowly ebbs as time marches beyond.

Why do anniversary reactions happen? Not just on September 11th, but on any date marking an experience of trauma or loss? Continue reading