Resilience is a Verb
Resilience became a buzzword in the past few years. At work, companies developed “Employee Resilience Training” and integrated programs to “Build a Resilient Mindset.” At home, self-help articles offer up “10 Tips for Building Resilience in Children and Teens.” In my community of military families, we proudly tout how resilient our children are as they adapt to constant moves, transitions, and new relationships.
But what does resilience really mean, and are we using it correctly?
The word “resilience” derives from the Latin verb resilire, meaning "to jump back" or "to recoil." If you dig a little deeper into the etymology, you learn the base of resilire is salire, a verb meaning "to leap."
Reflecting on that, it stands out to me that resilience is a verb.
“To jump back,” “to recoil,” and “to leap” all have an element of purposeful directionality, a movement toward something.
If I were to reframe those definitions in my own words, I would say something along the lines of resilience is the action of returning to your personal center of balance.
For some context, and of particular importance to me, September happens to be National Recovery Month. As someone in their tenth year of living in active recovery from eating disorders and self-harming behaviors, resilience is at the root of my recovery.
When I think about “jumping back” or “taking a leap” I’m aware of the action-oriented nature of resilience.
When I fully committed to a life of recovery in 2011, it felt a lot like taking a leap, and—over time—to recoiling back into a healthy, trust-based relationship with myself.
But the outcome of a healthier relationship with myself came through the resilience-based actions of choosing recovery over and over again, every day—sometimes hour by hour, and sometimes breath by breath.
Brené Brown developed a concept she calls “Day 2” that speaks directly to this parallel of resilience and recovery. She shares:
“Day 2 is like the second act in a 3-act story. It’s always the toughest. Experience does not give us easy passage through struggle. It only grants us a little grace that whispers, ‘This is a part of the process. Stay the course. Stay the course.’”
Resilience steps in when the newness—or sometimes the shock—of a difficult reality has worn off, but the finish line isn’t even in view. You’re in the thick of it and it’s HARD. You can’t turn around at this point, but you also can’t see where you’re going. There is no way to anticipate the emotional whiplash that’s coming.
This is where the action-oriented practice of resilience comes in.
There are four mindfulness specific practices that can help us engage with resilience and deconstruct the challenges in front of us. We can:
- Name it
- Normalize it
- Put it in perspective
- Check expectations
Through these four resilience-based practices we can begin to regain our footing and gain clarity on where our work resides.
Name it is a relatively modest place to begin. It’s as simple as saying,
“This is stress. Stress is here. I am experiencing stress.”
In this case, the “stress” could be replaced with almost anything: loneliness, fear, frustration, overwhelm, expectation, burnout, etc. The practice of naming is an act of stepping back far enough to see what it is that is present.
Have you ever tried to see the picture in a Magic Eye image? When you are up close everything appears fuzzy and blended together, but as you mindfully pull back, allowing your focus to adjust easefully, the image pops up with an undeniable clarity causing you to think, “How did I not see this before?”
That is often the experience of naming. By naming our experience without judgment, we allow space for acceptance and vulnerability, both at the root of cultivating resilience.
Normalize it is the practice of not taking things too personally and remembering our interconnectivity. It often looks like,
“Stress is normal. Everyone experiences stress. Stress is universal.”
When we normalize our experiences, we remember that challenge and difficulty are part of the human contract and none of us is exempt. As Brené illustrates with her concept of Day 2, the middle is messy; but you can’t skip the middle. What’s more, we must often embrace the point of no return and recognize that the only way out is through.
As we normalize our struggles, we recall our interconnectivity.
I am a proud 12-stepper, a term those of us that incorporate 12-step meetings into our recovery journey often use. There’s a reason open forum sharing circles like those that take place in a 12-step recovery program are long-lasting. It reminds us we’re not alone in our struggle. In those community conversations, we’re able to put things into perspective. We see the universe isn’t out to get us and, in fact, struggle is normal.
Everyone experiences pain. Suffering is universal. And there is inherent strength in the idea that none of us is going through whatever it is we’re going through alone.
Put it in perspective is a chance to be gleefully honest. It often looks like,
“Stress is uncomfortable, messy, and unavoidable.”
No toxic positivity here! The practice of putting our challenges into perspective is an invitation to honor the shadow-side of life without feeling the pressure to sugar-coat it. It is the freedom to say “this is hard” or “this hurts” without the burden of perfection.
In her new book Bittersweet, Susan Cain proposes “that we experience our deepest states of love, happiness, awe, and creativity precisely because life is imperfect, not in spite of that fact.” In other words, resilience is the result of accepting the imperfect.
In recovery circles there’s a common refrain that “recovery isn’t linear.” There is no perfect path to achieving a life of recovery the same way there is no perfect way to love or create or experience happiness. Embracing a perspective that allows us to be honest about the nuance and complexity of being human allows us to access our innate tendency towards resilience. We are stronger when we are honest.
Check expectations is a practice that opens the door to vulnerability and self-compassion. It often looks like,
“I need to be kinder and gentler with myself when I’m experiencing stress.”
When we’re going through something challenging, there is a tendency to be discouraged by—or shutdown following—perceived failure. We often hold ourselves to such high expectations the margin for error is slim to none, leaving little room for the practices of resilience to take hold and shepherd us through difficulty.
If we can check expectations—and perhaps introduce elements of kindness and gentleness—we create space for compassion.
In my own recovery, relapse has been part of the journey. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, "statistics indicate that anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of people with addiction will experience a relapse.” By checking my expectations for a relapse-free recovery against reality, I create a space where I can hold myself with care. I remember resilience often looks like being willing to begin again, as many times as it takes, for the reality of healing and wholeness to take hold.
The four mindfulness practices name it, normalize it, put it in perspective, and check expectations help us engage with action-oriented resilience and deconstruct the challenges in front of us. Through these four resilience-based practices, we begin to regain our footing and become clear on where our work is.
Remember, resilience is a verb.
Take a leap!
Begin to recoil toward your personal center of balance and compassion.
Post by studio BE Content and Curriculum Coordinator and Senior Facilitator Jyothi Behne.
Based on the values of healing, growth, and authenticity, Jyothi is a yoga and mindfulness teacher that approaches every practice through the lens of active recovery. After battling eating disorders and self-harming behaviors for 13 years, Jyothi's discovery of yoga in 2005 saved her life. She is a continual student of the Integral Yoga tradition and has additional certifications in Yin Yoga and Yoga for Recovery - a collaboration of the practice of Yoga with its sister science, Ayurveda. She is also a certified Stress Management and Mindfulness Specialist. She lives with her husband, Bo, their two vibrant and creative children.