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  • Writer's pictureSuzanne Sky

Dimensions of Resilience

Resilience is a quality inherent in all living beings. Without it there would be no growth, adaptation, or change. You could say that resilience is the life force itself — that quality of being that heals, grows, and lives on through all the joys, challenges, wounds, stress, storms, and dramas of life. Resilience is the essence of our being, our inner spirit. According to ancient Chinese cosmology and medicine, our inner spirit and consciousness both reside within our heart. 

"If the spirit is at peace, 

The heart is in harmony.

When the heart is in harmony,

The body is whole."

~ Liu Zhou, 6th century philosopher

Last year, I was super inspired by an adventurer by the name of Nick Ray who chronicled  his year-long journey kayaking around the coast of Scotland from his island home in Tobermory, Scotland and back again. Each day he posted a photo or short video about his meetings with otters, seals, birds, and the many generous humans who cheer him along the way. He also shared many quiet moments with videos of exploring caves in this kayak, or just the sounds of waves lapping against his kayak.

For the last 27 or so days, before his homecoming, Nick posted a thought each day that expressed how his journey impacted him. It read like a list of the qualities of resilience. He named compassion and acceptance for the challenges he faced: fear in kayaking solo; sadness, risk, discomfort, and his journey of recovery from depression. He expressed how he connected his capacity for joy, simplicity, and the ability to enjoy solitude. And he named other essential qualities of resilience like mindfulness, playfulness, connection, creativity, and curiosity among others. I followed his account because his spirit shines bright. He struggles with depression and shares his heart and journey openly, in the hopes it will inspire others. (you can follow him now on Threads)

You could also call these qualities of resilience resources — we draw on our internal resources, and sometimes surprise ourself, when faced with challenges. Resilience doesn’t mean our struggles disappear. As so many mystics say, it’s within our struggle, our wound,  that we find our healing, our wholeness. 

Tending our Heart

Throughout our life journey, we may lose connection with, rediscover, reconnect with,  and nourish our inner spirit, which is at the heart of our resilience. The Chinese medical classic, The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Chinese Medicine (Huang Di Nei Jing) advises us to "first tend the spirit" in all things. 

This scorched tree really spoke to me. The blackened burnt out tree, maybe struck by lightning or burned by fire, seemed so gutted. She's weathered so many storms but here she stands, strong and abundant; flourishing with green leaves, offering beauty and shade. Telling her story for all who can hear. She really struck an inner chord in me every time I walked by her on my long walks  years ago when I was recouping from a very difficult relationship and breakup.  I felt totally gutted and burned out. My Chinese medicine mentors were insisting I take at least one whole year off because they said I was seriously depleted and they were concerned to say the least. I felt it.  But I couldn’t afford to stop working; not only financially but spiritually my work was such a part of me and allowed me to focus my energy and vision. I knew from experience that having something creative to focus on, like my work, would ultimately support my growth and healing. Along with a lot of inner work and as much rest as possible. The essence of the tree was still whole and growing. And so it was for me; I just needed time to heal in my own way. That tree was a great teacher to me. Of course there were also close friends, my heart cat Cedar, long walks, time in the forest and by the ocean, healing Chinese herbs, lots of rest, meditation, counseling with a good therapist, and much more. These are all dimensions of resilience essential for our well-being and life's journey.

Reflection: How can I tend my heart and renew my spirit?

  • Taking time for introspection: reflection and contemplation. Journaling is found to….

  • Regular spiritual practice that is meaningful for you. Prayer, meditation, chanting. 

  • Engage your imagination. What lights you up? Write about how you envision this next phase of your life. What would you like to create? 

  • Play! Play is one of the greatest healers. Play connects us with our inner child and with others. 

It is play that facilitates growth and therefore health.

~ D.W. Winnicott, psychoanalyst

Resilience is Hardwired

Resilience is hardwired into our physiology and neurobiology. It drives the allostatic mechanisms of our  physiology from the cellular level to the systems level  which constantly adjust our internal functions to maintain homeostasis and health. 

Resilience is built into our nervous system, brain networks,  and the very fabric of our soma and psyche. It allows us to both maintain stability in the midst of ongoing change and to change ourselves, our minds, and our life choices in the midst of ongoing change. 

Reflection: How can I tend my self-care?

  • Getting outside in nature to breathe fresh air, listen to birds, the sound of the wind rustling through trees, waves breaking on the beach and tuning into the silence underneath that allows you to reconnect with your inner self.

  • Tending to our self-care with healthy foods, lifestyle, movement, boundaries, fresh air.

  • Tending and creating a relationship with the earth, this planet, through gardening, learning about native plants, herbal medicine or getting involved with things like climate change issues, recycling, water quality, saving old growth forests. 

Nourishing Relationships Enhances Resilience

Resilience grows in the soil of our relationships. We all know that relationships can be both challenging and nourishing. And we know from experience how close, supportive relationships enhance our resilience and sense of belonging.    

Neurobiology highlights the role of the affiliative brain network and the oxytocin system with our capacity to create and sustain relationships. These are closely allied with the capacity for empathy, caregiving, neural plasticity (the ability to change), and emotional regulation among many other functions and interactions. 

In Buddhist and other traditions, the give and take of relationships is what gives our life meaning; particularly as we extend our compassion and kindness in offering acts of kindness and service to each other.

Reflection: How can I both give and receive caring support when I’m experiencing stress?

  • Reaching out to appropriate people when needed - friends, family, work people

  • Getting professional help when needed

Resilience is a maturation process

Our resilience is supported and nourished as a result of knowing who we are, what is essential for our well-being, along with having a sense of  purpose and meaningfulness. We discover our internal rhythms, our internal resources, 

Resilience can also be viewed as a maturation process. Throughout our life, our work is to engage in an ongoing process of developing healthy habits, a positive approach to life, and an ongoing commitment to self-care that fosters  inner work and growth. 

In other words, as we mature spiritually and move into a heart-centered awareness, we move away from the child-like focus on self. As we become rooted in Spirit, in the Heart, then we are able to extend our loving kindness to others. Then, as St. Francis said, our focus becomes first to seek to understand others, rather than to be understood.

Reflection: How can I cultivate my inner growth?

  • Cultivating habits, lifestyle, and routines that nourish and support you on all levels: physical, mental/emotional, spiritual, and in relationships. 

  • In order to grow we need to take action and make changes. Set new boundaries. Start a new hobby that brings you delight. Step out of your comfort zone to learn a new skill or meet new people. Engaging change, taking action — even one small step — changes your perspective more quickly and profoundly than just thinking about it. 

We are living in transformative times where we are being called to create new ways of being and living rooted in spirit. To move from head-centered, back-brain reactive mode to a heart-centered, whole being, response-able mode of being totally present to all that is here right now. Resilience is not about bouncing back; there’s no way through except forward with our whole heart and being.

Resilience is multidimensional with many facets to explore throughout our  life.. Keep connected with your own heart,  with your close, supportive network of friends and family. Keep working on your creative vision, make time for restorative rest, and enjoy ample time in nature and plenty of good play. Resilience is also something we create and nourish every day. As a friend always says "Keep your heart green and growing!"

from my heart to yours,



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