…, beauty is life when life unveils her holy face.
But you are life and you are the veil.
Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in the mirror.
But you are eternity and you are the mirror.
~ Kahlil Gibran
As December deepens slowly to close the year behind us, most mornings arrive here wrapped in layers of cool, soft wintry sunshine. In front of me today, four dark brown mynah birds stroll around on the freshly mowed lawn, their joyful yellow beaks and feet leading them to hidden treats under the fragrant grass. A few days ago, there was a gentle rain that brought a lush energy to the garden. Behind my bedroom window, the hibiscus plants are flowering again, after being replanted in their new corner. As I notice these signs of life and renewal in nature all around me, I’m just glad to be writing again at the end of a difficult year that’s taught me so much. I’m in a restful phase this month, reflecting on how it is that we build resilience into our lives and what it means.
So many stories I’ve heard this year in the course of my work are a testimony to what I think of as ordinary resilience, though of course there’s nothing remotely ordinary in adversity, trauma, tragedy and pain. In reading and listening to extraordinary stories of resilience – people overcoming all kinds of extreme hardship – I realize their power is to offer us a measure of immense hope in our own lives, not to minimize or dismiss our own stories, which sadly, is often the case. Becoming resilient speaks of your own journey and the quintessential quality you discover about yourself. When you acknowledge this journey as it happened, without putting a positive spin on it, you honor your own life experience.
A profound truth of resilience is that it is a transformational process. As life stretches and strains you to your own limit and beyond, you discover the capacity to hold yourself and learn what it takes for you to hang on to the one thing that matters to you to move through it. This, essentially, is what builds resilience – the quality of your own container. What has meaning for you, what you value, what you care about, what concerns you and what you will stand up for, no matter how bruised you become in the process. Life’s hardest lessons teach us to value our own truths and to value ourselves. This then, is the transformational power of the beauty of resilience. We discover our inherent ability to bounce back, with a sharper, shinier and surer sense of our own dignity and integrity, coming face to face with our deepest essence along the way.
Building resilience is a practice, usually an unconscious one, as your body, mind and soul seek spaces that nurture and nourish you. Every time you lose yourself in music, in quiet time, in self-care and in reflection is when you build resilience. When we consciously practice building resilience, we shape ourselves in a new narrative that grounds us in powerful, sustainable ways. And we get closer to the core essence of who we are. Building in a mindful practice for resilience reminds us to stay connected to what’s important in our lives. Here are some that shaped and supported me this year:
Silence helps us to experience what lies beneath the stories we tell ourselves; this is where you will touch what you know is real for you. Practice silence by switching off from technology, chatter and noise at least once a day. Turn the car radio off during a long drive. Choose to go silent at mealtimes once a week. You’ll find a deeply nourishing silence in solitude and in the dark quiet of the night, so spend time there too, purposefully and often.
Stillness moves us into a timeless sense of depth and awareness. In the midst of hardship and pain, practicing stillness gives us a little break from the world. It helps us to feel ourselves and to return to what matters to us. Practice becoming the eye of your own storm. Begin with a sitting/meditation practice for two, ten, or 30 minutes a day. Or find a spot to stand in, barefoot if possible, in your balcony, garden, terrace or office, and look out at the horizon through a window as you feel your body go still. You can also lie down flat on your back on a floor mat. Notice your breath, heartbeat, temperature and other sensations as they inform you of your present moment. In the stillness, you will learn what your next move needs to be.
Support from those you love will help you to bounce back with grace and strength. Becoming resilient can often be a lonely journey. From my own experience and from those of others I’ve listened to, reaching out can be a huge effort. But when we get up and dust ourselves off, it’s important to lean on a loving shoulder. That’s how we learn to honor our stories, laugh again, listen to another perspective and acknowledge our strength to move forward. Staying connected with the activities you are passionate about – art, music, running, reading, cooking – will also support you during difficult times.
Self-care seems so intuitive in this context and is so rarely what we pay attention to when we’re going through a tough time. It can be as simple as listening to what you need in the moment, like some much-needed rest or a hot cup of tea; and as indulgent as a therapeutic massage or a short holiday. So ask yourself what you need the most and gift it to yourself. When we practice self-care, as I’m learning, it tells us that we value and love ourselves. The gift of self-care is clarity and tenderness.
Spirit is the divine faith – religion, spiritual practice – you turn towards that holds you, keeps you going and gives you the strength to go on. Remember to polish that connection often and well, in any way that is familiar to you. Rituals have the power to soothe and uplift us; they give meaning to our lives when everything around us makes no sense. Lean into this infinite space that you create with a simple ritual – candles, lamps, incense – to invite in the divine; it will remind you of how special you really are.
The beauty of resilience is the storm survivor in the mirror who radiates with a sense of purpose, clarity, strength and joy. Celebrate that journey along with the new year.