When crises arise, some people flourish while others flounder. Here’s how your practice can help you build resilience.
By Sally Kempton (Originally posted here in Yoga Journal)
Gina was one of the golden girls of my circle—charming, smart, and seriously cool. As our other friends rode through their mid-20s on roller coasters of elation and despair, Gina maintained an almost daunting level of emotional perspective. She gave birth to a brain-damaged child and cared for him without losing either her detachment or her sense of humor. She went through cancer surgery with her usual rueful grace.
Then her husband fell in love with another woman, and Gina fell apart. It was as if all the accumulated losses of 20 years had finally caught up with her. She cried for hours. She raged at her husband and at her life. And through it all, her friends kept saying, “But she was always so strong! What happened?”
What happened, of course, was that Gina had hit her edge. She met the place in herself where her strength and flexibility gave out.
Like Gina, most of us will hit that edge sooner or later. It is always a crucial moment, because the choices that we make when we meet our edge help determine our capacity for that vital and mysterious human quality known as resilience.
The very sound of the word resilience captures its bouncy, rubbery quality. Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines it as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change”; psychiatrist Frederick Flach describes it as “the psychological and biological strengths required to successfully master change [emphasis added].”
Resilience lets a writer like Frank McCourt turn the pain of a difficult childhood into a compassionate memoir. It carries a leader like Nelson Mandela through years of prison without letting him lose heart. It shows an injured yogini how to align her body so that her own prana can heal the pinch in her groin. Resilience is essential; without a basic supply of it, none of us would survive the accumulated losses, transitions, and heartbreaks that thread their way through even the most privileged human life.
But there also exists a deep, secret, and subtle kind of resilience that I like to call the skill of stepping beyond your edge. This kind of resilience has less to do with survival than with self-transformation. It’s the combination of attentiveness, insight, and choice that lets some people tune in to the hidden energy lurking within a crisis and use it as a catalyst for spiritual growth. Though psychologists can list the qualities that resilient people have in common—insight, empathy, humor, creativity, flexibility, the ability to calm and focus the mind—this deeper resilience transcends personality traits.