The people described in this blog are composites of many different clients with whom I have worked. Names and identifying characteristics are fictitious, and any resemblance to a single person is coincidental.

The essence of resilience

Resilience is the holy grail of mental health.  It is the ability to bounce back from life’s inevitable setbacks.  It is the foundation for success and the basis for “I can”.

But what if the essence of resilience lies in the experience of “I can’t’?

What??  “I can” emerges from “I can’t”?  What kind of voodoo is that? you ask.

It is the wonderful magic of the body as it works its wisdom on us, growing us into  larger and more powerful manifestations of who we are most deeply meant to be.

You see, when we are reaching for our biggest life, when we are brave enough to long for something and strive for it, we are always going to bump up against limits to our singlehanded control over the outcome.  Forces other than our will and our effort and our talent and our intelligence and our visualizing will contribute to whether and when and how our dream comes true.

And when that happens, when we are up against those limits to control over outcomes that matter to us, we find ourselves in the place of “I can’t”.  It is the feeling of futility.  This is a very tough place.  We have naturally arising defenses against experiencing the pain of this place.  We are pulled away from the feeling of futility and find ourselves distracted by clever diversions of hyper-control (“of course I can, I just need to make that person do this and the government do that and the weather do the other thing”…  ) or self blame (“I should have been able to make that person do this and the government do that and the weather do the other thing”… ).

But reality being what it is, you can dance the defense dance all you like, but what is, still is.

When you take in the failure of your own efforts to make the thing happen in the way or the timing you want, there is a natural physical experience.  It is a bodily sequence designed to move you to where you need to be.  The first experience is protest.  Protest feels like anger, like a pushing away with your arms, a clenching of fists, a resistance.  It is so important to let yourself feel that all the way through.  Because at the end of that wave of feeling is the next piece of wisdom from the body, and this one is surrender.  Surrender feels like sadness. It is the place of letting go.

Yanbin curved shorelineProtest and surrender need to be fully felt, and that takes more time than you think and more time than you want to spend there.  Spend it there anyway.  Because at the end of the sadness there is a moment where we settle into the truth of what is.  We accept.  There is a stillpoint and as we rest there our hands want to turn upward slightly, as if to say “thy will be done”.

And in this still place an energy gathers, little swirling tendrils at first, then circling stronger like a column up my spine.  I start to sense a forward pull in my chest and I lean into my life again.  In deeply experiencing my “I can’t” I open myself to the empowerment of what I can do.  Sometimes I can do a great deal to tilt the odds in my favour.  And sometimes the best I can do is stay  on my side and not judge or reject myself in my human limitation, and perhaps ask for help, or re-orient myself to a new goal.

The essence of resilience is in the experience of “I can’t”.  Your intelligent body has a way to bring you to the truth so you can come to terms.  You are built to adapt, and your body will take you there.  It is a simple process, but it is not easy.  It is a process of feelings and feelings are vulnerable and we are wired to avoid vulnerability.

Feel your body when you bump into your limits.  Feel the wisdom there.  Stay with you even though it does not feel good.  There is a bigger you about to emerge.  Powerful and resilient.  You are worth it.  And you are wanted.

Photo Credit: YB

Dr. Sandra Parker, copyright 2009 - Dr. Sandra Parker. The stories & quotes in this blog are fictional. Creative commons attribution, non-commercial sharing only.
(translation: feel free to quote me in context or use this entry but please always credit me for my work, thanks.)

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