[I’m coming to the end of an extended period of teaching/traveling, away more weekends than home since last spring. As I reflect on what I’ve learned about how to be resilient on the road, I’ve come up with 7 elements that are standard equipment to maintain some equanimity when the unexpected becomes the norm and I can’t figure out how to get from A to B or where the clever designers hid how to flush the toilet. This post is intended to be useful in any situation when familiar anchors of people, places and routines fade away and new coping mechanisms are called for.]
1. Wiser Self
Never make your home in a place. Make a home for yourself inside your own head. You’ll find what you need to furnish it – memory, friends you can trust, love of learning, and other such things. That way it will go with you wherever you journey.
– Tad Williams
I’ve cultivated a practice of calling upon my Wiser Self whenever I’m embarking on some new, unfamiliar project or place. My inner sense of my own best, strongest, wisest, most caring, most generous self. That “I” can call upon for wisdom and strength when I’m not sure my own self is up to the situation. When I’m at a loss, I listen for the intuitive wisdom of my Wiser Self to guide me, to suggest, to hint, at what the right path might be. Deepening trust in that wisdom over time.
2. Circle of Support
We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us there is something valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.
I certainly travel with a pack of friends supporting me in my imagination or from my memory. I may be traveling by myself, but I very seldom feel alone. I feel connected to people I know hold me in their heart and have my back. And I don’t just evoke this circle of support for an emergency; I feel buoyed in a steady way by evoking this circle of support on a daily basis. (Players may evolve over time or change to fit a given situation, but the process is steady and reliable.)
3. Asking for Help
At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by the spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.
– Albert Schweitzer
I’ve learned to stop assuming I can figure things out on my own or that I have to figure things out on my own. I’ve learned to stop a real person in real time and ask for directions whenever I’m the least bit unsure, and so very often the kindness of strangers buoys my spirit as much as the actual practical advice.
There was one evening when I was already tired from carrying a heavy backpack and pulling some heavy luggage too far already, and when faced with 8 different trams coming in four different directions, I could not for the life of me figure out where to wait for the tram that would take me to my hotel. I simply asked someone in line for a tram that I knew wasn’t the right one how to find the right one and, the empathic resonance of common humanity across cultures and languages, she chose to miss her own tram and take ten minutes to walk me to mine. That moment of kindness from a stranger, as well as the practical help, is a resource of resilience for me to this day.
4. Gratitude for the Adventure
Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.
– Helen Keller
Life is an adventure; I’m often in awe of the precious privilege to be walking around, having new experiences, at all. So I try to approach the newest unknown with a sense of appreciation for the privilege and the possibilities, savoring the wonder that anything is even happening at all, grateful to get out of bed in the morning and give it my best shot to be present, to engage, to experience, to savor being alive.
5. Dealing with disappointments and mistakes
Yes, risk-taking is inherently failure prone. Otherwise it would be called sure-thing taking.
– Tim McMahon
I do practice self-compassion, quite often. I find it does bring me out of the initial contraction of the “oh shit” circuit when I realize I’ve forgotten something essential for the next thing to happen, or I’ve mis-judged, made the wrong call. Then I try to practice the neuroscience writer Jonah Lehrer’s advice, “Turn every regrettable into a teachable moment.” Approach the error as an AFGO, “another frickin’ growth opportunity.” As long as I can learn something from what went ker-flooey, I feel like I’ve redeemed myself, and I can pick myself up and go on.
6. Shit happens. Shift happens, too
Success is not final; failure is not fatal. Success is moving from one failure to another without loss of enthusiasm. It is the courage to continue that counts.
– Winston Churchill
Yes, there are days when one wrong call cascades into another and discouragement starts to take over. Then I have to move beyond learning a lesson, finding the gift in the mistake, and very pro-actively shift my entire attitude or perspective about the situation. Even if I can’t find the lesson right away, knowing that I’m trying really hard to find the lesson helps me persevere until I do.
How long should you try? Until.
– Jim Rohn
I know to take a break, switch the channel, take a walk or imagine what I’ll do when this particular storm has passed, but I also know to use the replenishment of that break to come back and try again…until. That resilience becomes self-reinforcing, and I can begin the entire process again, from the beginning, as many times as is needed.
[I’m still teaching this fall/winter, but more locally. Please join me if you can; pass the word on if you can:
Insight L.A., Santa Monica, CA
November 14, 2015
Shift Happens: Learning to Bounce Back from Disappointments, Difficulties, Even isaster
Esalen Institute, Big Sur, CA
December 11-13, 2015
Bouncing Back: The Neuroscience of Resilience and Well-Being
Spirit Rock Meditation Center, Woodacre, CA
January 17, 2015
Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Resilience and Well-Being