Resources for Recovering Resilience: Coping: Go High, Go low…Go Big, Go Small

When 9/11 happened, clients came to their regular Tuesday appointments stunned, frightened, shaken. One client had flown from New York City to San Francisco the day before on the same American Airlines flight that was crashed into the World Trade Center the next day; he was shaken to the core.

As I made my way through that disturbing, distressing day, for my own comfort and stabilizing, I called James Baraz, co-founder of Spirit Rock Meditation Center, who was my weekly spiritual mentor at the time. (In 2001, I hadn’t yet written Bouncing Back about resilience, but I was already meditating.)

James suggested that I shift my attention from the news of the hour, when it was helpful, to either a .micro perspective: focusing on the small gratitudes of life – making a cup of tea, listening to the sound of his voice or another friend, noticing the sun streaming into my office. Skillful distraction to give my mind/heart a moment of respite and refuge. Life was going on.

Or shift to the macro view: remembering how many billions of people all over the planet have lived through tragedies where loved ones died, how many time other cultures in other eras have suffered through the impacts of war, earthquakes, starvation.

That day, and for many weeks afterwards, I chose the micro focus. To focus on what was alive and beautiful in that moment, and the next, and the next.

I thought of James’ sage advice last week watching the upset of the election returns. This time, I and many friends chose to take the macro perspective. How many people in how many countries have been upset by this or that election result. How many people have marched and died for the right to vote at all. How many people live in countries or have lived in times when there was never any right to vote or remote hope of voting.

That perspective quickly opened my heart and mind to common humanity – to the courage and perseverance of people everywhere in all times to engage with their larger world, to work/fight/protest/struggle for the safety and freedom of their families, their communities, and for the values and principles that guide our resilience and safeguard our integrity.

The quotes I posted last Monday on Conscience and Integrity – the Bedrock of Resilience put me in touch again with the courage and vision of leaders like Gandhi and Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr., Vaclav Havel, and all the many, many unsung heroes of every age on conscience and wise action.

Talking, emailing, Skyping, visiting with many friends in the last week has also opened my heart and mind more deeply to common humanity and the goodwill to act on behalf of others.

What we need is what the ancient Israelites called hochma – the science of the heart…the capacity to see, to feel, and then to act as if the future depended on you. Believe me, it does.
– Bill Moyers

Whatever path of skillful distraction you choose to take in difficult times:

Micro – the purr of your cat, the dimple in your child’s cheek, the splendor of the harvest moon rising large and orange above the horizon;

Macro (and common humanity) – the many people who staff emergency rooms or re-pave the highways or collect the recycling or hold the hand of a dying parent or build schools in remote jungles or “find the facts” in a Twitter-saturated media or who serve in governments or universities or non-profits or NGO’s;

Know that you are responding to the travails of the human condition in a deeply human way – to show up, to stay engaged, to care about others and receive the caring of others.

I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.
– Edward Everett Hale

The sun came up this morning. Life is going on.