Expect the Unexpected…
I will be teaching the exercise below, Expect the Unexpected, in several venues this spring, all of them among the most conducive in the world for nurturing well-being as well as strengthening resilience. You can learn new skills while recovering a great deal of ease and peace of mind:
May 19-24 Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, Stockbridge, MA
June 1, 2019 Insight LA, Santa Monica, CA
June 13-14 Leading Edge Seminars, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Links to videos: Practice What You Preach
June 17-21 Cape Cod Institute, Cape Cod, MA
Try the exercise below yourself to prepare for life’s emergencies before the emergencies arise.
We all accept that no one controls the weather. Good sailors learn to read it carefully and respect its power. They will avoid storms if possible, but when caught in one, they know when to take down the sails, batten down the hatches, drop anchor and ride things out, controlling what is controllable and letting go the rest. Training, practice, and a lot of firsthand experience in all sorts of weather are required to develop such skills so that they work for you when you need them. Developing skill in facing and effectively handling the various “weather conditions” in your life is what we mean by the art of conscious living.
– Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, developer of mindfulness-based stress reduction
Exercise: Expect the Unexpected
You can train for the unexpected so that your skills of resilience are there when you need them. This entails not just making a checklist for what to do but practicing ahead of time. The drill wires the behavior into your neural circuitry and installs the procedural learning of what to do into your body memory. You don’t have to think to remember. You can act quickly, automatically, following the patterns you have installed. You can train the integrative circuits of your intelligences in the same way.
1. Identify one scenario where you might have to act quickly in response to a potential catastrophe. Start small. The car won’t start and you have to drop the kids off at school, meet a client, or pick your sister up at the train station in fifteen minutes. Do you have jumper cables in the trunk? A taxicab phone number stored in your phone? A friendly relationship with a retired neighbor whose car you can borrow? Again, this is not just a checklist. You rehearse the skills ahead of time and prepare your safety nets and resources. Practice using the jumper cables, overcoming any anxiety about that. Look up the cab company number. Rehearse asking your neighbor if you can borrow the car. Once you rehearse the behaviors, you can see yourself doing them when you need to, and you can remember how to act without having to think about it.
2. Identify a more challenging scenario. Say your spouse falls over on a toy left on the stairs. You hear something crack. You rehearse ahead of time your practices to calm your nervous system. You rehearse what you’ll say when you call the ambulance, your neighbor, the network of resources you have cultivated ahead of time. You rehearse remembering your wallet or purse and any ID you need for a trip to the emergency room.
Again, you can’t control everything. If an accident occurs, there will still be much uncertainty, but preparing to the extent that you can becomes part of your resilience.
3. Identify another more difficult situation: a sudden workplace downsizing, a more serious medical emergency, a natural disaster. It’s not morbid; it’s prudent to anticipate what you can, to see yourself acting competently so that you can trust your resilience.
Creating external safety nets of resources — logistical, financial, relational — is part of strengthening your resilience. Preparing a safety net in the brain, in your procedural memory, is just as essential. Rehearsing for the many “weather conditions” of life is skillful resilience building.