Experience – Embody – Express

Experience – Embody – Express

As I move into the wise elderhood of my retirement, I realize I am evolving from teaching about resilience through evoking experiences of resilience (which is always how I’ve taught my trainings anyway, for years and years) to transmitting resilience. For me to focus on the Experience-Embody-Express of resilience, or any quality or capacity worth teaching about. (Which is what I will try to do at my last-ever training workshop The Resilience Mindset at the Cape Cod Institute, July 3-7, 2023.)

This focus on experience-embody-express means I tap into the sensations or movement of uplifting energy I can feel in my body when I can access and settle into the trusting of my coping. This can be as simple as REST – relax and enter into safety and trust. It can be the upsurge of “I can do this!” It can be all of my body aligning and coming into place together as I get ready to take action, like getting ready to dive into a pool or dive into a difficult conversation. 

And from that inner steadiness in me, being able to transmit-convey-evoke that bodily-felt sense of trusting the coping to therapists, coaches, teachers, parents, friends that I am engaged with in that moment.

A rush of the neurotransmitter dopamine could provide some of that bodily-felt sense of resilience. Dopamine is the molecule that evokes a sense of pride and satisfaction in any accomplishment and, in fact, helps us anticipate the reward of that accomplishment. Remembering the feeling of previous accomplishments or successes could be part of the resilience mindset – I did something difficult before, I could try to do this new difficult thing now. Experiencing-embodying-expressing that.

The excerpt and exercise below from Bouncing Back is an example of how I can experience-embody-express resilience for myself and then transmit hopefully that to others.

[excerpted from Bouncing Back, chapter 12, Developing Somatic Intelligence

I once hiked with my friend Donn up a steep trail on Mt. Tamalpais near my home, traversing many switchbacks to get us to a grand viewpoint. Belatedly, I realized if we were to take the same switchbacks down the mountain, I would get back to the parking lot too late to pick up my god-daughter at her gymnastics practice. Donn asked if I could bushwhack straight down the mountain. After years of backpacking in the high Sierra, my automatic response was “Sure I can!” and over the steep hillside I went, sure-footed, arriving at the parking lot in less than 15 minutes. 

“Sure I can!” is an important somatic resource of resilience. Researchers have found that the greatest predictor of success — in anything — is a previous track record of success — in anything. In other words, we don’t have to know for sure that we can deal with what we’re facing now because we have dealt well with it before. We recover our resilience when we know that we have dealt successfully with anything before. A sense of “I can!” about bushwhacking down a mountain becomes an inner resource encoded in the body-brain any time we need to bushwhack through anything — getting an aging parent to write a will or tracking the millions of details involved in moving overseas.

Confidence now is a somatic memory of competence then. Interestingly, the research shows that even if we have an inflated notion of our competence then, we can still use that competence for a resource of confidence now. We get through an “uh oh!” by remembering “uh oh!’s” we’ve gotten through before and by evoking the visceral feeling in our body of the “Sure I can!” that came from that success. We may experience that “I can!” as a feeling of groundedness, a trust, a security. Often standing tall, sensing the weight of our body firmly anchoring our feet on the ground and dropping down through the sacrum-hip area in the center of our body, can “ground” in our body this resource of trust and reassurance in our competence and mastery.

Research also shows that, for purposes of somatic resourcing anyway, it’s not so much the size of a previous success that matters as much as the genuine sense of competence or mastery that comes from it. Succeeding at something we accomplished all on our own (painting the living room, repairing a broken lawn mower, helping an athlete feel better about themselves after their mistake cost the team the game) creates a sense of ownership, and encodes it in the neural circuitry, that can be as effective, even more effective at creating confidence and thus resilience, as playing a small part in the project of a larger organizational effort with no sense of ownership of the final outcome. If we’re hammering nails in a Habitat for Humanity building project, it’s the “Sure I can!” from the three walls and a door frame that we built — the sense of competence rather than the sense of accomplishment — that becomes the somatic resource of confidence that we can draw on later when we need to re-build a business or a marriage.

Exercise: [Experiencing-Embodying-Expressing Resilience from] Wiring in Current Confidence from Previous Competence

1. Identify areas of your life where you would like to have more of the feeling of “Sure I can!” Returning to school after 30 years in the workforce; buying into a franchise; facing the empty nest when the last child has moved away.

2. Then identify three moments in your life where you actually had that sense of “I can!” in your body — a visceral sense of confidence arising from a moment of competence. Reflect not so much on what you did to cope, because that will change with circumstances, but how you felt when you realized that you had done it. Remember, we’re talking moments here, not major events: opening a stuck jar lid for your mom, intuiting which way to turn to find the train station in a strange city, intuiting just what to say when your child experienced a disappointment.

3. For now, don’t’ worry at all about the “size” of the success; focus more on the genuineness of the sense of mastery. How does that sense of mastery feels in your body now as you remember it? Take in the good of “I did — I can” as a body-based resource. Better modest and genuine than dramatic but “thin.”

4. Experiment with bringing the visceral sense in your body of “I did- I can” forward to the present moment and applying it in the areas you identified in step 1 where you would like to feel this confidence more often. You’re choosing to bring a sense of trust and mastery forward into a realm where you want to feel it now. Even the slightest success at doing this re-conditions your brain toward resilience.