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From Barely a Wobble to a Real Wallop

From Barely a Wobble to a Real Wallop

I teach and write about resilience as the underlying capacities that allow us to meet any level of disruption to our safety and well-being, from barely a wobble to the serious sorrows and struggles that break our hearts, to the trauma of “too much.”

The ongoing wildfires in northern and southern California illustrate the need for resilience at all of those levels.  My friends in San Francisco and the East Bay were relatively unaffected last week; power stayed on and, with high winds, the air stayed reasonably clear. North of San Francisco where I live we experienced power outages for 2-4 days, no heat, no lights, no hot water, no refrigeration, no internet, wearing face masks, smelling the smoke from even farther north.  Farther north and in southern California, thousands of people were evacuated from their homes as the fires consumed thousands of acres, many lost their homes to the blazes.  The iconic levels of disruption: barely a wobble, serious struggles and heartaches, the trauma of “too much.”

(I’ll be teaching how to cope skillfully with all three levels of disruption in the Resilience and Post-Traumatic Growth retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, December 14-15, 2019.)

Having to cope at various levels of safety-risk-danger reminds me of a time, long ago, when I was hiking/biking for two weeks in the Canadian Rockies. 

All of these examples of safety-risk-danger happened in far more positive circumstances, for sure. At the youth hostel in the morning, a woman asked me at breakfast where my husband was. (???) I was traveling alone that trip, and her astonishment/anxiety was palpable, that I, a single woman, would travel alone in the wilderness.  I had backpacked solo in the Sierra Nevada mountains for a decade at that point. Well, that was barely a wobble for me.

Riskier was arriving at the trailhead later that day to read a sign that warned hikers: “A fisherman was killed by a bear on the shores of this lake two weeks ago.  Hike at your own risk.  Well, that did give me pause, but from years of experience encountering bear, moose, coyotes, etc. on trails, I decided I could chance it.

As I reached the end of the trail at the headwaters of the river I had been hiking along, I met a group of six people who had just skied down the glacier whose meltwater fed the river.  Whoa!  That seemed completely insane to me, though they clearly had just had one of the great adventures of their lives.

We all assess safety-risk-danger all the time. And based on the learning from our previous experiences, we will come to different decisions from other people, even different decisions at different points in our lives.  (I probably would not hike that bear-warned trail these days; priorities have shifted.)

We cultivate our skills of resilience to be able to meet any level of safety-risk-danger at any given moment, and those levels shift moment by moment.   

If I had a formula for bypassing trouble, I would not pass it round. Trouble creates a capacity to handle it.  I don’t embrace trouble; that’s as bad as treating it as an enemy.  But I do say meet it as a friend, for you’ll see a lot of it and had better be on speaking terms with it.

– Oliver Wendell Holmes

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