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Resilience in the Face of the Really Big Disasters

Resilience in the Face of the Really Big Disasters

I teach that resilience is foundational – that we can strengthen our capacities to meet ANY level of distress or disaster, recover our baseline, and move forward with courageous and compassionate action. That may seem unrealistically optimistic in the face of the death of a loved one or a diagnosis of kidney failure, yet it is profoundly true.

All the world is full of suffering; it is also full of overcoming.

– Helen Keller

[And we know that Helen Keller was struck deaf and blind by illness at 19 months of age, learned language and engagement with the world through her governess Anne Sullivan, and become a world-revered author of 12 books, a political activist campaigning for women’s suffrage, labor rights, and birth control, lecturing around the world and becoming close friends with Alexander Graham Bell and Mark Twain.]

I also teach that we strengthen our resilience “little and often,” small practices repeated many times.  That can seem woefully inadequate in the face of today’s global challenges like the increase in natural disasters from global climate change, more frequent terrorist attacks on schools, churches, mosques, synagogues, more frequent threats of political instability and global financial downturns and recessions.

Man performs and engenders so much more than he can or should have to bear. That’s how he finds that he can bear anything.

– William Faulkner

And yet…

Yesterday I participated in a daylong on No Time to Lose: A Dharma Response to Climate Change; 400 people fully acknowledging the catastrophic impact of climate change, yet finding inspiration in knowing even the smallest efforts in community can have big impact when done with diligence and faith.

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching to mend the part that is within our reach.

– Clarissa Pinkola-Estes

It doesn’t have to be organizing a beach clean-up day or installing solar panels to reverse climate change, though those are excellent choices. It could be volunteering in programs to feed the homeless, as my neighbors Bob and Barb do, or tutoring immigrant children in reading, writing, and art, as my friend Gail does; or calling Alzheimer’s patients to remind them of doctor’s appointments, as my friend Kathryn does. Or taking kids with disabilities on kayaking trips, as my friend Sean does. Of supporting equine therapy programs for veterans with PTSD, as another friend Steven does.

It can be anything.

As environmental activist Joanna Macy and author of Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re In without Going Crazy has said many times,

You don’t need to do everything. Do what calls your heart; effective action comes from love. It is unstoppable, and it is enough.

To strengthen capacities of resilience in the face of the big disasters, practice showing up for those disasters even in small ways, with intention, courage, and perseverance.

In the spirit of:

I long to accomplish great and noble tasks, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as thought they were great and noble.  The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.

– Helen Keller

We learn that we can cope with disaster, we can change the world, one shove at a time.

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