In this piece, I want to talk about the power of resilience- an incredible power and quality that all of us possess. Sometimes, we don’t know we have it until we’re put to the test. I come from a long line of resilient women and have written about their incredible struggles and triumphs:
One of the best pieces on resilience came to me via a two-minute video someone sent me called:
4 life lessons from Auschwitz survivor Dr. Edith Eger
Watch the video before reading the rest of this article to hear her invaluable tips and then I’ll go through each tip separately, gleaning the incredible wisdom I found within each one.
Lesson #1: Don’t Be a Victim
“I will never forget what happened but I don’t live there- I don’t set up household there.”
I absolutely love how she reframes her horrific experience in the concentration camps by acknowledging that no human can ever forget that depth of suffering, trauma and loss, but that as an adult, she made the conscious decisionto not be a victim of her suffering or the people who tortured her and those she loved.
The metaphor of ‘household’ is significant because to me, it represents our mind and the ability to choose how we conduct our lives and to consciously choose positive, life-affirming thoughts. In this example, she chose the complete opposite of her earlier experiences, even though it countered everything she saw and experienced during the Holocaust. We know now from neuroscience that we can actually undo traumatic brain wiring, and rewire for peace and happiness. Dr. Eger is an excellent example of this. You can’t help the big smile which spreads across your face as you watch joy, excitement, and enthusiasm bursting out of her- it’s contagious!
Lesson #2: Love Yourself
“I was taught to find somebody because I’m nobody until somebody loves me. That’s not what I advocate- love yourself because that’s the only one you’re going to have for a lifetime.”
I believe she’s speaking here to her era when women were taught that the only way to be worthwhile and to have purpose, was to get a man and marry him. And you know the rest of the fairy tale: to live happily ever after. This needs no commentary from me as I know many of you are snickering at the lie contained within that cultural BS we were all fed as little girls. I also need not point out that the person you end up with is usually not yours for life…’nuff said.
I have now come to the absolute conclusion, that even though I have a 20-year relationship with a wonderful man, I have to love myself first in this, and every other relationship in order for them to be healthy. How many of you were taught as little girls to put yourself first and make a deep commitment to love yourself unconditionally, no matter how bad you screwed up at times? I sense a deafening silence coming back at me…
My guess? NONE of us!!!!! And if you’re yelling at the computer as you read this, “I was taught that”, then Goddess bless you sister. We all wish we were you.
Lesson #3: Feed Your Brain
“My mother said to me in the cattle car: “We don’t know where we’re going or what will happen. Just remember: No one can take away from you what you put in here (points to head) in your own mind.”
This brought me to tears because it reminded me of the time I called my granny (a Holocaust refugee) and asked her if I should do a Master’s Degree, and she said: “The one thing people cannot take from you is your education and what you’ve learned from it.” I feel this is similar to what Dr. Eger’s mother said to her, but with a slightly different slant. I think she was pointing out that we have the ability to choose our thoughts, no matter what horrors we experience at the hands of hateful people.
And from watching the video, it is evident that Dr. Eger took her mother’s words to heart and decided to see the world as a loving place and that she was going to give as much love back to the world as she possibly could in her time left on earth. It is also evident that she decided she was going to be a cup-half-full person and would continue to dwell on the positive, rather than get stuck in the negativity and traumatic loss she experienced in the past. Lastly, she educated herself and ended up with a PhD in Psychology so that she could help others through the extremely difficult circumstances they were facing. This proves that she “fed her brain” with education and a positive outlook- two accomplishments which are incredibly commendable.
My incredibly resilient granny took a similar path and became a Biologist and teacher to very disabled children in a local hospital for many years. She was one of the most kind-hearted people I have ever encountered and ‘mothered’ everyone who came into contact with her. Upon retirement, she volunteered constantly to help people in need, and became a full-time political activist to protect human rights across the world. My favourite photo is one a family friend took of a political rally to save the National Health Service in England- free healthcare for everyone. My granny was front and center of that rally with a huge sign that read, “Save the NHS” with a fierce but determined look on her face. I was told she was nearing the age of 90 when the picture was taken. Needless to say, she was the oldest person at that rally and ended up being arrested for disturbing the peace. When the police officers kindly told her she was being arrested, she sat on the ground and said: “Then you’ll have to carry me off. I’m not leaving willingly; nor can I get up without assistance.”
Lesson #4: Forget Your Age
“I see myself like climbing a mountain- I slip and I climb and you know what? I will never stop climbing.”
I absolutely love this concept! I really believe that age can be put into the background if we take the attitude that we are excited to be alive and are constantly growing, learning, and changing, regardless of how many birthdays we’ve had. My dear granny lived to the age of 95 and was cognitively fully engaged until two years before her death. In her late 70’s, she learned Italian- her eighth language! Why? Because she thought it would be a fun challenge. My husband and I were lucky enough to accompany her in her mid-80’s to Sicily where she was delighted to be our interpreter.
The best moment of that trip was taking granny on a boat ride in a very plain and questionable vessel where we all had to hold on for dear life in order to not tip overboard. I was scared out of my mind and concerned for my elderly grandmother, and when I turned around to look at her she was holding her face up the sky grinning from ear to ear and shrieking, “Isn’t this fabulous?” Then when we got off the boat and I was kissing the ground, grateful to be alive, she took off her shoes and walked in stockinged feet across the rough stones and demanded that we go for gelato. That’s the way my granny rolled. When I asked her once why she never hung out with people her own age, she frowned and said, “Because they believe they are old and act like it. I much prefer young people who have as much enthusiasm and interest in life as I do.”
Exploring the concept of “Discomfort Resilience”
I also wanted to share with you something I recently discovered called “discomfort resilience” from listening to a Pema Chodron talk recorded live at the Omega Institute entitled, Making Friends With Your Mind: The Key to Contentment:
She talks about the concept of developing “discomfort resilience”: learning to face and sit with discomfort in all its manifestations, in order to become more comfortable being uncomfortable.
Here’s a quote from this talk describing how we do this:
Our nervous systems need to get used to unpleasantness, not knowing what’s going to happen.
We need to sit with the horrible feelings we most want to escape and invite them in as dear friends with acceptance, an open heart and compassion.
When I work with clients who experience a high level of anxiety, I teach them how to do this. The way I describe the process is: BECOMING COMFORTABLE BEING UNCOMFORTABLE BY BUILDING UP OUR NERVE RESISTANCE (i.e., doing things that scare us over and over and teaching our nervous system that we can handle much more stress than we previously thought possible.
Homework: Write down one goal you want to achieve which you’ve been avoiding because you don’t think you can do it. Then-of course- do it and give yourself a huge pat on the back for moving through the discomfort.