“Resilience” is the topic of the class we take at Holy Wisdom 3 days a week. The class, with the participation of Sister Lynne, is led by a woman who has made a special study of this topic in her life. The class is held after we have spent a couple of hours usually doing outdoor work in the hot sun. It is a welcome respite, with its cool air conditioning and a pitcher of water in the center of table flanked by whatever baked good our teacher is proffering that class time.
Our teacher, Donna, is an excellent baker, a sailing enthusiast, and a poet. She is also a survivor of great personal tragedy and I can imagine no one better to lead our little group through our study than someone like her. The syllabus of this class is very different from our class on Benedictine spirituality. One is driven by our relationship to God, the Universe, and what it takes to live in community with others in peace and harmony. The other is about our relationship to God, the Universe, and what it takes to live in community with ourselves in peace and harmony. The same and yet different focuses, both important and both designed, the end product in mind, to help us to know ourselves better while also getting to know the “other” better.
So then, what exactly is “Resilience” and why is it so important? Resilience is the ability to bounce back, the quality that makes us able to stand up to the challenges we face in life and keep standing, even after those challenges have rolled over us like a bulldozer operated by a pro wrestler. Like water, being resilient, helps us to go around and under and through. To find the little cracks, the niches, the opportunities, to keep going long after many others in similar circumstances have given up exhausted and tapped out or resigned themselves to Fate or Destiny. Resilience is the ability to summon that “other you,” that stronger you, to call forth that strong force within yourself and let it loose upon your world. Resilience is “Towanda: Queen of the Amazons”.
The funny thing about Resilience is that it is a relative term. Some people have a remarkable amount of resilience and nothing and no one seems to get them or keep them down. . . . Some people are resilient in the face of certain things but not others. . . . Finally, there are some who are not resilient at all – for them, all that is needed to knock them down is just one big wave and its over for them, they never seem to be able to stand up again. . . .
One of my favorite reads is “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl. A psychoanalyst and Nazi death camp survivor, Dr. Frankl spent his life, post-Holocaust studying the “x-factor” and its absence or presence in people’s lives. In his books he cites instances where two people exposed to the same treatment in the camps, who are from the same relative backgrounds, could have such different responses to stressors. So much so that one person may refuse to eat or shower, will refuse to do what he must to keep himself free of disease, essentially abandoning himself to death, hopeless in the face of the situation while the other doggedly attempts to live his life in the camps with a sense of normalcy believing he will eventually be released or escape and if not, then he will at least die with his dignity. What is the great difference between these two people? What allows us to go on in the midst of great suffering? How is it that some people become overwhelmed by challenges other people are able to stand up against?
Community support, family and friends, education and resources…people that study this as a science say that all these factors must be present in order for a person to be truly Resilient. But then there is still that something called an “x” factor, an outlier, something that can’t be placed. People with the “x factor” tend to be highly resilient in spite of the lack of, or total absence of, many of these qualifiers. In other words, “if this” does not add up to “then this” for these certain people. They seem to be naturally Resilient. A conundrum indeed.
Here at Holy Wisdom, in this small room, flanked on each side by strong women eating linzertorte and listening to Donna’s soothing yet clipped tones describing the day’s topics, I wonder how and in what ways we have different levels of resilience. . . .
All things being considered, appearances are deceiving and I have seen too much already in my life that leads me to not make the foolish error of assuming that a naturally shy or delicate person would be less resilient than someone more bombastic or formidable. We are all capable of great feats of strength in our life’s journeys. . . . Do any of us know what our thresholds are? Can any of us ever truly know what we can take until it is asked of us? How strong a load can I carry, how great a burden would I be able to bear? How Resilient am I, really?
. . . I wonder.
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For additional excerpts from Sarah’s on-going blog, click on this link: A Confirmed City Girl looks for God in a Monastery