I’ve been reflecting on resilience this week. When life gets really challenging and the odds seem stacked against us, what is it that keeps us going?
It seems to me that humans have an extraordinary capacity to endure, both as a species and also individually in our day to day experiences. The news often carries stories of extraordinary survival, be it refugees in the Middle East, Chilean miners, intrepid travellers, children caught in the most dreadful of home situations and subjected to abuse. This is not to minimise the suffering, trauma and damage that those situations can bring about, but to recognise the remarkable will to be.
It would seem normal that depression might come as a response to these experiences. You might feel overwhelmed or depressed or anxious in the face of that is difficult in the world and indeed in your life.
In all these stories there is a desire to survive which is at the heart of all existence. Like all things in the world, we are driven to maintain our existence. I am full of wonder when I see how plants grow in the most unexpected and extraordinary spaces, pushing up through concrete, attaching to the side of buildings. The innate purpose of the plants is to exist, nothing more or less.
This year a pair of blackbirds nested in my garden. The nest was in a bush on the fence between my garden and the neighbour’s and I feared it would be easily disturbed by the comings and goings of those around.
I wasn’t surprised, after a month or so, to notice no more Blackbird presence in the nest. It had become too risky for the birds. But a few months later they were back as regular visitors in the garden and the female was joined by a young Blackbird too from time to time. Clearly they’d regrouped, built a new nest and successfully had a chick or two. A wonderful example of resilience.
Resilience in humans tends to be predicated on whether we have, in general, a positive attitude, a sense of optimism, the ability to regulate our emotions, and the ability to see failure as a form of helpful feedback about how we can make life work for us.
When someone comes to counselling, you might think their resilience is at its lowest ebb, that the reaching out is a moment when they can’t take any more. And yes that is the case in many ways. It also strikes me, however, that their survival until this point has been a form of deep resilience. In spite of all the suffering and difficulty, somehow they’ve managed to carry on ‘getting through’ whatever is difficult in their life. That resilience is one of the foundation stone of counselling, as it is about the will to survive and the will to be more than the survivor which brings someone to counselling.
Using our will to make active choices in life can be a very empowering experience. Resilience is perhaps the glue that helps us hold it all together as we prepare to make difficult choices; it’s the winter stores that we burn through in hope of the returning spring.
By Matthew Fox www.mattfoxcounselling.co.uk Counselling in Totnes, Paignton and Newton Abbott
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Photo by Jyrki Salman licensed under Creative Commons