"Make sure you look out for each other, make sure you’re resilient and kind and supportive of each other…”
Great words indeed from our Western Australian Health Minister. But the test we all face has exposed the cracks in my resilience.
Like almost everyone I’ve lost work and had every meeting and conference cancelled, and so my livelihood and ambitions for the future. All my social and exercise groups have been abandoned.
Holding on to my familiar life even as it ebbs away, I wonder what to do with myself. I over-react and get frustrated. I get stupidly busy, yet anxiety saps my effectiveness. And we haven’t even begun a lockdown here in Perth!
My mentor said we’re all experiencing loss and fear of what’s to come. Being resilient today is the capacity to adapt to adversity by bending not breaking, like bamboo*. Instead of trying to control life and fill my head with information I must allow myself to feel the loss and fear, let it go and live in the now. It’s about who I’m being more than what I do.
My Italian brother-in-law Lorenzo, locked down in Rome, is living this reality. He’s mourned his lost life and now sees his forced confinement as an opportunity to reflect. It’s like the ancient story of Jonah who’s swallowed by a whale and in the silent gloom forced to confront his life. Spat out after three days Jonah uses his second chance to complete a crucial mission.
Nelson Mandela, Gandhi and Martin Luther King demonstrated even prison can be a time of inner growth as did writers like Viktor Frankl, Vaclav Havel and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. They suffered but used their second chance to emerge from the crucible as great leaders**.
People on the margins in my city are also ‘confined’ by poverty or illness, yet they display great resourcefulness and courage.
My brother-in-law has a lot of cred right now. Confinement is his new reality but offering the same opportunity as it did to Mandela. We will all face hardships – financial stress, loneliness, caring for kids, feeling trapped or bored - but we’ll also have the opportunity, as if we’re in a far-away place, to connect to loved ones, develop patience and grace, read, relax, watch films, meditate, write, paint, make music, garden, play, sort through old photos or start that big project. Maybe reinvent our lives.
Confinement also demands hope. Lorenzo’s 88-year-old mother has used her time indoors to prepare and freeze a feast for the inevitable day of celebration when this ordeal is over. She lived through Mussolini and Nazi occupation, so she knows.
Resilience now is acknowledging my loss, letting it go and flipping around my perceptions. Foregoing the company of others is protecting them. Confinement is an opportunity to ‘be’ in the moment and grow. As easy as helping a neighbour, reading a book, calling a loved one and simplifying life.
What about the current situation do you find most challenging? Who could you talk to build up your resilience?
*Bend, Not Break: 9 Powerful Traits of Resilient People by Faisal Hoque in The_Blog, HuffPost, December 6, 2017 https://www.huffpost.com/entry/bend-not-break-9-powerful_b_4719513
** Borrowed from a fantastic sermon by Peter Greig: Trembling at a Time of Shaking https://www.emmausrd.com/series/off-script/
I also really recommend the following (because you’re going to have a lot of time to read):
Awareness – The Perils and Opportunities of Reality by Anthony de Mello, Image Books, 1992
Consolations - The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words by David Whyte, Many Rivers Press, USA, 2015.
What do you do when others give you tough feedback about your behaviour, but you don’t see it yourself? In fact, you think they’re the problem. Do you humbly accept what they’re saying and try to change? Or do you rely on your own positive self-image, as I‘ve always done, and defend yourself?
My mentor says we can learn the most about ourselves when challenged by those around us. My opportunity came recently travelling through New Zealand with my wife and a couple we’ve known for thirty years. The catalyst was being together in a motorhome for almost two weeks.
Our journey took us past achingly beautiful vineyards, farms and vistas straight from Lord of the Rings (it really was like the photo!). Each day offered a new mountain to climb, track to cycle, or turquoise bay to kayak. Each evening we camped by a river, lake or the ocean, enjoying the sunset, a good meal and a glass of wine.
We also argued a lot over everything from directions and parking to what to eat for breakfast. We’d been warned of the risks of cramming four adults into a 6.8 x 2.2 m box on wheels in which we’d all have to cook, eat, wash up, dress, undress, sleep and pee. 'Spam in a can' as the astronauts used to say. There was nowhere to hide If you farted.
We eased any friction by starting each day with an Irish blessing* and ending with G&Ts and an honest debrief on the day’s positives and negatives.
The first evening someone brought up I’d snapped at them that day because they’d been anxious about my driving. I defended myself but apologised, to keep the peace.
The next few days over G&Ts, my companions enumerated further occasions where I’d lost it, becoming disproportionately angry with them for forgetting to turn off a switch, remove shoes inside or put recycling in the right bin. I defended myself again feeling justified at being angry.
On the final night I got mad at the others for snacking on cheese I’d set aside for pizzas. But it turned out there was more than enough cheese which we had to throw away. That’s when I received the toughest feedback of all. Everyone understood my intention but told me I'd overreacted to the point of being weird.
I knew instinctively this was the truth. I broke down at the awful realisation of just how often I’m angry but in denial about it. I had to accept it.
Back home I talked to my mentor. His feedback confirmed what the others were telling me. The pressure cooker of the motorhome had highlighted problematic patterns in my behaviour that need addressing. I want intimate, loving relationships and must take steps to heal old wounds and let go of bad habits.
Tough feedback offered with care in the right environment is life-saving. Who’s giving you feedback, and do you let it in?
*To Bless the Space Between Us – A Book of Blessings by John O’Donohue, Convergent Books, New York, 2008.