The subject of Resilience, I believe is one of the most important qualities that we can develop, nurture and sustain. It is a quality that we too often ignore in this fast paced, technological whiz of a life. In this article, I will be combining several other blog posts and address various ways that you can think about resilience to improve your life both personally and professionally.
If we dive deeply into the human spirit, we converge and meet in a similar place. All of us ultimately seek joy, ease, love, safety and peace. We may seek it in diverse ways and call it by different names but those desires are universal and at the foundation of most philosophies and religions. So if we seek all that is fun, joyous and easy why do we need to foster and hone resilience?
Resilience is the key to not only achieving these goals, but also one of the key ingredients to sustaining them. Let’s take a closer look. If life is supposed to be easy, fun, joyous and all the things we want, then why does it so often feel challenging, chaotic and downright difficult? The answer is simple and yet complex.
Growing up in the West, many of us are taught to fill our baskets of desires by going after the things we want externally. We are taught by example that if we are able to accumulate, achieve and control certain outer conditions than our lives will look the way we want and we can achieve the joy that we are seeking. However, for most of us striving, grabbing and controlling outer conditions keep us jumping at best and stressed out and frustrated the rest of the time.
My brother, Patrick, sent me an article titled: “Carrots, Eggs & Coffee”. I’ll reprint excerpts of the article here and then expound on the lessons and messages it conveys:
“A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed that as one problem was solved, a new one arose. Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to boil. In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil; without saying a word. In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl. Turning to her daughter, she asked, ‘Tell me what you see.’
‘Carrots, eggs, and coffee,’ she replied. Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled, as she tasted its rich aroma. The daughter then asked, ‘What does it mean, mother?’ Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. Each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water. ‘Which are you?’ she asked her daughter. ‘When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?’–Author Unknown
The interesting dynamic in adversity is that some people are like carrots and appear strong externally, but when they experience loss or difficulty, they wilt and lose their strength and resiliency. Others, who appear fragile like an egg, become hardened and defensive and armor their vulnerability. Some rare individuals are able to create something lucid, new and extraordinary from pain and hardship. Alice Herz-Summers, the oldest living holocaust survivor at 110, was such an individual. She was a well-known musician in Czechoslovakia when World War II broke out. The Nazis arrested her and her five-year-old son and sent them to Theresienstadt but allowed her to play piano as part of a propaganda campaign for the Red Cross. While, most of the Jews were sent to Auschwitz and other death camps, she and her son survived on the “food” of her music and resilient attitude and not only did they live through the horrific conditions, but both Alice and her son became world-class musicians after the war. Her interviews on YouTube and the 2014 academy award winning short documentary about her life, The Lady in No 6, are nothing short of inspirational. I have included this film and the details of her life and wisdom as part of the graduate level University classes I teach to Educators.
This ability to turn adversity into “coffee beans” is what the ancients have always labeled as alchemy. It is the stuff that creates resiliency and greatness on every level. Unfortunately with the apparent ease of technology, we are under the illusion that everything can be handled with the flick of a finger. Children growing up today are given a false sense of security and so many New Age philosophies propagate the illusion that life “should” be easy. It is not our desires for joy, ease, beauty and fun that we must curtail, but rather how and where we look for them.
What is so true and yet understated in the story, Carrots, Egg and Coffee, is that the ability to turn adverse conditions into coffee beans invites us to shift our attitude. We don’t coerce the beans to make it happen. The beans simply blend with the water and are transformed. So often we find ourselves struggling against outer conditions that we can’t seem to change, when the change we seek is actually right under our noses. We are so accustomed to looking externally for solutions that we seldom look at our own internal state, attitudes, thoughts and beliefs.
I remember many years ago taking a three day personal growth seminar and when we came back as a group one week later, one of the participants excitedly shared, ” When I got home from this seminar the most amazing thing happened. Everyone in my family changed for the better!” We all smiled quietly and nodded to each other. We knew because of the work he had done and the deep inner personal changes and insights he had undergone, his perception of others (including his family) had also changed.
In our western society, we often put emphasis on how things look externally. Through that approach, we have forgotten our own inner wellspring of knowledge. Yoga and many other philosophies remind us that we may have it a bit backwards. The control we are seeking is within us, not external to us. Honing resilience summons us to that place internally where we can reflect and shift our perception and beliefs. It allows us to strengthen our core so that when circumstances appear out of our control or blind side us we are not only able to survive, but in the process we transform ourselves and life itself. We learn in very personal ways that our state of joy, ease, strength and love is not dependent on things external to us. We may still seek certain external forms, but our resiliency is not grounded in them. Then, ease, joy, true change and what we desire can occur. Through the act of shifting our thoughts and beliefs we can act from a conscious place and resolve the challenges that show up whether we are prepared for them or when they blindside us.
Contemplate this analogy of “carrots, egg and coffee” and just notice without judging yourself what your level of resiliency is when things are going “wrong” in your life. For some of us it’s the little annoyances that we’re less resilient to and for some it’s the “big” ones. I teach in all of my seminars that awareness and understanding are the first two steps in taking action and making changes. For the next couple of weeks, observe your reactions to life and notice what fosters your resilience. I, like most of us, have an over developed inner critic, so I’m also going to suggest the following steps that you can apply personally or professionally and individualize:
- Refrain from judging the things that upset or throw you off your “center” and instead embrace a stance of loving compassion for “losing it.”
- Pause as soon as you become conscious to do so, breathe and become reflective. Is this new or a trigger from the past? What do I have control over? What can I do? What can I change? What do I need to let go of?
- This may take 5 minutes or it might go on for weeks or longer. Journal, pray, meditate or speak with a trusted friend or counselor.
- From this place of inner reflection, create an action step. It may be to simply breathe and move on or there may be various outer actions that need to happen.
- Know that life is very much like flying a plane. Pilots are rarely on course in their flight plan. They arrive at their destination by constantly correcting their course.
- Keep your vision clear and always make room for adjustments.
In my own personal experience, the more I identify with what’s wrong with my life, the more life seems to corroborate that belief and visa versa. For the next few weeks, take a few minutes daily to reflect on both your desires and your attitudes. Look within to see if you can shift a negative thought or belief and see where cultivating your resilience can assist you. Then watch as your life begins to transform like the coffee beans slowly but surely. Know that by honing resilience you are learning how to walk through the “fire” of life and emerge not only unscathed, but also triumphantly renewed and transformed.
Please feel free to comment on this article and email me your questions and experiences.
In the process of that spiraling dance,