Saturday, January 25, 2014

Your Story of Resilience ...

They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient
proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.

Viktor Frankl

Stories of resilience can act as inspiration and as guides to our paths. They can shine a light on our particular circumstances in a way that allows us to see ourselves and our options more clearly. Here is the resilience story of Victor Frankl, Holocaust survivor and originator of Logotherapy, as told by author and retreat leader, James Kullander:

Between 1942 and 1945, Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, was imprisoned in four different Nazi concentration camps. During those three years, his family died (Frankl's wife died apart from him in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp; his mother was killed by the Nazis in the gas chambers of Auschwitz; his brother died working in a mining operation that was part of Auschwitz), he worked as a slave labourer, and he watched hundreds around him suffer and perish. Out of this experience came one of his most famous books, Man's Search for Meaning, from which the well-known quote above was taken. 
Here, a man who endured a forced march through one of human history's most horrific episodes, recounts what he learned about life during it all. The "they" in the quote are the few men in the camps who gave away their last piece of bread. The wisdom that Frankl witnessed in this gesture and passed on to us is as simple as it is profound. It is the first step on the journey to a resilient life.
If Frankl can come away from his time in Nazi Germany with such a hopeful prognosis of the human condition, surely we can do no less. And it is up to each one of us, each and every day of our lives, to choose our attitude in any given set of circumstances - from the loss of love, to feeling betrayed, to losing our jobs, to illness, and even to dealing with our pending death.

Hearing Frankl's story can help build resilience in our own lives. Whether we are helping professionals "stuck" in untenable jobs or family carepartners facing years of care, we learn that we, too, can choose our attitudes in the midst of difficult circumstances. (Not that it's necessarily an easy thing to do, by any means!)

We all have stories of resilience gained through major traumas like illness, chronic pain, death, divorce, crime, natural disaster or career loss, or through everyday wounds like failing an exam, being let down by a friend or a system, or parenting difficulties. What about you? Can you recall a time when you felt resilient - when you were able to face a crisis with courage and equanimity or to come back from a difficult experience with renewed equilibrium, greater strength and new learning? Why not take a few moments with a hot cuppa to write the story of that resilient time in your journal to remind yourself of the proven strengths and resources that already lie within you? If you would like to help build another's resilience, why not share your story here?


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

So What Is Resilience Anyway? ...

We have the human capacity to become resilient, which allows
us to deal with the bombardment of events causing so much stress.
And in dealing with these events we become stronger, more confident in our abilities, more sensitive to the stress others are
experiencing and even more able to bring about change to minimize or eradicate sources of stress ...      

Edith Grotberg

Hi everyone! Welcome to our new year-long focus on the art of resilience. There will be posts on other things from time to time, as issues shimmer into my awareness, but resilience will be at the heart of our musings for 2014.

During the years my husband and I walked by the lake in the very early hours of the morning, we frequently enjoyed deep, questioning conversations about a broad range of topics - personality development, spirituality, nature, music, politics, art, literature and many others (- in between the more mundane ones about schedules, meal planning and the odd argument or two!). When either of us presented a question, the other invariably asked some variation of, "Well, it depends on what you mean by that? You need to define your terms." So, that's what I want to do today - to define our term, resilience.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines resilience as:
The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity; or the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

Linda Graham, author of Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being offers a slightly different definition:
The capacity to respond to pressures and tragedies quickly, adaptively and effectively. 

I would go a little further and say that resilience is more than just responding well to current difficulties. It also includes developing the wisdom to avoid some of life's potholes and learning the tools to withstand situations that seem over-long and insurmountable. It also involves changing and becoming as the result of the challenges we meet - an opportunity to become weller than well or more whole than we would have thought possible prior to the problem or crisis. Given this, the definition I would prefer is that of psychologist and author of Resilience for Today, Edith Grotberg:
Resilience is the human capacity to deal with, overcome, learn from, or even be transformed by the inevitable adversities of life.

And to go a step further still, when we become transformed, we can then be of greater service to those around us. Our growth and transformation allow us to become more open conduits of love, groundedness, wisdom and calm for others enduring trying times and we have the opportunity to become activists to alter the original sources of our stress.

Put differently, there is a sense of higher consciousness or spiritual development that can evolve as our resilience builds. We become more whole within ourselves and, thus, more able to pass on tools of resilience to our loved ones and to the broader world.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

This is the Year of Resilience ...

Hi everyone - Happy 2014!

So I've designated 2014 to be the Year of Resilience here at Caregiver Wellness. A year of focusing on the things that give us life as we support the lives of others. A year of orienting our thinking toward recovery from difficult experiences and becoming strong and well at the broken places. A year of gaining information and tools that will enhance our ability to bounce back and thrive.

The notion of resilience has always been a foundation for my work at Caregiver Wellness but this year I want to bring it to the forefront in a way that is intentional and exciting. We will look broadly and deeply at what resilience is, where it comes from and how we go about enhancing it.

I've been thinking a lot about resilience this week, my thoughts stimulated by two significant experiences. The first was choosing my word for 2014  (or allowing it to choose me) and the second, the experience of a wonderful new play, Rebel Women, running at the Jericho Arts Centre in Vancouver until January 12th.

As I said in my last post, I wasn't quite sure what my guiding word for the New Year would be. Initially, I thought that it might be embrace and I sat with that possibility for a week or so. But then I heard a word used in an unusual way during Women's Christmas and I knew, immediately, that that would be my word for 2014. The word I heard was supple

Supple is defined as, "readily bent without damage, lithe, moving and bending with agility, limber, yielding or changing readily, adaptable, mentally flexible, responding readily, and capable of showing easy graceful movement". There are few words more closely related to, and descriptive of, the notion of resilience.

The second experience that led me to think about resilience was Vital Spark Theatre's play Rebel Women. This amazingly enlightening and piercing play brings to life the struggles of the British suffragettes (and the Canadian women who supported them) and their resilience in the face of mocking, humiliation, physical violence, arrests and the brutality of force feedings to end their hunger strikes while in prison. Writer and director, Joan Bryans, (who also took our tickets at the door) became obsessed with the story of these brave women during the Spring of 2013. Using meticulous research, she developed a play based on the verbatim accounts of the people involved and the suffrage songs of the day. The result is a riveting production of a quality much higher than I would have expected from a small community theatre.

I came away knowing the suffragettes, whose names I'd only barely recognized, as true heros. I will never again grumble at having to go and vote. That privilege was too hard won by women with more courage and resilience than I would ever hope to have. I hope that those of you living in Greater Vancouver will take the time to see this rich production and to reflect upon the strength of these odd, sad, inspiring, quirky and noble women who suffered so much in order to give us the freedom to vote. May they be our inspiration as we begin our own Year of Resilience.