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Resilient in the Face of Contention

Purposeful Wanderings - Bradford L. Glass - February 2024

Newsletter - 2.24
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“Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson


How do you greet the inevitable chaos, uncertainty and divisiveness life tosses your way each day? Do you tend to react, perhaps in upset or anger, ready to argue/fight/fix?  Or … do you tend to see life’s “stuff” more like clouds, and simply watch them pass by? You may find that people, the news or traffic send you into a spin, but problems at work, the weather or waiting in line don’t matter so much.  Just notice what’s true for you.


Resilience is about how well you flow with “life’s stuff,” responding constructively to a world of inconsistency, chaos, complexity, unknowns, dichotomy, paradox, opposites, uncertainty – you know, the real world. Despite what you wish were so, you don’t choose those things; the world already is those things. And “those things” ask for your creative genius, not your opinion. If you’re lost in reaction, you can’t bring creativity to the show.


We were born with curiosity, wonder, creativity and resilience, and an inner knowing anything is possible. Then we learned it’s not. In this process of “being prepared for an adult world,” we were taught not to trust our inner knowing, but to trust the outerworld instead … other people, achievement, being right, compliance, fear. Each lesson stole a piece of our true self, until, by the time we’re adults, we’re skilled at being someone we’re not – an adopted self, prepared for one thing (struggle, perhaps), but not for anything (what the real world gives us every day). Not surprisingly, we’re left believing more strongly in our limitations than in our potential.  


Taught how life should be (fair, right, black & white, our way, certain), we learned it’s up to us to make it that way! When real life doesn’t match (which it doesn’t), we react. The stronger our lessons, the more life’s inconsistency sets us off. We become what we allow into our consciousness. The lessons are bogus; their message is illusion; yet our reaction is real, because it’s the only way we know. The reaction, however, is no more than a reminder of a story from the past … and we’re reacting (in the present) as if it were still the past. It’s not. And we miss this.


Unknowingly attached to these stories, we don’t notice how old lessons failed us. We blame life for our stress, struggle and strife, but instead, it’s a mind that pretends everything is knowable and certain … a mind that has lost the resilience needed to navigate life’s complexity … to the point that it’s now afraid to ask the questions needed to recover … a mind programmed to react to everything yet respond constructively to nothing. Many things in life simply can’t be known. We may make ourselves feel better by pretending we know, but that’s the home of self-deceit and false faith. Or … we can find a path of peace through the uncertainty. That takes practice.


Years of unintentional practice cemented old lessons as “truth.” Intentional practice now helps us re-learn what was “taught out of us” back then: … practice – to come to non-judgmental acceptance that paradox, uncertainty and opposites all exist, and can exist peacefully, at the same time, without conflict; … practice – to suspend our judgmental belief in old lessons so we can see with new eyes; … practice – to see the futility in our fight with life; … practice – to see that “making stuff up” to make us feel more certain creates more problems than it solves; practice – to realize that world we experience is the world we create each day – with our hearts, minds, potential. The underlying intention in this practice is to grow awareness, life’s most powerful change agent.


The path to resilience is a regular practice of self-reflection, with the intention to get to know the now-unconscious thoughts (from the past) that trigger your reactions (in the present). As you sit quietly, replaying in your mind events from your day/week/year/life, you see what you once thought you “knew for sure,” and how reacting to it has instead robbed you of your energy, your potential and your peace. Awareness alone causes reaction to fade.


The work:       Show up … Shut up … Sit still … Listen … for 15-20 min. of silent reflection every day.


The practice:  Find the thought … that created the story … that pulled the trigger … that elicited the reaction.  



Exercise:  Becoming resilient.   When you reflect deeply, you get below the opinions, judgments and fear-based defensiveness of the “surface” version of you and discover the “authentic” you instead … a being of self-trust, inspiration, creativity and resilience. It sees with perspective big enough to hold opposites without judgment, find comfort in uncertainty, trust its inner light as its guide, and “see” with its innate creative genius. It’s also a being that embraces faith as a comforting placeholder for what isn’t [yet] known, not as a tool for “pretend knowing.”


In quiet time each day, replay in your mind events and situations from your day. Notice, now, how you reacted or responded, then. For events that you allowed to pass – with acceptance and non-judgment – say thank you. For events that evoked reaction, see if you can find the thought that set the trigger off. You may see an emotion as a trigger, such as anger, fear, resentment. Emotions are caused by thoughts; keep looking until you find the thought that lives underneath the emotion. Then see if you can trace the thought back to the old lesson that created it. Allow yourself to be with the original lesson … so as to learn from it. (An example: The emotion: I’m afraid. The thought: I’m not good enough. The lesson: you never get it right.) Reminder: we react to things … in the present … as if they were the things they reminded us of … in the past. They’re not.


After several days of practice doing the above, reflect: (1) What lessons might you have unknowingly adopted as truth that you now see as limiting you? (No judgment here, just learning.) (2) Had you learned differently, what lesson would have left you resilient instead. (3) Imagine: how would you design your path forward, given you can now embrace your limitless potential?  NONE of this is about not having emotions; it’s about not becoming them. By the way, your old triggers will always be there; you just let go of the wiring that sets them off into reaction.  


Looking back, I was taught everything (success, recognition, even being loved) depended on “getting things right.” I developed powerful triggers – and completely unconstructive reactions – to anything/anyone in life that made me wrong … then devoted extraordinary energy to making it right. Yet – through ideas and practices suggested here, I have come to see:  1) I can’t always be right, 2) I don’t need to be right, 3) often there is no right, 4) my stress and struggle came only from being told I had to be right. Today, connection and meaning are far more important to me than right/wrong. I still get triggered by “being made wrong.” (70 years later, I’m reacting to the old belief, not the current situation.) It’s just that I no longer get angry, break out in a sweat and try to “fix” it all.   



Life Lessons from Nature: Nature “just is.” It doesn’t have opinions; it doesn’t control; it doesn’t take things personally; it doesn’t have an attitude. Yet everywhere, we find beauty, growth, peace. There are no rewards or punishments in nature, only consequences. How do you see the distinction between punishment and consequence in your life … for you, for others? (Do you take things (or offer things to others) personally, as a punishment … or just see them as “something happened?”) Do you graciously accept the gift that life is? … the gift that others are?



Book of the month:Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.A fascinating look at resilience, with examples from all of life’s disciplines. He suggests that disorder is actually good for us, not just from the point of view of accepting it because it’s there anyway, but because, like any exercise, it helps to build our “creativity muscles” so we strengthen our ability to respond to all that life continually puts in our path.


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