Years ago, when I was teaching Tai Chi at a senior’s center, one of my students commented that “getting old isn’t for the faint of heart”. I was young enough that I couldn’t begin to comprehend the fullness of her comment; it certainly did stick with me and it resonates more strongly as I age. Even when we may not be dealing with difficult health issues personally, we are likely to be in relationship with others who are, others who need our caring and support. Aging requires resilience which in turn requires wisdom and compassion.
We develop resilience when we deal with the difficulties that life throws our way. Each and every challenge is an opportunity to grow and gain deeper understanding of ourselves and of the universal experience of life. We can embrace the opportunity and become wiser and more compassionate, or we can reject it and allow ourselves to become accidental tourists, just allowing life to happen to us with little opportunity for growth.
Just being open to the act of fully experiencing will create opportunities to grow and become more resilient and it helps to have some tools to support us along the journey
There is a tendency in our world to value positive feelings and experiences and avoid negative ones. This has led to a limited emotional capacity for many because in order to feel joy we need to be able to feel its opposite, despair. To become resilient, we need to allow ourselves to experience the full spectrum of our feelings and be able to learn from them. Then when something difficult shows up we have the capacity to face it head on.
Just being open to the act of fully experiencing will create opportunities to grow and become more resilient and it helps to have some tools to support us along the journey. I find the concept of Coherence to be a valuable way of creating more space for myself to build resilience. Coherence as a means to a more fulfilling life was introduced by Aaron Antonovsky in his book Health, Stress and Coping (1979). He outlines a pathway to coherence that can be applied to any situation we find ourselves in.
In a nutshell, the path to coherence goes as follows:
- How well do you understand the circumstances in which you find yourself? What do you need to know to improve this?
- How well can you manage what is happening? What do you need to be able to manage better?
- What meaning can you make of what you are experiencing?
The third question about where you can find meaning is a spiritual question. How do you look beyond the confines of the difficulty facing you and learn from it in a way that makes your life, and possibly the lives of others better? Finding an answer helps to put the difficulty into perspective and creates meaning for us. It takes us out of the confines of the difficulty we are facing and makes us more resilient: it makes us stronger, wiser and more connected to the world around us.
Written by Lois MacNaughton