Building Resilience

Resilience is one of those newish buzz words, and is used to describe organizations, individuals, nature, and even nations. The study of human resilience is one of my greatest interests, and was a primary motivator for moving to Rwanda in 2009. As devastating and horrific as genocide is – neighbors killing neighbors and husbands killing wives – and as much as my heart broke open when I learned of the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, I am fascinated by what motivates the survivors to pick up the pieces and move on with their lives. There was a time when I viewed Rwanda as the most resilient nation in the world, a place that we should study in order to emulate such strength and courage. What I have learned is that we do not know what we can handle until we are in the thick of it and it is then that our resilience shows its true colors. It is then that the mother lifts the car to save her crushed child. It is then that the stranded traveler drags his body through the dessert for days without food. It is in times of crisis that we are called to dig deep and to access that primal survival mechanism that keeps most of us from completely falling apart and giving up on life.

I look back on periods of my life and I am in awe of how I made it through. In fact I experienced the most growth following the greatest challenges. I was not always graceful and I do not wish for more darkness just so I can experience such continued growth. I do not believe that adversity in the form of genocide is something anyone should ever have to experience in order to recognize their own strength and resilience. You have heard it said that some people need to hit bottom before they can experience all the goodness that life has to offer. There is a gift in the bottom and it was described to me at a recent yoga workshop as the lotus which blossoms in muddy water. The murkier the water, the more beautiful the flower.

What is your bottom? What is your limit and how do you choose to test and build your personal resilience through the challenges of life? Things do not need to get harder before they get easier. If you bang your head against the wall once it is probably enough, and that is the message that you must try a different method. If you feel you are hanging by a thread then you might make that your bottom, and it is a perfect time to recreate your life story. What a gift. I know it sucks. I hit a bottom at age 28. I could have continued in a downward spiral. Things can always get worse if we have not yet faced a painful death. Someone told me I was in an elevator going down and at any time I could choose to get off. You can too and I guarantee your worst fears will not come true. You will not fall apart and you will take one step at a time to overcome whatever challenge it is you are facing. Through the adversity you will experience growth, a new sense of purpose and meaning, and the best outcome of all is the joy that follows.

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