My sons go to a great school in Portland, Oregon. It’s a public school that began as a charter school, so they do things a little differently. There are mixed-grade classes, they spend time outside every day (even when it’s raining or snowing) and they spend a day a week tending a garden plot for their specific class. Oh, and they eat the vegetables that they grow at lunchtime!
One of the highest values at this school is kindness. They print t-shirts about it and have the word written in several places throughout the halls. It’s a wonderful thing. We could all use a little more kindness. For ourselves. For our world.
When I lived in San Francisco, I must have seen more than a few dozen cars with the bumper sticker reading, “Kindness is my Religion.” At the time, I really dug that sentiment. Having just left the religion of my youth, I was happy to see this as an alternative. Also popular at that time: “COEXIST” bumper stickers made of all the great religious symbols.
Our world certainly needs a fair amount of kindness and coexistence added to it, lest we blow ourselves up or isolate ourselves so far for feeling different and misunderstood.
Kindness is a virtue not to be undervalued. But sometimes I feel like the word is being used as a panacea, the cure for all that ails us personally, relationally and societally. When confronted by a difficult person, we are told to be kind. And that’s fine. But it feels like a nonstarter. So lately I have been exploring a virtue that I think could shift the lens just a bit and truly save us. It does not replace kindness, but I think it’s rooted deeper. And that virtue is resilience.
1 - the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
2 - the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.
Marcus Aurelius details out a philosophy around resilience in the book called Meditations. He speaks a good deal about how Nature works (and why we shouldn’t fight it). He also makes the case for why Nature gives us what we need when we need it. And he urges us to accept that as our birthright. There is nothing that happens to us that has not already been endured by someone else. We may be more elastic and tough than we give ourselves credit, but we may have to find that by digging a little deeper and exerting a little will-power.
This Stoic idea that the The Obstacle is the Way suggests that we embrace challenges in our paths as teachers and as interrupters. Instead of trying to constantly overcome or out-run such things, he encourages us to consider what there is to learn first. And instead of fighting, to navigate and understand.
To be disgruntled at anything that happens is a kind of secession from Nature, which comprises the nature of all things. — Marcus Aurelius
Most of us know this, or at least most of us have heard something like, “Hey, toughen up”. And sometimes that just falls flat. It feels invalidating. It sounds like bottling up emotions. We have difficult people in our lives or we are forced into transition (loss of job or loved one). We have this frustrating habit we cannot seem to break. So what does it actually look like to be resilient, especially in a time where the world seems to be so fragile? How can I be resilient and honest about where I’m at and how I feel?
Both happiness and unhappiness depend on perception. — Marcus Aurelius
Aurelius points out that how we perceive circumstances informs the meaning we assign to it. It’s all about perception. Our subjective mind suggests intent, relevance and possible outcome to any scenario. It’s like we have a basic set of programs that run when we encounter something that is unpleasant. They’re running in the background, hidden from plain sight. At least for most of us.
These are the collective stories that we have learned from others and told ourselves. (More on that in another blog post.)
In his wonderfully short book, The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz puts forth some very simple, but powerful commands that put us on the path to resiliency.
In particular, Agreement #2: Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
Do you believe this? That nothing others do is about you? Let it sink in.
So, kindness would address the response to what that person did to you. But resilience requires a deeper sense that you are still intact, even if that maniac cut you off on the street and then tried to blame you for it. You are unaffected. You are intact.
It seems to me that developing resilience in one experience naturally plays out into others. It’s forging new muscle memory. Resilience isn’t something externalized (even though it has external implications); it’s a virtue which is inherently internal. Could we cultivate a perception that is less reactionary? And could that assist us in our own pursuit of happiness?
So back to this lens-shift that could save us all. There is a way to move through this world less affected, but still engaged. That’s the wisdom here: Resilience doesn’t suggest that we check out, it suggests that we choose a non-reactionary path. And in the world that we currently inhabit, doesn’t that seem to be needed? Within it is an underlying assumption that it’s okay. Even if it doesn’t feel okay. I guess you could say there is a faith element in this. And for some, that word is a slippery slope that leads to brainwashed worker bees on a quest for God. But faith doesn’t have to go there. It can be acknowledging that there is nothing we cannot bounce back from. It can be knowing yourself truly even when others are cruel to you. It can be a starting place for the next step in living the life you love.
The crazy outcome of being more resilient? Life feels lighter.
Lots of people ask me how I started my businesses and the simple answer is: Faith and Action. Faith that this is good and that I can pull it off; action to just take a single step toward it. A single step followed by another step. Not having everything figured out in advance, but not necessarily wandering aimlessly. And faith doesn’t mean that I have to force it to happen if it’s not moving in a natural direction. That’s dogmatism, a form of control. Let go of that tie between dogma and faith! Faith can be free of dogma. How unnatural is dogma anyway? When that certainty is released, you can flow…you can surf. You can take chances.
We must be willing to roll the dice and lose. Prepare, at the end of the day, for none of it to work. — Ryan Holiday
Richard Rohr, a great spiritual teacher in our own times echoes with a similar sentiment:
Faith does not need to push the river because faith is able to trust that there is a river. The river is flowing. We are in it. — Richard Rohr
Kindness, when non-compulsory, is an amazing gift to give. It extends understanding and generosity to others and to ourselves.
Resilience, when cultivated deeply, may just be our best bet at really owning our lives, believing in ourselves and choosing who we will become.