The other day when I was feeling exhausted and very much needing solace and rest, the wise words of one of my favorite poet’s, David Whyte, popped up on my computer screen. He says…
“Rest is the conversation between what we love to do and how we love to be. Rest is the essence of giving and receiving; an act of remembering, imaginatively and intellectually but also physiologically and physically. To rest is to give up on the already exhausted will as the prime motivator of endeavor, with its endless outward need to reward itself through established goals. To rest is to give up on worrying and fretting and the sense that there is something wrong with the world unless we are there to put it right; to rest is to fall back literally or figuratively from outer targets and shift the goal not to an inner static bull’s eye, an imagined state of perfect stillness, but to an inner state of natural exchange.”[i]
In the wake of the release of my book in the world, I’ve been tired, deeply tired. I’ve been calling it my postpartum time, as I very much went through a long gestation, labor, and birth with all of the joy, excitement, and disorientation that process brings.
Following the birth of The Vitality Map, I had to confront the expectation in myself and others, that I would be out there in the world energized and passionately sharing my book far and wide. Sure, there’s been some of that, but mostly I’ve been feeling like I am needing time to integrate, ground, let down, and rest.
And so the words of David Whyte resonate deeply with me now, and I’ve been remembering intimately in my body why it is that I emphasize resilience so much in my book and in my teachings.
Learning the Skills of Resilience
I have chosen the term “resilience” because it reflects an important reality: you are not a static entity, but an evolving, changing being in a rapidly changing environment. Any approach to your health and well-being that denies this critical fact will always fall short.
As ecologists Brian Walker and David Salt write in Resilience Thinking, “At the heart of resilience thinking is a very simple notion—things change—and to ignore or resist this change is to increase our vulnerability and forego emerging opportunities. In so doing, we limit our options.”[ii]
They go on to define resilience as “the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance; to undergo change and still retain essentially the same function, structure, and feedbacks.”
Resilience, in the way I use the term, is an inner orientation, the way you view yourself in relationship to your life, and, most importantly, it is about learning and honing the skills and capacities you need to consciously guide yourself toward your own flourishing in the midst of ongoing change.
Life is unpredictable and complex. You may be going along and feeling like you are on top of the world, and then suddenly, you have a big life transition like giving birth to a child (or a book), or you are in a car accident, or a loved one dies, or you lose your job. All of a sudden, just like that, everything changes.
There is no such thing as a stress-free or predictable life.
When things like that happen, it can feel like the ground beneath you drops out, and there is no sense of control or security. And on one level that is true. You really do not ultimately have control over what happens. Death, loss, and change are all part of life’s unfolding.
What you do have control over, however, is how you respond within the unpredictability and the constant change. Through developing resilience, you can self-regulate and preserve your health and well-being even when life throws you a curveball.
In my dance through life, I am being called to remember this fundamental truth all the time. As the patterned behavior emerges in the midst of stress and unpredictability, I ask myself how can I continue to have my own back now, to release the expectations and pressures I may have to show up to serve or share in ways that deny my own needs, that require me to “will” my way through.
And I practice and experiment as I move through my days with how to continue to return to listening for that next self-nourishing step. And right now for me, that is rest.
[i] David Whyte, Consolations:The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, (Many Rivers Press, 2015).
[ii] Brian Walker and David Salt, Resilience Thinking: Sustaining Ecosystems and People in a Changing World, (Island Press, 2006), 9.