Plasticity – Elasticity – and Amazing Resiliency!

In the time I’ve written this blog, 2 more names have surfaced in the tsunami of Hollywood sexual assault stories.  #MeToo on steroids now – all around us.  It is as if you are assumed guilty – until proven innocent. 
So many other hard things in the world – harassment – or bad things – descending upon us. How do we survive – those who do?  Press conferences – lawsuits – therapy? All tools to use to get a sense of vindication – or a way to shout ‘no more’ – but does all that do anything to heal – or are we “thrown helplessly like puppets” from one behavioral and emotional extreme to the other – perhaps with a few bucks in our pocket, if we’re lucky….perhaps with nothing but the experience festering into our soul.
Do we have a choice?  Are we blades of grass swinging this way and that, but always returning to a more or less ramrod straight position?  Or are we skinny twigs – ready to snap at the slightest insult?
If we’re blades of grass – how fortunate are we?  If we’re parents, what can we do to help our children?  We won’t always be there…protecting them, getting between them and harm in all the lonely places they must walk.
How do we teach resiliency?  How do we teach how to sway back and forth – take the time – and return to ramrod straight?  If we learn how to do this it will be a lifelong skill – a lifelong art – that will do them well. I believe years ago that we taught each other more deeply how to do that.  Have we lost that basic core? Maybe it starts with expecting that we will all be ok – there, there, it will.  And minute after minute – quite deliberately – quite mindfully – one day soon – it will be. We may be dented and damaged, or ever so more cautious – but we are back and strong and moving forward.
 
Here is an article that will help you be that resilient self – and will give you some resources to learn how to help others become that, too.

Reprinted here:

Happiness isn’t a country.

You don’t get there and stay. It’s a fleeting space, a feeling that comes and goes, so focusing on being happy is just a distraction, according to some psychologists. Better to develop resilience, which is a characteristic that you can cultivate to improve the quality of your life in any circumstances.Resilience is essentially emotional elasticity, the ability to manage changes and difficulties. It’s the ability to deal with life’s vicissitudes with some grace, not being derailed by every failure, mistake, or shift in circumstances. The skill is worth learning, says psychologist Anna Rowley—who counsels executives at corporations like Microsoft on cultivating existential “mastery”—because emotional flexibility is exceptionally handy in our rapidly-changing world. Resilience provides you with a personal foundation of strength and sense of safety.

Rowley doesn’t talk about happiness at all. She argues that Americans are culturally obsessed with feeling good when, instead, we should be perfecting perception, our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. Rather than dealing with difficulties, Rowley says, people tend to “cope ugly.” We numb ourselves with food, drink, drugs, stuff, sex, or the internet, hoping not to feel anything at all if we can’t just feel happy.

Those efforts to hide from suffering are futile, Rowley says. We learn little from hiding. But by engaging with negative emotions, and learning to see they’re fleeting, we can get better at dealing generally. And every feeling or situation we manage wisely builds on our resilience skills. “Resilience is like a super coping mechanism,” Rowley told Quartz. “It protects against stress in any situation.”

Stretch, don’t bounce.

Coping sounds kind of dull compared to happiness but failing to do so can lead to depression. According to writer and clinical psychiatrist Peter Kramer, emotional resilience ensures mental health, and is the opposite of depression. “Depression is fragility, brittleness, lack of resilience, a failure to heal,” Kramer writes in his 2005 book Against Depression.

Developing resilience won’t bring happiness but it can help you avoid depression and teach you to heal yourself when you do suffer. Learning to deal will improve your quality of life, says Rowley, yet to get good at it demands facing and engaging the very thing we seek to avoid, most notably our own bad feelings.

According to the American Psychological Association, “Resilience…means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences.” Rowley differs slightly on this. She argues that “bouncing back” is just an aspect of this skill and not the one that comes first. It would be better, she says, if we learned how to gently and continually stretch ourselves instead of bouncing around. “Rebounding is important but you can’t learn from experience if you hurry,” the psychologist argues.

“Rebound alone takes the personal accountability out of situations and leaves you with no locus of control. What we really need is emotional literacy, to be able to look at our actions and recognize the role of choice in events.”

You are not what you feel

The late Oliver Sacks, a neurologist and writer, spent half a century studying the minds of people with chronic brain diseases, patients who operated at neurological extremes—some operated super fast, some very slow, some were deeply depressed, others were manic, and some patients alternated between extreme states. In his last just-released book, The River of Consciousness, Sacks refers to resilience as the “middle ground” that gives people mental control and stability. Without it, he notes, patients are “thrown helplessly like puppets” from one behavioral and emotional extreme to the other.

Sacks’ patients suffered from neurological deficits that made it impossible for them to regulate themselves and develop resilience naturally. Most people, however, do have what it takes. If you’ve made it this far in life, you’ve already displayed amazing resilience, and Rowley says you can get better at it.

You don’t have a choice about getting sick or getting laid off from a job, say. But you do have a choice about how you respond to what happens emotionally, and the response will influence how far you fall, how fast you get back on your feet, and what you yield from your difficult experience. To practice responding appropriately, you must get to know yourself emotionally, says Rowley.

You do it by paying attention. Developing a habit of attentiveness is fundamental to building resilience. You can practice with a deceptively simple exercise that the psychologist uses herself and with clients: On the way to work, say, in your car, name three to five things you see, sense, and hear, Rowley suggests. For example, you see traffic is crawling, the sun is climbing in the sky, and that the car in from of you is blue. You sense a chill in the air, that your fingertips are cold against the steering wheel, and that the driver behind you is impatient as he inches closer to your bumper. You hear the hum of traffic on surrounding freeways, angry honking of horns, and the squawking of birds flying overhead.

Making simple mental lists like this might seem silly at first. Who cares about the birds? You’ve got important worries!

But Rowley says the lists teach you simple perceptual shifts from internal to external realities, and help you to see clearly in the moment. She practices the exercise herself as well, every day. When you practice moving between your inner self and the outer world, you stop being a prisoner to emotions and are able to simply note what is, explains Rowley. This helps you make better, fact-based decisions.

No one thing you do today will guarantee your flourishing in the future, warns Rowley. Developing the skill of resilience, however, means you don’t have to fear the failures, mistakes, and changes that lie ahead for all. The confidence that comes from knowing you can manage tough circumstances, makes difficult situations easier to handle, and that is certainly happy news.

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Terror at Christmas

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Christmas past…

Every Christmas I waited for one gift.  It would usually come a few days before Christmas, and it was never wrapped.  But I knew it was coming, when I heard my uncle bound up the stairs, rather than plod one step at a time. “Is she here?” he’d bellow.  I was always there. Where else would I have been?

As the only boy in his family, growing up with two sisters, one my mother, and a father who was more into gardening and puttering, than hunting or big physical exercise, I imagine he was thrilled when my mother was having a baby.  I imagine he was a little disappointed when it was a girl.

But quickly he figured that it made no difference at all.  And he would simply treat me like a boy.  So, gifts of clothing, of which there were very few, were often blue sweaters or orange and black gloves and brown boots bought in the boy’s department. As I said, he didn’t buy clothing very often.  What he did buy, though, was pretty spectacular.  Especially for an “only child” being raised like a princess (as a recall). Barbies!  Carriages!  Baby dolls!  All were plentiful. But they never came from my uncle.

No, when my uncle would come bounding up those stairs, I would just wait for it!  What magical toy would it be?  Lincoln Logs.  Those little plastic Indians and Soldiers in their war stances.  We’d play and make forts and have some big battles! Sets of tinker toys. And we’d build giant spaceship type structures. One time there were racing cars, complete with a curving roller coaster track.  There was the police car, all black and white and heavy, that you could rev up by running it back and forth and then letting it go and the red light would shine and the siren would shriek.  There was the police gear. And a badge I could wear. And we would play and run around the house. Never for very long, though. We’d start to play and then he’d run off to do some adult thing that he needed to do.

My mother would say “Sonny!” (what we always called my uncle) “Sonny! She’s a girrrllll!” But, I loved it all.  The gun shot caps.  Then he bought me real caps – the kind you stepped on and it sounded like pistol shots.  There was a science kit or two, and then, one day, there was a “pearl” handled silver gun.  It was big and heavy.  You could cock it back and it would snap out a loud POP.  I can still remember how it felt in my hand and how there were ridges on the inside of the hammer.  Better, yet, this gun went into a holster – a black holster that went around my waist.  Eventually I got a cowboy hat to go with it. And bullets on a cross strip.  And boots.  I was banned by my mother from playing outside dressed up like that because the neighbors might see.  So I played inside.  Lost in a world of Gunsmoke and Bonanza. Even Andy Griffith carried a gun!  And, for that matter, Ellie Mae Clampett from the Beverly Hillbillies prided herself on her shooting prowess.

As growing up will do to you, it changed things.  And the Christmas came when the boy-toy didn’t get such a gleeful response from me; and it stayed unopened.  “Hey, you didn’t open it… yet” he said, a few days in a row. Eventually the boy-toys stopped coming.  Eventually we didn’t play together anymore.

These memories are vivid this year; the same year my uncle passed away at 92.  I remember it because of how things have changed. And also for how they have not changed very much at all.

Christmas present…

Today, gun toys for young children are not cool.  But yet, they are on our shelves…waiting to be bought for little boys and little girls this Christmas.  The violent video games target the slightly older children, whose unformed minds bounce between fantasy and reality. This December begins with terror. Terror from San Bernardino – but living inside all of us today. When we’re shopping at a crowded mall.  Eating in a restaurant. Attending a concert.  Now, when we’re at work at a holiday party?

Gun control.  It seems an impossibility.  The little tweaks are purposeful, but in fact, all the guns we will ever need are already out there.  Guns are forever, but ammo degrades. It has a shelf life.  Ammunition is gun food. If we can starve the guns a bit, or change the way ammunition sales are regulated and controlled, perhaps we can change the way guns are used. As Marc Ambinder wrote in The Week in 2012, “Guns need food. Starve them”.  We can be distracted by all the focus on gun control – let us ask ourselves, what else can we do?

Here’s another thing we can do – we can ask to have these toys removed from our shelves. We can stop buying them. These are some of the gun type toys available for purchase on this one day in December in Rhode Island. They are at Benny’s, K-Mart, Toys ‘R Us, and Walmart stores.

The first store I visited was Toys R Us and while there were a few gun-like, nerf-type toys available, I didn’t see the more realistic looking, AK-47 types.  When asked, the department manager told me, “I haven’t seen them here in this store in about 10 years.  We stopped carrying them after Columbine.”

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Christmas Future…

What will be our Christmas future? What terror will hold us close?  How will we harden and adapt?  Is this our new normal?  I think about my children.  My grandchildren yet to be. I hope they can find the answers.  And we – the elders now – must stay engaged.  Let us bring our memories of our own childhood and see what we can do to our tenuous hold on happiness and peace in our loved ones’ future.  As Scrooge said at the final ghost appearance, “the shadows of the things that would have been, may be dispelled. They will be. I know they will!”  Let us pray there is truth in this tale.

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