The Surprising Key to Resilience







Resilience has become a recent buzz-word, reflective of the load of stress that a modern homo sapiens experiences and attempts to cope with. New Oxford American dictionary reminds us that more than just a capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, it’s an object’s ability to spring back into shape. To put it in terms of mindfulness, it’s our ability to respond to a situation from the present moment awareness, and not the lingering body memory of the past.


The good news is that resilience is not a genetic trait, but rather a result of our life’s conditioning. How empowering it is to know that that if something was conditioned once, it can be de-conditioned or on the contrary – developed! With gentle exploration resilience can be nourished into a trustworthy and reliable life companion, and even a savior in our troubles. More so, sense of resilience breeds a kind of calm as we sail the sea of life – it lends a quiet trust of an ever-possible outcome that we somehow will make it.


The key to cultivating resilience lies in the perception of safety. Resilience and safety make a loving alliance, where one nourishes the other: when we feel safe, we are resilient, and when we feel resilient, we can relax into a greater perception of safety.


In a seemingly safe place our nervous system gets the signal to exit the survival mode and engage its self-healing Intelligence. It can simply let go into its inherent health. Ability to cope with great difficulties and even trauma is coded into our limbic nervous system.


In the Safari, you wouldn’t come by traumatized zebras or gazelles even after a lion chase. Ingeniously engineered, our bodymind knows perfectly well how to come out of hardship not only unscathed, but actually empowered by it. Isn’t this the essence of resilience, “I’m ready to take this one on any time!” So if the feeling of safety is so essential, how and why does it get compromised?


Part of the culprit is previously-unresolved trauma. We can call it undigested life material. In essence, while a traumatized bodymind is still waiting for an opportunity to complete its healing process, another trauma arrives and adds more incendiary ingredients to the already-bubbling stew.


This layering starts to chip away at the sense of safety, gradually creating unnecessary hyper-vigilance and diminishing our ability to recover. Notice we are speaking here of the perception of safety, and not the “actual” safety as this is a highly subjective matter that has many levels. The most basic level is physical. For instance, a person feels physically safe if they are sure that no one will jump out from the bushes to assault them or barge into their personal space unannounced.


But there are yet other levels of safety. One a deep psyche level, we feel safe around only those people who don’t judge us and accept us as we are. We intuitively know that judgment from another is not a safe place to be and tend to run away from that judge. If you recreate the feeling of being around your favorite people, you will find yourself in the cocoon of safety and non-judgment.


Understandably a relationship where we are demeaned, insulted, ignored, ridiculed or even rushed could put a crack into the foundation of safety and our ability to cope with stress. So next time you feel stress coming on, check in with yourself if you feel safe. A simple question “How safe do I feel just now?” can guide you into knowing how well you will cope. From this question you can begin to inventory that which lets you know that you are both safe and unsafe. If you feel overwhelmed by this simple exercise, chances you are outside the bounds of safety, which gives you a clue about needing to land in your body. Safety arrives into your body when YOU arrive in it.


Restoring this sense of safety in a non-judgmental relational holding field is one of the jewels of Stillness work. My perception can pick up where your safety was compromised and gently support you as your body discharges the traumatic imprints it’s been holding. Through a series of gentle hands-on or long-distance meditative treatments, you can gradually settle into deeper layers of safety that could eventually lead to a kind of existential safety that gives birth to a greater trust in life.


Your body can finally remember what it is s like to be safe in a relationship, and just be safe. From this base the nervous system can repair its past trauma and extend into growing resilience. In a safe environment, the nervous system can re-learn resilience.


Safety is also the key ingredient in any personal transformation and learning, but more on that in another post..