Every single one of us, no matter what our age or life circumstances, has some story of resilience—some story about experiencing a tough time and finding our way through it. When we share these stories, what strengths do we discover? Who and what helped us? How might we mine those resources of resilience now?
Now more than ever, some of us may wonder how in the world we will get through these tough times. The truth is, my darlings, we already know where to turn. We have learned these lessons before. In crisis times like these, we may momentarily forget them. And because the collision of present circumstances seems unprecedented, we may think that none of our old strengths apply. But if we listen deeply (which is October’s theme) to our own stories and to others’, we’ll discover the sources of resilience that can ground and guide us, strengthen and sustain us through the weeks and months to come.
On Sunday, September 20, we listened deeply to four stories of resilience; then we had a chance to share our own. When we came back from the Breakout Rooms, we typed into the chat the sources of strength and resilience we had harvested. I took that long list, looked for common themes, condensed many words into one, and fed them into a word-cloud generator. It took hours of experilearning to figure out how to get all our major resources to fit. You’ll see the results in the word cloud that accompanies this essay.
It takes some decoding to unlock the treasures this heart-image contains. “Others” shows up as the most common word because it’s listed over and over in phrases like “reach out to others,” “ask for help from others,” and “offer help to others.” It’s telling that we Unitarian Universalists find ourselves so finely woven into the interconnected web that when we look for resilience, we know that “others” have to be involved. And “help” itself is the second most common word.
We know that we need to turn inward to find compassion and offer care for ourselves too. So “self” shows up almost as frequently as “others.” In fact, when we seek balance between looking inward and turning outward (see the made-up word “innerouter”), we can almost always find a way back to resilience.
“Beloveds” captures all our references to family, friends, classmates, and colleagues, past and present. Surely we find strength by deepening our connections to our best companions.
Over and over folx list taking things “one step at a time,” “one day at a time,” “one hour,” “one breath,” “one moment” as a way to make it through. Others name how important it is to set goals, to pace ourselves, and to have a Plan B. All these remind us that action is an antidote to fear. We can try something new—a perspective, an activity—and learn from it. We can take time to grieve. We can “make art about it,” creating something, anything, to express how we feel. We can focus on the positive. We can savor the beauty we discover around us. We can trust in Something More or in our ancestral (and present-tense) solidarity to get us through. We can ask for help and offer it. Each one of these actions builds our resilience. What if we tried one each day?
Perseverance, patience, persistence, and determination pepper the list. Some folx find strength through their work, while others gain flexibility and resilience through yoga or meditation. Many mention appreciating how our life experience gives us perspective when hard times come round again. We’ve made it this far; can we, with fresh imagination, humility, and connectivity, make it through again?
Through it all, we lean into compassion—for ourselves and for others—as a source of strength.
What resources get left out of the word cloud? Brilliant one-word entries like compartmentalization and grace. The idea of letting go, of relinquishing that which doesn’t serve us anymore. Therapy, the right medications, positive affirmations. And most of all, unconditional love—which is what the shape of the cloud, as a heart, represents.
Dear ones, I hope you will spend time with this list and the image that goes with it. Meditate on it. Let the words unfurl into sensations in your body and actions you can take. Look around for where you find these sources of resilience in your life. Give your love and energy to them, strengthen them! Keep them at the front of your mind as we move into the weeks and months ahead.
And let this be one source of strength: We will be focusing on building our resilience for a long time, no matter what happens next. We’ll get better and better at it, if we’ll commit to working on it together.
With faith and trust in our combined resilience,