Essential Components of Natural Resilience

There’s a tendency to think of resilience as a process of building toughness. Toughness allows us to “hold up” under adversity, to keep going when the going gets tough. The ability to withstand a blow works in boxing and football where there is constant aggression within clearly defined time limits but real life presents different kinds of challenges that don’t end when a bell rings or a whistle blows. Toughness is built at the expense of sensitivity.  Most of the health and life challenges we face require a deepening and expanding awareness of what’s happening and what we can do about it. Most personal difficulties arise when we exceed our limitations. Decreasing our awareness of limitations by “toughening up” sets us up for greater and more complicated difficulties that likely require a longer recovery period.

My work in counseling, teaching, and community organizing over the past five decades has essentially been a process of helping people realize their capacity to recover from difficulties while developing the ability to make adjustments in order to effectively respond to new challenges.  
I believe resilience is a natural tendency found throughout nature.  In my experience, the process of building resistance involves removing obstacles to our natural capacity to respond to life’s challenges.  My working definition of resilience is “our natural capacity to recover from difficulties and adapt to changing circumstances.”  The problem is that our modern world tends to diminish our natural capacity for resilience.

Resilience in nature involves restoring balance, flexibility, and interdependence with well-established feedback loops that facilitate continuing adaptation and evolution.  

I have found that these four  components also restore human’s natural capacity for resilience.  I applied the four components as:  1) Balance (physical, mental, and emotional); 2) Expanding Awareness (I like a photography analogy of frame, filer, and focus) 3); Truth (heart, mind and authenticity); and, 4) Belonging (nature, inclusion, and connection).  They essentially sum up what was missing when people came to me with problems and what was present when those difficulties were handled effectively.

Balance restores our physical, mental, and emotional capacity for recovery, and provides the flexibility needed to adapt to changing circumstances.  (Capacity for recovery and flexibility are key components of resilience in natural systems).  Expanding Awareness allows us to recognize and anticipate obstacles, limitations and opportunities.  Along with balance it provides a grounded perceptual flexibility to discern what is both important and needed.  Seeking Truth allows us to understand and discern priorities and options within consistent values.  It leads to clarity of action and purpose while avoiding traps set by misperception and distorted, self-centered thinking.  Belonging provides multiple perspectives along with support and assistance.  Realizing how we belong in the natural world helps us to understand our natural tendencies and recognize our inter-relatedness.  Inclusion ensures we are not alone in dealing with the problems we face.  Connection allows fresh perspectives, the capacity to learn from other’s experience, and the support that is inherent in a healthy community.

These components and their essential sub-components are described in detail in text, graphics and videos available on my website

-Bob Van Oosterhout

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