A woman traveled along a path that she had dreamed of for a long time. She had meticulously planned and prepared for this journey, carefully marking the route and gathering supplies. At one point, well into the journey, there was an unforeseen obstruction in her path. Large boulders and fallen trees too large to move or navigate around. The path was now impassable.
In panic, the woman threw her body’s full weight against the rocks and tree limbs. They did not move. In desperation, she scrambled up the debris trying to get through to the other side. The pile was too thick and too high. She descended back down, scraped, bleeding, tears streaming and slumped on the side of the path.
“This is it,” she thought, despondent. “Maybe this is as far as I am meant to go.”
After a restless and fearful night, the woman awoke to the tender pink glow of early dawn. She traced her unfamiliar surroundings and caught the glisten of sunlight on dew drops hanging from leaves in the forest just beyond her stunted path. A spark of curiosity kindled, bringing her to her feet. Slowly she left the safety of the roadside and soon found her true path winding its way among the tall pines and mossy ground. Her spirit grew more rich and rooted within her as she listened to the healing tones of the birdsong and breathed deeply the smell of fresh and uninterrupted earth.
When she trusted herself to leave the safety of the stunted path, she found her true one. Simply and solely because it was the one that was here, now, opening before her with each next step.
When our well-laid plans are disrupted, our response is everything. Rather than resist what is – hurting our bodies as we feverishly attempt to clear the immoveable boulders from our path and resume our journey as planned; or resign to what is – setting up camp on the side of the road and refusing to seek an alternate route; resilience comes as an invitation for us to consciously respond.
Resistance creates the bulk of our suffering. Suffering is different from our pain, difficulty, and hardship. Suffering is created when our pain is multiplied by our resistance to it and to our circumstances – as we hate and judge or deny the closed path. Resilience is choosing to stay with an experience, acknowledging what is without judgment, and mining it for what it has to teach us.
Resilience holds the tension between seemingly opposing forces: bitter and sweet, contraction and expansion. It affirms and acknowledges the purpose of each. There is something in resilience that feels a lot like a “Yes, and…”
Yes this experience is hard, and I wonder what I will discover about my own strength and ability to overcome.
Yes there is much grief in this loss, and I am also finding pockets of surprising joy in the midst of my sadness.
Yes my heart is hurting so much I fear it may never recover, and I am experiencing a sense of aliveness that I have never felt before.
Yes I have just lost my job, and I have a chance to pause and disconnect from the hustle in order to reconnect with what I love.
In our work at AG Collaborative we reference this quote that has widely been attributed to Viktor Frankl:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Viktor Frankl was an Austrian neurologist, psychologist, author and Holocaust survivor. It was within the camps of Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, Kaufering and Türkheim where he clarified his belief that humans can withstand great suffering if they maintain their sense of purpose and meaning in this life. The same camps took the life of his young wife and most of his family.
Frankl’s work affirms the resilience inherent within the human spirit and invites us to own our response to any circumstance in a way that aligns with our values and affirms our humanity. We must choose our response. And let it reveal our power.
Resilience is alive within indigeneous populations who still manage to maintain tradition and culture in response to long histories of violence, genocide, and colonization.
Resilience looks like doctors and nurses sleeping on utility carts and pitching tents in their garage to keep their families safe while continuing to show up for the rest of us.
Resilience whispers in the hopeful conversations of a woman and a man still dreaming of family after losing their child.
It is individual and collective. It is life itself. The same life that vibrates from within the shell of a dying seed with tender shoots stretching through warming soil to break the ground and grow toward the light.
The next time we lose our path, let us affirm our humanity and honor our resilience. Yes, this is different than we had planned, and it may be that there is something for us to discover if we wander and find stillness on a mossy patch of earth in a stand of tall trees deeper within the forest.