Developing Resilience through Mindfulness
Resilience is the ability to bounce back from difficulty.
One important component of resilience is the ability to sit with painful or difficult feelings, and then continue to do so as they come up again and again. While there are some emotional skills that feel immediately rewarding to practice – they may give you that eureka feeling, like you’ve had a breakthrough – resilience is quieter and often much more difficult to see in action from the outside. It also involves less single, big-effort actions and a lot more small, sometimes outwardly imperceptible choices over a long period of time.
Developing Non-judgmental Awareness
The ability to withstand negative emotions, painful experiences, and even the challenges of healing itself can be developed. This is often accomplished with individual bricks added to our mental and emotional infrastructure over time. Resilience involves the application of basic mindfulness principles. The mental muscles built in a meditation practice - where you focus on noticing your thoughts and redirecting them gently, without judgment - can help you get through weeks or months of difficult experiences. Part of long-term healing and strength comes through improving your momentary ability to respond to your own internal world in response to pain. Building a toolkit that helps with a few painful minutes or a distressing thought pattern is also building a toolkit that you can turn to again and again in healing from difficult experiences.
Develop a Mindset of Curiosity
Another part of this toolkit is learning to be curious about one's own emotions and thoughts, making space for them to exist. Ask yourself questions about the sensations you're feeling, physically and emotionally, and practice acceptance. "Are there thoughts I’m having that I’m accepting as fact? What past experiences am I remembering because of this one? Am I telling myself stories about my own shame or inadequacy when I’m feeling these things?"
You might repeat the answers to these questions to yourself, in a gentle tone: “I’m feeling [scared/anxious/unhappy/resentful/angry]. This makes sense because I care about [my relationship/my career/my physical health]. I’m telling myself [that something won’t work out/something could go wrong/this person doesn’t care for me], but I don’t know yet if that’s true.”
One of the most difficult parts of this curiosity tool is the final piece – acceptance. Acceptance in this context isn’t contentment with what is, it’s simply reminding yourself to let go of what you don’t control. For me, this means sitting with myself, gently holding my feelings of pain, or of fear, or of unhappiness, and simply allowing them to be, without trying to scare them away or hide them somewhere where they can’t bother me. The more you sit with your feelings and allow them to pass, the better you become at getting through intense emotional responses in a way that aligns with your values, and the better you become at finding stability within yourself, even over long periods of time when you're experiencing setbacks.
Brene Brown has said that "resilience is more available to people curious about their own line of thinking and behaving.” I’ve found that resilience is constructed of tools that make us aware of the direction of our thoughts and feelings in the moment. As we are more curious and gentle with ourselves in intense moments, we have a greater capacity to endure difficult weeks, months, and years, made up of those moments.