Reflections on Resilience

Published: March 6, 2020
Author: ConsciousCafe

The Singapore ConsciousCafé group recently discussed the topic of  “Resilience”, which seems to be appropriate in the current situation of chaos, fear and panic in the world affected by the spreading novel coronavirus infection. The group was smaller than we're used to, and that was conducive to an interesting in-depth sharing of personal experiences, stories and discussions about useful strategies.

The group defined the term “resilience” from a few different view points as:

  • The capacity of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused specifically by a compressive stress
  • An ability to recover from a misfortune, difficulties or change; to cope despite setbacks, barriers or limited resources; toughness, adaptability, bounce back ability

There will be always stress and adversity in human life. Stress is an important tool that helps us in our survival in face of a threat or adversity. We are hard wired for the negative, to be more alert to danger, adversity than to good and beauty. Negative emotions seems to stick much longer. In 1990 Kabat Zinn wrote in his book “Catastrophe Living” how our negative thoughts  patterns and emotions , reactions to stress and adverse events actually makes matters worse for ourselves and those around us. He offered some novelty strategies ( at the time)  how to use the wisdom of our body and mind to become aware “in the movement to moment”, and to navigate life experiences from that perspective. Now we recognise this as mindfulness.

Individual experience of an extreme threat, may lead to an overwhelm of the nervous system and depending how we think about the situation, can erode an overall sense and wellbeing, can distort thinking, undermine confidence and drain energy. One can become inflexible, anxiety-ridden and simply unable to cope. Courage is replaced by fear, doubt and inability to make a decision. What is even worse that often the much needed connection with another, a sense of physical and emotional safety, through ties to family and friends is replaced by withdrawal, an isolation leading to a loneliness.

We all agreed that a first step is to acknowledge that “bad things happen”, that suffering is part of life. In Chinese culture there is a saying “chi ku” – “eating bitterness”  figuratively speaking of one’s own suffering. Another saying “culture is not your friend”  suggests increasing our capacity to tolerate discomfort as a necessary course of action.

Our ability to adjust, to adapt can be helped by selecting on what to focus the attention. Many of us pointed that trying to find a positive aspect within an adversity, changing that which can be changed and accepting things that one can not change can bring some calm and clarity. It is not to diminish the negative, but to consciously tune into the good. Such strategy could become a daily mental exercise, for example, to name 3 positive things that happened during the day. The shift of the attention from negative onto a positive has a profound affect on the physiology and psychology and coping ability.

Also we can ask ourselves a question: is this action, the way I am thinking, the way I am feeling helping or harming me? The honest reflection can bring a sense of empowerment.

Finding a reason, a responsibility to survive the traumatic event because someone else depend on us, being of help, of service to another can restore a sense of control. Understanding the importance of personal contribution can be  a source of purpose and motivation.

Unanimously we agreed that the Nature definitely has restorative powers, offers grounding and a sense of expansion; can help to shift one’s perspective and a sense of belonging. Similarly physical activities, movement  exercises are all important strategies to restore the ability to “bounce back”, to restore energy.

An important extension of this topic would be to explore how can we teach our children to be resilient?

Hanna Krasnodebska, ConsciousCafé Singapore Leader


ConsciousCafe is a not-for-profit organisation, a friendly and welcoming community, a place to live life consciously.