I've been having a lot of conversations recently, mostly over video-conference, where people share with me that they feel overwhelmed, exhausted, burnt out, or are struggling with questions about the meaning and purpose in their life. (Side bar - I still vividly remember my first Skype call, when I felt like George Jetson - I talking from Seattle to my friend in Hong Kong, live on video, for free. Mind blown! Now that miracle has become mundane and sometimes even feels like a burden to have to look presentable for a video call.)
I love these people that I've been talking to and I feel compassion and empathy for the very real challenges they are experiencing. I listen and I reflect and I validate their experience and their feelings (because I don't stop being a therapist/facilitator/coach, even when I'm being a friend). And I also have an awareness during those conversations that I do not feel overwhelmed or exhausted or burnt out. I generally feel energized and content and connected to a sense of purpose in my life.
We are living in the same context of a pandemic, systemic oppression and inequity, political polarization, and serious economic challenges. These folks I've been talking to are healthy, they are living in loving and supportive family households, with stable jobs and excellent benefits. I am also healthy and have a comfortable home, although I live alone and I left my stable job a couple months before the pandemic hit, so I've been launching a new business in a recession and my social interactions have become fairly limited. So our personal lifestyle contexts are similarly privileged. And I identify as empathic and sensitive, so I can't explain the difference in my experience with the idea that I just don't feel stuff the way my friends do. If anything, I tend to feel things more intensely than most people I know.
So what's the difference? If our external situations are pretty similar and it's not a question of my own lack of emotional sensitivity, then I can only blame my sense of well-being on my resilience practices. And by "blame" I mean I don't even know how to express my gratitude for these practices that have transformed my life, from a time when I was regularly struggling with depression and anxiety, to my present experience of living from a foundation of contentment and equanimity.
I believe that context matters and I believe in taking action to influence our context when possible. What has never been more clear to me than it is at the end of 2020, is that we, as humans, have limited control over our larger external context. And we have a great deal of control over our internal response to our context. I'm not the first to have this realization (among others, Viktor Frankl lays it out quite clearly in Man's Search for Meaning) and this year isn't the first time I've had it. But I feel like a spotlight has been shining on this awareness lately, making it visible on a daily basis.
And along with feeling gratitude for my own resilience practices and the positive effect they have on my life, I am also feeling deep gratitude for the opportunity to share this resilience and well-being journey with others - in my group class series and in individual therapy and coaching sessions. Practicing these techniques with other people brings me joy and deepens my own resilience by increasing my personal accountability, learning from others, and magnifying our collective energy by engaging in the journey together.
Speaking of gratitude, one of my favorite daily resilience practices is to intentionally notice and feel grateful. Some of my other favorite practices are: - physical activity (at least three times a week) - limiting media intake (content, quantity, and timing) - connecting with loved ones - sleeping 7-8 hours a night
The specific challenges in life might change, but as far as I can see, life has always been and will always be challenging. And I don't believe that there is a quick fix to the challenges and I don't have the answer to the question of life, the meaning of the universe, and everything (unless Douglas Adams was correct and it's 42. Yes, I'm a little scifi nerdy.). I do believe that we humans are amazing beings with an innate capacity for well-being. And I believe a life of contentment is possible through a commitment to practices that support resilience and well-being.
What are you practicing these days?