Practical resilience tools for troubled times
So it’s all gone a bit crazy, right? Given the state of politics and the world generally right now, I thought I’d offer a few tips on keeping your head in the insanity. Well, more like keeping your body as those around lose theirs and blame it on you (to misquote Kipling, and seeing as embodied resilience is my specialism).
All these top tips for managing pressure gracefully have been tried and tested in war zones, in martial arts dojos, in stressful workplaces, and with activist groups on global front lines. I’ve included a lot of video links as most of these are practical skills that are better shown than told.
Put your own oxygen mask on first
This is a bit of cliche in personal growth now. But it’s still true: we need to look after ourselves to help others. I’m currently viewing my diet and exercise habits. Along with sleep, these are and always will be the basics of being a healthy human being; that’s our foundation for action. Self-care and self-love are often under-developed in those trying to change the world, in my experience, so watch out for this one!
For aid workers but very relevant to all: https://youtu.be/4gm4qTUOwHQ
Wellbeing audit (amongst a bunch of other stuff): https://purposeblackbelt.com/bag-of-goodies
Connect to yourself
While it’s tempting to avoid feeling when unpleasant emotions abound, we can only stay healthy, compassionate and effective if we’re in touch with ourselves. The first connection is to come home to the body. This is the basis of many of the skills people need during tough times, and it takes practice in our disembodied culture. Body awareness meditations, gentle yoga, massage, thai chi, and many other practices can be helpful.
Get yourself together
The completely natural and totally unhelpful response to pressure is the famous ‘fight-fight-freeze’ response. This is where most of the world seems at now, but it’s a problem if we wish to constructively engage. The reason FFF is an issue is that it’s:
- self-destructive – it’s exhausting and makes us sick if it’s a longer-term state.
- capacity reducing – as the mind-brain ‘hijacks’ us we lose intelligence, compassion and creativity.
- not compelling to others – if we want to be persuasive, hate isn’t helpful; it simply puts others into a fight-flight- freeze pattern of their own, and the destructive cycle continues.
So, what can we do? Well, love IS actually the answer – not in an abstract, naïve, hippie way, but as a practical embodied tool, using posture, breathing and awareness. Martial artists, who have learnt the hard way, call the methods for reducing the FFF response ‘centring’. These methods are vital during tough times. A very simple one you can do right now is to feel your body, stand or sit in a more upright and balanced way, and relax your eyes, mouth and belly. Notice the difference. More techniques below:
Paul Linden’s ultra-quick centring lesson: https://youtu.be/LTLsF7y8QOw
Centring with a client: https://youtu.be/cJxv6yyYT5M
Elephant Journal article: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2017/01/the-technique-that-helps-me-make-tough-decisions-under-pressure-has-saved-my-life-more-than-once/
Connect to others
We are inter-resilient. We care for ourselves, heal and fight oppression most effectively in community. You’re only as resilient as your social support. Building supportive networks and reaching out to them when in need is vital. Learn to listen, learn to ask for help, learn to express yourself. Learn to give and receive appreciation. Get the hugs in. Eat together. Laugh at all the bullshit. Dance. Connect. You get the idea.
One little trick for when you’re alone and feeling rough: imagine the hand of someone who has supported you on your back. It feels good, right? You can also look for what you have in common with those around you, even if they’re not particularly friendly. Look for what you like about them even if it’s not much.
Connect to purpose and values
It’s easy to lose track of what you care about when things are stressful, yet keeping this connection brings us strength. At any moment, just asking, ‘what do I care about?’ or ‘what am I in service to’ can be very helpful. Also, we all have something bigger than ourselves that ‘has our back’. Sometimes this is a sense of where we come from, nature, an abstract idea (like truth), or a religious belief. Just as you did with a person, try imitating a hand on your back symbolising this support in a way that’s meaningful to you.
Embody your stand and hold your ‘no’
There are several, often underdeveloped, embodied capacities that can be deepened as the Molotov shit-filled cocktail hits the fan. Two of these are being able to make a stand and being able to say a firm but non-violent ‘no’; these are good antidotes to the natural ‘flight’ response we may feel when faced who pressure. It’s easier to show how to work with these.
Anger is your friend; hate isn’t
Anger has been demonized by much of the personal growth scene. Off-balance hate is certainly unhelpful. The latter is a totally natural ‘fight’ response and may feel like a good fuel, but isn’t, for the reasons already outlined. Anger, on the other hand, is simply passionate care, and is much needed now. I would challenge fellow body-mind teachers not to simply help people calm down and anesthetize. It’s time for warrior pose, not corpse pose, ya’ll!
Do the healing work
Times like this can bring up a lot of old traumas and shadow (eg In our relationship to power or authority). In order for us to be at our best, it’s necessary to heal where we can, so as not to be trapped in cycles of violence. Hurt people hurt people, and this applies to us too. A positive frame here is that now, we may be forced to do the inner work that we’ve needed to do for years!
Say thank you
In times of anger and uncertainty, it’s even more important to practice gratitude for what we do have. This fuels the effort required to change what we want to. Practicing gratitude verbally, with gestures or in writing, is one of the most reliable and effective ways to manage mood, in my experience. Make it a regular practice:
I hope this helps you. Here are a few more extras:
My friend and colleague Anouk Brack had a similar article idea: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/outsmarting-basic-instinct-3-powerful-practices-let-take-anouk-brack
General resilience video: https://youtu.be/sycZZrYvCNw
A recent overall one on Jedi activism: https://youtu.be/jCgWWx20qZQ
One I made for LGBTQ Moscow that captures the heart of it: https://youtu.be/vwxvdgKUbYE
by Mark Walsh