(Presentation by Katia Rheault for Parent Education sponsored by Sunrise Waldorf School’s Parent Association, June 1st, 2022).
So... What is resilience?
Resilience or resiliency comes from the Latin resilere (to resurge, to recover). The first meaning has to do with physics and it is power or ability to return to the original form or position after being bent, compressed or stretched. The second meaning is the ability to recover from illness or adversity. Resilience it is the ability to spring back, rebound.
There are many definitions, but I would like to offer this one from Ann Mosten, “Resilience is the capacity of a dynamic system to adapt successfully to challenges that threaten its function, survival or future development”. I like it because a “capacity” is something that can be cultivated and strengthened over time, “adaptation” implies awareness and flexibility, and there is connection between the present and the future.
Resilience is the ability to face disruption and retain balance. Resilience has three anchor points (intrapersonal, interpersonal, transpersonal). I hope that, through this presentation, you will be inspired to create more resilience in yourself, your family and your community.
How the nervous system works
The mind and body are connected through the vagus nerve which is a very long nerve that stretches from the brainstem to the colon. This nerve allows the brain to monitor and receive information about many of our physiological functions; it also helps to regulate our heart rate, blood pressure, sweating, digestion, and even speaking. The brain processes the signals and cues it receives from our body and the world around us and, in turn, determines how we react through three main physiological states: a relaxed state that supports social interaction, connection and cognition; a stressed-out state where we feel that we need to fight or escape from a stressful situation to get to safety; or a “freeze” state where we feel so threatened that we become immobilized. If we think of an animal that either survives by attacking or escaping its predator or not moving at all so that the predator cannot detect it, we can easily see how these ways of responding to a threat are built-in mechanisms that ensure our survival.
Recovery is the feeling (direct experience) or the image (internalised experience) of safety and co-regulation. And, when recovery is achieved, people are able to experience stillness and feel peaceful, not triggered and vulnerable. If the belief exists that a specific adversity was overcome, this will improve the mental and physical health outcome.
And according Dr. Stephen Porges, who has developed the Polyvagal Theory, there are a few things that increase vagal efficiency, that is they improve the ability of the nervous system to recover from stressful events by stimulating the ventral portion of the vagus nerve and thus deactivating the fight/flight/freeze response: breathing practices (singing, playing a wind instrument, chanting, and doing Pranayama or yogic breathing exercises), and listening to music all provide positive neurological stimulation that rewire the nervous system.
Although one shouldn’t practice Pranayama without having the guidance of an expert teacher, the other things are easy to practice and, interestingly enough, this is exactly how we start the day at the Waldorf school: reciting our morning verse, reciting poetry, singing and playing the flute all happen first thing during Main Lesson. After they have been able to engage in these activities, which help them focus, relax and come together as a group, children are able to review content, learn new content and participate in learning activities.
Individual resilience and trauma
Individual resilience is the capacity to stay with challenges and be able to respond to them. This implies having an integrated personal history that influences the present; integration means learning from our experiences: it means wisdom. The integration of difficult experiences (what Gabor Maté calls “transforming trauma into wisdom”) builds resilience. However, if an individual cannot interact with the environment in a way that feels manageable, and not overwhelming, the interaction will be traumatizing. The question then becomes, How much of the world, of the Other, can I include into myself?
Dr. Maté defines trauma not as a traumatic event but as what happens to a person because of a stressful event; it is the fragmentation that takes place in the face of adversity and in the absence of an empathetic person that can provide help and support.
Thus, trauma can be defined simply as “too much, too fast, too soon”, with no possibility of processing a distressing experience in the caring presence of an authentic human being.
Trauma is a response to a stressful event and it alters our physiology unless the experience is processed. If the cues for safety haven’t returned and the nervous system remains disrupted and in a state of high alert, there can be numbness, chronic fatigue, mental fog, and a number of chronic disorders (digestive issues, insomnia, high blood pressure, etc.) because the nervous system hasn’t recalibrated and still perceives that there is a physical or psychological threat even though the specific danger is no longer present. And, if a traumatised person has to face a new challenge, they may become triggered and reactive, or they react with distance, apathy and lack of care, or engage in repetitive behaviour.
Specific adverse events can cause trauma, but there are also other factors at play: whether an individual has had adverse experiences in childhood (ACEs) or not, whether there is unresolved trauma or not, whether an individual was able to co-regulate with others or not, whether the adverse event disrupted homeostasis in a prolonged way or whether the nervous system had time to recover quickly. Physiological states are dynamic, and individual; they depend on the present moment and also change with maturation and aging. That is why we are able to “bounce back” faster when we are young, but we require much more time as we age.
The important thing to remember is that unintegrated trauma doesn’t disappear. It is just “swept under the rug” but, as an unseen force, it disconnects and compresses us. Trauma hinders creativity and innovation as these require presence, relatedness and connections.
Effective trauma therapy is gentle and gradual; trauma experts speak of “titration”. Eventually, the nervous system will be able to regulate, the cues for safety will return, and certain physiological sensations will no longer be associated with an adverse event.
Thus we can’t speak of resilience without speaking of trauma. The two are linked like the two sides of a teeter-totter: the more trauma, the less resilience and vice versa.
When suffering affects a group of people, it becomes collective trauma and, if it is not worked with and integrated, it exists in what Thomas Hübl calls “the cultural permafrost”. It hasn’t disappeared; it has just been repressed, and remains frozen and unacknowledged. Collective trauma is part of the legacy of genocide and oppression.
The wounds inflicted on a group of people require integration and restoration. The ethical wound needs to be addressed; that is why unresolved trauma tends to repeat itself to emerge, to surface itself, much like the graves of the Indigenous children who attended residential schools: they have always been there, but have just recently emerged in the collective awareness of this country now called Canada.
We have to restore the specific undigested legacy of oppression and domination that exists in every culture in order to create collective health in collectively-created spaces. A collective process of integration has to be built into the cultural process to avoid passing collective trauma to the next generation. The next stage of human evolution emerges from the present. The challenge is to prevent the trauma and the suffering from becoming the shadow, the repressed wound that is hidden from our collective awareness. In this sense, individual trauma work is no longer enough. We have to create new spaces that fill the need for a new level of community building. Every culture needs to digest its own wounds, its own process.
Experiments done with mice have shown that the descendants of traumatised mice exhibit the same reactions to traumatic stimuli even if the descendants didn’t experience trauma themselves... up to 5 or 6 generations. This is important to repeat: ancestral trauma is passed down through 5 or 6 generations (even if the new generations don’t experience trauma themselves), and this is why we can speak of inter-generational trauma. Here we see the wisdom of the Seventh Generation Principle from the Haudenosaunee that the decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future.
Factors that undermine collective resilience
In addition to the traumatic legacy caused by the violence of colonialism, genocide and war, there are other factors that can create collective suffering.
Large-scale adverse events. The destruction caused by extreme weather events and the challenges created by the Covid pandemic can undermine the resilience of whole communities and ecosystems; and they also show clearly which types of infrastructure (like bridges and highways) and systems have resilience and which don’t (like the medical system, the mental health system or the law-enforcement system for example).
However, if we define resilience as the capacity to retain shape after being subjected to stress, we should ask ourselves what shape we want to keep or what we need to change. What people do in the aftermath of a disaster is crucial to foster resilience: How will the community come together to rebuild/ reconnect/ respond? What networks need to be created to help in the recovery? What social resources can address the fragility of a community and help it bounce back?
Isolation and loss of connection. The relational self is located in the relational field. Our sense of self is created by the reflections we have in the eyes of others and that we receive from them. That is why isolation and death can be so devastating: something of our own selves is also lost when relationship and contact are lost. The grieving process must include the loss of self that was caused by the death of loved ones.
Social divisiveness. Big Tech companies play a big role in this as the social media wars reflect the fragmentation that is taking place on the social level which is also seen on a geopolitical level (from the fragmentation of the Soviet block and of the former Yugoslavia to the genocide in Rwanda and Myanmar and now the invasion of Ukraine, to the injustice and crimes committed against Indigenous peoples throughout the world within their own societies and countries).
Some researchers have now linked the increase in the use of social media to the increase of social conflict. Disconnection happens at abstract levels with conspiracy theories, spin doctors and misinformation; social media, controlled by Big Tech, seek to activate people in order to maximise user behaviour. These realities are amplifying our social problems instead of information and data being at the service of the evolution of the whole and not just Big Tech and consumer capitalism.
Social divisiveness can also be seen in politics. There are social, cultural and political systems that are authoritarian and are based on domination and power. And there are systems that are more democratic, where there is room for participation. Nowadays, some people have become disenchanted with democracies and are gravitating more towards political narratives that seem to have more cohesion and solidity due to their simplistic and ultimately authoritarian views. However, the problems and tensions that exist in democratic systems should not only be considered as “the failures of democracy” as they can also be seen as attempts made by the system itself to detoxify and create a deeper layer of safety and coherence. This in turn enables a deeper layer of incoherence or unresolved trauma to surface and be addressed.
Pluralism. We live in the post-modern era were pluralism of perspective is the norm. This is reflected in the current focus placed not only in social diversity, but in many other areas like multiculturalism versus cultural assimilation, the gender spectrum versus heteronormativity, the plurality of spiritual perspectives, the multiple diet choices which are often linked to a philosophical worldview, or in the many different views around Covid and vaccines. Pluralism is a natural consequence of moving away from traditionalism where views were collectively held, and it is a normal stage of our cultural evolution. Unfortunately, individuals who identify strongly with a specific view or perspective are often incapable of seeing the whole picture or accept other perspectives or experiences. This creates conflict, divisiveness and undermines social interactions.
The view of Ken Wilber and Integral Theory is that the next stage will have to do with the ability to think in systems that pluralism cannot achieve at present. All the fragments and splits will be brought into a single unified framework that will point towards wholeness and the human psyche will expand as a result.
Uncertainty. Uncertainty undermines the ability to envision the future, become emotionally invested in it and plan for it. In the case of Covid, the fact of constantly readjusting, changing or letting go of plans in order to comply with provincial health orders has demanded a lot of time and energy and has been very taxing for many people. Constant and unresolved stress undermines resilience.
The antidote for uncertainty is faith and trust in the future. I would like to read now Steiner’s verse for the Michael Age:
“We must eradicate from the Soul all fear and terror of what comes towards humanity out of the future.
We must acquire serenity in all feelings and sensations about the future.
We must look forward with absolute equanimity to everything that may come.
And we must think only that whatever comes is given to us by a world-directive full of wisdom.
It is part of what we must learn in this age, namely, to live out of pure trust,
without any security in existence, trust in the ever present help of the spiritual world.
Truly, nothing else will do if our courage is not to fail us.
And let us seek the awakening from within ourselves, every morning and every evening.”
So, another thing that we can do is grounding ourselves in the present, and acknowledge that, right here and right now, we are safe.
Grounding practice: Focus on your beautiful object. Breathe through the mouth 3 times. Hug yourself and turn to the right and look behind you, do the same to the left. Rock from side to side. Do tapping. Focus on your beautiful object again.
Short practice: Body scan, focus on the breath, ground yourself. Then repeat quietly to yourself: Even though I don’t know what is in the future (there is uncertainty around the future), here and now I am safe.
A resilience continuum
Thomas Hübl has coined the term IAC Fluidity: Individual- Ancestral – Collective: If I manage to thaw and integrate the frozen parts of my Self, I can then influence my ancestry and future generations. I can access my ancestry through my nervous system and in my cells because it is encoded in me, it is part of me. My body is thus not 54 years old, but thousands of years old. This would be a genetic and epigenetic perspective, that is, individuals can add their own experience to what they have been handed down through their ancestors, and this can go up and down the ancestry line.
This would be one way in which the individual could help heal the group. From an Anthroposophical perspective, we can connect with our ancestors through the etheric field. In Building Stones for an Understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha, Steiner states that, when a person passes, their physical body dissolves back into the earth and the mineral world, but part of their etheric body lives on in the collective etheric field. This is why sometimes we feel a strong connection to the deceased, in particular evolved individuals who have passed, and we are inspired by their life, their work and their legacy. For Steiner, this is the true meaning of resurrection: something that continues to live after death.
Traumatised individuals cannot help traumatised societies. Only individuals who have regained coherence and tapped into their own resilience can then accept their own individual share of the collective wound that is unseen and exists in a frozen state in the collective unconscious.
Individuals who have worked on their own suffering can act as the social immune system: they can hold conflict and create coherence for others. This can be done outwardly with engaged action that will bring resolution and healing; and also inwardly with our own spiritual practice and, from that foundation of inner healing, groundedness and coherence, we can work outwardly and help heal our society.
The marriage between a contemplative individual practice that brings a sense of coherence and groundedness, and social activism needs to be strengthened. “It is humanity that builds a home for humanity”. This would mean that the path of enlightenment and liberation from the East (which is an individual, inner experience) could be brought together with the Western view of enlightenment (which is an outward experience of social liberation and enfranchisement, like the current focus on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the efforts towards Reconciliation, or Steiner’s three-fold social order).
Psychological resilience is built on inner resources and the capacity to build them through connection or specific practices; it implies the flexible use of personal and social resources. It has to do with the ability to function, connect, regulate physiological states and mitigate feelings of threat and uncertainty in a context of reciprocity (not in isolation). Resilience is the result of feeling safe in relationship with other people who are authentic and caring. That is why individual resilience and collective resilience go hand in hand.
Resilience in children
The foundation of resilience is secure attachment in infancy. Attachment and positive childhood experiences are key to resilience; when babies becomes stressed and disregulated, they are unable to self-regulate on their own. They need to co-regulate with a loving primary caregiver so that, in time, they can self-regulate. And each child has a different timeline, depending on temperament, constitution, sensitivity, etc.
The nervous system seeks predictability. The violation of expectancy is a threat to the nervous system, unless there are enough cues of safety in the interaction. Some of these cues are eye contact, a melodious voice, facial expressivity, and patterns of safe touch. Children require warmth, interest, presence, and parenting practices that are not traumatizing. There is increasing evidence that shows that expecting children to self-regulate when they are stressed is highly traumatizing for them. Certain modern practices, like sleep training where a young baby is expected to soothe itself to sleep or sending away upset children and isolating them with “time out”, can be very traumatizing as young children need a caring adult to be able to co-regulate. That said, parenting is exhausting and expecting a burnt-out adult to parent effectively can also be a traumatising experience for the caregiver. Parents also need a support network to be able to self-regulate.
Children need to receive adequate nutrition, sleep, and rest according to a predictable and consistent rhythm. As they grow older, they still require a lot of unstructured time to be able to process their environment according to their own needs and emerging interests. There should be no busyness and no rushing inasmuch as possible.
Resilience is not hereditary. It is affected by ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences which cause trauma), and it is fostered and strengthened by the following experiences in childhood (some researchers say the period from birth to age 5 is crucial, others extend it up to age 10). According to Christof Wiechert, this is what promotes resilience in children:
A caring and stable relationship with one person. It doesn’t need to be the mother necessarily, but the child does need to attach to one person only, at first. Then slowly, more people can be added to the circle, one person at a time.
An authoritative upbringing. Nowadays, many people are allergic to the word “authority” but that is because it is usually confused with “authoritarianism” which is the oppressive use of power or force and demands blind obedience. An authoritative upbringing simply means that it is the adults who are in charge and take care of the children. Children require the fundamental experience that those in charge of their upbringing decide for them, and need to be relieved of the burden of having to make decisions for themselves. This kind of upbringing provides a sense of security for children, the sense that they can trust life. Children need to feel that others are able to take responsibility and decide for them what is good and what is bad, what is healthy and what is not. Children can then feel that they can let matters in the hands of the world, that they can trust their environment in all circumstances. In Waldorf education, we call this gesture loving authority and it is the cornerstone of the relationship between teachers and students.
Learning through example. The capacity for imitation is strongest when children are young. Learning through imitation provides moral consistency in that what children perceive in the behaviour of those around them must be absolutely compatible with what is expected from them. When the Canadian psychologist Albert Bandura discovered “mirror neurons”, he confirmed Steiner’s insight that young children learn from imitation, from incorporating certain habits in a relaxed way, and not by facts being “hammered” into them; one practical example of this is that children benefit from learning their times tables through skipping or playful rhymes, and not by cognitive repetition. Children integrate what they receive from outside, and are affirmed by the certainty of habit. Learning will become more intellectual at around age 12 (this is known as “the 12-year change” in Waldorf pedagogy); at this stage of their development, children can have a better grasp of cause and consequence, and their ability for reflection and critical thinking therefore increases. Learning can now be guided by this greater ability for discrimination, and should no longer depend on habit only.
A superabundance of positive experiences at school. Although we cannot prevent children from experiencing difficulties in life or at school, the crucial point here is that children receive the individual support they need to overcome a crisis. In this regard, children need to feel accepted and seen by their caregivers at home and by their teachers at school. Education can then become a shared journey of learning. The foundational qualities of being human are trust and safety, beauty, and creativity. Children need to feel that “the world is good, beautiful, and true”. Having positive experiences also means reducing stressful situations for children. One the ways we do this in Waldorf education is by working with a developmentally appropriate curriculum where age-appropriate content is presented with age-appropriate methods. This is also why children need to be sheltered from adult content (whether in conversation or through any kind of media), by asking parents that they shelter children from digital technology at least until age 9, and by fostering cooperation and empathy instead of competitiveness.
Art and artistic activities. In his book, “An Evident Need of Our Times”, Karl Ege mentions that, with regard to the accelerating influence of scientific technology and academic sterility upon education, Rudolf Steiner pointed out, shortly before his death, that for the future of humanity and of the new school movement (which would become Waldorf Education), it would be of great importance to turn the rudder 180 degrees in the direction of the artistic and the practical, and that all education should be permeated by art, and by human individuality. It has now being shown that art and artistic activities also help children especially to overcome trauma caused by war or natural disasters. Art has a healing influence and must become a fully-integrated element in any form of education.
A qualitative experience of time. Children benefit from experiencing the passage of time qualitatively through different morning and evening rituals, through the passage of the seasons and joyful festivals during the year: What makes the morning different than the evening? How do we experience differently the seasons where we live? What festivals are brought during the course of the year? Whoever wishes to shape their own life and refuses to have events dictate how they live, must learn to shape their time, and not allow clock time (which is too intellectual and abstract) dictate rigidly and mechanically when activities start or end. In Waldorf education, we make the difference between “event time” and “clock time”. The first is based on process, on the natural rhythm that any activity has with regards to the way it begins, unfolds and ends; a process begins when it feels right and lasts as long as it lasts; in the second, any event is controlled by the measure of time. When “clock time” is predominant, the sense of situation and context withers, and creative and social processes (such as conversation and play) are limited artificially. Living according to “event time” is healthy in that one can breathe more easily through any activity, flexibility is allowed, spontaneity can take place, and taking one’s time is socially acceptable; all of this keeps stress levels low. According to time researchers, in more traditional and less industrialised societies that live according to “event time” and don’t measure time by the clock, cardiovascular disease, depression and exhaustion are extremely rare.
Although all people benefit from being able to engage in activities in a more natural way, this is especially important for children.“Event time” strengthens their rhythmic system (their cardiovascular and respiratory systems) and supports their healthy growth and development.Although “clock time” influences any school’s daily schedule, Waldorf teachers strive to design learning activities that are based on a felt natural process with regards to their beginning and ending. At a Waldorf school, there should be a “breathing rhythm”: a balance between an “inhale” (activities that are more structured and require quiet and focus and usually take place inside the classroom) and an “exhale” (activities that are not structured, creative and / or take place outside the classroom).
Factors that increase social resilience
Social infrastructure and services that work well and take care of the needs of people within a community, whether it is policing, health-care, transportation, child-care, education, financial assistance, pensions, access to proper housing, good food, clean air and drinking water, parks and trails, arts and culture and the like, definitely have an impact on collective resilience. Although they fall within the province of governments, individuals and small groups can definitely have an impact. Sunrise Waldorf School is a shining example of this.
Social connectedness and relationships. Resilience, a sense of belonging and sociality are the building blocks of society. We need to honour all relationships as being crucial to human wellbeing. Resilience in Covid times depends on having support from others. Divisiveness in society and culture is a great challenge because it affects social connections and networks; and it can also create a sense of cultural homelessness when one feels estranged from the original group of belonging.
Social resilience is looking into the social mirror together instead of remaining in our own isolated echo-chambers (which is what takes place in the social media wars).
In this sense, it is important to remember Steiner’s words:
The healthy social life is found when,
in the mirror of each human soul,
the whole community finds its reflection.
and when, in the community,
the virtue of each one is living.
The importance of relationships
One way of integrating trauma is to create positive relational experiences as a container that can hold the suffering. Relationships don’t have to be very harmonious, just clearly supportive, close and functional. But relationships require attention and care to grow and stay healthy over time, so these are some of the things that protect them:
Awareness. As individuals, we all need to cultivate self-awareness, the capacity to bear our own emotions, control our own impulsivity and reactivity, as well as have the willingness to communicate and be vulnerable in communication.
Mutual respect. We are always going to be caught between the “for” and “against” and everybody will have their own versions of that, but we have to be able to navigate the dichotomies of life with compassion and kindness, in the best case scenario, but at least with a minimum of genuine respect. The most important thing is to learn to collaborate with people who think differently. Forcing others to accept our points of view is a form of violence. Rather than imposing our views on others (and, according to Steiner, there are twelve equally valid philosophical perspectives about the world, from materialism and realism to idealism and spiritism), it would be better to express interest and understand why others think the way they do.
The ethics of compassion and connection to something deeper than ourselves have not been taken up by secular society in the same way as they are clearly held and practiced in religious communities. Civics was something that used to be taught as a subject at school, but not anymore in many countries. This has been a loss in the transition from traditionalism to secular culture, and manifests in civic degradation and in unhealthy polarisation which has been recently exacerbated by Covid.
With regards to fostering healthy relationships at Sunrise, teachers emphasize cooperation during play and not premature competitiveness, we teach communication skills when children are asked to express their views and feelings using “I” statements, classes practice council regularly to encourage listening and speaking from the heart (deep listening and right speech), classes are encouraged to support and interact with one another by pairing together with the “buddy system”, and, as of Grade 6, students are taught Cyber Civics to help them understand how to be good digital citizens even before, hopefully, they will begin to use digital technology.
Reflection. We need to always think about the impact that our actions and words will have on the relational field: Will relationships become healthier or not as a result of my actions? Will my community be strengthened or weakened? Will our actions and words crack the container or will they provide another protective layer to it? Will they increase or undermine trust?
So take a moment to listen to what others say and connect with your own emotions. Pause and avoid reactive action. Sit with questions and reflect deeply first. That is why we “sleep on it” as, and often, upon waking, we will receive higher guidance in the form of ideas and inspiration.
Wholeness. Wholeness also applies to relationships. One of the greatest Buddhist insights is that, where there is separation, there is suffering. In periods of stability, people seem to devolve back to self-interest. But the real enemy is our perceptions of separation and “othering”.
Having a reflective practice (prayer, meditation, etc.) that creates awareness and awareness of being aware (meta-awareness) is crucial to understanding the conditioning that we bring to our relationships in the form of reactivity patterns, bias, trauma wounds, views rooted in culture and upbringing, individual experience, etc. Reflective practices help people be the best they can be in times of crisis.
Common interests. We need to cultivate our sense of belonging and togetherness as much as we need to address our differences. We need to temper our excessive fascination with difference to also put to the fore our commonalities and not consider them as trite, trivial or sentimental. We need to be capable of reflection to hold our own views and, at the same time, be capable of creating common shared ground.
Strategies to increase resilience in adults
In addition to having functional relationships, There are also other factors that influence individual resilience in adults: self-value, self-worth, grit, will power, the ability to self-regulate, a good executive function that allows for sound decision-making, and the capacity to maintain a core of wellbeing along the way. We will now look at a few key factors that increase resilience:
Positivity. Our psychological makeup makes us focus on negative, though infrequent experiences more than on the abundant positive experiences that we have on a daily basis. It is similar to turning on the news channel and become bombarded by all the tragedies that are continually presented. This is called the negative bias. Due to the fact that “the good” is the most common, “the bad” stands out. It probably was one of the ways to ensure our survival as a species, but it creates a lot of stress and presents a distorted picture of reality. So, now that we know that we have a tendency to focus on the negative, we have to make an effort to bring our focus to all the positive actions that are already taking place all over the world.
Positive emotions and states of mind create expansiveness, a broader perspective and meaningfulness. Therefore, a sense of wellbeing and positive experiences can help us tap into resilience. Positive emotions change the ways our brain takes in the world and experiences it. Positive emotions help us connect with people and the environment. Joy and gratitude help people become better versions of themselves unconsciously: it is Nature’s way of ensuring survival and learning (Barbara Fredrickson), but making it habitual is key.
We shouldn’t seek intensity (nothing that has the word “extreme” as an adjective), but focus on frequency. Noticing the simple and mild versions of joy and beauty is what helps increase positivity. Unfortunately, modern culture doesn’t value positive states of mind and favours instead distractions, entertainment, excitement and achievement. Doing is better than feeling or simply being in our daily experience.
Emotions and feelings are a mind and body experience: they alter perception and physiology, but we can’t force ourselves to think or feel a certain way. We need to trust ourselves and what we feel to actually understand how we need to live our lives. Repressing our feelings requires so much energy that it can actually interfere with cognition and even alter blood pressure. That is why we need to prioritize our connection to our own feelings, and protect our feeling life. In this regard, self-care is key.
Self-care. As humans, we have three basic needs: feeling safe, fulfilling our basic needs, and connecting with others. Self-care is not self-indulgence, but taking care of the self. Rest, adequate nutrition and sleep, relaxation and unstructured time, limited exposure to news (in order to reduce negative bias) or at least balancing negative news with positive news, limited amount of time spent on digital devices, the cultivation of gratitude, communion with nature and exercise, are all important elements of self-care.
Think about what you bring into your life, how you connect with the world, how you meet your individual needs, what you would like to do more of and less of. Self-care practices are crucial to self-regulation and recalibrating. Every person needs to grow their own inner strengths to meet their own needs. When our needs are met, there is repair, recovery, contentment, peacefulness and love in the present. Relish these states and take the experience in fully (eat with the big spoon). This creates positive emotions.
Resilient individuals are able to create resilient systems, which is why self-care is so important.
(pause and write what practices work for your own self-care and what you would like to add or change).
Self-knowledge. “Human, know thyself”. Steiner has a very interesting lecture (“The Feverish Pursuit of Health”) where he strongly criticises generalisations and uniform approaches to health, whether it is diet or exercise or anything else. Every single person is unique and has a specific body-mind constitution, personality, temperament, etc. The cookie cutter approach doesn’t work because everyone needs to meet their own needs in an individual way. Understanding what makes you different from others and what are the things that bring balance, health, meaning and joy to your own life is crucial to being resilient.
(pause and write what are the things that you have found about yourself that have helped bring more awareness and balance into your life).
Inner work. Inner work has to address unresolved trauma and the psychological “shadow”. Any person needs support to go through layers of trauma that can be individual, intergenerational or ancestral. Trauma was created by having to experience adversity in isolation, and can be healed through a therapeutic relationship.
Although a meditative practice is also important, if there is unresolved trauma, sitting in isolation, with eyes closed, and in a room full of people (in the case of a retreat) can be very highly triggering if one has a history of abuse. The individual trauma work has to be addressed first; there can be no spiritual “bypass”.
And the integration of the shadow is hard to do on our own because the shadow is not experienced by the conscious self. If we engage in psychotherapeutic work, we will be able to integrate content that has been split off from your consciousness and we will achieve a deeper sense of wholeness. A guide or witness is needed because individuals are usually unaware of their projections onto others.
(pause and write three things that you still need to address with regards to your self-growth).
A contemplative practice is crucial to strengthen resilience. This can be a mindfulness or meditation practice, prayer, or gratitude. The practice of meditation provides an anchor to ground ourselves in our indestructible nature (whether that is called Buddha nature, Christ nature, higher self, basic goodness and morality, the commitment to love and not hate) regardless of the surrounding conditions. This type of practice can help bring acceptance and patience in the face of difficulty.
Although the benefits of prayer, contemplation and meditation have been known for millennia, there are many recent scientific studies that continue to validate their benefits. One of the most recent ones is the study done at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden with regards to the benefits of a 10-minute kindness meditation to increase compassion, which was shared in May of this year. The recent issue of TIME magazine is devoted to Mindfulness and its many benefits for physical and mental health.
And, according to Steiner, meditation can activate our supersensible organs of cognition. In “How to know higher worlds”, he offered six basic or protective exercises that promote clarity in thinking, a focused and strong will, equanimity, positivity, openness (anti-bias frame of mind) and balance in the soul, as well as the correct and wrong ways to practice them.
Contrary to many drugs and psychotropics, meditation also strengthens the will. However, meditation never reveals a stage of growth or development because it is not a mystical first-person experience that is extraordinary, immediate and accessible. Meditation is anchored in ordinary consciousness but, over time, it decreases reactivity, and improves acceptance, tolerance, patience, focus, awareness, compassion and altruism, all of which are key elements to increase resilience.
In time, or thanks to divine grace, contemplative practices can create transcendent experiences draw us toward the Infinite and create spaciousness, deactivating the parts of the brain that project us into the past or the future and create a sense of self. We live in the present without worrying, in peace and connection. We can then access our inner strength to handle disturbance and stress and achieve equanimity.
(take a moment now to reflect on what are the most important things that have helped you so far get through the many challenges posed by this pandemic, and which areas need in your life require more support).
A sense of wholeness
From a spiritual perspective, resilience has to do with the ability to put one foot in front of the other, day in and day out, and deal with reality as it is with no bitterness or resentment and without insisting that reality fit our own ideas.
In this sense, individual differences are key. Due to differences in temperament and personality, some people are naturally more optimistic, trusting and easy-going; and others are more inclined to be critical, judgemental and negative; and others may be more inclined to experience fear, worry and anxiety. But we can’t get stuck in fear, anger or sadness because these emotions create disconnection, separateness, tunnel vision, narrowness, and isolation.
And we are not separate from life. The individual is a unique expression of the whole and both are interdependent. That said, it is easy to fall to the illusion of separateness because our mind has an inner dimension and an outer dimension: our mind helps us experience both ourselves and the world, so it is normal to feel separate from the whole. And that is also why the wounds caused by trauma can create so easily a perception of separation, when the Self is perceived as separate and different from the Other.
Nowadays we are getting very good at differentiation (separation) and we are losing integration (connection); this is affecting collective resilience, and increasing chaos and rigidity. But a resilient mind cultivates differentiation and integration within, between and among. This brings a sense of coherence and wholeness.
And, thanks to neuroplasticity and the fact that “neurons that fire together wire together”, we can change our brains and create new neural pathways that correlate with a positive frame of mind and pro-social behaviours. Connecting, relating and working together do change our brains over time and make us more loving, tolerant, mindful and energetic.
We need to integrate the ME with the WE. Collective integration is made visible through kindness and compassion. Coherence is filled with love, it is the full integration of the human family. Creating a feeling of belonging and a sense of community is key; this is cultivated by creating positive and joyful experiences in relationship with others.
Working with the mind
The mind is an emergent process that organises itself out of a chaotic field, through a relational field and as embodied. It is both fully embodied and fully in the flow of energy and in the field of relationships.
There are three main ways of working with the mind: let be, let go, let in. “Letting be” means being with our own feelings and experiences, it means radical acceptance. “Letting go” means letting go of negative feelings, reframing experiences, and disentangling the mind from any event. “Letting in” is connecting with what is, allowing the world to come in.
Timelessness and peacefulness can then be accessed and experienced as the fundamental groundedness of being (a sense of the absolute) through connection with Nature and contemplative and embodiment practices. This can be called being with the mind.
Working with the mind will eventually culminate in being with the mind. When we are with the mind, we cultivate inner qualities grounded in a practice that creates autonomy, and increase competence around having responsibility, direction, and focus.
A resilient mind
Resilience does imply the willingness to feel and especially to move through suffering and not trying to escape, as we need resistance in order to grow. We need to accept all of reality and feel all of our feelings, especially grief and mourning so that we can empathise with suffering; but we also need to hold the joy that comes with the fact of being alive in this moment, where we are.
Transformation is always on the other side of hopelessness. The task is to cultivate an awareness that can hold it all: the intrapersonal, the interpersonal, and the transpersonal. This is what resilience could ultimately mean.
I would like to end this presentation with another verse from Steiner which puzzled me the first time I came across it, but now it becomes much clearer when seen through the lens of resilience:
“To resolve our past
To forge our future
We need courage.
To experience the present
We must develop dedication.
Our thinking needs
Riddles to wake up
Our feeling needs
Pain to mature.
Our will needs
Resistance to become strong.”
The Big Picture: Approaching the Future
According to Otto Scharmer, presencing is sensing the emergence of the highest future of possibility and operating from that connection and embodying it (Theory U). Change happens when a community of people holds the same intention and aligns itself around it, and then they try to make something new happen: they start to lead from the future and centre their agency. This creates a new social field based on co-creativity.
Our three big current challenges are the climate crisis (ecological divide), inequality (social divide), and mental health (spiritual divide). In this sense, Covid has created a new layer of trauma that has arrived on top of a lot of previous fragmentation, collective and / or individual.
Resilience will have to be weaved “glocally”, at the regional and global levels, both by individuals and leaders to have the greatest impact.
With regard to the three main challenges, what is the one measure that will show that we are making progress? 1) in the ecological divide, the quality of the top soil; 2) in the social divide, deep listening and dialogue; 3) in the spiritual divide, individual practices of connection to the Self and our ability to show up in the present moment.
In order to move forward, it is important to bear witness and grieve, and then see what emerges and inspires action; these are the two main paths (negativity versus positive action). It is only in difficult times that we can really evolve. We should stop relating to reality as a potential utopia and, instead, inhabit ourselves and our human experience as fully as possible. Utopia could be considered as an illusion of materialism. We are here to engage, to contribute and live with compassion and wisdom; we exist in a paradox of being and becoming, of being complete and still perfecting and evolving.
The Anthroposophical perspective
From an Anthroposophical perspective, the ever-increasing evolution of human consciousness is the essential feature of our civilisation. We are now living in the 5th cultural epoch where we must develop our consciousness soul, where what we now call science and the materialistic knowledge of the world will be fully evolved. But each cultural epoch also lays the ground for the next stage, and in this epoch, we must also prepare for the 6th cultural epoch which will have three main characteristics:
Our human moral characteristics will be so developed that our individual well-being will depend on the well-being of humanity as a whole; in other words, we will feel the suffering, poverty and pain of others, or their joy, health and wealth as if it were our own. This is now a characteristic of sensitive and highly empathetic individuals, but, in the 6th epoch, this will capacity will be generalised.
Our yearning for complete freedom of thought will make religious convictions and beliefs rest within the power of the individual human being and will no longer be collectively held.
Only those who know the spirit will be considered to have real knowledge.Our current focus on materialism and on materialistic science will be regarded in the future as superstition.The spiritual will be distinguished from the physical body and only those forms of knowledge that are based on the spiritual will be considered truly scientific.
Our current task also requires a new reconnection with the spiritual dimension of life, a new cultural revitalisation based on a spiritual renewal. Our task is to overcome materialism and dogma; to establish intentional communities where our souls accept Anthroposophic teachings in complete freedom and where we work in a spirit of brotherly love. The human soul forces that prepare the next stage of our evolution stream upward and are received and nurtured by the spiritual beings who will stream down again in the future.
Knowing the big picture can create a counterpoint for our current challenges and help us direct our efforts. Having a higher purpose or bringing meaning into our own lives also strengthens our resilience.
Three separate and short mindfulness practices:
Fill yourself with goodness drop by drop until the pot is full (Dhammapada):
First breath: feel your chest as a whole.
Second breath: breathing while feeling caring.
Third breath: breathing while feeling cared for.
Do a body scan.Then move on to full body awareness.Then bring awareness of the breath. Then include awareness of thoughts, sounds and sensations and let them course through your body.Then bring your awareness to your heart and allow it to expand with each inhalation and relax with each exhalation.Rest for a few minutes in dual awareness: be aware of a feeling of groundedness in your body, and be aware of the spaciousness and openness of your mind and heart.
Rock your pelvis from side to side, back and forth.Align your body (torso erect, shoulders above hips). Observe your breath then slowly allow the exhale to lengthen. Picture your mind as an open space like the sky with weather, where your thoughts are like clouds that have plenty of space in the sky. Rest in the openness, stillness and spaciousness of your mind.Live with the questions.In the heart centre, feel the depth of your care and the care of others for you, feel appreciation for life and for our deepest human wish to flourish and thrive.
Heart Mind Institute (Fleet Maull): https://www.heartmind.co/heartmindcommunity?r_done=1
Hübl, Thomas: Healing Collective Trauma
Maté, Gabor: When The Body Says No
Porges, Stephen: The Polyvagal Theory
Scharmer, Otto: Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges
Science And Non-Duality: https://www.scienceandnonduality.com
Steiner, Rudolf: How To Know Higher Worlds
Steiner, Rudolf: “The Feverish Pursuit of Health” (conference)
Wiechert, Christof: “Resilience” (https://www.waldorftoday.com/2011/08/resilience-by-christof-wiechert/)
Wilber, Ken: A Theory of Everything