Reaching for Resiliency in Troubling Times by Brie Mathers
Updated: Jan 5
There's nothing like a virus to teach us how deeply interwoven we all are. Our times are turbulent, but within turbulence lie the seeds for transformation. In order to meet the headwinds of this inevitable transformation, we are called to embrace our inevitable togetherness—and, along the way, dig deep for our individual and collective fortitude in the face of changing times.
I learned how to face the headwinds when I was 15. I had just won the Ontario provincial track championships; anorexia took over from there. Like so many of you, I found myself in a therapist’s office searching for my freedom from an inner mean girl who was set on hijacking my inner bandwidth. It took time to lay down new neurological superhighways, but the new geographies before me were lush with promise for a happy, balanced journey. I prevailed.
That inner resiliency work prepared me for this crisis in more ways than one.
Here are some of the resiliency gems we can open to along the way.
Be present with discomfort
As a species, we aren’t built for change. We’re built for structure and consistency. So, when a tidal force called CV-19 demands we embrace new terms for day-to-day living, our minds can tussle with it. We can meet the inner turmoil like a loving parent, gathering it into our hearts, feeling all the feelings and being present with the discomfort. With this allowance comes a softening as the patterns of resistance lose their momentum and a yielding gives way. It’s all OK—surreal, but OK. We can follow the guidance of Harvard Medical School and rediscover the benefits of yoga and mindfulness; we can tap EFT-style, thymus thump and breathe our way through the muck (here’s a how-to video series); and we can take heart like the Italians who have come before us who are now singing to one another down empty streets and hanging banners whose translations read, “Everything’s going to be OK.”
While we are currently physically separated, spiritually we have never been closer. The virus circulating amongst us defies barriers of age, race and class, insisting on our interconnectedness and our common humanity. In the words of Dr. Lindsay Jernigan, “Try this perspective shift. Instead of seeing ‘social distancing’ and travel bans as panic, try seeing them as acts of mass cooperation intended to protect the collective whole. This plan is not about individuals going into hiding. It's a global deep breath... an agreement between humans around the planet to be still. Be still, in hopes that the biggest wave can pass without engulfing too many of the vulnerable among us.”
To this end, I have shifted my vocabulary from “social distancing” to “spiritual closeness amidst physical spaciousness,” and from “self-quarantine” to “self-retreat.” We are recognizing that our actions affect the whole; what we do now can support health care workers and the most vulnerable among us while taking care of each of us. When I focus on the roots of why we are taking these collective actions and invite in this new language, I feel warm and connected.
Cultivate gratitude and opportunity
I am grateful for the years I spent in residency at a Zen temple, a place to which people would come to get away and drop deeply into the moment. As I embrace this time as a kind of retreat—morning meditation, yoga, writing, mindful meal preparation and slow afternoon walks—I wonder what could it look like to embrace this as an opportunity to administer to our loved ones, inculcating them with the social-emotional practices needed to nourish a lifetime of resiliency? The Calm app has made some wonderful mind-body resources available to all of us for free. How might we take this hour of darkened earth as an opportunity to plant seeds of light in the consciousness of our children; what love might our planet reap from what we now sow? Here are five TED Talks to inspire resiliency within you.
Last Saturday, my fiancé and I sent an email to our wedding guest list to cancel our early April wedding. Anyone who has planned a wedding knows that it is a full-on experience brimming with big love, excitement and vision. So, it was not without moments of aching loss that we faced the inevitability of our decision. Mustering our resiliency, we titled the email “Love in a Time of Coronavirus.” The next day, I packed up my meditation room/wedding planning sanctuary, and everything felt stark.
But as I hold our sadness, I contemplate my neighbors. We have a home. My partner is still employed. While some aspects of this struggle are universal, others are unique to those who are already facing economic distress. As I look out my window over the city of Oakland, I feel the collective seizing of an already gentrifying city, many of whose inhabitants live paycheck to paycheck and whose jobs are indefinitely on hold. The stock market crash feels scary but having money to invest in the first place is a luxury many have never been able to afford. What a wonderful time to open our hearts and our pocketbooks to those who need it the most. We are, after all, wired for empathy. In her book, Nurturing Our Humanity, Dr. Riane Eisler writes about how our brains’ “neural reward areas light upmorewhen we care for others than when we only look out for ourselves.” We invited our 80-year-old neighbor who lives alone to a “spiritual closeness amidst social spaciousness” dinner last night. Whose day might you and your family brighten?
Coronavirus jokes are OK. As Lori Gottlieb writes in her article, “Dear Therapist’s Guide to Staying Sane During a Pandemic,” “Everyone copes with horrible situations differently. For some, humor is a balm. It’s BOTH/AND: It’s horrible AND we can allow our souls to breathe.” Our physical health need not be tended at the expense of our emotional well-being. Where joy is to be found, we need to give it to ourselves. We could all use a little Seth Myers in our lives; we certainly have the time.
While the world around us appears full of closing doors, let’s keep our hearts open. Perhaps this is Mother Nature declaring her sacred no. After all, the waters in the Italian canals are at last running clear and the dolphins have arrived to dance.
May your unexpected retreat season be warm and full of love.
Brie inspires young women to find compassion within themselves and for one another and to lead a new conversation about their bodies and beings. She is a Canadian-born McGill University graduate who conducts connective, school-wide, culturally transformative events about media literacy, mindfulness and collective resiliency. Brie has spoken to 100,000 young women worldwide through her multimedia event Love the Skin You’re In.
Brie lives in Oakland, California, with her fiancé, Jonathan, who will be her fiancé a little longer due to the coronavirus postponing their wedding.
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