READ IT TO ME: Click play to listen to this post.

“No matter how bleak or menacing a situation may appear, it does not entirely own us. It can’t take away our freedom to respond, our power to take action.” ―Ryder Carroll

Sometimes people face adverse conditions that threaten their lives. Accidents, mistakes, and tragedies potentially face all of us at different times in our lives. Other times, emotional, financial, relational, or spiritual trials are challenging. Survival depends upon how we respond in the moment of crisis. People facing crisis in the outdoors often perish when they panic. Without resilience, they break and don’t remain alive because in fear and trepidation, they lose sight of the possibilities of rescue.

Before I was a therapist and healer, I was a minister. During the early days of my career, I wore many hats in the role of ministry. But the one in which I was most challenged and fulfilled was the work I did with junior high kids and single adults. My work focused on cultivating resilience, personally and collectively. 

Many years ago, I took 20 junior high kids on a 17-mile hike to observe the Anasazi Indian ruins at Keet Seel, a part of the Navajo National Monument in Northern Arizona. The hike itself was easygoing in. There was quicksand that our kids managed to find and get stuck in. They had to help each other get out! The itinerary was to hike in and spend the night and then view the ruins with a guided tour the next morning. They allowed 20 people per day to see the ruins. The hike going out was difficult. It engaged an easy trail going back through the canyon. However, traversing the canyon wall was a challenge. At this point, you already had hiked over 30 miles. The trail was deep sand and it was like two steps forward and one back. The Arizona sun relentlessly penetrated your body. It was difficult, to say the least.

A few of our kids who exited early were stopped in the sand. One had taken his shoes off because when he got to sand in the early morning hours the sand was cool and refreshing to his feet. But the sand heated quickly and before he could put his shoes on he had blisters all over the bottom of his feet. He said he couldn’t move and thought he would die in the 100+ degree heat. I found him when he was writing a goodbye letter to his family. The other kid with him had this huge blood blister on the inside of his upper thigh that had broken open from the chafing caused by friction against his pants. He was crying and believed that he would die too. 

So I sat with them and we all talked about dying and what that would be like. Talking about the fear, exhaustion, and temptation to give up, helped relieve some stress and anxiety. 

I told them that there were 2 miles of uphill climbing left and then 5 more miles to our church bus. I told them we would only focus on landmarks, focusing on one cactus at a time. Sometimes the landmark was only 20 yards away. I told them we would take a break at each landmark. To take their mind off the pain of their legs and feet, I had them each tell a story about their girlfriends, favorite sports, food, and vacations they had ever taken. Slowly, we traversed up the canyon wall. Sometimes when we arrived at our landmark, the boys wanted to keep moving, so we did. 

Amazingly we made it all the way to the top of the canyon rim at the end of the day and trudged the remaining distance to where the church bus was parked. When they got to the parking lot, they hugged each other. They found connection with each other in a moment that had scared the hell out of both of them. They could have died. They made it because they chose to be resilient. Later there was a lot of laughter and storytelling, all cementing their own sense of resilience. 

Gever Tulley, computer scientist, once said “Persistence and resilience only come from having been given the chance to work through difficult problems.” For sure those who fare well in life are those who have deepened their capacity to be resilient.

Addicts or entrepreneurs who do not know how to bounce back usually don’t last long in recovery or the enterprise in business. 

Judith Herman in her book Trauma and Recovery wrote about three factors that helped to promote resiliency with trauma. I have found that these factors are very helpful and healing.

1. Helping someone to get through their trauma while you are navigating through your own. Taking the focus away from your own challenge, not only gives encouragement, strength, and energy to another but you will fuel your own reserve of persistence and perspective to power you through your crisis challenge. About the hike I referenced earlier, the two boys who thought they would die helped each other. When one was discouraged, the other lifted their spirit, and back and forth it went, helping one another to rise above the pain and get out of the canyon. It works this way. When you are facing an overwhelming challenge, find a way to help someone else. It can help you bounce back. It can literally save your life.

2. Find a deeper meaning in the presence of your traumatic experience. The great temptation is to focus on someone else’s position that seems free of the stress and difficulty you are going through right now. This type of backfeeding is counterproductive. Through the power of gratitude, you can shift to a deeper awareness of meaning regarding the crisis that you are facing right now. Reframe your focus to learning what this difficult situation is teaching you. Keep your mind and heart open as you experience your struggle. It will transform your perspective and strengthen your resilience. Regarding my two hikers, both were from 2 different socio-economic backgrounds and had little to do or connect with each other before the hiking experience. Afterward, they were able to forge a deep friendship of looking after each other. They were able to find a deeper meaning than what they knew before.

3. Stay positively connected to at least one other person while you are navigating your tribulation and difficult moment. When you feel like shit, you tend to want to step back and isolate from others. Trauma makes you feel distrustful. It mobilizes fight, flight, freeze, appease, and dissociation. Your challenge is to stay connected to nature, to one other person and make space for collective support. Not an easy assignment! Commit to doing the activities that bring resilience. Cultivate connection to another to love and be loved, spirituality. Make art and play. Notice the moments that you consciously feel the sensations of loving support. Connect to your own creativity. It will generate resilience.

Trauma always promotes uncertainty. In the presence of uncertainty you must transform your experience into freedom. It is scary to go down and embrace the discomfort of unwanted feelings. However, when you do your unconditional confidence it is not about controlling the result but by embracing the uncertainty of your trauma you will create the freedom to become the best version of who you are. This is your destiny that can only transpire through cultivating resilience.