Resilience in the face of adversity

Life is not about how fast you run or how high you climb, but how well you bounce – Anonymous

One of the ideas explored in the last blog was the notion that every experience in life is an opportunity to learn and expand the relationship we have with ourselves, others and the world in general – in other words, a gift. 

It was also acknowledged that some of those gifts are really, really, really BIG ones.  However, if we succumb to the seductive helplessness that some of our experiences taunt us with then we give up our power and vitality to those experiences.  We run the risk of allowing ourselves to be sucked into an emotional vortex of thinking about ‘what might have been’.  We focus on what our life isn’t or doesn’t have rather than focusing on the abundance of possibility that are lives could be.  When we are held in the grasp of feeling powerless we continue to mourn the loss of what our lives might have been instead of taking the nuggets of learning from those less than desirable experiences and moving into a more robust way of feeling and thinking about our lives. 

Of course, how we relate to the challenges that life offers up to us is our choice.    The decision of if, when and how we bounce back from adversity is ours to make.

Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are.  Arthur Golden

Resilience is defined as a dynamic process.  It speaks to our innate capability of bouncing back from significant incidents of adversity, trauma, tragedy and physical or emotional threat. 

In my book on resilience I offer the following story and ask you to consider if you are a carrot, an egg, or coffee bean.

A young woman journeyed to see her mother.  When she arrived, she shared with her mother how hard life had become for her.  She was tired of fighting and struggling.  She told her mother about her life. “When one problem is solved, a new one arises,” she lamented.  She could no longer cope.

Her Mother led her to the kitchen and filled three pots with water. She placed each on a high fire.  Soon the pots came to a boil.  Into the first she dropped carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she released ground coffee beans.  The Mother let them sit and boil, without saying a word.

In about twenty minutes, she turned off the burners.  She scooped out the carrots and placed them in a bowl.  She pulled out the eggs and placed them in another bowl.  Then she ladled out the coffee and placed it in a third bowl.

Turning to her daughter, she asked, “Tell me, what do you see?”

“Carrots, eggs and coffee,” the daughter replied.

Her Mother asked her to feel the carrots.  The young woman noted that they were so soft that they were almost falling apart. 

The Mother then asked her daughter to take one of the eggs and break it.  After pulling off the shell, she observed that the egg was hard.

Finally the Mother asked the daughter to touch the coffee beans.  They hadn’t changed much, but the young woman couldn’t resist the aroma of the coffee, and she took a sip.  The daughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma. 

”Each of these has faced the same adversity,” the mother said, “boiling water”.  Each has reacted differently.

The carrot went in firm, and after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg was fragile.  Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after being boiled in water, its inside became hardened. 

The ground coffee beans were unique, however.  After they were in the boiling water, they changed the water.”

Looking at her daughter the mother asked, “Which do you want to be?  When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond?  Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?”   Anonymous

Which do you believe yourself to be?

A carrot

  • When confronted by challenges, pain and adversity do you wilt, become soft and lose your strength?

An egg

  • Do you have a fluid spirit, but after a death, breakup or financial hardship or some other less-than-pleasing life event, become hardened and stiff?

Coffee bean

  • When the water gets hot, the bean actually releases its underlying fragrance and flavour.  When you experience an adversarial life event, such as a coffee bean being boiled in water, do you change the environment around you?  If you are like the bean, when things are less than pleasing, you change the situation. 

When the hour is at its darkest, do you reach into the depths of who you are, and rise above the current situation?

How do you handle adversity?  Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

“When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.”         Henry Ford

What are some of the challenges you have faced and what were lessons that you’ve learnt and how did you allow yourself to grow from the experience.  I would love to know your views and experiences.

More on resilience in the next blog.

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