the calculus of resilience

graffiti of green balloons, a person grabbed on to one, next to the words "schnapp dir auch einen!"
(grab one, too!)

In my dream I had signed up for a tennis tournament, even though I 1) didn’t have any clothes to wear for such a thing, and 2) didn’t actually know how to play. I put off and put off letting them know that I couldn’t participate, and wasn’t at all sure that I wouldn’t take my turn, let my ass get kicked, and then just be done with it. In my dreams, as in my real life, I often like to wait and see what’s going to happen.

I am moving through a small depression here, one that has allowed me to rally for workshops and love, but still sinks down into my bones when I’m alone, that brings with it the messages of persistent failure and sadness. I had such big plans for the months of November and December, such bright visions for the first part of 2013, and now everything has changed. I’m overwhelmed by the work emails and phone calls that are waiting for me — it’s almost time just to wipe the decks clean and start over — and I’m missing the friends and community I’ve been mostly out of touch with since the back spasm at the beginning of November. Physically, I am worlds better than I was even a week ago, and I can see light at the end of this tunnel — but that means it’s time to get back in the saddle, and that still hurts.

This morning, however, my little orange apartment actually feels like Christmas. There are bunches of wrapped packages of cookies, homemade xmas cards, wrapping materials (both new and saved/scavenged), a small rosemary bush snipped into the shape of a fir tree (draped with small Tibetan prayer flags), and a few cards from friends and family. Back home in Nebraska, they’re buried under snow, and still I complain to the puppy that it’s hard to get out of bed because it’s so cold here in green-n-sunny Oakland (these days it’s been in the 40s when I wake up, which my inside midwestern self could actually recognize as chilly — meanwhile, it’s 19 degrees in Omaha, and my mom’s been out already to shovel plowed snow off from around her car — and her back’s been out, too). Still, the cold here helps me understand that it’s almost Christmastime, helps me move into the spirit of preparation that calls for baking, shopping, wrapping — that sort of mindfulness and attention.

Who doesn’t have a fraught relationship with this time of year? I’m listening to xmas music and feeling a bit weepy, missing friends who live on the East Coast, missing the family in the middle of the country. The winter holidays were fragmented for my family even before my parents were divorced, and after that, we were always missing somebody: dad and his side of the family when we were with mom; mom and her side of the family when we were with dad — and then, a few years after mom got together with her second husband, missing all that blood family because he cut us off from them.

The sun is rising bright yellow-orange over the lake, illuminating my apartment like its a place worth warming. This year I’ll be with my sister and her new husband. Our xmasness will be small and simple, the kids still reclaiming what was taken from them. We’ll make cut-out sugar cookies and frost them (getting bored after about the first batch), we’ll watch Rudolph and A Charlie Brown Christmas, we’ll cook for each other and laugh and miss family and cry. Maybe we’ll go to the ocean, which was of course never an option on christmas day back in Nebraska. I’ll miss the Christmases we aren’t having, the ones we couldn’t have (with all of our family, mom and dad together), and there will be a tightening around my heart. And then we’ll create, together, one more layer of new memories, and I’ll stretch out to hold those. The tears will help with the releasing; tears can lubricate like that. Even after all these years, we are still reclaiming what was made difficult and bloody, we are still finding our true love buried in the wreckage of loss and aftermath.

Isn’t this what resilience is? This willingness to stretch into what was broken? That’s actually rather the inverse of the literal definition of the word ‘resilient,’ which is the capacity of something or someone to bounce back into shape after an experience that stretches it out. Resilience is about elasticity — and of course, for humans in the aftermath of trauma, we do not take on the same shape in this ‘bouncing back.’ We are stretchier, roomier, we have space in us to hold the full weight and complication of our experiences. If we let ourselves, we can be more flexible, more spacious, with ourselves and others.

I don’t always remember to let myself, though. I tighten up. I want things to stay the same, or go back to the way they were — meaning I want to be able to go back to the way I was. This morning, as I eased my body through the piriformis stretches that help me walk and sit more comfortably, I thought about physical resilience, about how often I’ve had to loosen back up the muscles in my hips, pelvis and lower back. The body tightens, hurts, and then we work again to stretch, loosen, release the old trauma and new worries that get caught up in these muscles, in the basin of my hips and pelvis. This is resilience, allowing this elasticity. If I am able to loosen, it doesn’t mean that I release what was done to me; I don’t have to stay tight in order to hold on to those experiences. They’re of my skin and bone now. But I can still move freely into the fullness of this life.

So today I will stretch, take care of some of that building business, and then exhale into more xmas preparations. This is some of my yoga for this day.

Do you have ten minutes to write today? Can you drop into what resilience means for you, for your body, for your surviving? How and when has it served your healing self to remain tight? How and when is it serving you to stretch and release? Sometimes tightness is exactly the right practice. Sometimes it’s time to relax. What does that calculus look like for you, or for your character?

Be easy with your body today, with your good and wise psyche. Thank you for the ways you hold and release, hold and release. Thank you for your words.