Mother Nature is a great teacher, and she had me in her lesson plan on Sunday afternoon.
Honestly, I’m not one who loves physical labor, but my husband’s toiling in the woods—clearing out dead trees and wild bushes—obliged me to put on my barn coat and boots and join his efforts. We are blessed to be caretakers of a forest of burr oak trees, some of which are at least 100 years old. They have lost a few branches from lightning strikes and ice storms, but all in all they are a resilient bunch. Amongst the oaks are an abundance of saplings, bushes, vines, and a few cedars that could have served as Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. Sunday’s rhythm was Dan pulling and sawing at branches and me picking them up and dragging them into a pile.
Ever the campfire lover, I began to make another pile of potential kindling for our next s’mores-making event. Dan noticed how easily I cracked the dry ash branches against my knee. He also noticed when one branch simply bent and it wouldn’t crack. “That one’s green, it will bend but it won’t break.” Yes, I noticed that, too, Dan. (I may have rolled my eyes at this comment.)
Yet as he continued to saw the trees and I continued to drag the branches, those words resonated in my ears, “That one’s green, it will bend but it won’t break.” You see, I’d been trying to write for a couple of days about the concept of resilience. I had reviewed notes from a recent nursing conference and did a bit of a literature review, but it just wasn’t coming together until I worked in the woods.
I thought of those slender green branches and what was going on inside of them. I recalled words like “xylem” and “phloem” from science classes of my childhood. I pictured the intricate tissues and magical processes that feed the smallest sapling in our forest to the largest oak. The wind, the ice storms, and the lightening strikes—even a passing deer rubbing the velvet off its antlers—are threatening; but the trees in our forest continue to bend and rarely break. They are resilient.
A couple summers ago, I had another great day in Mother’s Nature’s classroom—this time in the coastal redwoods of Northern California. We were zip lining, and our guide shared some amazing facts about these giant trees. Most notable to me was that their roots extend vertically into the ground only six to twelve feet, but they can extend up to 100 feet horizontally—intertwining with the roots of the other redwoods around them. This intertwining brings great stability to the trees—a resilience to wind and storms (and apparently to zip liners).
How resilient have you felt lately—especially in these days of coronavirus? Even the oldest and strongest of us have been shaken by this pandemic. Are you flexible and bending with all the new information and schedule changes, or are you ready to crack? Maybe some of both—depending on which way the wind is blowing?
The good news is that you can build resilience. Let me share a few pearls I’ve collected that might help you bend more these days and lessen that fear of breaking.
1. From my long time nurse colleague, Renee Schultz: “We don’t need to be afraid of barriers, we need to be afraid of standing still.” Also from Renee: “Resilience work is looking at what is right. We can’t change why something is happening but we can decide how we are going to get through it.”
2. Sociologist and author, Brene’ Brown: ”Resilience is more available to people curious about their own line of thinking and behaving.” Are you curious today?
3. A powerful way to build resilience is to find connection. (Recall the redwood strategy above.) Who can you connect with today?
4. Reframe your mindset. Stop worrying about what can go wrong and get excited about what can go right.
5. Set boundaries. Maybe you need boundaries to limit the amount of time you watch or read the news. Maybe you need physical boundaries in your home to get some alone time.
6. Perception is powerful. Are you perceiving these days as traumatic, or as an opportunity to learn and grow? Your children will be watching and learning from you. Maria Konnikova writes in The New Yorker, “Frame adversity as a challenge, and you become more flexible and able to deal with it, move on, learn from it, and grow. Focus on it, frame it as a threat, and a potentially traumatic event becomes an enduring problem; you become more inflexible, and more likely to be negatively affected.”
7. Practice self-care. Self-care is an act of self-love but it is not selfish. Do all the things your parents might have told you to do–get some sleep, go play outside, drink water, turn off the television, don’t eat so much junk. (I’m looking at me when I type this!)
8. It’s okay to grieve. No one is giving out awards for being stoic (that’s different than being resilient). If you’re sad about not getting to see your senior graduate or missing your granddaughter’s wedding, let yourself be sad—and tell others about your sadness. It’s okay.
9. Forgiveness is a powerful tool that doesn’t get near enough credit. Remember that forgiveness is not something we do for other people. We do it for ourselves to get well and move on—to bend and not break.
10. My friend and fellow nurse, Ann Loken, who is soon celebrating her 95th birthday, recently gave me this advice, “Be the beloved person that God has made you to be.” Amen!
One final thought, lean in to your beliefs and values. Diane Coutu, writer for the Harvard Business Review shares, “Strong values infuse an environment with meaning because they offer ways to interpret and shape events.” What is it that gives meaning to your life? Spend time reflecting on those words and images that shape the trees in your forest. You might have some “saplings” in the house who would probably love a dinner table discussion around that topic.
What has helped you be more flexible and able to bend in the strong winds of these pandemic times? I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences. We are united around outfoxing this virus, and we will—yes, wash your hands, social distance, stay home, and wear masks when needed—and together we can become more resilient in the process. It will serve us well in the future.