The Rhythms of Resilience

March 3, 2020 | Tags: , , , , , ,

Rhythms of Resilience

yellow crocus open in the sunI’m watching for the first delicate crocuses to break through the hardened crust of the March ground. Yellow, purple and white, their short blooms open like small cups of sunlight. But by night, the delicate blossoms close up, waiting until dawn coaxes them to yawn agape again. Their daily opening and closing reminds me that so much growth happens not in straight-line arrows stretching onward and upward as diagonals of progress cutting across a chart, but in rhythmic expansion and contraction more akin to breathing. Opening and closing, opening and closing, opening and closing, in the same motion of a human embryo as it grows.

When flowers open and close in circadian rhythms, their expansion and contraction is caused by the outer leaves or petals growing faster than the inner ones in darkness and cool temperatures. Then, in the warmth of daylight, the inner petals grow too, pushing the blossom open.

Might we learn from this, a rhythm for our own human resilience, individually and collectively? As we experience the setbacks, threats and trauma of our current times, can we step out of our urgent quest for outward action and progress long enough to turn inward and to nurture our spiritual growth, which in turn, will then spur us to new outward growth and action? Can we resist the dominant culture’s addiction to continuous growth – the onward and upward trap of 20th-century notions of progress – and allow ourselves, our systems and our organizations time to rest, to reflect, sometimes even to contract, learning who we are and what we need before asking what it is we are to do and how and where and when?

Resilience – the capacity to recover quickly from challenges, setbacks or trauma – is a much touted quality defined as the ability to bounce back or return to the shape or trajectory something had before being stressed. But as a human capacity, very often it does not return us to our original “shape.” Rather, human resilience often stretches us into different “shapes” as we grow into new capacities, understandings or relationships – new ways of being that respond to the barriers encountered or trauma experienced while still being true to who we are.

Author Andrew Zolli notes that resilient systems “move at more than one speed,” demonstrating both “the agility that comes with short-term thinking and wisdom that comes from long-term thinking.”  This too is a rhythm, fluctuating between an immediate response to urgent needs, and a slower, thoughtful reflection on options, consequences and the long game. It is a rhythm found in healthy religious communities, rooted in tradition while responding to the challenges of the present day and working toward a better future.

It is also present in Martin Luther King’s claim that “The arc of the moral universes is long but it bends toward justice.” He was paraphrasing a 1853 sermon by abolitionist and Unitarian minister Theodore Parker – and both King and Parker practiced the resilient rhythms of moving at more than one speed through times of great challenge and suffering. Parker originally said, “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one. My eye reaches but a little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by experience of sight. I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.”

We cannot see the full arc of history to know exactly how or when today’s injustices and suffering will be addressed. But being rooted in faith traditions and teachings committed to justice across the millennia, our conscience is awakened – one might say stretched into the shape of new understandings, new capacities, new relationships. And as we experience the adversity, setbacks and inevitable heartbreak of working to end oppression, we find resilience in the rhythms of breathing in and breathing out, opening and closing, resting and acting, drawing inward and reaching out. Resilience connects past and future in an arc bent and continually rebounding toward justice, through our dreams and actions, our faith and work, our imagination and daily practice.

With this ebb and flow, we grow. We stretch into new ways of being that can adapt to the dramatic loss and change and stresses that are all hallmarks of the 21st century. So it is that we discover resilience as the rhythmic movement of our human blooming.

To write about the rhythms of resilience, consider what you do or might do to practice moving at more than one speed. Then write from two alternating prompts, repeating them to discover how the fruits of these rhythms emerge and grow over time. The two prompts are: When I fold inward….  and When I open myself to the world….  

Adapted from “Resilience” by Karen Hering, published in the March issue of CommUnity.

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