As I’ve navigated through times of personal and professional challenge this year, it has been a while since my last newsletter. I’ve needed to practice what I teach, and I’d love to share with you some of what has helped me. Three guiding ideas stand out.
- The principle of retreat and return
- The preparation stage of change
- Resilience is a powerful force of nature that can happen through us, both personally and collectively
1) The principle of retreat and return
Are you stepping forward or stepping back? It might feel sometimes there isn’t an option, that you just have to deal with what’s in front of you. Yet I know I can reach a state where pushing on takes me in the wrong direction. Retreat, in its different forms, can allow me to regenerate. It also gives me pause to check my bearings, to recalibrate so that I’m more aligned with what feels right and true. The act of return can then bring fresher energy and focus to what I do.
A skill I’ve developed over the years is of being able to take micro-moments of retreat. For example, asking myself questions like ‘What am I glad about?’ or ‘what can I see around me that I appreciate?’ takes my attention on a journey that recharges me. While that might only be for a few minutes, it offers psychological nourishment.
In Active Hope, the book I co-wrote with Joanna Macy (who’s 93 now), we describe how taking time for gratitude practices can resource us, giving a stronger starting point from which to face and respond to disturbing realities in the world. First written a decade ago, and now published in fourteen languages, the book itself is experiencing a return this year. Recognising that so much has changed in our world over the last ten years, we rewrote it to better fit what’s needed now. Yet a key element we kept was the section on how to maintain our energy. While we used different terms to describe it, the principle of retreat and return is a central thread in that. Here’s a short video of Joanna and myself introducing this new edition.
2) The preparation stage of change
Something I’m glad about is the new subtitle of this book – How to face the mess we’re in with unexpected resilience and creative power. When facing difficult situations, we can sometimes surprise ourselves. We might find strengths previously hidden from view, discover new allies or creatively develop responses we’d not thought of before. Something I’ve learned is that we can help these forms of unexpected resilience become more likely by applying a preparation stage of change. Here’s an example.
Two years ago I was asked by a group of coaches and mental health professionals in Lebanon to offer an online resilience practitioner training. After meeting weekly through June and July, our group faced the shock of the massive explosion in Beirut on 4th August 2020. While no amount of preparation can take away the horror of a tragedy like this, when the group reflected afterwards, they said the course had helped prepare them, both personally, and for the roles they played helping others. Being there for each other as they continued to meet was a key factor in this.
In the difficult times we face now, are there ways we can prepare that might put us in a stronger position to respond, and also to help others respond, to current and future adversities? Addressing that question is a big part of the work I do, and is the central theme of a webinar series I’m offering with the Association for Coaching called ‘How to face the mess we’re in – a transformational resilience toolkit’. Running over four Tuesdays starting on 11th October, we’ll look not just at tools that can help us now, but also at how we can prepare for what might lie ahead in ways that help a better version of that become more likely.
3) Resilience is a powerful force of nature that can happen through us, both personally and collectively
I sometimes encounter suspiciousness about resilience training, with fears it might be a ploy to get people to put up with awful conditions, or a way of casting appropriate concern about systemic problems as a personal failing that can be solved by training. I’m sure there are occasions when these critiques hold water. At the same time, I know from my deep involvement in this field, the perspectives I draw upon and the research evidence showing benefits of training that a more empowering, respectful and life-enhancing version of events can, and does, happen too. A perspective I find inspiring is that resilience is a powerful force of nature that can happen through us, both personally and collectively.
When I see pictures of tender green shoots growing out of the ashes after a wildfire, or witness my own injuries heal after accidents in the past, I’m reminded of the life-force within us and in our world that can rise after falls. There is a natural resilience hard-wired into us. There’s also a learned resilience we can add to, grow and build. I see resilience as a story-pattern happening at many levels – in individuals, teams, communities, organisations and eco-systems. The plot shape is of an adversity causing or threatening decline met by a response that helps a better version of what comes next become more likely. Through our choices and actions, we can play a role in this story-pattern; resilience, in its personal and collective forms, can happen through us. If you’re reading this, you’re probably already engaged in the process of helping this happen in yourself and others. You play an active role in this story.
Around this time of year over the last eight years, I’ve offered a ‘Resilience Practitioner Training‘ designed to help us deepen our understanding of, and participation in, this story. A question we’ve explored together is ‘what would a story of resilience look like here?’ I didn’t run the course last year. Facing some big challenges in my family and work, I took a step of retreat. I’m so glad to return this year, and am offering a free webinar on October 18th looking at how to become a Resilience Practitioner and grow skilfulness in this role.
A resilience practitioner is someone who engages in practices to support resilience – that might be in a self-help way, or in supporting others, or in acting for collective resilience, or any combination of these. I believe this role is much needed in our time – what might it look like if it were to really catch on? To help this happen, I’m running the Resilience Practitioner Training over eight Tuesdays starting on November 1st (weekly for seven weeks then a review and deepening session in January next year). You can download a pdf information sheet about the course at this link, or find out more on the Resilience Practitioner Trainingwebpage. There’s an early booking discount if you book by Oct 25th.
With the scale of the challenges we face, the potential contribution of resilience training might seem woefully inadequate. Yet nothing is ever by itself. Building capacity to cope with difficult conditions can make a difference to whatever else we might do, or support others to do. And the practice of ‘Transformational Resilience’ involves a story much richer than just coping. If the unexpected resilience of nature has a creative evolutionary dimension that can generate new possibilities, what might that look like if it were to happen through us? And can we learn ways to help that happen more? These questions can take resilience training in very interesting directions.