In this time of the coronavirus and being isolated in our homes, we all need resilience. It’s a word often misunderstood. The Latin source of the word is to leap back – in other words, to return to exactly who you were before. But right now, we can’t be exactly who we were before: we may have lost our jobs and our income. We may not be able to see our parents, children or grandchildren.
In Hebrew, the word designating resilience, chosen, means to be inoculated, impermeable. But resilience is not about becoming harder or tougher. Resilience is about becoming softer. When you face a crisis like the one we are all facing now, you may feel great anxiety. You may even fear that you will lose your equilibrium, your sanity. That vulnerability can lead you toward finding new parts of yourself. My personal definition of resilience is becoming larger — more able to accept, appreciate and give.
Unfortunately, I am an expert in the process of resilience, of trying to live well even in the face of great pain. Our son Koby was murdered by Palestinian terrorists in 2001, when he was 13. I was shattered — and I have been rebuilt.
In the years since, my family created a foundation that runs a camp and other programs for bereaved children. I also trained to become a pastoral counselor, and worked on the cancer ward of a hospital as well as with the families of patients in persistent vegetative states. I have witnessed resilience.
Resilience is not an inherent quality that a few lucky ones possess. Each of us can build resilience. Here are the seven spiritual steps as I see them:
Chaos: Most people are terrified of this state. But if you don’t enter it, you may never leave the anxiety behind. The word chaos in Hebrew refers to tohu, the state of desolation and emptiness accompanying the creation of the world. Our job in this world is to create order from the chaos. Accept the changes in your life — more time, less responsibility (unless you are taking care of a child or somebody who is ill or infirm). Chaos returns us to nothingness. Chaos is the first step in every act of creativity.
Community and kindness: The whole world is facing this together. Nobody can handle this alone. We are responsible for one another. If you don’t have a community, you may have to create one. In any case, take care of yourself. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to those around you. Appreciate all of the good in your life and appreciate the health-care workers who are risking their lives to take care of others.
Choice: The world is predicated on free choice. You have the possibility of making choices that will bring you comfort. Choose to get up and be productive. Choose to call a friend. Choose to do something new. Take a meditation class online. See this time as a time of retreat and not as a punishment. Enjoy this expansive sense of time.
Creativity: We can translate our anxiety into creativity, into renewal. In creating, we find coherence in the chaos. Take out your paints. Make a video. Write a poem or a story. You may also create a new self, one who is more appreciative and compassionate.
Commemoration: We often repress or deny difficult experiences. But we can learn from the past in order to inform the present. What helped you in the past to deal with a difficult situation? What has brought you comfort in the past?
Consecration: This is not lost time. This is holy time. “The stone the builders discarded has become the cornerstone.” (Psalm 118). This enforced isolation also has something to teach you, to give to you.
Celebration: Find happiness today. Take this fate and turn it into an exalted destiny. What is possible now that wasn’t possible before in your busy, hurried life?
Sherri Mandell is the author of The Road to Resilience and the Blessing of a Broken Heart. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.