The Hamstrings of the Emotionally Resilient

From the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

A strong body is a flexible body. Muscles stretch and contract with ease and grace. They propel a body over a sleeping dragon and then relax back into a restful state, replenishing reserves of energy. The resilient have flexible hamstrings.

So too with the emotionally resilient. When the emotionally resilient face obstacles—an empty coffee canister, bad traffic, a cranky boss, a medical diagnosis—their resilience-muscles flex, they activate internal resources, and they respond. When they have moved through the challenge, they settle back into a restful state, recharging, restoring.

The resilient do not grit their teeth, muster willpower, and face challenges with force. That response is maladaptive, technical, and contrived. It is a convoluted version of resilience born from a dominant culture that suppresses emotional expression, that wields force in response to adversity. The resilient reject grit and hardness and contraction.

Resilience is simultaneously soft and supple and strong. It is fluid, gentle and agile.

The key lies in how we perceive the object of challenge—the empty coffee canister, the traffic, the boss, the diagnosis. If we perceive the object of challenge as posing an immediate threat, then: Let the adrenaline surge. Lash out. Curse.

The challenge, however, could just be a thing on your path that’s on its own journey. The challenge could be an opportunity to learn. The teenager rolling his eyes at you is just that: a teenager rolling his eyes. Respond with softness. The boss’s crankiness has little to do with you and most to do with the challenges in her own path. Keep those muscles flexible. The medical diagnosis might be a thing from which you can learn, or it might just be something that’s happening.

The resilient don’t see challenges as threats to surmount—they don’t need to rally all their energy when adversity surfaces. The resilient glide and leap and crawl, and stumble and fall, and then soar and spring over, around, through the adversity. And as a result, the resilient remain flexible, with a bounce in their step, a lesson in their pocket, and a receptivity to whatever may come.

Time to stretch those hamstrings.

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