New Year: Building Resilience and Meaning in Uncertainty
It’s very early days in 2022, and I think that most readers will recognize the need for resilience and meaning in this uncertain time.
In my home province of Ontario, as of today we’re once again still in lockdown. This is due to the extremely rapid spread of the Omicron variant. Schools and many retail businesses are closed or facing restrictions. Gatherings of people are also once again strictly limited in size. There’s a general feeling of restriction and uncertainty. No one is sure how long these restrictions will last, or when we’ll finally return to a sense of normalcy.
As the seemingly less virulent but highly contagious Omicron spreads, there’s hope that COVID might be changing from a pandemic to something much less threatening. Yet no one is certain if or when that might occur. It seems that we’re being called to patience and endurance—yet again.
Not surprisingly, the uncertainty of the present time is generating anxiety for all of us. How can we deal with our anxiety in such a way that a sense of hope and solidity is actually directing us? Where can we find resilience? Two things, a sense of resilience and meaning, are very relevant here.
Resilience and Meaning
How do we find resilience and meaning in challenging times? Resilience is that quality that enables an individual to face adversity and to come back from it with strength to meet challenges. When we’re discouraged and thwarted by setbacks, we can become more risk averse and more shut down as a result. However, the resilient person is someone who springs back from such experiences, and even uses what they learn from the setback to help them. Resilient people are characterized by a basic overall optimism, and a capacity to live their lives in the face of circumstances that others might find discouraging.
There are a number of factors that go into resilience. Some of them are founded in things we can’t change, like genetics. Yet there are a great many things that we can focus on that will build up our capacity for resilience, and enable us to deal with setbacks and experiences of disorientation—like the latest wave of the pandemic.
The Capacity for Resilience
One of the things that will help with resilience is to develop an attitude of kindness, starting especially with directing kindness toward ourselves. In difficult circumstances, many people find it easy to let their inner critic savagely beat them up. An experience of failure, for instance, can be something about which individuals rake themselves over the coals, often endlessly.
So, a starting point for building resilience is the willingness to work on seeing ourselves and our lives in a kinder light. This goes hand-in-hand with a willingness to work on treating ourselves better, in many ways. These include getting the sleep we need, perhaps driving ourselves less, and they go right through to the story we ultimately tell ourselves about our lives.
This last point is directly connected to another factor that builds resilience, namely finding ways to root our lives in a sense of meaning. There are many possible sources of gratification or “feel good” in life, but one of the greatest of these is a sense of meaning. This was a bedrock foundation of the psychology of C.G. Jung, as reflected in the following quote:
“The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.”
And in this quote:
“As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.“
We can be curious about our lives, and our own particular experience. We can identify parts of our lived experience that carry a particular sense of meaning or value or truth. We can find aspiration or hope to live for that connect us to a sense of lasting or indestructible meaning. Living for these things can give us a tremendous amount of resilience, if we can just find them and hang onto them.
What is your greatest hope, now?
How Can I Connect with Resilience and Meaning?
For many people, a key part of coping with the pandemic experience centers around finding resilience and meaning. This is generally true in life, but our experience of the pandemic highlights this reality. If we can find meaning in our particular experience of life at this time, and find a value in it, this heightens our resilience, and shows us a way to get through it. This work of finding meaning may well become an essential part of our daily life. What has meaning for you?
This ongoing search for meaning in our own unique, particular lives can often be enhanced by working in a supportive therapeutic relationship with a Jungian /a-midlife-transition. The ongoing “living lab” of /a-midlife-transition can allow us to becoming much more discerning about where meaning really lies—and to center our lives on it.
Wishing each of you every good thing on your personal journey,