Mountain Tops to Valleys: Doing More Than Just Surviving Life With Resilience – Part 2

As I introduced in Part 1, Dee Fowler Anderson’s book Sharing Hope, Nurturing Resilience: A Coaching Journey is a wonderful instructional guide on learning to navigate the mountain tops and valleys of life by nurturing resilience in ourselves.  In Part 1, we explored getting to know yourself and moving towards finding your purpose in life.  In this post, we will explore the next four chapters of the book, with the final four being explored in Part 3.

So far, we’ve got some of the biggies figure out, or are moving towards figuring them out.  A few thoughts I’ve had since writing up Part 1 is that you may find that the purpose you feel you bring to this world can shift over your lifetime – and that is totally ok!  But look for what it is that gives your life meaning right now, and support that in yourself.  How do you do that?!  With resilience, of course!  I reiterate that sometimes learning better who you are and figuring out what brings purpose to your life is a lesson in resilience itself!

The next step that Mrs. Anderson puts out there for us to breathe.  Yep, just breathe.  It sounds like a line from a corny romance blockbuster, but when was the last time that you thought about breathing?  It seems to me that much of the population of our country puts little thought into that which they put in their mouth to eat, why would you think about something that you do involuntarily?  Here’s what Mrs. Anderson says:

“I have heard it said that we can go weeks without food, days without water, but only a few minutes without oxygen.  That alone should tell us of the importance of conscious, mindful breathing to nourish our body one cell at a time.”

The incredibly lucky thing is that while you can spend $100 on a massage, a breath is free; and while a massage lasts an hour, conscious breathing can last less than 30 seconds, or you can sit and pay attention to your breath for an hour – or hours!  When I am focusing on my breath, if I am not doing yoga, I personally like to send my breath somewhere.  I used the Hypnobirthing technique while giving birth to my children, and this supports using the breath to calm and relax the body before, during, and after childbirth.  Pre-childbirth, I spent many hours taking deep belly breaths, rolling my shoulders up and back, and relaxing my breath down through my back; this was practice for when the time came when I would use my breath to push the baby down the uterus and born out into our world.  I was successful – I gave birth to two children sans epidurals or any medications stronger than ibuprofen.

I now continue to use the technique to release tension that I hold in my back, my whole body, or mind.  I had really gotten away from it for a while, but lay in bed the other day taking deep breaths and thinking how great it made me feel, and how great it made my body feel – for the rest of the week.  The seemingly inevitable trip to the chiropractor was put on hold after some mindful breathing!

“On the out breath, you might want to smile gently.  Smiling relaxes hundreds of muscles in the face,” says Mrs. Anderson.  Relaxing your face is probably about as important as focusing on your breath, because I know that as an adult, the instances of frowning each day seem to have increased, and the instances of purely joyous smiling have significantly decreased, and the instances of laughing til my face and stomach hurt have decreased to about once a year.  By relaxing your face, you re-open your ability to be happy.  Can you feel peace and tranquility if your face is creased in a frown?  Can you treat others kindly if you are constantly scowling?  A smile may not win world peace, but it is a start.  It may also save someone’s life.  It may save your own.

Smiling increases your resilience to the harsh winds that blow in your life.  I know that when my daughter was little(er), if she was resisting having her teeth brushed, I’d tell her to smile, and then it was impossible to be mad and cry.  You just can’t.  I also often just laugh out loud if the kids are both screaming and tantruming at the same time.  When there’s nothing you can really do to fix it, when screaming and getting upset will only make things worse than they all ready are, laughing at the fact that the kids are both screaming because they want a simple piece of gum or don’t want to use the automatic flushing toilets or they are touching each other – or almost touching each other – is my best bet and usually makes them stop and ask why exactly I am laughing, which then turns the whole situation around to a silly one rather than one that is stressful.  Adding a conscious breath, a smile and a little laugh to your daily life will help create little mountains even when you are in a valley.

Mrs. Anderson next encourages us to create a healing space.  I like Mrs. Anderson’s description of what a healing space can be, because so often I find it to be described as a specific little space with specific things kept in a specific level of organization.  I’ve realized over the past few years that I like things a little disorganized: I don’t like my house to be completely organized all of the time because some disorganization attests to the high level of learning and creativity happening here.  I also enjoy a “messy” nature.  I don’t like super-landscaped yards, I would much prefer my natural woods with inches of fallen leaves and saplings growing thickly in gaps in the canopy and bunches of trilliums growing where they will.  I like the spiders webbing where they can best find food, and the slugs eating holes in the produce of my garden, because that’s what’s natural.

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My nature trail

In essence, I personally don’t need to ‘create’ my healing space, it has been created for me, and that knowledge nurtures me.  My deep connection with the woods around my house heals me, and helps keep me resilient against the woes I have encountered.  Actually, I worried when I moved into this house that I would get stuck here, and stuck I have become.   Once upon a time, my worst nightmare was being stuck in this town, my hometown, but now, as I am searching for jobs and wondering at my future, whenever anyone suggests something that is far enough away that I would have to move I immediately reject it, I love it here and I don’t want to move now.  Not only am I close to family, but I feel connected with the family that lived in this house before me – my grandfather; and I feel connected to the woods themselves, in not only a physical way, but a spiritual.

I haven’t many chances to just go outside and breath consciously with a two-year-old running around, but remembering my connections while outside helps me navigate the valleys.  Real life isn’t so different from the woods, nature isn’t so different from life.  Being outside in the woods helps me remember how big I am, and how small I am at the same time, in the big picture.  It helps me remember my mortality and the unseen connections that we all have in the web of life; that all of my choices directly and indirectly affect the lives of everyone and everything that we share this world with.  If I feel like a part of life, a part of something, I am better able to navigate the valleys, I am more resilient to the harsh winds, because I have something left to fall back on and feel connected to, and people need connections, it is hard-wired into our emotional well-being through evolution.

It’s possible that through my hard times, I could lose my woods, and the fact is that not all woods are the same woods necessarily, but the connection to all things is present in every green space, no matter how big or how small.  A potted plant is enough for me.  If you are not into that tree-hugging nature stuff, any connection is enough.  A basement where you have weekly potlucks at church may be your healing space, and your healing activity connecting with people.  A space where you can feel connected to yourself or others and feel whole is what is important.  A space where you can be conscious of your blessings, but also aware of your faults is all that you need, whether that spot belongs to you or not.  And remember too, that your specific healing place may change over time, depending on where you live and where you are mentally – and that’s ok too.

After finding our healing places, Mrs. Anderson next points us in the direction of nourishing ourselves.  When I sat down to analyze this chapter for my post, it became more and more interesting to me how broad she left the door of different means of nourishing ourselves, yet I found I liked her chapter more and more.

What do you think of when you hear the command, “Nourish yourself?”  I immediately think of food, and Mrs. Anderson does address diet, but she goes further in addressing your whole experience in your healing space.  More specifically, she addresses sensory inputs, which, when you focus your attention on them, cause you to be present in the moment.  If you take each moment as it is, breathe through it and appreciate each flavor, each movement you are able to make, each texture you feel, tune into the sounds around you, and notice little beauties in everything you see, the mountains seem not so huge and the valleys seem not so low because you are still here now and able to do some or all of those things.  Joy returns and healing happens when you make conscious decisions and then recognize the outcomes as they come to pass.

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Making stock from scraps

Say for example, you decide to make your kitchen your healing place and healthier eating a goal, because cooking is calming for you but you’ve somehow gotten into the habit of eating take out because life is so harried and hurried.  Being in your healing space and acknowledging it as such will calm you, as will the act of cooking.  I know that when I choose local, organic, and/or sustainable ingredient choices for my cooking, just knowing that I have done that uplifts me as I cook and eat my meal.  Focusing on my food choices helps me savor the flavor and eat slow, especially if it happened to be something expensive that I got on a rare occasion – it’s no good wolfing down a $20 piece of salmon, best to savor every bite (I did once buy a $20 piece of fresh salmon to use in a crock pot recipe – and it was absolutely delicious, and worth every cent!).  While cooking and eating, I focus on and revel in the fact that I made conscious decisions in my purchases and am helping the Earth, local vendors/producers, or both, and that heals me; it brings meaning into my life, and makes me feel connected with the world at large.

After eating my meal of unprocessed, whole foods,  I pay attention to how the food makes me feel, whether good or bad; physically, mentally and emotionally.  A lot of people neither pay attention to what they put in their mouths, nor how it makes them feel within these three parameters.  Some people do notice that foods make them feel bad/uncomfortable, but make no change towards finding out what would make them feel better.  I personally have cut lots of foods from my diets, either for limited times or in general, just because they don’t make me feel good physically.  I eat ice cream only a few times of the year because that is one food that really makes me feel yucky though we are taught that ice cream is a treat that should make us feel good. What happens when that is not the case?  Usually I notice that when I follow my gut as to what food I ought to eat, I feel great: physically full, un-bloated, and balanced, then that makes me feel…happy!

Following our body’s signals increases our resilience.  It adds to our knowledge of ourselves, and helps us know our strengths when climbing out of valleys and up the mountain sides.  Following your body’s signals gives us control of what we nourish our bodies with and also allows us to control how we react to stimuli in our lives.  In our healing space, we can control not only the food that we nourish our bodies with, but we can add tactile stimuli such as a soft pillow that calms us, calming or uplifting scents like lavender or orange blossom, soft sounds that calm us almost involuntarily such as that of ocean waves, and we can add something that we personally find beautiful or inspiring such as a quote or a lit candle.  What will you add to your healing space to inspire you?

The last chapter that I will explore in Part 2 pertains to connecting with others.  Extrovert or introvert, we all need to connect with others.  Humans are social creatures and need contact with other humans.  For some people, just the contact with co-workers and a few close friends or family members is enough; for others, they need a lot of social contact to re-charge their batteries.  Just as important to our well-being as the actual contact is the type of contact.  Validating relationships are so important.  A validating relationship is one in which you are accepted for who you are, listened to, and respected.  An invalidating relationship is one that disregards feelings and opinions, wants to change you, and doesn’t allow natural changes as they flow through your life.  For example, I once had a boyfriend who smoked lots of pot.  I wasn’t too cool with pot smoking in general, so I was trying to figure out where to go with things, and a friend said, “Remember that movie ‘A Walk To Remember?’ He may change.”  Wanting to change your partner as you go into a relationship never works, and the whole situation would have been terribly uncomfortable and invalidating to the poor guy (who probably smokes pot because someone had invalidated him for a long time).

Sunflower hugs

By searching out validating relationships – both romantic and non-romantic – and treating others in a validating way, you surround yourself with a support network that increases your resilience.  If someone is constantly cutting you down, your ability to be resilient to the trials of life will be greatly decreased – if you are repeatedly told you are worthless, how can you find value in yourself that tells you otherwise?  It’s possible, but difficult.  And if you repeatedly tell someone else that they are worthless, you damage them so that their own resilience towards all the valleys of life are deep indeed.  Seek out those that support you and avoid those that don’t.  This doesn’t mean that you can’t still be friends with people who speak in invalidating ways, but it’s best to be distant from toxic relationships that are impossible to cut off completely (like family) for your own health.   (Please check out this most wonderfully written parenting book, The Power of Validation: Arming Your Child Against Bullying, Peer Pressure, Addiction, Self-Harm, and Out-Of-Control Emotions by Karyn D. Hall, PhD, and Melissa Cook, LPC.  It is one of my favorite books, and I feel it pertains to not only parenting but how we ought to treat everyone!  It gives examples and practice runs for learning to treat others in validating ways.)

Try to avoid speaking in toxic ways as well.  The way you speak about and to yourself greatly affects your own resilience, and draws certain people towards you and pushes certain people away.  I know that people who regularly speak in invalidating ways to others, about themselves, or especially to their children are not people that I wish to spend much time with.  The way you feel about and speak to your own self comes through in your daily speech patterns, you just have to listen to yourself as you talk.  It’s well worth your time for your own happiness and overall health to begin to try to move towards speaking to yourself with positive words, and to use those words on others too.

One place that Mrs. Anderson suggests looking for validating relationships is through support groups specific to your trial.  Sometimes, support groups and counseling are just the key to overcoming the bump in your life, and can greatly add to your circle of positive support connections, and give you the power tools to build yourself into the resilient image that you desire to be.  Another way would be to volunteer your time as support for someone needing it.  Volunteering is a great way to validate yourself, connect with others, and nourish yourself.  Have you ever heard of the ‘volunteer’s high?’  It’s not a new phrase for nothing.

Resiliency is something that has to be cultivated, but by taking the time to slow down and focus on ourselves, to focus on life, to focus on our world, to be present in it with our senses, and to be gentle with ourselves and others, we can sow the seeds within our own souls little by little and watch as our seedlings sprout up.

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Image used with permission by author

Stay tuned for part 3 about my experience using the lessons taught in Dee Fowler Anderson’s book, Sharing Hope, Nurturing Resilience: A Coaching Journey.  Pick up your own copy at Amazon by clicking on the picture of the book, or on the sidebar of my blog.

Link back to Part 1

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