The still burning but now controlled devastating bushfire here in South Australia has caused me to stop and ponder human nature. Stories are beginning to emerge of the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. In this newsletter, however, I want to focus on the qualities of courage and resilience.
The dictionary defines courage as “the ability to do something that frightens one; bravery; strength in the face of pain or grief”. Some of the synonyms listed are bravery, pluck, valour, fearlessness, intrepidity, nerve, daring, audacity, boldness.
Let’s have a closer look at this thing called courage. When I look at the above danger sign I experience it from several different perspectives. My immediate reaction is fear. “Wow! This place must be really bad. I better stay away.” My next response, having stopped and taken a deep breath, is caution. “OK. Thanks for the warning. There’s lots of potential risks to my safety here. I best be careful and stay alert.” Or “WOW! I gotta do this!” That, by the way is so not me.
Which reaction drives my next steps forward? And why? I guess if I was not one willing to risk life and limb I would steer well clear of all the looming danger. Far too risky!
What if I had no choice? How would I proceed? Perhaps a risk assessment, with a step by step plan on how to navigate the death traps. That requires time. But sometimes immediate and urgent action is required. There is no time. What do I do then? Throw all caution to the wind and trust my intuition? Send a quick call for help to the heavens and plunge in?
Now if I were a daredevil, a risk taker, liked the thrill of an adrenalin rush, it would be like a beckoning, flashing neon sign daring me to jump in the deep end and prove to the world and myself just how strong and brave I am. The sensible ones plan and assess risks first of course. But not everyone is sensible.
Different scenarios. Different personalities. Different responses. What would you do? I’m cautious when it comes to risking life and limb. What remains unknown to me is what I would do if there is clear and pressing danger, an urgency to act. I like to think I will have the courage to face it head on. We often surprise ourselves at what we can do if we have no choice.
Let’s have a look at resilience. The dictionary offers the following definition and synonyms: “the ability of a substance to spring back into shape; elasticity; the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” Flexibility, pliability, suppleness, plasticity, springiness, spring, give.
I guess the notion of springiness or elasticity can be applied to people. I can think of quite a few I know who seem to have an almost un-natural ability and capacity to bounce back from the most challenging situations. Some people seem to have never-ending traumas and catastrophes happen to them throughout their lives. I’m talking like major stuff, not just your little everyday hiccups. Yet they remain cheerful, optimistic, strong, motivated. And humble. Heart centred. How do they do that? What drives them? Where do they find the motivation and willpower to keep on keeping on against all odds, setback after setback? Do they have some bottomless pit of strength that they can dip into?
I can also think of other individuals who just give up. Sometimes seemingly too easily without even trying to confront whatever hard thing has cropped up in their lives. What drives that? Why would someone appear to willingly choose to be a helpless, hopeless victim? From the outside looking in, that is how it can seem. Who knows what has happened to them to make them like that. Perhaps they have been through stuff in the past that has left them depleted, stuck, incapable or unwilling to help themselves.
In the early 2000’s I went to an all day workshop on Resilience. It sounded interesting. I had vaguely heard of the presenter but not paid much attention to her story. The topic, however, piqued my interest. It had been a topic of quite some discussion in the community mental health team in which I worked at the time. We had wondered if perhaps it was something that could be taught. Or was it an innate quality that some people have and others don’t. I wanted to learn more.
The venue, rather surprisingly, was in a small group of shops on the edges of the Adelaide Hills. Picturesque scenery. Crisp, clean air. The call of native birds echoing in the background. The building was girded by stately, tall eucalypts. Our training room was intimately small. There was only room for a handful of people. As it turned out it suited the day perfectly.
By the end of the workshop all of us had been either reduced to tears or rendered speechless. Some both. I know I was. We had the humbling privilege of listening first hand to a woman whose two young children and father had been killed by her estranged husband. Ingrid Poulson told her horror story with calm dignity. It made it all the more poignant. Everyone was riveted from the moment she introduced herself.
She had been away from home for fifteen minutes to lodge an AVO (apprehended violence order) against her husband. During this time he had killed her children, her father, and then himself. Returning home, she was confronted with the vision of the bloodied bodies. Her world was turned upside down and inside out. What followed was a story of courage and resilience hard to comprehend.
Over the next several years she struggled to hang on to the shreds of her life. Often she was cloistered from the world wrapped in her cocoon of grief and pain. Slowly she began to realise she had choices she could make. To give up. Or not. She chose not. Her life was rebuilt one painful step at a time. Ingrid Poulson has researched and lived resilience at a visceral level. Her story is powerful testimony to the ability, will and strength to move beyond unbearable tragedy to a life of purpose, meaning and happiness. From it has come RISE, a training program developed out of her experience and learning. RISE stands for – Resolve, Identity, Support and Everyday Resilience.
The fires here in South Australia have done untold damage to land, crops, properties. Death of two people, 70,000 animals. Mostly livestock – chickens, pigs, sheep, horses, alpaca. Many were badly injured and burnt and had to be euthanised.
Stories of courage, bravery and selfless service are emerging. Communities have been galvanised into action to help those so severely affected. Like Phoenix rising from the ashes, rebuilding has commenced. Whole communities have resolved to rebuild their identity, supporting each other in acts of everyday resilience.
A Meditation for Calm in the Midst of Devastation
Find a quiet place. A sacred space where you feel calm and peaceful. A place where you will not be disturbed.
Sit or lie in a comfortable position. Spine straight, arms and legs uncrossed. Take a few long, slow deep breaths. Feel yourself beginning to relax. Close your eyes. Imagine you are connected from the heart to whatever is the source of highest good for you. Similarly ground yourself deep into the core of the Earth. Let go of all thoughts, focusing only on your breath. In and out in a natural rhythmic cycle. Slowly lengthen and deepen the breath, relaxing more and more deeply.
With each out breath imagine your body releasing stress. Feel your muscles softening. Feel yourself sinking deeper and deeper into the surface on which you are resting. If there are any aches and pains, or areas of dis-ease in your body, gently breathe into them to soften and release the tension.
Go deep within, into the heart space where Love resides. Feel the energy it contains. Breathe it into your total Being. Surround yourself with it. Immerse yourself in it. Send it to every cell in your body. Into every fibre and molecule of your being. Feel it filling you up so you are totally saturated, within and without, in the Unconditionally Loving energy.
Stay in that heart-centred space for as long as you wish. Empty your Self of all fears, grief, pain, despair, loss whilst you are there. Ask that it be changed into Love energy and returned back to fill those spaces from whence it was discharged.
Give thanks for the experience in which you have been immersed. Know that you can return to it anytime, anywhere, as often as you like.
When you are ready to leave the heart space, bring yourself back to the present moment slowly and gently. Gradually become aware of your body. The surface on which it is resting. The sounds and the smells of your quiet space in which you rest. When you are ready, open your eyes and wriggle your fingers and toes.
Should you wish to enhance this meditation experience, or support yourself during times of stress, there is a beautiful essential oil blend made by Young Living that does just that. It’s a proprietary blend of six different single oils called Stress Away –
There are several ways to use essential oils for meditation –
- In a diffuser – preferably ultrasound so heat does not destroy the therapeutic qualities of the oil
- Make a spritzer. 8 to 10 drops of oil in a 100ml glass atomiser bottle. Spray on yourself and in your meditation space
- Rub oil onto chakra points – for this one I would recommend the solar plexus, heart, third eye, crown
- Inhalation. Drip three drops onto the palm of your hand. Rub hands together in clockwise circle three times. Place hands over nose and breathe deeply three times.
Remember too that it is important for your health and wellbeing to only use 100% pure, therapeutic grade essential oils. I personally use Young Living essential oils. I know and trust their products. They are transparent in their practises. The YL Seed to Seal promise allows them to deliver pure, authentic essential oils.