What can help us in times of change and challenge?
I could hardly breathe. Getting up from a chair was a major effort. So I was walking. A short stroll outside was a huge challenge. My usual energetic stride was suddenly replaced by a slow shuffle. I had to sit down on every bench or tree trunk I came across. Going up the stairs of a small dyke at the beach needed careful calculation. A significantly older man looked at me with sympathy and understanding when I was gripping the railing of the staircase, and hauled myself up. My heart was racing. I did not want to die there. It felt as if I had aged more than twenty years in a few days.
With my intellect I could understand the situation I was in. I could see the same thing or worse was happening to many others: to roughly half of my colleagues, and to many people everywhere in the world. The Covid-19 crisis affects every individual, and every aspect of life. Yet my body experienced a huge shock. I was in the middle of a traumatic experience.
What had happened? One aspect of my life was in huge turmoil. My work-situation had changed unexpectedly. After working for an organisation I strongly resonated with and had respected for almost 30 years, it suddenly did not want my services anymore. There was no more need for my skills, my passion, dedication, creativity, or loyalty. It was not “just a job”, it had been a vocation, part of my identification in the world. Although my mind was still clinging to some hope, some possibilities, apparently my body knew better. It was the end of circumstances I had known for almost half of my life.
Who has never been in a situation like that? We all have. Whether it is the job that disappears,, the partner leaving, the home move, our health deteriorating, or any other aspect in our lives, we all have these moments where suddenly everything changes. This is part of life, undeniable. I am sure we all know this. We have experienced it in our own lives, we have seen it in the lives of our family, friends, and we witness it in the wider world every time we open a newspaper. Yet in reality, we seem to have this instinctive belief for things to stay the same, and that these awful things will not happen to us, only to others. I remember years ago switching on the news on the radio, and coming in the middle of a story about a plane that had crashed into a large building. The thought that arose was:”That must be somewhere far away.” Yet the reporter ended the story with: “This was our correspondent in Amsterdam.” Amsterdam is the city I was born in, where I spent many years as a young adult, where I went to the movies, and where my grandmother lived. I could not imagine this accident happening in a place I was so deeply connected with.
It is common for our minds to try to protect us from pain, so after a sudden change or loss some people may find that they feel quite numb about what has happened. Shock provides emotional protection from becoming overwhelmed, cushioning us. We may all have heard of and experienced the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Knowing that what we are going through is reassuring, it can help us to know we are not alone, and that we are normal.
Yet what is it we can invite in our lives to support us at this time? Can we prepare ourselves for it? Can we find ways to maximise grace? Are there elegant solutions? How do we increase our resilience?
We do not have to wait until a disaster strikes. We can engage in supportive practices right now. The advantage of a practice is that when the going gets tough, we already have some tools, habits and practices.
Let’s go back to my story. I put on my coat, and got out of the house, feeling a slight breeze on my face, nothing unusual in Scotland. I choose my path for my daily walk. Luckily I am surrounded by nature, and have several options to choose from: Findhorn Beach or Bay or dunes. Looking out over the water of the Bay, I immediately relax. I sense the spaciousness of the sky above me. I notice the differences of the tides, the direction of the wind, the presence of the large group of seals either in the water or on the sandy shore. I move my body, breathe more deeply.
My daily tasks and challenges move to the background: the endless emails, new projects, questions to respond to, responsibilities, opportunities, interacting with people, considering the best way forward, making decisions: for a moment it all falls away. I am especially attracted to the beach at low tide, when the sea has washed away any footprints, and there is a vast space, cleansed and pure, seemingly full of possibilities, yet infinitely spacious. Can I take that as a metaphor, a message from the universe? Can I experience my daily tasks with that same freshness, openness, like a blank page? Imagine that!
The group of seals also provide me with some wisdom. They seem to move gracefully with the changing of the tides, the weather, the seasons. Do they freak out when the tide is rising? Not really! They simply dive into the water and catch fish. When the tide is low, they relax on the shores, soaking up the warmth of the sun. They seem to go with the flow, being very flexible. They do not argue with the reality of each moment, yet surrender to it, making the best possible choice, again and again. They have been excellent teachers during lockdown!
These are some of my experiences and reflections during my daily walks in nature, one of my life lines. I imagine many of us have them. Being in nature certainly helps to find balance and equanimity in life. But is that the only way? Certainly not.
Back inside the house at my desk, my gaze rests on some drawings I made during recent inner work, now stuck on my door. The simple images remind me of an exercise where I reflected on turning my challenges into stepping stones. They remind me of my inner strength, of resilience, of the possibility of transformation, of hope.
Inner Work is at the heart of each spiritual practice. As a practising Buddhist for over 30 years, those daily sessions of meditation, reflection and prayer are like an oasis in the desert. They provide regular intervals to reconnect with my inner space, my values, aspiration, my full presence in the here and now. The supportive structure of these daily sessions brings me to a more centered space: being a little more peaceful, more kind, more wise, more patient. I am a great fan of bringing supportive structures in life. They create a container, a habit, a time and space where something can happen. It makes life so simple! I choose a time slot, and stick to it as much as possible.
My morning slot is just before breakfast. I have a set of meditation with prayers and visualisation, and just do the thing for 20/30 minutes. Just like brushing your teeth on a regular basis, or having a shower, just do it, no matter what. It may be peaceful, although that is rare in my case. Most of my practice time includes thoughts passing through my mind about the activities of the day, things I should not forget, practical solutions to the challenges of the day, repeating the conversation that happened yesterday; endless stuff! And sometimes the circumstances are more challenging. Today some people came to fit a carpet on the stairs quite early in the morning, hammering away, drilling, and vacuum cleaning. It provided a great opportunity to practice in less than ideal circumstances, yet I still did it, and felt good about just doing it.
For almost 30 years the Findhorn Spiritual Eco-village has been my home. Its creation and organic development is an excellent example of resilience. From its humble origins of a caravan near a rubbish dumb, with three adults who just lost their job, to a thriving international centre of hope and inspiration almost 60 years later, it is a very inspiring place to be. Based on inner listening, and following up any inner messages into practical action, it demonstrates what we humans are capable of. It expands the realm of possibilities. The founders had absolutely no desire to start a community, or an eco village, let alone one that would be famous all over the world. They simply listened to their inner guidance and acted on it. Soon they focussed on creating a garden created on sand, with hard work, compost, to supplement their food supply. Then they started communication with the nature spirits and devas, and the plants responded, and abundant and miraculous gardens were created. If giving loving attention to plants had spectacular results, how about giving that loving attention to people? The small group turned into a Community, which later transformed into a spiritual Eco-village, with several organisations, groups and ethical businesses. Is it easy to live here? No, not really. Is it a perfect place? Definitely not. Yet it’s ongoing ability to renew itself, respond to the ongoing challenges, and move forward step by step, is worthwhile to take notice of. It certainly is an example of resilience, through a combination of inner work, cooperation with nature and with fellow human beings.
This is not an invitation to just pack your bags and come to live here! This is an invitation to consider how and where you have created community in your life. When you follow your heart, you will be guided to those you resonate with. That is community, a network of like minded individuals.
Participating in Community life has given me the opportunity to observe what brings resilience, in myself and others, which I now include in toe programs that I run.
Here are some frequently asked questions about resilience:
- How does Inner Work help us build resilience?
How do we do this: being fully present. When we are continuously tempted with endless distractions. In order to be present with our world, we need to be able to be present with ourselves. We need to be able to simply sit on our seat, feeling your sit bones on the seat, our feet probably on the floor. Noticing our breathing. Hearing the sounds of the seagulls outside, or maybe the traffic in the street. Being present in the here and now… So that when we engage with the world, read the newspaper, and interact with our family, we can be fully present too. We can respond to each situation from a place of wholeness, from our heart, from a place of love, wisdom and caring.
- How do I know my inner work has an effect?
No action is too small. I find that a lot depends on where I put my attention. There are plenty of ways to notice our changes and progress. You choose. Maybe you like writing a journal, or having a weekly chat with a friend, creating a mindmap, or any other method where you check in with yourself.
I still remember one of the first times I started to meditate. I had gone off to the mountains, the Pyrenees, thinking that following the steps of yogis in a cave was the way to go. I found a place to sleep, and had some food in my backpack. The next thing I thought I needed was firewood. Yet there were no trees nearby, only one small tree high up in the distance. I got nervous, walked in the area searching for branches and firewood. I was getting really worked up with the thought of me being all alone in the mountains, without a fire to cook food, warm me, or give some comfort. Then I remembered the reason I came to the mountains was to focus on meditation. I sat down, there and then, closed my eyes, and focussed on my breathing. Breathing in and out, in and out. Coming back to it again and again. It felt good to do the thing I wanted to do. Then I opened my eyes, looked at the scenery in front of me. What was there? A huge piece of dried wood. It had the same colour of the surrounding landscape, so in my state of panic I had not seen it. Now after a breathing meditation of around 20 minutes, the thing I was looking for seemed to be just in front of me. It provided a powerful lesson in my life.
- What if I am too busy?
I love this quote, and find it very helpful. My own variation of this topic is this. Do we ever not have the time to brush our teeth? When are we too busy to have a shower? If we find something important, we will make time for it. Many of us have busy lives, and there could always be an excuse to focus on something else. I see regular practice as an investment in my life, my health, my emotional and mental wellbeing, my career. Just like that daily shower, I cannot imagine my days without it.
- How is this going to help our world?
I deeply resonate with this wisdom, and actually have organised a conference on this theme about ten years ago: Inspired Action. The conference itself was prompted by a strong intuition that did not want to go away, even when I argued with it! The event had a multi levelled effect, on me as organiser, on the presenters and participants, on the Community it took part in, and on the world. It had a ripple effect.
It connects our inner transformation with the challenges in the world, and for me that gives me a strong sense of purpose, interconnectedness and peace. Our world needs our care, attention, and skilful action. Whether we focus on the climate emergency, Covid 19, injustice, racism, patriarchy, poverty, war, refugees; the list is endless. Linking our inner work to benefitting our world is essential, as the wider world certainly needs resilience as well. Our intention to include the wellbeing of life on our planet in our inner work makes a huge difference.
- So where do I start?
This is just so true! This step can be large or small. That does not matter. The step can be profoundly enjoyable, or really challenging, who knows? You listen within, or make your list of options, you choose, and go! Then you can reflect on how this went, and take the next step. I am sure we all have done it. You would not be where you are now, including reading this article, if you had not taken many steps before in your life.
These are some of my thoughts and experiences. They are not the truth. I am sure you have your own examples. I notice how much I enjoy giving attention to this topic. May they be of benefit to you, and to the world.
If any of this resonates with you, please use it. If not, simply ignore it and move on to something else. If you are interested, you may consider joining one of my courses on Inner Resilience, where I really enjoy focusing on Inner Resilience, in a supportive group setting of people just like you!
Margo van Greta
Margo van Greta is a pioneer of holistic spirituality, bringing integrated spirituality into our daily life. She enjoys facilitating transformation, and created Elegant Solutions Findhorn courses and programs. She is living in Eco village Findhorn for 30 years. Currently most programs are online.