My mother has osteoporosis. She falls sometimes and shatters bones. Pain, discomfort, and disability become part of life. She goes through long periods of recovery and rehabilitation. But she never complains. Mom bears her pain with dignity. Every time she falls she gets back up and moves on. No use in whining about how life is unfair and unkind—“That’s life,” she says by her way of being. You don’t get to decide how you want things to be, sometimes things happen that you don’t expect or desire and you just have to go with it and make the best of it.
Growing up with a mother like this taught me resilience— the ability to navigate adversity and to grow from challenges, Perhaps I was already born with it to some degree, in my genes, but I cultivated it through my life. Mom taught me to never give up.
When I learned "Nana korobi ya oki” I felt that this is the Japanese concept of resilience. No matter how many times you get knocked down, you get up again. In life you may fall one thousand times, but you just keep getting up and trying again. You can see this ethic reinforced in all facets of Japanese culture including education, business, sports, the martial arts, Zen arts, etc.
It is especially important to remember the sentiment expressed in this proverb when times are dark. There are no quick fixes in life and anything of real worth will necessarily take struggle and perseverance. Success is usually neither sudden nor guaranteed—what’s more important is that one simply does their absolute best and persists.
Resilience is deeply rooted in Japanese culture and approach to life as expressed in the spirit of gambaru (頑張る) . Gambaru expresses the idea of sticking with a task with tenacity until it is completed—of making a persistent effort until success is achieved. “Ganbatte,” is used often in daily language to encourage others to “do your best” in work, to “fight on!” and “never give up!” during a sporting event or studying for an exam. You do not always have to win, but you must never give up.
While others may encourage you to "gambatte kudasai!" — the real spirit of gambaru comes from within—intrinsic motivation. For one’s own benefit and for the benefit of others, one must bear down and do their best.
Falling down is not failure—failure is staying down. Falling down is part of life’s cycle, whether it’s through natural disasters or man-made ones. If we’re fearful of falling down again, we choose to limit our dreams, and live our lives safely, close to the ground, not flying high. But we can also choose to stand up, knowing that we will fall down again. This is the only way to live up to our human potential, change ourselves, and the world.
What enables someone to get up? It’s genetic and some people have more resilience than others. But resilience is an ability that can be learned, like a muscle that we can train and strengthen. Small changes in our mindsets and choices increase resilience. Nothing magical it’s hard work. But it’s instinctual.
We tend to focus on when we fell and therefore need to consciously shift our attention to the times we stood up instead. Psychologically, we can focus on good memories in our mind—the sources of strength and support in our lives—rather than trying to completely sweep away the bad ones, which can be futile.
Reflecting daily on the three vital connections—self, other, nature—enhances resilience.
One way of connecting to yourself is to decide to take some meaningful action. Ask yourself what’s something I can do today, even if it’s small, that reminds me that I’m not helpless. Doing mundane things like washing dishes, cleaning the house, or cooking dinner for your mother in a conscious, present, grateful way grounds us in reality, helping us to feel connected to our bodies, minds, and the world around us.
Connecting to yourself is also done through facing many small choices in your day. Ask yourself with each decision; is this helping me or harming me? This will help to choose the right way when deciding whether to take a walk, have another drink, watch more television, or any of the other little resolutions you need to make throughout your day.
Another daily practice is to intentionally do something that connects you to others. Social relationships are a critical factor in building resilience. Even if you’re not physically together, knowing that there are people somewhere on this globe that are thinking of you, wishing for your well being, and that you can reach out to, enhances your resilience.
The importance of connections with others reminds us that our capacity for resilience is heavily affected by the environment and the systems within which we live. Unequal access to health care, mental health support, employment, sick leave, and child care helps some people to be more resilient than others. Simple acts of support from friends and loved ones also make it much easier to be resilient instead of struggling alone with challenges we face. Connecting with others may also be done through social activism to change systems.
Cultivating the connection with mystery also enhances resilience. Mom instilled in me strength to survive hard times with optimism and faith that I will prevail over adversity. She encouraged me to hope for an improved future while being honest with myself about current reality, to avoid disappointment or despair. She taught me let go of the control of my falls, while using my mind to prevent unnecessary falls, avoid dangerous situations, and recover well from falls.
I believe that we already know how to cultivate resilience. We all have untapped resources within us. Our experiences of comfort and safety, of being powerful and courageous, are part of us as memories, qualities, and images. They can be accessed, activated, and strengthened. We have the potential to take care of ourselves and the people around us. In all the uncertainty of this frightening time, we need to remember this.
Select four resources from your memories
A place where you had felt safest and happiest
A nurturing figure
A source of wisdom
When you’re upset or in need of support can quietly reflect on these things.