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Zane Maser

I think resilience must be close to the top of the sought-after List of Virtues! No wonder, because it derives from the Latin roots of re- "back" and salire "to jump, leap." Resilience is the ability within a person (or an animal) to "rebound" and pull oneself together in order to move forward with courage and strength, even though she or he is feeling emotionally wobbly, like I am at the moment in the wake of Zoe's sudden death.

This pliable ability to ride the rough currents of life comes largely from alignment with one's inner or "true" self, at the center of which is gratitude and abiding love. Moreover, resilience and acceptance go hand in hand, as my husband, Chris says—acceptance of what has changed, acceptance of what is now. Resilience is like shifting the angle of your sail to catch a fresh direction of the wind and sail off into uncharted waters that hold new promise for the one who is willing to risk. In these new waters of our life, we carry with us an appreciation for all that we had and shared with our cat, Zoe, during her long life, thereby sailing forth with a cup overflowing with love. Resilience is thus a sense of inner completeness, without any need for someone or something external to complete us. This self-contained state is actually a high form of spiritual "self-reliance."

Psychologists have spent decades studying the quality of resilience, which is defined as the positive capacity of an individual to cope with any significant stress, adversity, threat, trauma, tragedy, or catastrophe and be able to adapt to the change of circumstances or life situation. Despite a horrendous external situation, resiliency is the ability to access an inner gear that is called "optimal human functioning," a term associated with the branch of "positive psychology." This discipline focuses on "mental wellness" and the factors that contribute to well-being as the center of a person's psychological foundation, as well as the ability to respond in a personally beneficial manner rather than react poorly to misfortune and thus contribute further to a downward spiral.

When a major trauma occurs, like death or other loss (e.g., divorce, loss of job and income, your house is destroyed by fire, or you or your child become sick and require major surgery), a powerful, discordant note inevitably enters the music of one's life. It stops us "dead" in our tracks, momentarily, with its strong, disharmonious effect. It leaves a very deep mark in our emotions and impressionable memory bank, such that it becomes its own "vibratory resonance." When something in the present moment feels even vaguely akin to that deeply painful note in our psyche and physical body, striking it with similar intensity once again, it triggers the same old patterns because it arouses the original feelings and sensations. The vibratory resonance is activated, which takes our mind and feelings back and back and back, endlessly replaying the same agonizing inner tape and projecting worst-case scenarios into the future, further adding to the angst and misery.

Yet what makes one individual psychologically sturdier than another? Why is one person innately tougher or hardier mentally than another? Why is one crushed and another able to use hardship as a stepping stone, albeit a painful one? Why can one person don the cape of resourcefulness, coming up with multiple solutions and possible options, while another sinks into despair, depression, and decline? Why does one person trust that goodness and fullness will return, while another drowns his sorrows and failures in alcohol and self-pity?

An individual like Albert Einstein goes to the essential core of what constitutes resilience when he asked, "Is this a friendly Universe?" Trust, hope, faith, and the ability to remain on the positive frequency of thought moves one individual toward a creative, fulfilling future, because he or she dwells in the present moment—not what was the past nor what will never come to be. The friendly hand of the Universe reaches to each one equally. We get to choose how we perceive the Universe. Are we the plaything of "fate?" Or does it support us? Is everything ultimately a step of growth? Are we, by the quality of our own thoughts, words, and acts, the master of what we create, especially during a time of severe testing, like the aftermath of a death on whatever level it occurs?

In large measure, resilience is first-hand knowledge of the eternally burning light within our heart. Those who are flexible and adaptable are lit internally. This luminescent person is the one who leans over to light the extinguished flame or augment the dimly burning light of the person beside them. This is the ability to get beyond one's own suffering and extend a hand to help another. Even in the extreme, dehumanized circumstances of the concentration camps of World War II, Victor Frankl wrote in his inspirational book, "Man's Search for Meaning," that no matter what occurs life does have meaning and even the most wretched suffering is meaningful if it is endured in the right and honorable way. Exercising his freedom of choice and faith in the future, his resilient spirit found a reason to live, whereas others psychologically curled up awaiting death and allowed their inner light to go out. For Victor, meaning was found in each present moment. He continued to "live" in spite of heinous unconsciousness and the darkest and starkest surroundings of camp.

Resilience is this inextinguishable flame of faith and trust that Divine Spirit always and without interruption creates a friendly Universe built on the vibrational resonance of Love. Dr. Frankl was separated from his wife and parents when he was transferred to another concentration camp in the icy cold conditions of winter. In the heartbreaking moments of his greatest suffering, staggering along on frozen feet with fellow prisoners, each supporting the person beside them as best they could, Frankl focused as clearly as he could on the face of his beloved wife, wondering if she was still alive. Into his illumined mind came the gem of truth concluded by so many wise poets and thinkers before him: "The salvation of man is through love and in love. . . . love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire."1

Everything outward is a reflex
of everything inward.
A rose within, a rose without.


  1. Victor Frankl. 1963. Man's search for meaning. Pocket Books, New York, NY.


© Zane Maser 2010.

This article was published in Drumbeat, Journal of the White Eagle Lodge (Canada), Volume 18, pages 7-9 (Spring 2010).

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