This marks the end of our three-part series on optimizing our mind, body and spirit during COVID. Today, we’ve delving into building resilience in the spirit. When we talk about spirit in this context, it’s totally secular and non-religious. What we’re talking about is at the heart of what resilience really is: fortitude, courage, and power. How can we spark these things within us in the midst of the pandemic? The answer lies in the wise Eastern saying: No mud, no lotus. Meaning, the challenge to cultivate these inner attributes is brought on by the challenge itself.
Humans are by definition meaning-seeking, purpose-driven creatures.
We thrive when we are leading purposeful, meaningful lives. And resiliency feeds off this energy. So to build a resilient spirit, we need to a find ways to create meaning and purpose during this pandemic. There have been so many examples of resiliency in spirit all around the world: on the balconies in Italy, the press briefings of New York’s Governor Cuomo, and in the relief efforts to get PPE to healthcare workers worldwide. The human spirit is the most resilient force on the planet!
So today, I want to focus on three specific ways you can start building a resilient spirit by creating a sense of meaning and purpose in your own lives during this time:
1. Step into a growth mindset, not a scarcity mindset.
The stress caused by a pandemic creates a scarcity mindset. It’s our self-preservation mechanism in overdrive. Pandemics on the whole breed the scarcity mindset because it’s a survival tactic we as humans have evolutionarily developed. We are biologically primed to scan our environment for danger and act accordingly. It is inherently protective because it keeps us safe. But at the individual level, we have great power in outsmarting our biology to turn off our scarcity mindset and turn on our growth mindset.
At the core of the growth mindset is the belief that challenges can make us stronger, wiser and more able than we were before. The mere fact that you are reading this is proof that you are stepping into your growth mindset, because you believe you have the power to change and grow.
We can take concrete steps to cultivate a growth mindset by first managing our stress response using many of the tools we learned in prior weeks. When we build resilience in our mind and body through the ways we’ve talked about before, we can step out of the fear zone and into the growth zone even in the midst of a pandemic (see below).
2. Watch the movie of your life
Another way to build our spirit during this crisis is to become the observer. Mindfulness experts talk a lot about this concept, but let me break it down into very Hollywood terms: Start watching the movie of your life. We’re not talking about an action-packed blockbuster here, we’re talking about our quiet inner ability to watch ourselves and really pay attention to how we’re living in the day to day during this pandemic.
Think of your life right now as a movie and you as the hero or heroine of this tale. Are you the lead character you want to be? Are you stepping into your power and intentionally working on your potential for calmness, peace of mind and inner strength? Are you making intentional choices to read and watch uplifting things, to spend time (virtually, of course) with people who make you laugh and bring you joy? Are you working on creating a calm, safe haven within yourself amidst the chaos of the outside world?
We’ve talked a lot in the past two modules of how when we do better, we feel better. And with this doing, resilience has a chance to grow. It’s time to channel your Hollywood starlet and cultivate that Oscar-worthy, resilient performance.
3. Live a lifetime in a day
As an integrative medicine doctor, living a lifetime in a day is a mantra I repeat often to patients. It’s a way to incorporate all the elements that make up an arc of a long, purposeful and meaningful life — work, family, solitude, vacation, and retirement — and building each of those into one single day.
For example, engaging in work could mean any project that brings you a feeling of productivity or achievement. Spending time in family life (whether you have a family or not) could mean connecting virtually with your tribe to feel a sense of belonging. Taking a vacation could mean doing something that brings you joy and levity and gets you into a state of flow. And retirement could mean taking a pause in the day to reflect and take stock of your blessings.
By living a lifetime in a day, we learn to take the long view and zoom out. And when we zoom out, we can paradoxically learn to zoom in on what matters most: people, love, connection, health and ultimately happiness, the most universally resilient life force of all.
The spirit of resilience in a poem
Here’s one of my most favorite poems about the spirit of resilience. Charles Bukowski wrote this in 1993, long before the COVID pandemic. If there’s one piece of literary genius that summarizes the resiliency of the human spirit, I think this might be it:
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