Larry Ward has a PhD in religious studies with an emphasis on Buddhist meditation and neuroscience. He is a Christian minister and Dharma teacher working in retreats with people who are interested in the path of mindfulness and Buddhism, and additionally working with selected clients in corporate settings applying how to be resilient in the times in which we live.
A primary characteristic of human beings is our capacity for resilience – it’s an inherent human quality. The question is…. can we learn to enhance that quality in ourselves and between us?
We are very complex creatures and any of our life experiences of either pleasure or displeasure can trigger and destabalise our nervous system.
An emotional experience such as anger, joy, happiness or sadness.. is an experience communicated to us by our body. If we don’t learn how to be sensitive to the information coming from our body we become less skillful in our ability to be resilient. For Larry, learning to be more skillful in body awareness is a very important tool, enabling us to be more in touch with our emotions.
Why do we struggle to improve our resilience and our ability to change more quickly?
Part of the issue is that we may have, either consciously or unconsciously, decided to stop learning. Perhaps our cultural orientation or our conditioning as we get to a certain stage of success or development means that the rest of our lives is spent just going through the motions of keeping that level in place.
How can we develop our resilience further?
Larry looks at resilience in three different ways:
- The first is to learn how to develop calm in yourself.
This means learning how to calm your body and mind down. This is a wonderful practice and maybe a life’s work for some! When we learn to do this we can continually discover over and over again, our own mystery, depth and greatness as people, individuals and collectives. This is fundamental and deeper than just relaxation.
Calming your body and mind is about mindfulness. Levels of mindfulness can be attained through meditation, which empowers the networks in our brain, allowing us to pay attention. Enhancing our ability to pay attention is how we recognise what is happening with our body. When we are calm we can have peaks of clarity of what is actually going on with us emotionally. Once you are aware you can start to manage yourself better.
Meditation is a skill but things can come up to block your progress, so you need guidance and instruction – learning how to learn so that it is sustainable. Short meditations will help people start off their learning, but instruction is needed to progress. People often expect sudden changes to occur and perhaps give up too easily. If people are introduced to mindfulness meditation skillfully and carefully – they will experience immediately some joy and some relief in terms of their resilience.
Mindfulness is about self awareness, being skillful and managing yourself, your emotions and your mind – part of it is to do with the vividness of your experience that becomes possible in a state of mindfulness.
- The second is emotional resilience – learning the skills of working with our feelings and the accompanying emotions that may arise.
The main skill that Larry uses on a daily basis is the awareness of breathing patterns. His breathing patterns provide information about what his mind and emotional life is experiencing. Larry can feel when emotions or thoughts are arising – if we can evaluate these in the workplace or in relationships, we can create opportunity for clearer comprehension of what is happening. Then we have freedom of choice at a whole different level.
Emotions are there for a reason, they are there to help and protect us. They help us make decisions, they give us power, energy,….. an uplift. It is only poor use or lack of control that can make them negative. Making a choice about how you use emotions is all about how to understand the positive effects of having an emotion in the first place.
- The third is cognitive resilience – the stories we tell ourselves about who we are, what’s happening and where we are going. The skill is to learn how to wisely “reframe”. Otherwise we can get caught holding onto a previous “frame” which no longer applies to our current real situation.
Reframing is not escape but the ability to look again and re-imagine what is happening.
When in a challenging situation, we tend to focus on the negatives. We could probably write down a number of negative things about that situation in a couple of minutes. When asked to write a list of positives – we find this a whole lot harder.
The more you think of problems – the more problems you have! Cognitive resilience helps nurture possibility question rather than problem driven ones.
Our nervous system is designed to protect us so we are wired to notice what is negative first. Cognitive resilience is learning to know that this is what is happening, then learning how to put things in the framework of “Well, look at all of the positives connected to this”. Cognitive resilience is learning how to work with your mind in terms of its images, the mood and expectations it creates in you, and the story you embody about what is possible for whatever environment you are in.
Some people genuinely do not know what they want or where they want to go, they drift along, which is fine…. but it is not learning to learn or training yourself to be in control of your own mind. This not knowing can take you into a freeze state…. but in the state of not knowing you still have choice and real possibility.
Once you know what direction you want to go in – a question of cognitive resilience is “what would it take for this to work?”
Humans seem to have an addiction to what is not working. Resilience is not about escaping from what is not working but working through it and beyond.
Some really interesting ideas and thoughts from Larry Ward, who you can reach at www.thelotusinstitute.org, read some great blogs and maybe join a meditation retreat!