I’ve worked as a psychologist or counselor for almost 40 years. I’m often asked how I am able to listen to people’s troubles everyday. My answer: The work I do with clients is not focused on troubles but on the treasure, the opportunity, which is hidden inside the problem.
This attitude meant that subjects like “abnormal psychology” never grabbed me. I wasn’t fascinated by case discussions where my colleagues gave impressive explanations of what was wrong with a patient.
Rather, I found those clients I met who seemed to thrive in the face of serious life challenges fascinating and inspiring. I’ve met amazing people who built meaningful lives despite having experienced brutal, often life threatening, childhood physical and sexual abuse, survived accidents in which others were killed, and dealt with life-threatening illness.
Psychologically, we use the word resilient when we describe people who manage to thrive in the face of hardship. Often, it was my clients’ resilience that was remarkable, and too often underestimated.
Recently, I read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. This is a beautiful, heart-wrenching story of an African American woman, Henrietta Lacks, who suffered and died from cervical cancer in the 1951, but whose cancer cells were the first to live and reproduce outside the body. The immortal HeLa cell line that was produced from Henrietta Lacks’ cells has played a vital role in research for decades. For example, Jonas Salk, used HeLa cells to test the polio vaccine before live human trials were begun.
I mention this because while the book covers the story of the science of HeLa, the book is also, or mainly, about Henrietta Lack’s family. In particular, we are allowed to meet Henrietta’s daughter, Deborah. Deborah, who has as difficult a life as one can imagine, is bitter and resentful that her mother’s cells (and maybe then her mother) survive, but the family wasn’t told. And she is angry that the family never received any financial benefit despite HeLa making others a lot of money.
But to my point here, Deborah is profoundly, inspiringly resilient. Throughout, even while gripped by anger and mistrust, she remains committed to her belief that something good should come from her mother’s death and from all their suffering.
Deborah shows what are referred to as the 3 C’s of resilience:
Control: she is determined to have a say in everything that happens around her.
Commitment: She is absolutely committed to learning the truth, and to serving the greater Good.
Challenge: She sees her struggles as an opportunity. She does not let herself stay in the victim role. She stays hopeful and optimistic.
Psychological research suggests that by practicing the 3 C’s people become more resilient.
I’ve learned from my training in Chinese Medicine and Qigong that there is another way to build resilience. Let’s call this, internal energy foundation training. Through Qigong exercises, you can build your inner foundation so that when tough times strike, you don’t break. This is like building earthquake-proof buildings. They are prepared for the challenge and they are much less likely to collapse or suffer major damage when an earthquake strikes.
A good example of this would be preparing for surgery by doing Qigong. People who do Qigong for a month or longer before surgery build an inner foundation that helps them manage the challenge of surgery. Post-surgical recovery can be much faster, with fewer complications and side effects.
What’s true for surgery is true for life as well. Regular Qigong practice strengthens your foundation, builds inner strength. Resilience–and the 3 C’s–emerges naturally from this.
When I first began to work with clients, I didn’t know about Qigong. But I began searching for something like it. Now that I’ve been practicing and studying Qigong for years, I know that it is an essential tool for promoting resilience..