Building community in a changing world

March 1, 2024

What is “Resilience”?

Just received this email from Andrew Lang about a topic I’ve considered a bit lately:

Having resilience doesn’t mean to “bounce back.”

And yet many of us have been given this default understanding of what it means to be resilient – to recover from harsh changes and challenges so we can keep moving forward.

This is a problem.

Dorcas Cheng-Tozun notes this default understanding implies “the resilient person bounces back quickly, mostly unharmed and unchanged, from any hardship.”

This understanding of resiliency disregards and attempts to bypass:

  • the harm we can experience in the midst of change,
  • our inner processing of these experiences, and
  • any growth that can emerge from adversity.

Just take a moment and think about what you’ve heard from others during times of challenge: It’s not that big of a deal. Brush it off. Rub some dirt on it. Keep your head up.

This form of resilience is more about ensuring we keep on keeping on than it is about us being present to what it means to live a human experience.

Here’s another definition to try on and see how it fits:


​”The capacity of a system, enterprise, or person to maintain its core purpose and integrity in the face of dramatically changed circumstances.” –Andrew Zolli

With this definition in mind, being resilient isn’t about “bouncing back.”

Being resilient is a matter of experiencing the messiness of the world and maintaining one’s tender connection, however fragile it may be, to their sense of perseverance, courage, and identity.

February 19, 2024

Fix It, Don’t Fixate

I dig the “Shrink Think” podcast and this latest one is good. At the 9:00 minute mark, there is a great story about the quick use of hypnosis to help a woman regain her sight. Wild. And the podcast talks about self-limiting beliefs and how the continual focus on a big problem rather than the solution might not be the best course of action. These podcasts by Nathan Hawkins and Aaron Potraz are relatively short and worth consuming…

February 6, 2024

Essential Happiness

This Greg McKeown podcast with Mo Gawdat is amazing, particularly starting at the 27:00 mark. Seriously, you need to check it out – so powerful. Here are some ideas from it that don’t do the listening experience justice:

– The only thing that matters is what you do next. What you do in this moment. What you did before has little bearing.

– When nothing is certain, you might as well choose what makes you happy.

– In this ‘moment,’ you choose – the moment either has meaning or its just suffering.

– Near the end of his life, Maslow changed the highest aspiration in his “hierarchy of needs” so that it is self-transcendence (ie. spirtuality) rather than self-actualization. The best chance for a sound relationship are two whole people who come together to create an interdependent unit.

– Manage your time by spending it on the things you love. Those people in your Top 10% are likely 1000x, 100x more important than the others in your life.

– The definition of “gratitude” doesn’t include just things that make you feel good – it includes being grateful for everything including the things that make you suffer.

– ‘If I won the level but missed the game while playing, what was the point?’

– Social media is a dark playground. Those thoughts you’re trying to avoid will be sitting there waiting after you finish pursuing that activity that has a low likelihood of creating happiness.

January 24, 2024

“Dear love, what would you have me know today?”

This podcast with Liz Gilbert on “We Can Do Hard Things” is one that truly resonates with me. In essence, Liz explains one easy way to reparent yourself in a way that can make you more secure. Skip forward to minute 17 – as there is a lot of chit chat to start – and please listen to the entire thing. Then go to the Substack by Liz (“Letters from Love with Elizabeth Gilbert) where she posts her love letters to herself (as well as love letters that her guests have written to themselves).

It’s so powerful…here’s an excerpt from the podcast in which Abby Wambach (the co-host of the podcast and of Olympic Soccer fame) reads her first love letter to herself:

“Dear Love, what would you have me know today? Dear Love, oh, sweet little girl. Yes, I said little girl. You spent much of your life trying to figure yourself out, trying to understand yourself and how you fit into the world. Your questions about why you’re here and what this is all about are good. These questions keep you alive and awake. Sometimes though honey, they can take you out and make life unmanageable. Know that I see you, know that you are good.

Also know that good and bad is bullshit. Know that your goodness isn’t something I need to see. Know that I love looking at you and watching you and seeing you explore. Isn’t that what you love to do the most? Isn’t seeing things and doing things and experiencing things, the stuff that makes you feel the most? And isn’t feeling the best?

And let me get back to the questions, honey. The questions will keep coming and coming and coming. Don’t be so concerned with finding the answers. That’s where you can get stuck. Life isn’t about the answers. It’s about living out the questions. You have worked really, really hard trying to understand yourself and the world, and sometimes it’s exhausting. And you also have this little worry deep down that the kind of work you’ve done and become expert at excludes you from other work. Or asking other questions of yourself and the world.

You did go down a long arduous road. It was very focused. You did that for certain reasons that you’re still uncovering and reaping the benefits and also recovering from. But that does not limit you to just that one thing. Sweetie, you have always known you were more than just soccer. And now that you are truly stepping into the pureness of love and self-expression, you will keep discovering that.

You are discovering that nothing is by chance. And everything that happened to you was on purpose. The addictions, the heartache, all of it was necessary. But even during all that tumult, I was there. I was with you, and I know you heard me. My feelings aren’t hurt that you needed to ignore me for so long, and I can understand how hard it is to believe that I was there then as I am now. Can you trust that I exist and that I’ve been there with you from the beginning?

I’ve been here before this body came, and I’ll be here after this body leaves. You have spent so much of your life believing that the world or someone else would make you believe in me. In some moments that’s been true, but not because someone else made it real. Someone else made you see that I exist inside of you.

See that I’ve been here with you all along, and when that someone left you, you doubted my existence. But I’ve been here. I will always be here. I think it’s easier to not believe I exist inside of each and every one of us. It’s easier in some ways to agree that there is no magic. Because what if magic doesn’t touch us? What if we are the ones love isn’t allowed to have? It’s just not true. I’m here for you all. So here you are awake to the possibility of believing I exist. Do you think you could try easier to prove your worthiness?

Your mother’s love isn’t necessary. If you believe I exist and I’m here, and when you do, you will see your mother loves you. You’ll see that you are so worthy and so endlessly loved. What would it take? What would you lose if you chose to believe I exist and I am here with you always?

Why does it feel like such a risk? I will never abandon you. You have never been abandoned. I will never leave you. You have never been left. But I understand why it’s so hard. You’ve taken so many wonderful risks in your life. Heck, it’s why you have had a beautiful life. Those risks you thought would prove you were strong enough to do life alone.

I would say that living the questions and those risks are proof that I exist. You were doing them in the name of independence, but deep down, I think you were trying to get at a deeper question of your life. I think you believe I exist. You know I do.

Why not just accept it once and for all? I won’t leave you. I won’t abandon you. And if you choose to jump, I will catch you. Those cracks on your heart that you think are unfixable, well sweetie, they healed a long, long time ago. It’s just the story about them that you can’t get over.

And maybe this leap of faith into my arms could be the thing that helps you change that story. Just an idea. Any who, I love you and you are love, baby girl, but it’s not about me. It’s about you and what you want to do. And if you want to believe as I always have, that love doesn’t just live outside of you. It’s everywhere. I am in everything, I am in everyone. I understand how hard life can be. We can do hard things right?” The end.

January 23, 2024

How to Actually Be Happier In 2024

This Ryan Holiday video gives these 10 great tips for the New Year – his “Daily Stoic” stuff is great:

  1. Focus on what you can control
  2. Do good to feel good
  3. Do less
  4. Money doesn’t make you happy
  5. Don’t seek external approval
  6. Challenge yourself – adversity is unavoidable
  7. Laugh
  8. Accept things as they are – live in accordance with your nature
  9. Realize that you have everything you need – simplify
  10. Embrace adversity

January 19, 2024

How Do You Stay with “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy” Practices?

I’ve started a six-week online course about acceptance and commitment therapy run by Russ Harris since I loved this book of his. But it’s worth hearing from the founder of ACT – Steven C. Hayes. Here’s a list of podcasts on which Steven Hayes has spoken. [I’ll be blogging more about ACT as I take the course – but here are the six core processes of ACT.]

I’ve listened to a few and I particularly like this “Being Well” one – the hard question is asked (and answered) at the 26-minute mark about how to stay with the practices that you learn. How do you make them part of your routine so that you create lasting change? The art of retention. Steven answers with:

1. Practice matters. Repetition.

2. Pattern matters. Needs to fit into larger and larger patterns.

3. Purpose matters.

4. Principles matter. What did you just do that worked?

January 10, 2024

Understand Your Natural Happiness Blend

Following up on my first blog from this “Peter Attia Drive” podcast with Arthur Brooks, at the 17:30 mark, I learned about the four personality patterns for positive and negative emotions – your natural happiness blend. I took the PANAS questionnaire to figure out my profile – the four types are (all four have equal validity; none are right or wrong – but understanding your type helps direct your ability to manage yourself to the best potential):

1. Mad Scientist (always spun up about something)
2. Judge (sober and cool)
3. Cheerleader (celebrates the good and does not dwell on the bad)
4. Poet (has trouble enjoying good things and always knows when there’s a threat lurking)

It was interesting to learn that people with differing types should best be in a relationship – but today’s dating app culture tends to match people of the same type. Which often is a recipe for disaster. For example, a Mad Scientist might be best suited with a Judge. And obviously, we all sit somewhere on the scale of all of these – that’s why taking the PANAS questionnaire is interesting to see where you might fall…


January 7, 2024

Your “Failure and Disappointment” Journal

This “Peter Attia Drive” podcast with Arthur Brooks is so good – and long at 2 hours – that I’ll be blogging about several items that I learned from it. One is related to the “fear planning” blog I penned a while back.

At the 1:09 mark, Arthur talks about putting metacognition in practice – specifically at the 1:11:40 mark, he describes how journaling helps with anxiety (ie. unfocused, undefined fear) by writing down the five top things you’re most fearful of right now – what am I actually afraid of? Fear is supposed to be episodic and not something that lingers. By focusing your fears, you move them out of your limbic system and into your prefrontal cortex.

In addition, write down your disappointments – and leave two blank spaces beneath them. For the first space, come back thirty days later and see what you learned from the experience – and for the second space, come back six months later and see if anything good came from that disappointment (that way you can see what you learned from that disappointment).

December 30, 2023

Depth Takes Time

Here’s an excerpt from this blog by Carly Nugent about a book entitled “Stolen Focus” by Johann Hari:

1. Slow down

I’m teaching less this year, and I have a lot more free time. However, I still feel like I’m rushing. I’m skipping from one task to the next – write this post, go to the gym, organise dinner, walk the dog, clean the kitchen – and I’m doing it at speed. A good friend recently reminded me of a quote from Virginia Woolf: ‘No need to hurry. No need to sparkle.’ I’ve written it on the chalkboard in our kitchen to remind myself that all this running around really isn’t necessary. I feel like I’m skimming across the surface of everything I do, the way you skip stones across a body of water. I’m not really present for anything, and – as a result – I’m not really enjoying anything, either.

As Sune Lehmann – a professor at the Technical University of Denmark, interviewed by Hari – says: ‘Depth takes time’. If we want to really engage with our lives, we need to slow down. We need to stop doing so many things at once. Or – maybe we just need to stop doing so many things. Quality, over quantity. This need for more is something I see in myself, but it also seems to be a larger societal trend. As Hari notes in the final chapter of Stolen Focus, our way of life since the Industrial Revolution has been all about economic growth. Our focus – as a species – has been on getting bigger, getting faster, getting ‘more’. But it doesn’t seem to be making us any happier.

I live in a town where the push for more tourism is creating an environment that is overcrowded and stressful. As a teacher, I find the frequent introduction of new programs and directives from the department disruptive and distracting. There is no time to teach any subject in any depth, because we are trying to incorporate so many things into the curriculum. As a society I feel we need to stop and ask ourselves – does doing more always mean doing better?

2. Flow states

Something that does make our lives better is being able to access ‘flow states’. A flow state is a ‘deep form of attention’, Hari writes. It’s a sort of being-in-the-moment, a time where everything else disappears from your consciousness and you are completely focused on one thing. Lots of different activities can give you this flow state, but art is a big one. Last term I was teaching Visual Art from Prep to Grade 6, and it was amazing to see how kids would get lost in painting or drawing, always surprised when the bell went for the end of the session.

Flow states can also happen with writing. They can happen with reading, or walking in the bush, or swimming, or rock climbing. There is a great joy that comes with flow states. A sense of purpose, a feeling of having participated in something meaningful. Hari notes that we have a choice: between ‘fragmentation, or flow’. Fragmentation is the state of flitting between tasks, on the surface, without depth. Flow is one task, deeply, and slowly. Fragmentation is social media and news headlines. Flow is painting a picture or writing a poem. Fragmentation is like eating a whole lot of different candy. Flow is enjoying a meal.

Hari talks about how experiencing a state of flow for a few hours in the morning left him feeling ‘relaxed and open and able to engage’ for the rest of the day. I can relate to this. I know that if I write in the morning my afternoon will be calmer, less frenetic. I’m able to enjoy whatever I’m doing more if I’ve spent some time in that flow. It’s similar to the after-effects of exercise. But flow states take time. I know as a writer it can take fifteen minutes (at least) of staring blankly at the screen or the page before I start to put any words down. It takes even longer for those words to start flowing. And flow states only come from monotasking. You can’t check your email and like a Tweet and send a text while you’re waiting. You just have to wait. Quality, not quantity. One. Thing. At. A. Time.

3. Mind-wandering

I like to walk our dog at night. I take her off the lead and we walk through the bush, in the dark. It’s quiet, and we set an easy pace. It’s the perfect time for mind-wandering.

We don’t let our minds wander much anymore. There is always something to think about, to plan, to listen to, to read. Just in my own life, I’ve noticed moments that used to be empty of distractions have now been filled. In line at the supermarket, for example. In the past, I would have stood and just waited, looking around, letting my mind wander. Now, I take out my phone and check the news, or do a crossword puzzle. If I’m in a cafe waiting to meet a friend for coffee, the same thing happens. Even when I take a shower these days I’ll put a podcast on in the background. There are so few pockets of time in my life where my mind is free to think without direction, to wander.

There are a number of reasons, according to Hari, that mind-wandering is important. First, it helps us make sense of things in our lives. When our minds wander they process our experiences, organising them, analysing them. Helping us understand how we feel and what we value. Mind-wandering also lets us make associations between things we might not otherwise realise are connected. This is so important when you are working on a creative project. As a writer, I can spend hours staring at the document I’m working on, trying to figure out a character’s motivation, or how to untangle a messy plot point. It is often not until I’m out walking at night, letting my mind run free, that I will discover a solution to a creative problem. And that solution frequently involves the coming together of two ideas I hadn’t previously realised had something in common.

The writer Anne Lamott calls it ‘woolgathering’: letting your imagination wander, watching your mind go ‘romping all over the place’. I’m trying to give myself more space to ‘woolgather’ these days. I’m putting my phone away in supermarket queues, I’m going for more night walks, and I’m letting my mind – like my dog – wander wherever it wants to go.

4. The medium is the message

More and more often over the past few years I’ve worried about my understanding of the world. Or rather, my lack of understanding. So much seems to be going on, and yet I feel like I know very little about anything. My relationship with the news feels very similar to my relationship with daily tasks: reading headlines on social media, skimming the surface, quickly moving on to the next thing.

August 30, 2023

The Fear of Transformation

From “The Essence Book of Days“:

Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings. I’m either hanging on to a trapeze bar swinging along or, for a few moments in my life, I’m hurtling across space in between trapeze bars.

Most of the time, I spend my life hanging on for dear life to my trapeze-bar-of-the-moment. It carries me along a certain steady rate of swing and I have the feeling that I’m in control of my life. I know most of the right questions and even some of the right answers. But once in a while, as I’m merrily (or not so merrily) swinging along, I look ahead of me into the distance, and what do I see? I see another trapeze bar swinging toward me. It’s empty, and I know, in that place in me that knows, that this new trapeze bar has my name on it. It is my next step, my growth, my aliveness going to get me. In my heart-of-hearts I know that for me to grow, I must release my grip on the present, well known bar to move to the new one.

Each time it happens to me, I hope (no, I pray) that I won’t have to grab the new one. But in my knowing place I know that I must totally release my grasp on my old bar, and for some moment in time I must hurtle across space before I can grab onto the new bar. Each time I am filled with terror. It doesn’t matter that in all my previous hurtles across the void of unknowing I have always made it.

Each time I am afraid I will miss, that I will be crushed on unseen rocks in the bottomless chasm between the bars. But I do it anyway. Perhaps this is the essence of what the mystics call the faith experience. No guarantees, no net, no insurance policy, but you do it anyway because somehow, to keep hanging onto that old bar is no longer on the list of alternatives. And so for an eternity that can last a microsecond or a thousand lifetimes, I soar across the dark void of “the past is gone, the future is not yet here.”

It’s called transition. I have come to believe that it is the only place that real change occurs. I mean real change, not the pseudo-change that only lasts until the next time my old buttons get punched.

I have noticed that, in our culture, this transition zone is looked upon as a “no-thing”, a no-place between places. Sure the old trapeze-bar was real, and the new one coming towards me, I hope that’s real too; but the void in between? That’s just a scary, confusing, disorienting “nowhere” that must be gotten through as fast and as unconsciously as possible. What a waste!

I have a sneaking suspicion that the transition zone is the only real thing, and the bars are illusions we dream up to avoid the void, where the real change, the real growth occurs for us. Whether or not my hunch is true, it remains that the transition zones in our lives are incredibly rich places. They should be honored, even savored. Yes, with all the pain and fear and feelings of being out-of-control that can (but not necessarily) accompany transitions, they are still the most alive, most growth-filled, passionate, expansive moments in our lives.

And so, transformation of fear may have nothing to do with making fear go away, but rather with giving ourselves permission to “hang-out” in the transition between trapeze bars. Transforming our need to grab that new bar, any bar, is allowing ourselves to dwell in the only place where change really happens. It can be terrifying. It can also be enlightening, in the true sense of the word. Hurtling through the void, we just may learn how to fly.