n his 1959 campaign speech, John F Kennedy suggested that the Chinese character for crisis was made up of two brushstrokes, one for danger and the other for opportunity. Though the strict validity of what he said has since been much debated, there is no doubt that opportunities so often lie in the less obvious places. And often in the midst of difficulty.
Circumstances and particulars of character have determined, thus far, the extent to which people have seized lockdown as an obvious opportunity. There was much talk initially about the chance it was giving us all to lead simpler lives, to delight in the domestic, to learn Greek, plant vegetables or take up water colour painting. Which was wonderful for the few that responded in that way and entirely guilt inducing for the rest, who were and are coping instead with a much headier cocktail of endless hoovering, gritted teeth and a steady flow of wine and series on netflix. But all guilt here is entirely misplaced. For a start, there is no right way to get through this pandemic; no medals to be had for what you made of it & nothing to say that creativity trumps coping when it comes to grappling with an experience for which we have had no rehearsal. More heartening still is that however you are choosing to navigate these entirely uncharted waters, you can be entirely secure in the knowledge the sheer act of living through it, of putting one foot in front of the other, is cultivating the inner qualities of sheer grit and determination. As a friend insightfully said the other day, she was fascinated by the way in which this was feeding into everyone’s resilience. Which by design or by default, is exactly what this is doing. It happened to the war generation, and it will happen to us all. The Queen even said as much, when she so beautifully suggested that the Britons of today would be remembered as being as strong and as resolute as any other.
In the same way that we strengthen an arch by putting weight on it, difficulty and discontent is fertile soil for personal growth. We might covet the times when life is comfortable and sun tinted, but the truth is we develop most through those that are altogether tougher. The Stoics overlap with many spiritual traditions in seeing problems not simply as an inevitable part of life, but also to be courted as a necessary condition for growth. Of the stoics, Cato was the most famous for using pain as a teacher- wearing clothes to entice people to laugh at him so that he might drill himself in the art of indifference, choosing to subsist on poor man’s rations to develop hardiness and walking barefoot and bare headed in both heat and rain so that he might cultivate resolve in the face of physical discomfort. And whilst I would never advocate making life harder for ourselves than necessary, especially not now, that we might be inadvertently developing resilience could be considered a very handy byproduct of this global experience.
In the same way that there is absolute certainty that this crisis can not last forever- no pandemic in history ever has (thank god)- it is also true that as night follows day that this will not be the last difficulty we ever face. It might not be anything of this magnitude or breadth again, but life is by nature both up and down and a life well lived requires an acknowledgement of this at its very heart. The sun will rise again, for sure, but so too will it set. In the same way that it would be wise to build up our physical immunity in whats left of lockdown (the topic of my next blog), developing a level of emotional immunity as we live through this will be wholly helpful for navigating our necessarily still cyclical lives to come.
So whilst the painting of lilac might still be left undone, the Duolingo prompt ignored, even the child left unschooled, you can - I would argue- still exhale deeply in the knowledge that having simply got through another 24 hours you have added to your stockpile of resilience. And that without moving a muscle, this is yogic core training at its very best.