Building resilience

I have previously written about resilience; resilient living and resilient aesthetics, and in this article I intend to dive a bit deeper into the concept.

Resilience is a term, which is often linked to ecosystems and permaculture. Ecological resilience refers to the ability of an ecosystem to respond to and recover from damage, disturbance or homogenization (often human led). The most resilient being; animal, plant — or human being for that matter — is a flexible, adjustable being. Simply put; if one is able to adjust to one’s environment: to get the most out of the nutrition available, regulate according to weather conditions, adapt to customs, enter communities, or if one can be both bendable and robust like the strong, tall, flexible bamboo that I am surrounded by here in Bali, well, then one is more likely to endure and thrive.

But how do you build your resilience? And how do you encourage and cultivate resilience in your children? Well, you could use the metaphor of a travel vaccination, which is given with the purpose of resilience; when you expose your system to a lot of different things (in the case of the vaccination-metaphor; bacteria), you become resilient to them.

In order to build resilience, it is of great importance to break the comfort zone of familiarity and everyday life. Of course, not all the time, as resilience includes balance and finding the golden mean between extremes, but nevertheless challenges are of great importance when seeking a resilient life. Hence, being able to bounce back to a strong core of stable values and grounded senses after being thrown off course, like the tall, slender palm trees that surround my house, requires exposing yourself to unfamiliarity and trials. Not in a stuntman kind of way; I am not suggesting that we should all throw ourselves into bungee jumping or skydiving, but rather that we need to consciously seek experiences that are challenging and disruptive.

Breaching the familiar or momentarily pulling yourself out of routines and the daily grind can be deeply edifying and build up resilience. In Edmund Husserl’s philosophy, disruption of the familiar, or Epoché as he calls it, opens our minds and senses and is a way of elimination assumptions and prejudices. The process of breaching or disturbing the well-known can be initiated by traveling or relocating to foreign regions and being challenged by newness in relation to sense-bombardments or cultural barriers, by art or fiction, or by critical or thought-provoking design objects.
But challenging yourself and thereby underlining your core strength, flexibility and adaptability shouldn’t be solely linked to exotic travels or thought-provoking art and design experiences. The desire to seek challenges and to expand horizons is the cornerstone in resilient living. This desire can manifest itself as pursuing big challenges, like moving to another country, accepting a work-related passion driven challenge, hiking through the wilderness or seeking exposure to radically different cultures. However, and importantly, building up resilience doesn’t require big dares! It can be reflected in small daily adaptability and open-mindedness manoeuvres. Cognitive resilience and flexibility can for example be cultivated by being open to and even embracing believes and standpoints that are I opposition to one’s own (if they are well-argued, of course), or by understanding that fear is a feeling meant to guide us, not to control us, and that calculated risks must be taken in order to grow.

Being resilient means being able to find your core shape again after being thrown off course by something or someone. The cultivation of resilience furthermore involves fighting against homogeneity. The antithesis to resilience is homogeneity. When people, environments, communities, cultures, societies, companies – as well as organisms and ecosystems – become homogeneous they become rigid, stagnant and/or weak, and hence unsustainable and unenduring.

But, if the most resilient environment is a heterogeneous one; i.e. an environment full of differences and dissimilarities, then why are we (still) so busy pushing everybody and everything towards “normalisation”, which basically means homogenizing? Globalisation and industrialisation have basically constituted a movement towards a homogeneous world governed by sameness and standardisation. The hangover from drinking too much of the same stuff has started to show though: whilst crafts-traditions start to die out due to the hard competition from cheap machine-made products, big city restaurants look similar and serve similar food everywhere, cultural differences are levelled, and more or less everything is accessible everywhere, handmade and locally, seasonally sourced and produced goods have started becoming the new luxury, confirming the number one rule of thumb when working with cultural tendencies, namely that if there is an overload of something (sameness, smoothness, convenience), people start romanticising its opposite (variableness, textures, slowness).


Additionally, one could raise the following question; why do we celebrate tamed and weeded nature in the shape of designed forests, parks and gardens, even though we are deeply attracted to the wild, raw nature-experience


Living resiliently is sustainable and enduring because it is a flexible, dynamic and adaptable lifestyle – and because it involves repetitions, or rather; because it involves finding pleasure in repetitions. However, nourishing repetitions are not draining and wearisome. Resilient living is not an ode to dishwashing! Resilient repetitions are linked to e.g. the usage of aesthetically nourishing objects, to the appreciation of the rhythms of nature, to steadily, gradually refining a skill, to the pleasure of slow creation (and the appreciation of slowly created objects), to creating momentous rituals with friends and family, and to finding a stimulating work-life balance and enjoying meaningful daily routines that allow for both efficiency and stillness.

Resilient repetitions are nourishing because they have been consciously chosen by the individual.


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