A ship is safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are for.
— Grace Hopper
"Have we arrived? In a way, yes. The wise effort we have already put into using self-directed neuroplasticity to rewire our brains, and the more complex neural integration that results from that effort, has set us up for the continued learning, growth, and transformation that are fulfilling in themselves as well as beneficial for our resilience. The neural platform of resilience gives the psyche a kind of safety net: the brain is now rewired and primed to meet the unpredictable but inevitable challenges of life adaptively, with courage, optimism, and creativity.
"Even when difficulties threaten to overwhelm our expanded capacities to cope, the brain itself is more resilient and better prepared to meet them. More complex integration of brain circuits and structures means more channels of communication within the brain, more synchrony in neural firing patterns, and calmer frequencies of brain waves. There's more give and flex in the entire body and mind system.
"Thus prepared, we can be realistically optimistic. We will always face uncertainties and unknowns, and sometimes we will encounter true catastrophes. But as we become more skillful in facing them, our resilience becomes more effortless.
"Jon Kabat-Zinn, developer of mindfulness-based stress reduction, describes our strengthened capacities for resilience this way: 'We all accept that no one controls the weather. Good sailors learn to read it carefully and respect its power. They will avoid storms if possible, but when caught in one, they know when to take down the sails, batten down the hatches, drop anchor and ride things out, controlling what is controllable and letting go of the rest. Training, practice, and a lot of firsthand experience in all sorts of weather are required to develop such skills so that they work for you when you need them. Developing skill in facing and effectively handling the various "weather conditions" in your life is what we mean by the art of conscious living.'
"This conscious, resilient living requires that we continue learning from experience, keep experimenting. The 'use it or lose it' principle applies to our brains, especially our prefrontal cortex, as well as our muscles: we need to work on maintaining the brain cells, neural circuits, and capacities to respond flexibly in our brains throughout our lives. We also have to keep challenging our brains by taking on new and difficult tasks that draw on and extend all our capacities for learning. Challenges such as learning to play a musical instrument, learning to speak a foreign language, and memorizing poetry are often recommended by brain-fitness experts because they require the integration of functions in both hemispheres of the higher brain. Problem solving, which requires input from our intuitive, holistic right hemisphere as well as from our rational, analytical left hemisphere, is another excellent way to push the brain to maintain its capacities of resilience.
"Years ago my friend Ted worked as an electrical engineer at SRI International (Stanford Research Institute International), a large engineering consulting firm. A plaque at the entrance to the electrical engineering lab read:
" 'We have not solved your problems.
In fact, we have more questions than when we started.
But we believe we are confused at a higher level
and about more important things.'
"Recovering resilience can feel a bit like that. We set our intentions, draw on our resources, learn the tools and techniques, and then wonder why this is taking so long. Am I doing it right? Would something else work better? Rest assured, the tools and techniques presented here are exactly the tools you need to keep rewiring your brain for resilience. Developing and maintaining resilience requires that we continue to cultivate qualities and behaviors that support it. We can choose to make resilience a central organizing principle of our lives — not just an interesting hobby or occasional lifesaver, but the core that everything else aligns around, that increases our happiness and well-being."