Bend, Don't Break: Managing Life Resiliently

There will be times when life becomes really grindy, the stresses unbearable. And that deep
sense of helplessness … and self-pity … and rage … all at once gnaw their way into your soul, eating you up inside. You'd feel like it's your worst time yet, or so it would seem.

While some of us may succumb to despair and never recover; there are those who can withstand their most difficult times and come through unscathed. Like the lowly bamboos amidst the darkest storms, they bend but do not break. 

The meaning of "resilient" according to Cambridge Dictionary.
In these times, we need to be pliant in order to thrive; and to develop the life skill of resilience. Here are three practical ways we can manage life resiliently:

  • Stop taking (almost) everything personally. Realize that it's not always about you. Most of the times nothing others do or how they behave has anything to do with you or about you (personally). When you always take things personally, you are giving other people more power over you than they deserve or should ever be allowed. Instead, make it a habit to create a space between yourself and your reactions so you can more objectively evaluate the truth about any given situation or circumstance.

  • Stop beating yourself up over (even the least of) your mistakes. We're living in a success-driven, celebrity-obsessed culture today and the pressure to succeed is so persistent that we cringe at the slightest hint of 'failure' coming our way. And there's that annoying voice inside of you berating you for every mistake or failure. This voice often gets the better of you. Because it's a crippling feeling to think that you're not good enough, you sulk and give up. Stop. Just stop, right now. Sure, we must acknowledge our failures and mistakes and correct the ones we can, BUT we must also let go of those we simply can't. Remember, "you" are only what you've got left when everything and everyone else fails (they eventualy will). So, love yourself despite your failures.

  • Start each day with thoughts of gratitude and appreciation for everyday things. Gratitude is a necessary habit. It has the power to pull in a chain of good things into your life if you simply practice it everyday—in your thoughts, actions, and words. From that steaming cup of coffee you get to enjoy every morning to the safe ride home you get into at the end of the day …and everything in between —live it all with gratitude! Your life will be filled with so much positivity and lingering peace that it will be hard to break you down with even the hardest blow life can throw your way.
Today, we're living in such a restless world with confusing values that it's become even harder to find one's own sense of meaning and purpose through it all. We'd get tossed and bent in every direction and means imaginable. Sometimes, life knocks us flat to the ground.

But when you've learned to live life resiliently, you bend but do not break. Because you have the ability to accept all the punches and fireballs life hurls your way, you remain unfazed and holding steadfast to your values and sense of purpose no matter how worse it can get.
The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm. — Confucius

3 Life Lessons My Mother Taught Me That I'll Never Forget

Mothers are special. I know. I had one. As adults, we've all learned our best life lessons from them, for some even more.

As for me, my mother's life has marked my own in ways only daughters can understand.

Today, I'd like to share a few life lessons my mother has taught me that has molded my adult life into one that seeks to find meaning and purpose in everything I do, think, and feel.

So, here goes...
  1. On family and relationships: "Love is an act of your will. You will not, you love not."

    Mom took care of us, deliberately looking after our welfare everyday. She memorized our birthdays by heart. I'll never forget how she'd persistently ask me to call my brothers in every special occasion without fail just so she can talk to them. She celebrated our little victories with pride and shared our pains in failures or disappointments. Even fatigue never stopped her from making sure we all wore clean, ironed clothes to school; that we brought delicious baons or packed lunches (home-cooked meals she'd prepare in the wee hours of the morning) to school or work; that we came home to sumptuous dinners at the end of the day. I'll never forget what she told me when I asked her the secret to cooking delicious meals: "You always cook well when you love the ones you're cooking for." (Masarap ang luto mo kapag mahal mo ang mga taong ipinagluluto mo.)

    The "love" I've seen, felt, and grew up with was the kind that always forgave, was selfless, was patient and tolerant of our weaknesses, gave until it hurt, and yet was quick to correct our follies and point us back to the right direction. All because she intentionally loved us, her family. Even in her death bed, she willed herself to ensure I can personally handle life on my own, without her by my side. She didn't let go until I assured her so.

  2. On dealing with people: "Acts of kindness matter. Especially small, unnoticed ones."

    I have personally seen how she treated lowly people, especially lowly people, we've met in her lifetime. She always acted in compassion and grace. Her ministry was teemed with women who were always drawn to her because she genuinely looked after their welfare. She gave until she had nothing left to give. She secretly helped people with every chance she got.

    In her wake, women, children, and families showed up with stories of how their lives were made better because of her kindness. And it is humbling to know. Indeed, her life mattered because she never got tired showing kindness when it mattered, where it mattered.

  3. On work and ministry: "Whatever you do, put your heart on it. Else, don't do it."

    My mother, she always took pride in the works of her hands—whether it was laundry, crocheted doily, hand-sewn kitchen whatnots, her garden, her cooking—and would obssessively re-do anything that didn't quite look perfect or "best" in her own standards. She shunned mediocrity (Hindi pwede and 'pwede na yan'.).

    I got the best career advise from her: "Never do your work halfheartedly. It reflects who you are and what you're made of." I've always loved that about her. While she never got materially rich (and amazingly, she never complained about it), her personal excellence marked my life and that of the many others whose lives she has touched.

We all live cluttered lives these days. Distractions are all around us so much so that we simply forget to live intentionally, to make our "life" matter.

We need to slow down, really, and take time to notice.

“Understand and be confident that each of us can make a difference by caring and acting in small as well as big ways.” ~ Marian Wright Edelman

The Long Run

I lie unmoving, paralyzed
I stagger to my feet
oblivious to the glares of
blinding lights around me

I stand and fumble
my face stuck to the ground
I groan in pain—
a gush of warmth sweeps over me

It rushes to my veins
like venom, its choking me—
and still I rise
unrelenting, albeit weaker …

I resolve to run this race
to the last phase
I will not give up without a fight
I will not lose helpless!

I'm pushing forward,
I will be

By a rare stroke of insight, or perhaps sleeplessness, my writing mojo is back :)


On Bouts of Grief

Coping with the loss of a loved one, a close friend, or even a love relationship may be one of the darkest moments many of us are going through today. We feel helpless. And its okay.

We will all grieve, each in our own unique way. Grief exempts no one.

I've dealt with grief and that haunting sense of emptiness that comes with it for the last two years. It has been more than just a "feeling". It permeated everything I did, my thoughts, and even my sleep. It was paralyzing. I was always beside myself with sadness, I couldn't function.

Though I've known the strongest of emotions, nothing prepared me for grief and its heart-wrenching pain. I was inconsolable and refused to be comforted. Instead, I took refuge in my own tears. I moaned and wept alone through many sleepless nights. Sometimes, I was just benumbed.

Everything has been so painful and frightening. I battled bouts of grief and sadness and rage and the awful certainty that I will never see her again whenever I came home. On the outside, I managed to appear like I had it all together…but inside I was devastated and crumbling. I realized how deeply my life has been anchored to my mother's—her passing away uprooted all sense of hope within me.

The bouts of grief were so persistent. It blinded my senses. I couldn't see even a ray of hope at such a desolate time in my life. All the sympathies and kind words were but a shot of morphine through my soul—it numbed the pain for a while, but it never stopped the hurting…

Describing exactly this same ordeal in his book, A Grief Observed, C. S. Lewis wrote:
“I once read the sentence 'I lay awake all night with a toothache, thinking about the toothache and about lying awake.' That's true to life. Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery's shadow or reflection: the fact that you don't merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.”
Grieving, I found, is very personal. One can share one's joys and triumphs with anyone. Not so with grief. It eats you from the inside. It feels so much like being swallowed into an unfathomable pit—a "darkness" one must endure alone.

Grief gnaws at your soul incessantly, especially at night, but at the same time it forces you to realize the temporariness of everything—including your own life. Especially your own life. And because everything is temporary, whatever we do with our time matters.

Looking back now, my personal experience of grief and loss has taught me to take stock of everything I have still left. I have come to see the real value of it all. Indeed, I'm blessed to be alive. We all are. Ought we not be grateful (rather than proud) and make use of our time where it matters most? Especially, when it matters most?

We will all have a time of grief. Because it's part of the deal of being human. What really matters is "not how much" we suffer the pains and misery that befall us, "but how well" we endure through it all, and come out better (and hopefully, more thankful) than we we've ever been before.

Even the darkest storms clear away in due time. So with grief.

Unbottled Up: Experiencing Grief

Numbing out emotional pain is futile.

Well, you see I've been on a hiatus, yet I'm jaded. Days just dragged into months as I survived life in sullen resentment. The emotional turmoil has taken its toll on me, and emptied me within.

And that gnawing emptiness inside proves to be such an inescapable pit.

Unlike most people, I tend to bottle up difficult emotions rather than express them outright. I'd rather keep my peace. But the thing about numbing out emotional pain is that it will only drag you further and further into an endless pit of emptiness … you'd be drowning along but you'll never notice it until you hit rock bottom. By then you won't even feel the pain anymore.

Of the most painful emotions, I now know grief and anger to be too easily interchanging: you’ll never notice which could be eating you up at one time or another. It’s a futile struggle because there's really nothing you can do but endure all the beatings until you're so numbed you won't feel anything anymore. Even death-like physical pain is much more tolerable than grief.

One simply cannot numb out grief. Even now I can still feel it burning in me weakening my senses. Grief, like a speeding maniac, crushes everything it runs into. Everything. It crushed my sense of continuity, of passion, of meaning, of purpose…

Life left me instantly the day my mother passed away. Our relationship permeated every fiber of my being. Her presence glued together the fragments of my adult life into one of purpose and meaning. She was full of life herself. And so I can't help being angry about losing her, though I don’t want to be. I’m angry at the unfairness of her death. She deserved to live longer. I’m angry at the thought that my family—my brothers, my father—have too quickly moved on with their lives while I dragged on, each day grappling with emptiness. I have prayed, and begged for the hurting to stop…

In his book, A Grief Observed, C. S. Lewis vividly articulates his own experience of grief:
“For in grief nothing "stays put." One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral?

But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?

How often —will it be for always?— how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, "I never realized my loss till this moment"? The same leg is cut off time after time.”
Bottled up grief suffocates one's soul. It is self destructive. So, I leave it be and quietly endure.