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The Art of Resilience: 100 paths to wisdom and strength

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In contrast to the flowery blurbs on the front page of The Art of Resilience: 100 paths to wisdom and strength in an uncertain world,  I’ll give this brief summation: This book rocks. Although published in 1997, Carol Orsborn’s writing is more than pertinent to today’s ever-changing economic, political, and social climate.

The book is organized into 10 stages which are in a progression, from the initial shock of impact, through both short-and long-term stages of recovery. Within each stage, Orsborn draws on wisdom from the stories of ordinary people, herself, and ancient philosophers to illustrate a path toward resiliency. It is an easy read and one immediately feels that Orsborn is a kindred spirit; she understands at the bone level the devastation which loss and adversity brings.

Although she frequently uses philosophical or spiritual insights as teaching tools, I also love how she doesn’t let the reader off the hook. In Stage V, Unfinished Business, she encourages us to take responsibility for mistakes we have made and, as the titles of two of her chapters reflect, Eat Your Mistake and Deal With It. Although done in a gentle manner, Orsborn is firm in her belief that owning our weaknesses and mistakes is an essential part of recovering from adversity.

As she leads us through the journey of recovery and growth, she ends by encouraging us to create Sacred Space, the tenth stage. Here is an excerpt from one of my favorite chapters, Pull in Your Oars. The story leading up to this point is that Orsborn decided she needed to create a space just for herself in her busy days, so she took up rowing on San Francisco Bay as an early-morning exercise. She describes her first solo row and how she untied from the dock and then pulled with all her might toward the Golden Gate Bridge where she just knew a spiritual epiphany was waiting for her. After ten minutes of intense effort, she looked around to find that she was still in the same place, no closer to her goal. She was trying to row against the tide.

I pulled up my oars and bent my head down into my arms, sobbing about the injustice of life. I mourned my own inadequate efforts to crack the secret code. I railed against my destiny. I railed against myself. And then finally, exhausted by the blinding emotion that had engulfed my inadequacies, I gave up. I would row back to the dock. Turn in my oars. And forget once and for all about my puny efforts to find meaning in my life.

But as I sat up, the dripping paddles resting on my legs, I realized that something was happening. The boat was moving. It was moving fast. It was moving effortlessly. The current had taken hold of it and was sweeping me around a hidden bend of the shore, toward a destination I had never noticed before. I neither helped nor hindered the boat’s intention as it rapidly rounded the corner, slowed its pace, and finally ceased its motion. I looked about me, amazed. Somehow, I had found my way into a sparkling lagoon, the surface smooth as glass. Around me were bright green weeping willows, swaying gently in the warming breezes of the morning. For the first time in many years, I felt my heart deeply come to rest. I had not made this magical destination happen. Even as I had given up, pulled my paddles from the bay, and cried out in pain and hopelessness, my destiny had been moving me forward. And not just to the goal I had set, but to an experience far greater than I had ever envisioned for myself. I wept again, but this time in gratitude. As the hour came to an end, I effortlessly made my way back to the dock. (p.187-188)

Takeaway points: Carol Orsborn’s book The Art of Resilience: 100 paths to wisdom and strength in an uncertain world is like having your own personal support group. It’s well worth adding to your library and to your toolkit of resiliency skills.

If you are interested in this book, you might also enjoy my other suggestions in Bobbi Recommends.


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Bobbi Emel is a therapist who helps people in Los Altos, Palo Alto, Mountain View and the greater Bay Area manage their stress and develop their strengths.
She is effective in helping people dealing with anxiety, worry and grief; and also those who want to improve their effectiveness and performance.