January 2014 – Emotional Resilience

One of the most striking qualities of the Dalai Lama is his remarkably contagious belly laugh.  It’s a heavy rumble that merrily erupts from his whole body and sparkles through his eyes, delightfully interrupting his most earnest philosophical discussions. Here’s a man of immense compassion, who has endured the sorrow of countless acts of genocide toward his Tibetan people. How can he be so emotionally resilient?

Looking it up, I found that ‘resilience’ comes from the Latin verb resilire,meaning to spring back or rebound. How can we better face life’s inevitable stressors? Many traditions offer meditative techniques that help the mind to extricate itself from driving passions that can charge through our emotional nature. Rodney Yee, a well-known yoga teacher of our time, says:

There’s an eye of the hurricane and you can reside there. You want to notice that there’s quietness inside the spinning of your mind.

OK, so yoga, as it progresses from physical postures to a meditative practice, seems to be one way to find an inner stillness within emotional and psychological turbulence. I’ve read that the Dalai Lama rises quite early and begins his day with several hours of meditation.

Our tai chi teacher Jerry Punzal tells me that Zen meditation, such as a Samurai warrior would have been trained in, helps a person to gain detachment from their emotions, such as rage or grief. The greatest martial artists he has known are not only detached, they also have very deep, genuine feelings. Jerry’s own Zen and martial arts teacher could quickly go from the most joyful peals of laughter at a good joke, to a very clear, powerful scolding of a careless student, to a soft, loving greeting of an elderly woman coming to visit. Each emotion was genuinely felt, yet none took control and lingered, or blocked out other emotions as the situation changed.  I would call that emotional resilience.

Emotionally mature people, in my experience, are able to deeply feel the entire range of human emotion, and not be ‘taken out’ by them. They have the confidence of knowing that they can survive strong emotions and still maintain self-awareness and make rational choices. We can move in that direction. I love what Louisa May Alcott has to say:

I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.    

Local outrigger canoe paddling coach, Uncle Nappy Napoleon, always advises his paddlers:

You gotta go out wen it’s rough. If you always go out wen it’s flat, you neva learn no’ting.

Emotions are like waves. An inexperienced surfer may get caught unaware and be tumbled by even a small wave. The experienced surfer never turns their eyes away from the  ocean. And when the wave comes they make a choice: paddle over it, duck-dive under it, or catch it for a glorious ride…and then paddle out to wait for the next good wave. That’s a lot like the emotional resilience I’m talking about. That’s what I want!

 Resting in Stillness and Moving in Joy with you,




  • By Tony 23 Jan 2014

    Aloha Renee
    I love this newsletter. This is exactly what I’m working on in my leadership with the mankind project and in my life.
    Emotional bandwidth in the present moment, is the term that I’ve been using. Thank you for sharing your light and inspiring me to go deeper, have a wonderful day
    Love you.


  • By Sonja 27 Jan 2014

    Dear Renee,

    and another wonderful letter – I just love reading them!
    This letter reminds me SO MUCH of my dance teacher. She always says that when dancing you just need to be an empty vessel – you pour an emotion in, you pour it out, but it does not stick to the vessel.
    Thinking about Indian dance and the underlying theory of aesthetics – it relates to emotional detachment for both dancer and audience. An Indian dance performance should be the ultimate ‘emotional roller coaster ride’ – the performer creates and makes you feel a series of emotions, you can even think of it as an emotional catharsis in the protected space of a theatre. The emotions are real (and thus allow for personal growth), but the experiences triggering them are not necessarily life experiences of the audience members – that is the element of detachment built into the performance.

    And… I am looking forward to your next letter,

    • By Renee Tillotson 22 Aug 2014

      Thank you for the corroborating comments. Yes, that is exactly what I mean, and I have experienced it to some degree in Bharatanatyam, limited by language. I get a sense of the dancer’s emotions, even if I’m not completely informed as to the cause. I love your teacher’s empty vessel concept: if feelings, particularly negative feelings, stay clogged in our emotional nature, there’s no room for new, fresh responses. When we let our emotions build up and then run rampant, their violence can break the vessel meant to transport them. Like a good ball player catches a ball, a resilient emotional nature catches an emotion and immediately runs with it or passes it forward.

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