Lessons from a Palm Tree and a Pike

You have to be flexible to be resilient. The world we live in changes dramatically compared to the world even one generation ago. If we are too rigid and inflexible it will harm our chances of dealing effectively with the adversity that disrupts our life. A rigid Maple tree may snap when high winds come, but a Palm tree is flexible and bends with the storm. When the storm passes the Palm returns to it’s normal state.

Glenn Schiraldi, Ph.D. is a resiliency researcher and was on the stress management faculty of the Pentagon. He says that peak performers have the ability to adapt to changing situations. They can shift gears when standard procedures aren’t working. They make a good plan, but are aware of how the plan is working, and realize when it’s not working and can let go of that plan. Effective copers are rooted in self and values, but can bend when bending is called for, as opposed to being rigid at all costs.

In Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why by Laurence Gonzales, the author says “Don’t fall in love with the plan. Be open to a new changing world and let go of the plan when necessary so that you can make a new plan.” It reminds me of something that happened to me a few years ago that has become a metaphor for this. I was in Northern Ontario on fishing trip, and my friend and I were fishing for Small Mouth Bass. We had a two pound bass on the stringer hanging over the side of the boat. Ron got my attention and pointed to the stringer. I noticed a three foot long Northern Pike eyeing up the bass. It then attacked our bass and started shaking it side to side, and scales and meat were being torn off and floating in the water. In my miniaturized version of The Old Man and the Sea my first thought was to get rid of this Pike that was ruining my fish. I grabbed the stringer to shake him loose. But as I did that he just hung on. I realized I may be able to catch this Pike. I lifted the stringer out of the water, and the Pike kept his teeth sunk in to the sides of the bass. All he had to do to get away is just open his mouth and drop back into the water. I lifted the stringer over the gunwale of the boat, and put it and the Bass and the Pike right into the boat. Then the fight with this three foot long Pike was on my turf. He was delicious.

What became this Pikes’ downfall was his unwillingness to let go. It became a metaphor for me when my plan or approach is not working. Sometimes you have to let go of something you desperately want. This may seem to fly in the face of the positive quality of persistence. But it’s more about being persistent while still being intelligent and flexible. Persistence without situational awareness can lead to downfall. Blindly hanging on to a way of doing something just because that is the way you have always done it can be harmful to your health. Be flexible. Let go. Try a new approach that may work. Don’t become someone’s dinner.

Be Like Water

That is a quote from Bruce Lee. He was teaching his student to be formless, shapeless and adaptable. It is also a lesson in resilience.

Every kid likes to throw stones in a pond to watch the splash and the diverging ripples. The circles expand, but then disappear within seconds. It doesn’t matter how big the rock is, or the size of the disturbance, the water will quickly regain it’s form, stability and calmness.

The pond doesn’t ask when hit with a rock, “Why me? Why can’t that kid throw a rock into some other pond?”, and like water, resilient people have the ability to accept the things they cannot change. With that acceptance comes the calming of the water.

Be like water when hit with the stones that life tosses at you. The concentric circles represent the impact to your soul, mind or other aspects of life. Like the pond though, let the impact dissipate quickly. I’ll admit that it’s easier said than done. All healthy changes are. Everyone has stress in their lives and the sooner you can let go of it the happier you will be.

A river has great strength and power, but it also has flexibility. It bends where the earth bends.

Increasing our acceptance, flexibility and adaptability will increase our resistance to stress, and our ability to bounce back quickly after trauma. Be like water my friend.