Alyson Pancer, Social Work and Psychotherapy in Toronto


Hope: Discovering our seeds of resilience… from the inside out

Having just lost a good family friend last week from the devastating impact of COVID-19, I have had the opportunity to dig deep inside myself to find ways to cope with my emotional suffering, and to begin the road toward healing.

“How are you doing? How are you really doing? How are you really, REALLY doing?” Jon Kabat-Zinn asked this question to a group of mental health professionals that I was a part of. We had gathered together to learn how to teach “mindfulness-based stress reduction”.

During the two days we took to answer Kabat-Zinn’s question, I realized my life would never be the same again. We took a profound journey to peel back the layers of this onion.

We had the time to take risks and share, time to surrender to those conversations of connection, time to reflect, and time to breathe. I learned more about the magic of hope gathered from connection to others, as well as from our own seeds of resilience…from the inside out.

“I think it’s a mistake to ever look for hope outside of one’s self..”  -Arthur Miller

Moving from COVID burnout to hope

So…how are you really, REALLY doing? As we have moved from the year 2020 to 2021, we have left behind what may be the most challenging year any of us have ever survived. COVID-19 has had a marked impact on our physical and emotional health, economic stability, family and social connection, etc.

In addition, we’re experiencing a great political divide that has been driven by a number of factors, including “COVID burnout” and fear.

So, how are we really, REALLY doing?

We’re struggling! Yes…this all truly sucks!!!

However, while COVID continues to challenge us, we have HOPE that we can bring forward into this new year, and beyond. And we have time to consider our goals and all we hope to gain and/or achieve in our future.

One of my favourite inspirational quotes comes from Friedrich Nietzsche, who said, “He who has a why to live, can bear almost any how.”

Connecting to our life’s purpose and meaning helps clarify what is most important to us. So if we remember “why” we want to continue to live our lives with good physical and mental health, we can figure out the way in which to do it.

For example, I can’t wait to get on an airplane again! This hope provides me with the “why” I need. Looking forward to something after COVID is behind us, makes each day so much better. NOT travelling right now means I can save my pennies for that next trip. Saving is my “how”. There is hope!

Finding your ‘why’

In one of the top ten most influential literary books ever written, Man’s Search for Meaning, Dr. Viktor Frankl shared what life was like for him during the Holocaust.

Throughout his years of living the nightmare of Auschwitz, Dr. Frankl was able to cling to the hope that if he survived, he would be able see his wife again. This hope was Frankl’s “why”, and what motivated him to do everything he could to stay alive.

With so much beyond his control, he found ways to dig deep into what he did have control over: his desire, his life’s purpose, his resilience.

Frankl said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves”. Yes!! When something works, do more of it, but when something doesn’t work, change your approach!

With profound hope that this Pandemic WILL end and we will have an opportunity to begin again, we can reconnect to our life’s purpose with renewed strength and resilience. We SHALL overcome!

The Four Noble Truths

Acknowledging our individual and collective suffering is so very important so that we can then begin to move along the path to end suffering…to heal.

Buddhism has offered humanity an amazing tool called “The Four Noble Truths”. These truths about human suffering offer us an opportunity to end suffering.

Let’s apply this to COVID. First, we begin by accepting the fact that all human beings suffer. It is what we do, and as much as we prefer not to suffer, we do. And as we know, COVID has inflicted some form of suffering on all of us, whether mentally, physically, emotionally, or financially. We have lost so many of our freedoms, and for some, these losses have been fatal.

Next, we come to an understanding of the second noble truth: the truth of the cause of suffering. As we all know, COVID has wreaked havoc on our lives. The suffering caused by COVID has impacted every one of us, and as a result, we are suffering, globally.

But, there is good news! Having knowledge about the cause of suffering then helps us find hope that there can be an end to suffering.

And so we come to the third noble truth, that suffering is temporary. Here we remember that most people survive COVID, and we can heal.

Once we realize that, we move on to the fourth noble truth…the path to nurture our suffering and move towards managing our pain, and finding peace.

To do this, we magnify all that we CAN do, which includes embracing positive thought, doing more of what nourishes us, and practicing presence as often as possible…including breathing with awareness, mindful movement, and activating all of our senses.

Hope and connection

While this past week has been a very challenging week for our family and friends due to the loss of our friend, we have all grown and nurtured our seeds of resilience through frequent love and connection.

Throughout our conversations, texts, phone calls and Zoom chats, we reflected upon our loss with not only sadness, but also with beautiful memories and hope. Our friendship community, which we call our ‘chosen family’, held each other, and found ways to celebrate not only our friend’s life, but our own as well.

And as we have grown closer, we have been working toward letting go of our friend by practicing gratitude and compassion, for ourselves and for others who are struggling. We have come to understand that with hope and connection, we can, and will, continue to thrive, one day at a time.

Some questions to contemplate…

Let’s set some intentions for moving forward…moment by moment, by moment…step by step, by step:

By answering these questions, we have the opportunity to plant and then cultivate our seeds of resilience, providing us with hope from the inside out.

Finally, ask yourself, “How am I doing, how am I really doing, how am I really, REALLY doing?”

…and then reconnect to HOPE.

Dedication: this article is dedicated to my friend, Leslie Zulauf. In his memory, I am grateful to carry his voice forward, as he lived his life with courage, strength, adventure, love, connection, hope, and faith.

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase..”
-Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.