I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to build resilience into a system over the past few years, especially after some health problems I was unaware of culminated in several attacks of acute severe pancreatitis that left me quite literally re-building my body, mind and ways of being thoughtfully and methodically, bit by bit, pain by pain, awakening by awakening.
In Thinking in Systems, Donella Meadows describes resilience as: “a measure of a system’s ability to survive and persist within a variable environment. The opposite of resilience is brittleness or rigidity.” According to her, the highest levels of resilience are found in feedback loops (or balancing systems) that “can learn, create, design, and evolve ever more complex restorative structures.” She then goes on to use the human body as an example of an amazingly complex, resilient system. (Meadows, 2008, p76)
I find Meadows’ example of the human example to be quite poignant in reference to my personal experience of watching and feeling the systems in my body reach a point where its limits where overwhelmed and began to malfunction, go haywire and eventually shut down, one by one, and then later, out of necessity to survive, moving intentionally and deliberately through some of incredibly complex, normally automatic tasks performed by the body that we often take for granted.
While my body was healing, I had a lot of time to think about what I wanted to do to rebuild my life in a way that would support my newly discovered health challenges and allow me to adapt to persevere given the quite daunting new list of limitations upon me. It was during that time, in the spring of 2009, that I conceived of my personal website, La Fermata, as a way to represent and share my personal artwork and thoughts with the world. As I would consider my intentions and goals for the project, the words “Live, Learn, Grow” would constantly come to mind, and I decided to use them (and the slight modification “Pause, Sustain, Grow”–which makes a reference to the musical notation fermata) to represent my work. I find their direct correlation to Meadows’ conditions for high resilience to be noteworthy and self-affirming
For me, to live is to create and design. For me, to learn or teach is to love. For me, to grow is to evolve.
Re-learning and re-building resilience in my body has been a slow process that is still not finished and may never be. It has required dedication and an exhausting amount of attention to detail, relationships and systems. I am thankful for the experience it has given me in revealing a higher level of a whole-system view of health and wellbeing. I am thankful for the experiences of pain, of suffering, not-knowing, fear, of despair and hopelessness: they allow me to deeply relate to our human struggles with resilience–they have instilled within me a deep sense of compassion for others and a strong desire to help people Live, Learn, and Grow.