Some of you may be familiar with the story of Robert the Bruce, a great Scottish king, and the spider that inspired him to keep going in his battles against the English king, who wished to make Scotland part of his territories. Six times he led his army against a much larger English force, and six times he was defeated, until finally he was forced into hiding. One evening, sitting in a cave, he was close to despair, asking himself whether the freedom of Scotland was worth the price he and his people were paying for it, thinking of the numbers who had been killed and the women left behind with their children. As he sat with his thoughts in the cold, dark cave, his attention was drawn to a spider hanging by a long silvery thread, trying to swing herself to a corner to begin weaving her web. He became absorbed, watching her try six times to connect her thread, and fail six times. It reminded him of the six battles he had lost. The spider persisted, and on her seventh attempt, swinging herself out on the silver thread, she made it across. “Yes”, he thought, “I, too, will make another attempt.” Leaving the cave, he gathered his army together, and inspired them to head into battle one more time. This time, the English were forced to retreat, and within eight years, following the Battle of Bannockburn, they were driven out of Scotland.
The resilience of the spider inspired Robert the Bruce to keep going, to believe success was possible. I always say look to Nature for the answers- understand Nature and you will understand yourself. Have you ever looked at the branches of a tree in a snowstorm? At a certain point, as the weight of the snow is in danger of breaking the branch, it bends, and the snow falls off. Have you observed trees moving with the wind during a storm? It is like standing in the sea as a strong wave moves towards you. If you stand rigidly, the wave will knock you over, but if you bend and move into and with it, you will be carried to the shore. In life, we also have to know when to bend and be flexible, when to compromise and when to be steadfast.
The River Ganges travels over 2,500 km from high in the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal. Like all rivers, she does not flow in a straight line, and on her way to the sea many tributaries join and flow from her. On her journey she finds a way around obstacles; creates a path when needed, nothing can stop her as she is drawn to the sea.
We can look at life in the same way. With resilience we can know that we will arrive at our destination, overcoming obstacles, changing the path when necessary along the way. Consider Nelson Mandela, who during his time in at Robben Island Prison, came to see a different path to his Nation’s freedom. He faced the future from a place of openness rather than bitterness. Like the mighty Ganges, he reached his destination- “Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” Flexibility, acceptance, openness, wisdom, and our view of a situation are key components of resilience. Be like the Japanese Samurai and poet, Mizuta Masahide, who said: My barn having burned down, I can now see the moon.”
To succeed in life we need resilience, the ability to keep going, to bounce back and recover from the difficulties we will surely meet in our life. How do you meet life? When nature presents you with an obstacle, do you throw your arms up with an attitude of defeat, or do you persist, finding a way around the obstacle, and learning how to make sure you won’t stumble over that obstacle again? There is a well-known saying that success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. Some of the most successful people aren’t those who were born with the greatest natural talent, but who persevered, who didn’t give up when they lost, but worked harder to be successful. Resilience is an attitude, as Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb, famously said: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Resilience is a mental reservoir of strength to be drawn from in times of crisis or trauma — make sure you keep it full by challenging yourself, exploring yourself, having belief and faith in yourself, and by keeping your mind flexible. I leave you with these words from Bruce Lee: Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.”