At Thanksgiving I got a card from my very first student -- someone I taught eons ago, back in my professional ice age. He told me how I'd opened his eyes to possibilities he hadn't seen before and how important I'd been to him. While I remember him well (and can still see him, frozen in time, when he was 19 years old), I would have had no idea that I lived in his memory.
I was deeply touched by this man's gratitude, and began to think about all the people in my life who live in my heart and have been important, who said the right thing at the right time, and who may never know that I carry their gift with me.
As I write, I remember my camp counselor who said, "Beth is our poet, but she doesn't know it, so don't give our secret away."
I was nine years old, but I remember her very words.
Then my elementary school recorder teacher, Leo, who taught me the magic of reading music; Ronnie, my best friend in middle school who sat up all night with me when I was scared; Dave, a mentor who told me that his role was for life and I could count on his support any time.
And if I spend time reflecting, there are so many moments that if I hold them, if I remember them well, come to mind and support my not only feeling warm inside, but remind me of my connections throughout time -- I become the center of a web of support that radiates out and connects me to my past and other people's pasts as well. This web helps to sustain my resilience, to fortify my ability to rebound from life's tough times and keep moving forward.
No matter how complex and/or difficult our lives may be, we each have these moments and the people who created them, living lovingly inside us. Wouldn't our days feel richer if we both called upon these messages we've heard, and also told the people who have meant something to us that we carry them inside us? Mine would.
It's not always easy to access the positive memories we have or the affirmation they generate. I know this only too well and have a depository of hurts that live in me and can be easily triggered. We know how easy it is to focus on the criticisms that have come our way and to hold onto the disappointments and unwanted losses we have experienced. The fact is that from the beginning of time our brains have been wired for remembering the bad things. Our primitive brain is designed to alert us to potential danger and to hold onto negative experiences so that we learn from them in order to prevent them in the future. Sadly, the brain is not wired for fast access to all those loving, special, tender, supportive moments that do come our way. Given this biological fact, we have to work to hold the good moments in our awareness and practice bringing them to mind.
Here are the reminders I am giving myself for this holiday season. listed here as tips I share with you. I hope they generate moments that magnify the good that has come into your life and become an internal oasis that adds to your resilience and encourages you when you need support.
1) Slow down! Think about the meaningful people who you will be seeing over the holiday and linger with memories of what they have meant to you. Create a photo journal in your mind of the special times you have shared with them.
2) Consider letting these folks know in what way they have been important to you.
3) When you receive gifts and/or cards, take time to reflect on those who have sent them. Dream back in time about the history they have shared with you and savor the memories.
4) Consider contacting people with whom you are no longer in touch -- like my student who e-mailed me after all these years -- to remind them of their continued connection in your life.
5) Take five long, slow breaths with each of these suggestions. Then do it again. In this day and age, we can move too fast to let our memories and feelings surface. I know this is true for me.
May the holiday season inspire moments of reflection that feed our inner resources and our capacity to stay resilient.
For more on Beth Weinstock, Ph.D., Leadership Coach at the Resilience Group, visit www.TheResiliencegroup.com.