This was written by Cindy with some input from Martin.
One of the guiding aims of the Transition Movement is to create resilience. The dictionary defines “resilience” two ways:
1. the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.
“nylon is excellent in wearability and resilience”
2. the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
“the often remarkable resilience of so many British institutions”
Adding the concept of change, the “back into shape” may well not be the same shape as before the difficulty.
Resilience and us
Why is resilience important? Being resilient means having flexibility, awareness, and the ability to act. If you are flexible and experience stress, you can bear it for a while and then resume your “unstressed” shape when the stress is over. If you are inflexible, stress can break you, maybe even kill you.
Our culture has long regarded emotions and states of mind as givens, but recent work has revealed that we are capable of a great deal of “neuroplasticiity”–the ability to change our minds, both proactively and in response to changing circumstances.Flexibility and inflexibility are both learned responses. Sometimes one is appropriate, sometimes the other. If we consciously practice them at times when they are not critical, and cultivate the wisdom to know which response is appropriate in a given situation, we become more adept at exercising them when the heat really is on,
music: David Bowie, “Changes”
My husband, Martin, and I are living through one of the disasters people hope will never happen to them:Our house was all but destroyed by fire, and we have no fire insurance. Since the fire, we have also had to navigate aging parents, aging automobiles, and severe dental problems. All of these challenges are heaped up on a low-income, middle-aged couple (me 55, him 65). We do not have the physical stamina of people in their thirties, to state it mildly. Just as we thought we were cruising into retirement, we have been abruptly dropped into a much more primitive lifestyle than most non-homeless Americans ever have to negotiate. “Not homeless, but houseless,” you could say.
Although our financial resources are limited, our previous experiences provide us with a wealth of knowledge. The remaining buildings on our land, the possessions that survived the fire, and the fact that the disaster in our lives was limited to our own homestead while the rest of society continues to function, as well as supportive friends and spiritual practices are easing our way back into some sort of shape. Resilience.
Attitudes are like plants—they have roots that extend into our past the way a plant’s roots dig into the ground. What follows is our understanding of the roots of our abilities to be resilient/adaptive/flexible.
Cindy: I learned thrift from my father. He was born in 1931 and grew up on a 40 acre farm in Georgia. His family was poor and he learned to save money and make do with very little. Although he went on to become a college professor, he still eats simply and keeps wearing his clothing until it is worn out.
During my elementary school years, the threat of nuclear war was a call for preparedness. Civil defense programs at school advised us to store safe drinking/cooking water and preserved food. I learned vegetable gardening from my paternal grandfather. I learned nature studies, foraging for wild foods, fishing, gutting and preparing small game and poultry from my mother. I connected with the idea of homesteading from reading Mother Earth News during my early twenties, and purchased the 23 acre piece of land we live on immediately after graduating from college with an engineering degree. Engineering studies grounded me in physical sciences and gave me an understanding of what makes objects strong or weak . Mother Earth News articles also inspired me to pursue food preservation and herbal healing.
I worked with my first husband to maintain our homestead and had a career encouraging energy conservation for about ten years, until 1993 when my health collapsed under the strain of divorce and spinal injuries from automobile and horse related accidents. My income plummeted, but I owned my home and land. I never returned to the work – a – day world after 1993. Walking the hills on my property, gardening, and eating wild game, and gathering firewood and keeping a fire going in the winter brought much healing to me, as did my faith and my discovery and practice of mystical techniques.
I have experienced a difficult marriage and divorce and 7 years of being bed ridden much of the time. While my health and stamina have improved since then, my current husband, Martin, had a heart attack in 2008 and I had to change my habits to deal with the years of his recovery from that. So the present challenge is faced with the resources gained from previous crises.
Martin: Some of my early grounding in resilience came from being exposed to several very different lifestyles as a child and young adult, which forced me to learn to adapt to different circumstances much more than a lot of children of the 50’s. My mother was a New York Jewish intellectual, and my father’s family was very Norman Rockwell, small-town Midwestern WASP. My parents didn’t stay together, and my father left his small-town background and became a Washington, DC, newspaper reporter. When I visited him, I would tag along with him as he interviewed Senators and Congressmen. My mother settled in a medium-sized Midwestern city’s suburbs, where I was often the only Jewish kid. I had a very urban upbringing, but went to college in rural Vermont in the 60’s, where I fell deeply in love with country living.
I have managed to live in the country for all but five years of my adult life. I moved to California and camped out at several rural communes in the late 60’s, culminating in my becoming one of the founding members of The Farm community in Summertown, Tennessee, where we started out living in old school buses and surplus army tents and gradually worked our way back to houses with indoor plumbing. For most of the Farm’s collective existence, the community’s income averaged a dollar a day per person, although that doesn’t take into account the many goods and services, from food to medical care to education to laundry, that we provided for each other at no charge. My first wife and I raised four children in those circumstances. So, I have spent a lot of my life doing without what most Americans take for granted, learning to make do with what is at hand.
We are fortunate in that we were brought up, and have lived our adult lives, in ways that nurtured and encouraged our resilience. But resilience is not a “some have it and some don’t” quality. Everybody has the seeds of resilience within themselves, and the capacity to sprout those seeds and make them grow..
Since our house burned down, our community of friends has supplied labor, funds, food, expertise, opinions, hugs, consolation,and ears to listen to our thoughts. This has been an important contribution to our ability to be resilient.
The resources that remain after the fire have been important to our resilience. Some of the particulars are: flashlights, 60 amp temporary electric power from the grid, a freezer, knowledge of wild edibles, propane stoves, a solar oven, using the sun to heat shower and dish washing water, having a filter on the water from the city, having water from the city as well rain water catchment and storage. Being a homestead, there were already other buildings in place that shelter us and what is left of our belongings.
Having this acreage is very important. Now we are turning to the trees for lumber to rebuild the house and to generate cash from a timber sale. I have a forester friend who is advising me on how to harvest and retain the lovely peaceful ambience of our woods. In another year or two, we hope to be back to providing help and encouragement to others, instead of needing so much of it ourselves!