Resilience, integrity and energy flow

In March 2011 I ran a workshop on resilience at the All About Audiences annual conference with 25 arts & heritage professionals. At the end of the session I did a physical demonstration of the concepts I’d been talking about. It was the first time I’d tried it out in a workshop – I was really pleased at how well it worked as an alternative kinaesthetic way of learning.

Responding positively and effectively to the many complex challenges we face is not easy.  However, we can significantly increase the likelihood of success by designing our organisations (and ourselves) to be more resilient and less vulnerable to events that challenge our sustainability, wellbeing and performance.

In the workshop I shared my ideas on key characteristics of resilient people and organisations, and on strategies for strengthening resilience, drawing on knowledge from ecology, psychology, neuroscience and systems thinking.

I defined ‘resilience’ as maintaining function in light of a disturbance. Maintaining function can be understood in terms of integrity and identity: there is a central purpose, a core, that we are trying to protect. This is true individuals and organisations alike.

My proposition is that the more secure and grounded we are in this core, the better able we are to deal with disturbance. The arts organisation that keeps its focus on its core mission and resists the temptation to overstretch and dilute itself by drifting to other functions in pursuit of funding has greater stability and strength (assuming of course its core mission is relevant and appropriate).

I demonstrated this with a Lishi taoist arts exercise.

If I am in a strong stance with my body in alignment so the energy (chi) can flow freely, when my partner pushes me I am better able to absorb the shock and not be uprooted. In a strong stance I have physical integrity.

I demonstrated 6 ways of responding to a disturbance:

  1. Being uprooted due to being in a weak stance, not paying attention
  2. Meeting force with force. This takes a lot of energy and is difficult to maintain for long. Also It wont be effective if your opponent is stronger than you
  3. Buffering. Here I absorb the energy that is coming at me – I am not pushing back nor being pushed back.
  4. Harness the energy and direct it past. In this move I take hold of my partner’s arm as they come towards me and use their momentum to send them past me. This is like letting things go over your head, not allowing it to affect you
  5. Harness the energy and ward off. This is similar to above, but instead of directing it past I block my partner’s move and send them in a different direction. This is like when politicians are asked a question but they respond with an answer unrelated to the question. They are remaining in control.
  6. Harness the energy and apply an arm lock. Here I actually stop my partner from moving. I suggested this might be appropriate in situations where the disturbance needs to stop e.g. bullying in the workplace. Deflecting it so that it doesn’t affect you but the behaviour can be repeated with someone else isn’t a great option.
There are various factors that can affect the strength and stability of the core integrity of an individual, such as state of health due to lack of sleep, diet, or illness. Knowing how to get oneself into a resourceful state is a key competency for thriving in this 21st century of increasing change, complexity, and uncertainty.
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