Psychologist and Buddhist practitioner Dr. Rick Hanson collaborates with his son, the writer Forrest Hanson, for his latest book “Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakeable Core of Calm, Strength and Happiness”. Drawing upon positive psychology and Buddhist wisdom, this is a field guide to well-being in a changing world. Parvati Magazine spoke to Dr. Hanson about developing resilience.
Parvati Magazine: What is resilience to you?
Rick Hanson: Life is continuously changing, turbulent and challenging and offers opportunities to be pursued. As embodied beings, we need to adapt to and cope with these changing conditions and recover from getting knocked down. We need to keep on going in the pursuit of opportunity and in the face of difficulty, including challenges from within our own minds. All of this is grounded in our biology. The fundamental ability that a human has to recover from adversity and keep pursuing goals, is resilience. Resilience is not just for surviving the worst day of your life, but for thriving every day of your life.
One of the contributions of the book is to reclaim the original understanding of the word, from the limited understanding that resilience is about surviving PTSD, or what happens when you come back from a horrible situation. That’s true, but an unnecessarily narrow definition.
Resilience is grounded in various resources inside yourself, inside relationships and communities. In this book, I focus on resources inside the individual – mindfulness, patience, determination, grit, confidence capacity for loving relationships, etc.
PMAG: Your book draws on principles both of Buddhism and neuropsychology. Can you lay this out a little for us?
RH: The conceptual framework for this book is a deep inquiry into the second and third noble truths of Buddhism – the cause and attainment of the end of suffering, woven into a framework of evolutionary neuropsychology. Why do we crave? Craving is grounded in deficit, and ultimately leads to suffering. This book discusses how to reduce craving through the cultivation (bhavana) of psychological resources and the felt sense of fullness and balance regarding one’s deep needs. Put another way, what does it take in terms of internal resources that we can gradually help ourselves out of state of craving? How can we internalize experience so more and more, we feel already full when we meet the moment?
The first chapter begins with compassion and the book ends with generosity. In the context of generosity, if we are to be generous to others, moved by compassion – how do we sustain it, without being burnt out, incapacitated by the suffering for others? We need to balance both, to bring emotional balance or equanimity to compassion, and to bring warmth to equanimity. From the neurological standpoint, how do I warm my heart, which stimulates the flow of oxytocin and natural opioids that calm down the amygdala, the alarm bell of the brain?
The chapters, each covering an inner strength are laid out as a kind of path, as a framework for dropping in deep dharma.
PMAG: How do we acquire these resources to develop resilience?
RH: We grow them. Roughly two-thirds of our inner strengths that we draw upon for resilience, are acquired. This takes us into neuropsychology of learning, of changing the body – particularly the brain – changing it based on the experiences we are having for the better. What I have developed in this book is a summary of what we know in neuropsychology and education. What can a person do to gain the most from his or her experiences? The process is a two-stage process: you must first experience what you want to grow. For instance, you must experience self-compassion to become more compassionate. The second stage involves turning the experience, which is inherently transient into lasting physical change in your body. Otherwise, there is no healing, growth, transformation or learning. I have developed a thorough framework for this growth process, found throughout this book. This is applied to creating psychological resources, and then installing, internalizing the beneficial experience into the nervous system.
I really fell in love with this book, as a very honest collection of resources for resilient wellbeing, at any level you are ready for. It is super practical with exercises for those who want a “quick fix.” For those who are interested in deeper practice, you can also engage this book on a very deep level and this can serve as a companion on the spiritual path.
Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a psychologist, Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, and New York Times best-selling author. His books include “Hardwiring Happiness”, “Buddha’s Brain”, “Just One Thing”, and “Mother Nurture” and he edits the “Wise Brain Bulletin”. He is founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom. Pre-order “Resilient” before March 27th for bonus guided practices.