Trust the Process — We can’t control everything, and often, things turn out better when we let go. Trust that there is a higher process — I would call it a Divine Process — that is at work in your life. Make your appropriate efforts but let go of the results. Trust that something greater than you is in charge and has your highest good in mind.
Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rev. Connie L. Habash, LMFT.
Rev. Connie L. Habash, MA, LMFT, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, yoga & meditation teacher, ecotherapist, spiritual mentor, and author of Awakening from Anxiety: A Spiritual Guide to Living a More Calm, Confident, and Courageous Life.
Over the last 28 years, she has helped thousands of students and clients overcome stress, anxiety, depression, and spiritually awaken. Rev. Connie leads online programs worldwide, as well as retreats, workshops, ecotherapy sessions, and yoga teacher trainings; find out more at her website, https://www.AwakeningSelf.com/
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
Well, I can tell you that I wasn’t always so resilient! I consider myself to be a highly sensitive person, or HSP, which means that I have strong emotional and even visceral responses to events, situations, and other people’s reactions and emotions. I am deeply impacted by world events, so a situation like we’ve been in for the last couple of years could have really thrown me off.
I first became aware of being this way in my 20’s, when I could cry at the drop of a hat (OK, I still can, but now it’s more of a choice whether I allow myself to drop into deep empathy for other people or beings). Even cartoon movies would sometimes bring me to tears; my friends would say, Connie, it’s just a cartoon; but if someone died or they became separated from their family, I’d lose it.
Over the years, I began to understand a few important things. First of all, that empathy and compassion aren’t the same thing. It really didn’t help the wolves that were slaughtered in Wisconsin if I fell apart on the floor crying for a whole day. Sure, it pains me, but I allowed too much in at too deep of a level, to where I couldn’t really be helpful to the situation. That’s a big aspect of what I share with my clients and students — that we actually have a choice about how much to let in, we can learn the skills to modulate that, and we can also learn how to feel emotions and let them pass through us, rather than consume us.
It’s been quite a journey the last 30 years, but it feels good to be more grounded, centered, and steady within, even when a storm is blowing around me, like the pandemic.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
There’s a fascinating and potent balance between confidence and humility. I came to realize several years ago that they need to always be embodied together. For example, as a yoga teacher, it takes years to be fully confident teaching a class, especially an all-levels class that has a lot of different needs. But if you become too confident without humility, there’s a cockiness and also a rigidness about teaching that can happen, believing that you know that. And if I invested in that over-confidence, it also shattered my sense of competency when I found out something I was wrong about or didn’t know.
The balance of humility and confidence is that you own what you know and own what you don’t know. We often believe we know more than we do, and simultaneously don’t really own what gifts or experience we truly have. It’s a paradox. We need to be careful not to swing into self-deprecation because we don’t know something, which isn’t humility, it’s a bruised ego.
When a client or student comes to me, I know that I have a lot of skills, experience, and gifts to serve them. But at the same time, I don’t know them — they are the expert on who they are. They just may not have become fully conscious of what they know about themselves. I see it as my job to assist them in seeing their True Self and being able to access their own inner knowing. That’s empowerment — and the balance of humility and confidence in my work.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
One way that my work is unique in that I integrate nature into much of what I do. Yes, I do hold eco-therapy groups and sessions outdoors, but even in our homes, over the internet, on the phone, nature can inform and guide our healing and growth. I take people outdoors to discover themselves, and I take them within to discover their inner connection to nature.
My work also stands out because it’s not so much about doing something as it is about being. Although I just talked about knowing, it’s more about embracing the not-knowing than knowing.
All of us are so busy doing, especially in the American culture. Our sense of self has been built on it, and it can be devastating when our job is taken away (like for many during the pandemic), our health takes a turn for the worse, or we burn ourselves out with overwhelm and overcommitment. We feel at a loss when we can’t constantly occupy ourselves and point to “that” — what I did — as a sense of worthiness. But we are not our “doings” — we are human beings. We have lost the ability to simply be present and feel the essence of who we are.
When we are simply being, present here in the now, we can feel the wholeness, oneness, and completeness we long for. We connect more deeply with others when we’re present, and a well of love arises naturally from within us. Life feels vibrant, alive, and deeply peaceful. We feel more connected to the planet, too. This is what most of us long for, but we’re looking in the wrong places — it’s right here within us, as human beings. When we access that and fully open to the present moment, our “doings” flow with more ease and more enjoyment. This is what I help my clients and students experience more of.
The not-knowing I mentioned is related to this. Similar to our compulsion to keep doing, we are driven to constantly know. We’re living in the Information Age, and all kinds of knowledge is available to us, so we consume and consume. More importantly, the need to know is reflected in our lives as a desire to control. We want to know outcomes, know what to do, know if we’re safe, or know whether a job or relationship will work out.
The truth is that we can’t know everything, and the desire to try to control it all sets up anxiety; if something isn’t in our control, we become worried and fearful about it. Learning to embrace not-knowing is freedom. We already know plenty; we can develop the ability to release what isn’t in our control and trust in something Greater than us, just as we trust the sun to rise every morning. We can cultivate the deep faith and trust in the process of life and our own inner resilience to carry us through, whatever happens in life.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I have a few spiritual teachers in my life, primarily Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma — the hugging saint from India), who have taught me to trust in the Divine to guide my life. The more I have faith that I am guided and that things usually work out, the more I can relax in my efforts, knowing that the highest good will result from them (even if it isn’t the result I expect).
Amma says to be relaxed in everything that you do. I keep these words near me at my desk because my tendency is to worry, stress out, and try to control outcomes (hence, why I am an expert in anxiety — I have worked on my own for years!). This teaching, though, reminds me that it’s ultimately not in my hands. I make the efforts, but then I release them into the world and trust that it all works out. And it usually does, so why stress out? Being relaxed in what I do feels so much better and is more productive. It’s a paradoxical blend of determined focus and relaxed ease that allows me to create more than I did when I spent a lot of my time worrying and stressing.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
In my book, I address specifically emotional resilience in the face of anxiety. I liken resilience to the ability to hold your own hand. We’re able to walk through the challenges of life with the knowing that we’re capable to respond to whatever arises. That’s an inner confidence. It’s not that we’ll feel bold and always in charge, but rather that we know how to dive into and swim with a wave when it rolls our way.
I think the most resilient people do not resist. We don’t resist the reality of what is in front of us; we acknowledge and accept how it is first, then sort out the best response. If we can’t get past the resistance to something scary or uncomfortable, then we don’t resist the resistance. To be resilient, we learn to welcome that in, too. As we allow ourselves to feel the resistance, it eventually transforms.
I see resilience as the ability to feel whatever we feel, staying with it mindfully, until it naturally shifts. Resilience is a bodily experience of allowing the waves of emotion and stress to move through us without engaging thoughts about them. Thinking about our feelings usually exacerbates and perpetuates the emotion but feeling the bodily sensations of the emotion allows the feeling to complete its cycle and release. Resilience is that process of staying with the emotion until it resolves. It’s gentle, not hard-knuckling, and often reveals a clarity and sense of empowerment that avoidance and resistance of the difficulty doesn’t.
When we are resilient with the emotions that arise, we can be resilient with events and circumstances in our lives.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Courage is the willingness to do something that we’re afraid of. Resilience involves courage, as it takes courage to stay with a painful emotion. But, paradoxically (and a lot of my work — and the spiritual path in general — involves paradox), the more we cultivate resilience, the more courageous we feel. Our confidence builds in our ability to handle the ups and downs, and our own emotional landscape. Although they aren’t the same thing, they support one another.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
I would imagine that the people who helped with the underground railroad in the freedom of slaves had to have a lot of resilience, and the black people needed not only courage but the determination to go through whatever steps necessary to reach that freedom. Again and again, to try to escape, to try to change laws, to try to educate white people, for white people to keep educating each other, to change the existing paradigm. That takes tremendous resilience, all the way through today with the ongoing civil rights movement to end systemic racism.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
I had to stop and think about this, because honestly the person who might tell me something was impossible was me. I am the one that I had to overcome — the kind of thinking that believed things weren’t possible. It was subtle; I wasn’t consciously telling myself that I couldn’t do things, but I’d get overwhelmed and believe the idea.
Even recently — I used to balk at the idea of blogging weekly. I had blogged once a month for many years, and just felt too overwhelmed to consider upping the ante. I questioned that I would have enough time, enough ideas to write every week, and worried that it would stress me out.
All of that was thinking, ruminating over something but not actually doing it. I realized that if I stopped the rumination — which was just resistance, as we talked about earlier! — and sat down and wrote for 30 minutes, I could get a blog done and have less stress, too. I started blogging weekly and discovered that I could do it.
So, the most important person to stop listening to is you — your own thoughts. We have the ability to choose what we listen to. We can’t always control the thoughts that go through our mind (we can learn to do this, but it takes time and effort), but we can recognize those thoughts as solely thoughts, not truth nor reality. We don’t have to believe them, and we can choose different thoughts, like “I will find out how this can be possible, even if I’m not thinking of it right now. I am open to learning and seeing new possible ways to do this.” Then, I practice trusting that something materializes — perhaps in a conversation, or something I read, or even in what I observe in nature — that shows the way to make the impossible possible.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
One of my big setbacks was fear of flying. I developed it after my daughter was born, and for a few years, I avoided flying completely, even though I had been traveling by plane 2–3 times a year before. I finally decided to do something about it and enrolled in the Fear of Flying Clinic at SFO International Airport here in San Francisco.
I came away from that program still feeling anxious, but more resilient and capable of dealing with it. I finally got back on airplanes, and although I was nervous, I was able to persist through it, not believe everything I was thinking, and able to hold my own hand through the process. The more flights I took, the better able I was to cope. It’s still there, but much less.
That translates into other situations. If I’m anxious about something, I check in with my thoughts, and I know I have the ability to get through very difficult things. When I was in the hospital with an appendicitis, I practiced trust and surrender. I knew I didn’t have control, and but that others were looking out for me. I trusted I would get through it and that my healing was at hand.
I call upon these experiences to help me through any challenge in life, and they have been particularly helpful during the pandemic.
How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
I grew up as an only child. Many people think of only children as spoiled (yeah, there is truth in that), but the only children that I know tend to be fiercely independent. As a little girl, I often said “I can do it myself!” and was determined not to depend on others for things I wanted to accomplish. I developed a resilience of competence and capability. I felt confident to be able to figure things out.
What I had to learn later, however, was how to ask for help when I did need it and allow myself to receive it. I think that’s another aspect of resilience we don’t think about. It’s easier to be resilient when we have the support of a community and allow ourselves to be buoyed by that larger circle of people. That’s an aspect of resilience that I continue to cultivate.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Become Present — It’s hard to tap into our resilience when our mind is busy creating stories of worry and fear. Stop for a moment, feel your breath, and focus on the present moment. It’s only in the present that we can be resilient. We don’t live in the future or past, so, in the words of Ram Dass, be here now.
- Feel in Your Body — Whatever emotions you’re feeling, observe the physical sensations. Focus on the physical experience of the emotion rather than thoughts, which will only perpetuate the undesirable feeling. When we struggle with fear, anger, or sadness, the way out is to ride the wave of sensations through until it washes up on the shore and completes.
- Self-Compassion — Compassion is having a caring, kind, understanding attitude towards another — and towards yourself. It’s not pity or indulgence in an emotion. While you are present and feeling the sensations, have an attitude of self-compassion for your struggle. Acknowledge the challenge, but don’t try to fix it; be right there with yourself, kindly.
- Question Your Thoughts — Don’t believe everything you think, as Rev. Michael Bernard Beckwith says. Thoughts are not reality and they aren’t necessarily true. Consider that there may be other ways to perceive and other thoughts that are more true and more helpful.
- Trust the Process — We can’t control everything, and often, things turn out better when we let go. Trust that there is a higher process — I would call it a Divine Process — that is at work in your life. Make your appropriate efforts but let go of the results. Trust that something greater than you is in charge and has your highest good in mind.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Currently, I am called to create supportive and heartfelt communities for women to grow spiritually, deeply connect to nature, and work through eco-anxiety and eco-grief together so that we access inner peace while taking positive action in the world to help the planet. A place where we connect to and support one other and honor the magic, majesty, and sacredness of nature. I have plans to shift into more of this work in 2022.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them :-)
I have a passion for trees and find that being in the forest is deeply healing. It’s a big part of my ecotherapy work, and trees are masters of resilience! I would love to meet and learn from Dr. Qing Li, author of Forest Bathing — I found that book very inspiring and uplifting.
I’ve also recently been reading a book by Doniga Markegard, a wildlife tracker, advocate for permaculture, and regenerative rancher who lives not far from me. I’d be delighted to connect with her and learn more about deepening our relationship to nature and living in harmony with the planet.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!