Columnist Daniel Canton Yalowitz: The importance and necessity of resiliency

Daniel Cantor Yalowitz



Published: 03-03-2024 12:01 PM

For me, the previously unthinkable has now happened. Last September, I published a column in this space entitled “On letting go and saying goodbye” regarding what seemed at that time to be the imminent passing of my dearly belov’d feline friend of 17-plus years, Mr. Max E. Katz, Jr., DBAAC (“Doing Business As A Cat”).

Immediately thereafter, I began receiving dozens of texts, emails, and other correspondence from our dear readers. It seemed I hit a nearly universal nerve with this column. And on Feb. 20, just two weeks ago, I had no choice but to euthanize Mr. Max and learn again how to let go and say goodbye. Suffice to say that these past two weeks have been quite challenging; I am heart-broken.

There are a few things helping me to get through this emotionally difficult time in my life. First and most meaningful, the support and love of friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors. Second, my own carefully accrued self-care habits: lots of physical activity and exercise (as much as possible outdoors), careful eating, hourly hydration, and rest. Third: practicing compartmentalization: knowing when, where, and with whom I can truly let go, and when to pull and keep myself together (recall my Nov. 8, 2023 column, “The urgent need for emotional self-regulation”). Fourth, having deep spiritual practices steeped in Buddhist meditation, which I am doing for short periods of time, multiple times daily.

And finally: the focus of this column – practicing resiliency skills. Put together under the umbrella of human resilience, all of these make a tremendous difference, but none of them can take the pain away.

In the short- and long-term, resiliency as practiced by human beings means developing and maintaining the capacity to withstand or to recover quickly from difficulties. For me, it is the ability to “bounce back” from life’s toughest moments. I’m not so sure about the “quickly” part of the dictionary’s definition — something so essential to our core selves simply cannot hold to a timeline. Therefore, I have made a decision that it will take whatever time it takes to recover. Mr. Max will now be with me in a different way.

My way of experiencing resiliency is taking all four elements above into account and consideration, each and every day. In sum, these are what I take to be my “Life Practices.” And, while practice never makes perfect, it does make better and stronger, if infinitesimally so. This loss has literally changed my life, and it is up to me to accept and adapt to my new situation.

I’ve written elsewhere in the Recorder about the challenges of change, the concept of liminality, and other related themes in my life and our lives. In preparing to write this one, I took the opportunity to re-read many of my earlier columns. I used that reading time to build my strength and stamina and am applying these now to create today’s column.

In addition to all the above, I have found that accessing and utilizing one’s personal, social, emotional, spiritual/ religious, and cognitive resources are definite considerations in healing from hurt and pain. Easily said, perhaps, but not nearly as easily accomplished: this is deep work, no doubt about it.

Each of us has a greater or lesser degree of resiliency within us, whether or not we know and accept this. But resiliency is light years beyond serving merely as a vocabulary word or intellectual concept. It is meant to be lived, experienced, and shared with others. We can only build this muscle by using and practicing it. Resiliency looks and feels unique and different to every individual being. And nowhere in my life — and the lives of virtually everyone I know — are we taught how to become resilient and how to maintain our resiliency. So, I believe, it comes from within. And it is precious to draw it forward and nurture ourselves.

A word I pair with resiliency is vulnerability. When we feel most vulnerable is when we need to manifest our greatest and strongest degree of resiliency. It is almost as if the one needs the other — both to survive and the possibility to thrive. The many wounds in our lives are what enable us to access and practice resiliency. We learn over time to rely on ourselves whilst leaning on others. And this learning continues throughout the long arc of our lifetimes. I love the text of the late and great Bill Withers’ song, “Lean On Me.” We cannot go through life’s vicissitudes alone; friendship, connection, and shared intimacy (I mispronounce this last word to elevate its meaning: “Into-Me-You-See”) are what matter most.

There are myths in our culture that cut against the grain of what I am sharing here: the “myth of the rugged individual”; “boys don’t cry”; “keep a stiff upper lip”, and so on. None of these sayings help when one is in psychic, psychological, or physical pain. Resiliency — trusting ourselves, leaning on others — is a series of human behaviors and attitudes that enable one to work with, heal, and recover from pain. In my mind, we are all blessed with the opportunity to introduce, refine, and expand the practices of resiliency in our lives and the world for the better.

Daniel Cantor Yalowitz writes a regular column in the Recorder. A developmental and intercultural psychologist, he has facilitated change in many organizations and communities around the world. He is former chairman of the Greenfield Human Rights Commission and his two most recent books are “Journeying with Your Archetypes” and “Reflections on the Nature of Friendship.” Reach out to him at