Viktor Frankl faced unimaginable circumstances. The Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist was arrested in 1942, along with his wife, parents, and brother. He spent the next few years in four different internment camps—including Auschwitz. Sadly, he was the only member of his family to survive.
Immediately upon liberation, Dr. Frankl wrote his most famous work: Man’s Search for Meaning. In his pages he details how he and others survived the atrocities of WWII. What he found was that it all boiled down to one detail. Actually, a choice.
“Everything can be taken from man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Frankl believed that we may not have control over our situation but we do have control over how we respond to our external factors, even if that control, that freedom of mind, must be renewed hour by hour. He didn’t know it at the time but what Dr. Frankl was paving the way for was neural plasticity and other recent cognitive theories.
Kathy Mangan, Executive Director of The Learning Center at Red Willow has spent years studying Frankl and his experiences. In fact, she has given a name to that “one detail” that allowed for his and his fellow prisoners’ WWII survival. Resilience.
According to Kathy, “Part of being resilient is being able to be out of your comfort zone, to face your fears and to find ways to change your situation or yourself. For me, it was and is refusing to be a victim.”
The American Psychological Association defines resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress, such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors.”
With undergraduate degrees in philosophy and religion and a Master’s degree in Health and Physical Education, Kathy found herself coming back to the same questions over and over again. How can we do better health-wise and spiritually? How can we do better in how we feel? Working in movement education, she witnessed difficulties playing out in the body, traumas processing physically. Kathy wondered, “How can we better move through our lives with more ease?” She questioned if the answer lay at the intersection of emotional, mental, and physical health.
Kathy developed the Learning Center at Red Willow to help others find their resiliency.
Kathy said, “Trauma and adversity can rewire our nervous system. It changes how we communicate, how we make choices.” It can also have a physical effect on the body such as high blood pressure, weakened immune system, depression, and heart disease. The practices and the work TLCARW provide can help establish different neurological reactions and improve health and well-being.
Online classes and resources through the Learning Center at Red Willow are extremely varied to meet specific needs. They cover everything from chronic pain programs to working with the incarcerated population. They offer programs for addiction, crisis, trauma, veterans, those seeking mindfulness techniques, yoga, and so much more. One of their most popular classes is a 21-day resilience challenge. It consists of 21 minutes of daily practice in which students learn 21 skills. TLCARW also offers a free two-hour workshop once a month in which participants receive a combination of education and skills.
Under the “Helpful Information” tab on the Learning Center at Red Willow’s website are videos and articles that can help you perform more gracefully under pressure, be more mindful, tips on how to better relax and even blogs on Equine-Assisted Therapy. And with over twenty-five providers, TLCARW works with a broad spectrum of people in different places of their experience. There is something for each of us.
It’s not World War II but certainly COVID has become its own adversity for many of us. We’re facing health fears, job insecurity, loneliness, inability to travel, and general sense of loss of freedom and choices. How can we possibly live well right now? When asked to give Missoulians a few helpful tips on how to navigate these new Corona times, Kathy was quick to respond.
“First, understand that you already are resilient or you wouldn’t still be here. You already have the capacity. Remember that,” said Kathy. “There is no quick fix but you can recognize how you choose to respond to things.” Kathy suggests paying attention to the breath when you start to feel a physical or emotional response to a stressor. Breath practices are easy to pull up on your phone and can be done anywhere. She also recommends a gratitude practice. She is adamant that there are still great things happening every day. Finally, recognize that you don’t have to like a situation to react and thrive within it.
“I believe with all my heart that we each have way more capacity than we know. When we know and understand ourselves and have a connection with what is important to us and live that importance, we live well,” said Kathy.