I Started Resiliency School to Cultivate Peace in the Modern World
Yoga Journal|January - February 2021
Sometimes life comes at you blow after blow. When that happens, how do you get up? How do you thrive?
By Michele Smith

The last year delivered a series of unprecedented long-term challenges that brought us face to face with those questions: Collectively, we experienced disruption, isolation, and upheaval because of a global pandemic, and many of us are still struggling to process grief, civil unrest, financial insecurity, and uncertainty about the future.

That’s why in August 2020—after nine years of focused research on grief and resiliency—I answered the pull to share tools that nurture peace within us by launching the Resiliency School, an online training curriculum that leverages the practices of yoga and Ayurveda for building resilience. But for me, it was a long road to getting there.

When I was in my 20s, I had not yet faced loss beyond the passing of my loving grandfather, who had been a wonderful role model. I spent this decade exploring the world, accumulating real estate to rent out, and obsessing over manifesting true love. By my early 30s, my motivation ran full speed ahead as I climbed the corporate ladder, charging my way through a To-Do List for Life—checking off boxes I assumed would lead to happiness.

But my trajectory changed in April 2010. I was 32 and had a career selling environmental health and safety services to oil and gas companies in the Gulf of Mexico. One evening, after eight hours of sales meetings, I ran home to quickly change outfits for a networking event. Something told me that I should just stay in. But this was a chance to impress my boss, so I ignored my intuition and hit the road. It wasn't long before my racing thoughts were abruptly interrupted: Another vehicle flew through a stoplight coming off the highway and plowed into the passenger side of my car, totaling it. As the driver stumbled drunkenly from his pickup truck, vulnerability and violation washed over me in the smoky haze of airbag dust. Though I was (miraculously) physically unharmed, that crash marked an awakened awareness of how precious life really is. It was the first hint that I needed to change directions.

Coming Face to Face with Tragedy

Days after the accident, my 42-year-old brother was diagnosed with a brain tumor, a Stage 4 glioblastoma. Even after extensive surgery to remove 95 percent of the tumor, his life expectancy was less than two years. It didn't seem logical that a young, fit, snowboarding hip-hop enthusiast could have such a grim prognosis. Before I could even begin to digest the implications of this, on April 20, an explosion in the Gulf of Mexico caused the largest marine oil spill in history, and I was assigned to manage emergency response logistics for onsite safety protocols.

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