Rebirth is a characteristic of all resilient natural systems. Woods have fires, become prairies and then woods again. Prairie potholes become barren in drought and then teem with life when the rains return. Yet non-Christians and some mainstream Christians denigrate the concept of being born again. They sound like Nicodemus, a Pharisee ruler of the Jews: “How can a man be born when he is old?”
Psychologists have started trying to come up with a response to this question. Psychologists finally noticed that children who grow up with alcoholic, unemployed or mentally ill parents often do not exhibit destructive behaviors such as chronic unemployment, substance abuse, and out-of-wedlock births. They can be just as happy and successful as children from happy and successful parents.
Psychologists adopted the term resilience from ecology and defined it as a “positive adaptation” after a stressful or adverse situation. Resilient people bounce back.
Psychology is wedded to the external environment as cause of behavior. Accordingly, psychological researchers have been devoted to discovering environmental factors that explain people’s adaptation to adverse conditions, such as maltreatment, catastrophic life events, or poverty. When no such external causes were found, empirical work shifted to understand the underlying protective processes.
Many have discovered that “spirituality is a component of resilience.” People with regular spiritual practices (yoga, meditation, prayer, nature walks, and so on) are more resilient than those without.
Resilient people are increasingly seen as folks who have the capacity to reorganize their lives after trauma. They recreate their lives after tragedy or misfortune.
Ecologists have long recognized this ability of resilient systems. Disturbances are a part of the adaptive cycle of all living systems: growth (r), maturation (K), disassembly (Ω) and reassembly (α) leading back to the growth phase.
Unluckily for our species, we are so adept at prolonging the K phase that we often destroy the capacity for reassembly. Adults don’t want to disturb the stability of their lives, so they don’t have children. We like sitting looking at screens and grow out of shape, weak and unable to cope with disturbance. Cities maintain themselves by extracting wealth from the surrounding rural area–eventually creating hundreds of dead cities in man-made deserts.
What will break us out of our seemingly uncontrollable need to stay in the K phase? Some business folks have been convinced by the Austrian school and the creative destruction of Schumpeter. They realize that resilience means embracing disturbance and using it to create new systems.
Most of us keep trying to maintain our somewhat satisfying pleasures in our K phase and never induce the Ω required to get to α. We fail to realize that devotion to the pleasures of the K phase just insures a more cataclysmic destruction. In the midst of that destruction, we’ll cry out in anguish, wondering where we went wrong.
The adaptive cycles are indifferent to our anguish, to fairness, to our limited sense of right and wrong. They just are. Or, if asked what you should call them, they might say “I am.”
So you can learn more about r, K, Ω, α and the qualities which lead to resilience and transformation. Or you can just let them buffet you around as they wish. Ω will come. The only question is whether you use it or it abuses you.
The ecological approach to rebirth and being born again is not quite what you’ll find in the Bible or the Bhagavad Gita or even the Tao Te Ching. But you will find it whenever you study Nature.