Resilient. It’s one of those words which pop up all the time in the virtual space. I’ve mentally bracketed it away with other things like ‘confidence’ or ‘self-esteem’, qualities which we imagine more successful people have been born with, but which we ourselves lack.

But what does ‘being resilient’ really mean?

Here are some dictionary definitions:

  1. The power or ability of a material to return to its original form, position, etc, after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity.
  2. The ability of a person to adjust to or recover readily from illness, adversity, major life changes, etc; buoyancy.

And one more –

‘the ability to be happy, successful, etc again after something difficult or bad has happened.’


Welcome the Daruma Doll, Symbol of Resilience

 International speaker, bestselling author and MBA lecturer, Srikumar Rao, in a fascinating talk, explores the meaning of resilience using the example of the ‘Daruma doll’. The Daruma doll comes from Japan, where it’s seen as a talisman for luck and perseverance – for resilience.

The Daruma doll is made from papier mache or wood, is roughly spherical and is painted to resemble a rather stylised Buddhist monk, complete with moustache. It’s a brightly coloured knick-knack, most often red and it has one particular quality about it, that is highly symbolic. Because of the shape of the Daruma doll and because it’s weighted at the bottom, you can’t knock it over. If you do, it bounces back. If you knock it over again, it bounces back again. And so on, over and over.

Behind the Daruma doll lies the story of Buddhist monk and saint, Bodhidharma (‘Daruma’ being the Japanese version of his name). Bodhidharma is credited with founding the Zen branch of Mahayana Buddhism and he may have lived in the 5th or 6th century CE. Among the many legends that have grown up around his life and travels, there is one that is central to the Daruma doll.

In this story, Bodhidharma lives in a cave for nine years, facing a wall the whole time and meditating. His vow is stay awake for all nine years and he mostly succeeds, but ‘most’ isn’t good enough for him. At one point he succumbs to sleep (or according to another account, he blinks). So furious is Bodhidharma with himself for this lapse, that he cuts off his eyelids*. Then he continues to meditate with such fierceness and resolve, that his legs and arms atrophy and fall off. In recognition of this, the Daruma doll has no limbs – or eyelids.


How to Develop the Ability to be Resilient 

Of course, this sounds pretty extreme and indeed unlikely, but it is certainly a good allegory for keeping on going. You and I may be much more prone to hiding under the duvet when the going gets tough, but it may help to remember that Bodhidharma wasn’t necessarily born that way. He didn’t necessarily come into the world with an excess of resilience. Rather, he may have cultivated it.

To cultivate: it’s a term we most often find used in gardening. You cultivate roses. You cultivate a wildflower meadow.  What that means is that roses or wildflowers don’t spring up automatically. A beautiful garden isn’t predestined to be there. It takes weeding, watering, feeding the plants and giving them the right amount of sunshine. It takes watching videos on how to prune roses or how to get rid of aphids.

Cultivating resilience may still sound like it’s easier said than done, but it’s a useful approach. If we’re cultivating something, we don’t have to get too emotionally wrapped up in it. It’s not our fault if we aren’t very good at it at first. We don’t have to let our feelings about having problems, add another layer of difficulty. If possible, we don’t get bogged down in shame or guilt or depression**, but keep on keeping on.

We try to remember the life that we really want and aim for that. Keeping on shooting for happiness.


* It is said that where his eyelids touched the earth, tea plants sprouted up. Which may be why Buddhist monks drink green tea to stay awake.

**Of course, this isn’t always possible. If difficult feelings are overwhelming you, therapy may be the right option. Do get in touch.

Japanese Daruma dolls symbolise resilience.