unbroken, resilience, heal

Resilience is your birthright.

Did you know?

Resilience is not for the exceptional.

It’s for all of us. It’s Earth’s law.

See, resilience is nature’s equilibrium inside us. It’s how we operate.

Resilience doesn’t happen to us. We shift into it.

From my new book, Unbroken: Remember Your Wholeness

Third law: Resilience is your birthright.

Is healing a place where we land by doing things “right?” And by doing all the “right” things we’ll no longer have to struggle or suffer?

Is that what healing is?

We’ve established that healing is wholeness, but the disease paradigm confuses us. We’ve been taught to polarize our experiences—broken versus fixed, sick versus well, healed versus not healed, diseased versus not diseased, stressed versus relaxed, and so on.

But none of these represent who we truly are. We’re dynamic beings of experience, not “either,” “or” states of existence. We’re continuously flowing along a vast continuum—an equilibrium—of experience, thought, emotion, energy, and biology.

We never land, right? We flow.

How do we flow optimally? How do we reach our zone, our best equilibrium?

Through resilience.

The third law of our humanness is about our potential for resilience. In nature resilience is understood to be the adaptability in any system to adjust to the forces acting upon it without losing function, without injury. Organisms that are resilient have achieved an equilibrium of robustness. There is enough physiological, emotional, and psychological reserve that challenging circumstances are not diminishing. Said another way, in the face of challenge, resilient organisms more than survive, they thrive.

The same is true for humans.

As we discussed in the first section of this book, We Belong, all biological systems prioritize survival and safety over all else, including us. When we adapt to a survival equilibrium, we may sacrifice higher levels of function to stay safe. Resilience is a level of adaptation that allows for robustness and safety. There’s enough reserve of energy and resources to manage the challenge, stay safe, and function fully, grow, and continue to realize our potential. Just like the tree that grows strong roots and a wide trunk, big branches, copious leaves, and seeds for the next generation.

For humans, we can further expand on this definition of resilience. At the face of it, resilience is our adaptive potential to successfully face all life’s changes and challenges, the “forces” acting upon us, without sacrificing robustness. This adaptability requires the availability of all the resources we need to function, including an optimal supply of continuously available energy. But for humans, resilience also requires courage and curiosity. Courage to risk stepping up to our challenges and their unknown outcomes, and a willingness stay curious about what we don’t know and what we can learn.

Beyond adaptability, resources, energy, courage, and curiosity, there’s something else we must have to create a deep well of resilience: challenge, itself. This may be the most important requirement of all for us in our modern lives of convenience and avoidance of suffering.

In the human body, adaptative growth and healing in response to challenge is called “hormesis.”[1] This physiological adaptation occurs at the level of genetic expression, leading to greater robustness of the human body and psyche as they grapple with toxicity and difficult circumstances. The robustness of the human body depends on a variety of intense challenges, mostly known to our remote ancestors who worked hard to stay alive, but still very much apply to us today. Our genetics and physiological requirements for staying healthy have not changed. These include:

  • Varied movement under heavy loads.
  • A wide variety of postures.
  • Near-constant movement throughout the day.
  • Curious and actively investigative minds.
  • A highly varied diet of real food.
  • An untamed, continuously changing, often harsh, and novel living environment.

We know all this in everyday ways, don’t we? Children teach themselves to walk by working hard. We grow strong muscles by working hard. We learn new things and grow our brains by working hard.

Hormesis is thought to have helped organisms adapt to harsh environments in earlier times of life on Earth, though is now a necessary aspect of achieving robust health. Some less widely known challenges that lead to positive genetic and physiological adaptations in humans are periods of fasting, environmental toxins (in small doses), radiation, extremes of temperature, and oxygen deprivation.[2]

Beyond our bodies?

All aspects of who we are require challenge to learn, grow, and thrive. Emotional depth and maturity, empathy, compassion, stress resilience, self-awareness, and creativity—all of who we are and can be—evolve and strengthen as we grapple with life’s challenges.

So, resilience is the adaptability, energy, strength, and challenge we need to succeed at life. To not just ride our equilibrium but personally direct it. To flow optimally. Not landing. Not staying in place. And not without suffering. You know that, right? Suffering is an inevitable part of a human life that contributes to the equilibrium of resilience through the stresses, calamities, joys, and the daily chores.

The law of resilience reminds us that it’s our birthright, and we’ll always respond to resilience with healing.

How do we make ourselves more resilient?

We remember who we are, the Earth, herself, built for resilience, made to adapt to our varied lives on Earth. We reconnect to this creative wisdom within us, reclaiming our place at the helm of our bodies, the helm of our emotions, the helm of our minds.

We accept our life’s challenges, inviting them into our lives, knowing they’re not just inevitable but necessary to become robust beings of incredible potential. We shift our relationship to the hard things in life. Hard isn’t bad, it’s good. More than good, it’s going to happen regardless. So why not accept that, grow stronger from it, become wiser for it?

How we grapple with challenge is the crucible from which resilience emerges, with all the right sauce—a personal healing terrain dialed in to support our needs for energy, strength, and adaptability.



[1] Mark P Mattson. Hormesis Defined. Ageing Res Rev. 2008.

[2] Suresh IS Rattan and Marios Kyriazi, editors. The Science of Hormesis in Health and Longevity. 2018.

Karyn Shanks MD


Karyn Shanks, MD, is a physician who lives and practices in Iowa City. Her work is inspired by the revolutionary science of Functional Medicine, body-mind wisdom, and the transformational journeys of thousands of clients over her twenty-eight year career. She believes that the bones of healing are in what we do for ourselves.

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