In health and human development we often use this term: survive or thrive. An either/or term with an embedded orbit between the two. Teachers, child development specialists, medical doctors, therapists, chaplains, pastors, loved ones, and really most of us want children and all people to move beyond surviving into thriving. Because surviving can be a time of waiting, frustration, fear, feeling stuck, and powerlessness. We use terms such as survival mode, subsisting, and stagnate to describe the extreme edge of this survival spectrum and softer terms such liminal space and limbo to describe survival as more temporary.
Environmental and systemic circumstances such as racism, genderism, joblessness, poverty, lack of resources, and poor or declining health attempt to hold us in survival. The ongoing worry about safety, food, housing, income, and health overtime can become a traumatic experience adding another layer of pain onto life in survival. Any traumatic experience may also keep us securely in perpetual fight or flight, even freeze states. Surviving then becomes a form of hypervigilant maintenance. Of keeping things as stable as possible while existing always on the edge of the next bad thing happening.
If surviving continues or moves into more security toward or into thriving’s beginnings, trauma’s leftovers from the time of living close to death can create more disease, the autoimmune and inflammatory kind. Disease throws us back into surviving once again shutting down the other end of this trajectory of survive or thrive.
Surviving is not to be minimized. The experience of just surviving seems relentless and unending for most people. Yet self and other compassion asks us to hold gently the miracle of surviving. Our bodies keeping us alive again and again after possible non-survival. Desiring us to move the other way toward and into thriving.
We survive then to thrive. Surviving becomes the living basis in which to add on layers of living. Layers such as growing in deep health, relationships, possibilities, accomplishments, and resources. When we cannot move toward thriving we of course feel stuck because flow is denied.
I, like many people, overuse the word thrive. I want my sons to thrive. I want my new husband to thrive. I want all my beloveds to thrive. I want all of creation to thrive. I want to thrive. The word thrive means “to grow vigorously,” and flourish.* Yet my heart embraces the word flourish as something more than thriving. A word meaning “to grow luxuriantly.”** Flourishing, for me, extends life’s various layers of growth. Creating an out of rather than an or. Instead of survive or thrive, we build: Survive first. Move toward and into thrive leading into a time of flourishing and beyond.
How can we build from surviving? Through healing. Deep, ongoing healing leads us out of surviving, into thriving and toward flourishing. Healing creates goodness within and around. In goodness we are no longer separated from love of self and others. In healing we create more internal and external space to ensure everyone has access to healing.
How do we heal? We begin with the simple desire to heal. Just a tiny mustard seed amount desiring something else. Something replacing the suffering in us and around us with hope. Something washing away the layers of pain bit by bit until we find ourselves where we’ve always existed, encapsulated in love. Love flowing in, above, under, and around us.
Then what do we do? Without thinking we connect and reconnect. Realize we’ve been shut down and away from the world and its people. The process of healing rejoins us to ourselves, others and all that is greater than ourselves–the universe and Spirit. This connection and reconnection, in Scriptural terms, uses the word righteousness or righteous. As in I have reconnected to God. Words which have come to mean, in some traditions, following God’s rules, being obedient to these rules even if they are the rules of powerful humans and not God. For so many people, myself included, these terms feel like more trauma turning my stomach around. I remind myself in healing that there are other understandings of these words.
So, what if we substitute righteousness with healed? Here’s what happens in Psalm 92, verses 12-15 when we do. (NRSVUE)
12 The righteous flourish like the palm tree
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
The healed flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
13 They are planted in the house of the Lord;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
They are planted in the house of God; they flourish in the places of our God.
14 In old age they still produce fruit;
they are always green and full of sap,
In old age the healed still produce fruit; the healed are always green and full of sap,
15 showing that the God is upright;
God is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in God.
showing that God is healed and wants healing; God is my rock, and there is no un-healing in God.
There is no un-healing in God. What a thought! What a belief! God wants us to move beyond surviving. God wants us to heal. God wants us to build on survival into what is possible for ourselves, others, and all creation. And when some of us begin to move out of survival into thriving, God wants us to turn back toward those people still in survival. God wants us to connect, have compassion. Offer healing ways to all people, to all of creation. Only when we heal, connect, and ensure others will also heal can we truly flourish within ourselves and in our world. Flourishing then is an act of compassion for self and others.