Resiliency is a product of how we think: automatic thoughts that come to conscious awareness from our subconscious mind. There are subconscious processes called defense mechanisms that aim to reduce the internal conflict between what we want to do and what we are allowed to do. Constructive defense mechanisms reduce anxiety and maintain internal homeostasis. Resiliency and well-being are the net result of optimizing constructive defense mechanisms (e.g. sublimation) while avoiding maladaptive ones such as splitting.
Splitting is defined as the polarization of thoughts by focusing selectively on the positive or negative (black or white) attributes of others. The emperor penguin, living in the polar tundra, is nature’s brilliant paradox. Despite its black-and-white coat representing a defense mechanism that underlies anxiety and burnout, it is among the most resilient creatures on earth. The male penguin protects its unborn offspring not only by the warmth of its own body, but also by creating a huddle with hundreds of other penguins and shielding against the harshest of winters. Meanwhile the females walk 75 miles across the polar tundra to find sustenance for their families. Together, the union demonstrates one of the most powerful constructive defenses against anxiety: community.
In order to depict this resiliency, my art enhances the penguin’s black and white fur with alternative complimentary colors. Additionally it utilizes starkly different media: charcoal and watercolor pencils. At first glance, the images are somewhat unintuitive because they don’t conform to what occurs in nature. With deeper appreciation, one recognizes the penguin’s fur reflecting its inner world, one with conflict and clarity, pain and perseverance, and loneliness and love. This complexity is at the core of what results in one of the most resilient animal behaviors on the planet, and is one that can be learned and developed for improving well-being.
By Namrata Kulkarni