The Usefulness of the Mood of Resignation

The Usefulness of the Mood of Resignation

by Julia Bonadei

For the past eleven years, since initiating my journey of discovery in the landscape of Ontological Coaching, I have held the assessment that the mood of resignation is mostly unhelpful and that hanging out there should be kept to a bare minimum.

I’ve associated being in resignation as victimhood and for me that triggers a cascade of other assessments and emotions largely related to subliminal learning I had as a child.  My childhood was characterized by daily verbal, physical and psychological abuse at the hands of my mother.  To even be able to declare what I was on the receiving end of as ‘abuse’ is a breakthrough.  In my linguistic reality, I used to think and say in a self-illegitimizing way:  “I got hit and criticized a lot”.  It would take the acute paying attention of an Enneagram teacher when I was in my early forties, who, with narrowed eyes that saw beneath the surface of things, and a tender cocking of her head to one side, asked me in a tone oozing compassion and curiosity:  “Why don’t you call it what it was, Julia?”

I was a victim of child abuse.  There!!!!  To say it is to own it.  To own it is empowering.  Why I didn’t call it abuse for the longest time, was because I simply focused on the fact that I survived my childhood.  I formed an identity, a story, around being a survivor, being resilient, standing my ground (even if it led to more blows) and able to overcome tough circumstances with resolve, determination, and perseverance.  I had a child’s ability to naively dream a different future and, when that seemed impossible at times, I would simply grit my teeth and be determined to hold out for respite, albeit temporary.  Looking back now, this orientation echoes some of the narrative of the mood of ambition.  And tolerance:  I learned to put up with difficult situations until they changed.  I also learned to read the room, perceive the subtlest signs of danger, to take care of myself independently, to fight for myself (sometimes literally at my peril) and to resist the alternative:  annihilation!  All useful learning for a child, teenager and young adult making her way in a world that I perceived was wholly unsafe.

Now I’m in my early fifties, and 2024 marks ten years since I completed my Graduate Diploma in Ontological Coaching (as it was called back then) and began facilitating the Ontological Coaching & Leadership in Action public workshop.  As I take stock of this milestone, I’ve learned to get in touch with my own sense of Ontological safety – to feel more secure and confident in my understanding of reality, my identity and my bodily way of being in the world.  During this time, I have navigated a big relocation, launched a coaching business, got divorced, learned to be a single parent to teenage kids, navigated and overcame burnout, managed the Covid era, took my coaching business international, started dating again … an endless list of breakdowns and valuable breakthroughs.  It’s been a LOT.

During these ups and downs, the mood of resignation came knocking.  I refused to open the door!  Until…exhaustion got the better of me.  I’m not talking about tiredness… I mean the sheer exhaustion evidenced by blood tests showing that my adrenal glands were burned toast.  The body doesn’t lie.  My seeming relentless capacity to keep doing, trying and finding new ways through and around obstacles that enabled me to survive with grit, had to give.

And so began my fascination and curiosity with the usefulnesss of the mood of resignation.  I finally opened the door and made some precious discoveries.  Resignation has taken me by my reluctant hand and been a teacher.

Choosing resignation consciously and discern-fully in some circumstances has enabled me to take time to withdraw, rest and recuperate.  To manage and take care of my energy.  It’s enabled me to discern when the time is right to do nothing.  No-thing.  To allow a circumstance and life in general to simply unfold on its own terms without my interference.  It has revealed to me where I have tried to fix or change situations and relationships and, despite my best intentions, my repeated attempts have failed.  Consequently, it has pointed me to areas I needed to let go of – I may not want to but need to.  Resignation has helped me recognize the ways in which I feel helpless sometimes and allow myself to inhabit that vulnerable space and get intimate with it.  It has ushered in clarity about what I am prepared to attend to and what I am going to let go of, not because I don’t care, but because the cost of continuing to care in the same way is too high.  It has helped me to make grounded assessments of what is unlikely to change circumstantially, and what possibilities to consciously let go of, to minimize my own suffering.  It has paved the way for establishing boundaries in relationships that take care of my dignity and are worthy of my care and effort.  It has enabled me to legitimize the emotional experiences in myself and others of feeling like a victim in systems where power is mis-used and abused.

It has taught me how to surrender, to lay down the exhausting struggles and find a pathway to inner peace and self-compassion.


The Lenses we Wear

The French American essayist, Anais Nin once said:  “We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are.”  This inherent subjectivity of our humanness is a constant source of fascination for me.  Ever since I can remember, I was intrigued by what makes human beings tick.  I mean REALLY tick.  What makes each of us unique, different, yet also similar?  What motivates one person and not another?  How come the same circumstance can show up to one person as a calamity and to another as an opportunity?  Deep questions float my boat and I seem to have an endless source of them inside of me.

It would be this fascination with the mysteries of being human and my internal listening to my curious mind that would eventually lead me in my forties to coaching as a third career, a third reinvention of my professional identity.  I’m not really sure whether I found coaching or it found me.  What I do know is that I was seeking … I was looking for a way out of my perpetual dissatisfaction.  I’d had experienced an abusive childhood and was sitting in the question:  what was my suffering for if not to put in in service of others?  How might I change careers in my midlife with so much pressure coming from others in my ecosystem to stay where I was?  What work would bring me truly alive?  How does learning happen?

In my forties, I embarked on a deep 18-month coach training.  And then another.  And I fell in love with Ontological Coaching*, which became for me a calling, a vocation.  It feels like I was born for this.  I get to ask the deep questions each and every day, first and foremost of myself and then of my clients who privilege me by sharing their deeply personal stories, their experiences, their dreams, hurts, joys and pains with me.

My coaching approach is informed by branches of philosophy and biology.  Not ancient Greek or Roman philosophy but more recent branches from the 20th century, specifically existentialism, phenomenology, linguistic philosophy and the biological aspects of what has us humans come to learn or know anything (a body of work called The Biology of Cognition by Humberto Maturana.)  The approach is practical, real and the more I apply it to my own life, parenting and in my client work, the more I realize how universal it is because it gets to the heart of what it means to BE human.  It’s based on the notion of Way of Being.  I like to interpret this as the lens through which we interact with and make sense of the world around us.

Whilst each of us is different and unique, we share one thing in common:  each of us has a Way of Being and for most of us, it is largely out of our awareness, but it is running the show in the background.  The interpretation of Way of Being that I use is that it is the invisible driver of all our human action and communication.  It informs all the industriousness – the doing – we busy ourselves with daily.  It acts as a lens through which we observe the world and it’s the birthplace of our perceptions and perceived reality.  It informs what we pay attention to and what we don’t.  It is our uniqueness.  Some people refer to this as ‘personality’, but I tend not to use this terminology because it can imply that we are fixed in our traits and unable to change.  Biologically, this is inaccurate.  We ALL have the capacity to change and learn.  However, we cannot change what we do not notice.  And we cannot notice that which we don’t have language for.

By now you may be wondering, what exactly is Way of Being and how to we notice it?

Our human Being-ness is rooted in three interrelated areas:

  • Language: This does not refer to our mother tongue or the types of languages we speak.  Rather, it is the sets of interpretations and narratives we hold about ourselves, others, life, situations, cultures, gender, work etc and refers to how we listen to the world around us and inside of ourselves.  In addition to the listening aspect, it’s also the invisible actions we take when we speak.  To speak and listen is to make meaning and to bring about a lived social reality.  If we didn’t have language we couldn’t dream, vision, manifest outcomes, co-ordinate social activities, collaborate, attain results and so much more.
  • Emotions: I like to think of emotions as energy-in-motion.  They heavily inform and influence our thinking, behaviour, communication, decision-making and the linguistic interpretations we have at our disposal – like compass points.  They either open us up to possibilities or they close us down.  If you are human, there is no way out of them because they are part of our human biology.  The trouble with emotions is that if we don’t have an awareness of what they are and how they affect us and guide our daily choices, they can hi-jack us in a vice-grip that may not be useful for the outcomes we intend and the futures we are committed to generating.
  • Body: Simply put, we do not exist without our human body.  We are biological organisms and our bodies are the portal of all our history, our learned patterning and responses, our habits, our narratives, our culture, education, and so on.  When we speak about our body, we tend to refer to ‘having a body’.  But in reality, I don’t have my body, I AM my body.  Our body reveals our identity to the world and also holds our potential for BE-coming.  It continuously communicates to us in the form of sensations and impulses, of which emotions play an important part.  There is an innate wisdom in our bodies that can go largely untapped.

I love working with Way of Being because it is poetic, generative, and liberating.  As much as the three areas of Way of Being are domains in which we already exist, they are also areas of learning and change.  When we can observe our Way of Being, really notice it in action, we are able to see that we live in a world of our own (meaning) making.  Conversely, we can also begin to observe the myriad ways in which we spin shackles of limitations for ourselves and generate our own suffering.  And we can then begin the inner work of bringing about new learning and generating innovative possibilities for ourselves as learners and creators of more desirable futures.  I find this very empowering.

*Ontology = The study of being or the study of human existence.