The idea of resilience

This week at the Almanac I learned that Tom Wills took his own life at 44.

By any measure, it was an extraordinary life. A life of opportunity and struggle. A life including moments of both serious accomplishment and of desperate sadness. Like many of us.

Players of elite level sport are increasingly reporting a lack of enjoyment in their lives. Stories abound of the relentless life of an AFL footballer. Meetings, testing, meetings, one-on-one feedback sessions, controlled diets, controlled socialising, meetings, logged sleeping patterns, game plans, meetings, structures, scenarios and on and on. There’s a lot to know. There’s a lot to remember. “For a throw-in at half-back, you need to stand ten paces back from the ruck, looking to create the overlap if we take possession. If they take possession, you need to be running back toward goal. Watch the ball.” And not much down time. “We’ll stop the video there. Now. What the hell are you doing on this side of the contest? Jeez. How many times do you have to be told?”

Children of time-poor parents are increasingly leading scheduled lives. Before-school care, school (with its exhausting social dramas, exhausting interactions), after-school care, swimming, ukulele, dance, drama, circus, gymnastics, play “dates” and on and on. There’s a lot to know. There’s a lot to remember. “Tuesday Mark will pick you up, alright? And take you to Rachel’s place. I’ll see you there. At 6 o’clock.” And not much down time. “You need to brush your teeth. And have you put your clothes in the wash yet? I’ve asked you three times.”

All of us face pressures. Financial and time pressures. These can often lead to relationship pressures. All of us, to some degree. And all of us carry baggage. Memories, hardships, circumstances.

Tom Wills, as I read, witnessed the immediate aftermath of a terrible mass murder on his father’s property. His father lay among the dead.

But we will never truly know the load that someone else carries. What someone has been through, just to be standing on that tram. Just to be outside of the house. Simply to get to sleep. Instances of mental health struggles in our communities are rising.


This all leads me to a brilliant talk my very good friend invited me to hear last week. The talk was given by Hugh van Cuylenburg in his capacity with a mob called “The Resilience Project.”

This is not an ad.

Hugh was speaking to parents at a primary school; where he had previously worked with students and with teachers. His message was very well told, featuring many stories of individuals overcoming hardship. The main takeaway was this: That we can improve mental health of ourselves and of others through practising and encouraging the practice of:






Being thankful for what we have. Rather than pinning our happiness on some future event/ scenario (I’ll be happy when I get a new job, a new car, a new pair of shoes, out of this house), we instead focus on what we have (running water, access to Medicare, Midnight Oil, a sibling, a child, a parent). Hugh told a story of a boy unable to say “this”, who instead said “dis”, but whose mental awareness was such that he would say “dis” constantly – referring to a something in his life at that time. Something as simple as a pair of shoes. Living in the moment. Being thankful. Grateful.

Hugh suggested sharing something for which we’re grateful each day. And to be small-scale and particular about it (e.g. I’m grateful today for my daughters’ ideas for Mother’s Day).


Mindfulness is about staying in the moment; rather than racing ahead to catastrophise or worry about future scenarios. Meditation is a good way to still the mind. Still the mind. Be still.


The Atticus Finch walk in another’s shoes. Empathy can be taught, if it’s not something that seems inherent in a person. But performing and encouraging the performance of “acts of kindness” is a terrific way to foster empathy.

What acts of kindness did you perform today? And how did you feel about that?


All of us play roles in the lives of others. Mainly via interaction with family and friends. But in a life there are many others, too.

Social media is an enormous growth area in communications. Teenagers comparing themselves online to models are likely to face mental hurdles. People as victims of vicious online attacks are likely to face mental health hurdles. This includes footballers (and coaches).

The “sticks and stones” defence? Scientific evidence trumps childhood rhymes.

The “I copped worse in my day” defence? The generational cycle of bullying is not a defence.


Thanks to my friend who (I’m sure) would prefer to remain nameless, for inviting me along to the talk.  These were already topics close to me. But it’s changed the way I think.

Hugh has worked with many sports clubs (including NRL and AFL clubs) and schools and businesses with this message.

Here’s Scott Pendlebury’s Instagram sent on the night of the narrow win over Richmond. “Dis moment”.

Go well.



About David Wilson

David Wilson is a writer, editor, flood forecaster and former school teacher. He writes under the name “E.regnans” at The Footy Almanac and has stories in several books. One of his stories was judged as a finalist in the Tasmanian Writers’ Prize 2021. He shares the care of two daughters and a dog, Pip. He finds playing the guitar a little tricky, but seems to have found a kindred instrument with the ukulele. Favourite tree: Eucalyptus regnans.


  1. Yvette Wroby says

    Well written and something to live by every day. Thanks David

  2. Cat from the Country says

    Thank you for sharing

  3. Resilience, Capacity Building, all of this and more is part of the parlance.

    Remember; at any given time, 1 in 5 Australians will be afflicted by a mental health disorder. For a period of time i was a Mental Health First Aid instructor, but this has lapsed. In our challenging world i recommend a s many people as possible get trained in Mental Health First Aid.


  4. thanks. great stuff. we had our first taste of the “system” this week. everything you say above rings true. i feel we are trying so hard to be happy. i think we just used to BE happy – playing cricket in a dead end street for hour after hour seemed enough.

    we just spent 7 nights in a shitty little cabin near a wild north coast beach with almost no wifi or signal and no pay tv. pigs in shit. haven’t felt that happy in years.

    gonna go put New Morning on…

  5. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Wonderful work ER.
    Empathy rather than sympathy – Understanding over judgment. Each case has so many nuances that comparison is futile and often dangerous. Glen! Mental Health First Aid is a great initiative. The more we know the less likely we are to fear.

  6. Charlotte says

    Good on you Dave. An important message, beautifully shared. Still the mind. Still the mind. Be still. Bada-boom.

  7. Thanks David. Especially like the mindfulness concept. It’s a key.

    Many wonderful thoughts in this. Pure light among the white noise.

  8. Interesting thoughts there, e.r.
    I was at a session on Mindfulness just last week.

    Empathy, I believe, is the key to so many things.
    But how do we teach it? How do we pass it on?

  9. E.regnans says

    G’day all.
    Thanks- this is ongoing. And will be.
    Smokie- the audience was recommended some ways to foster each of gratitude, mindfulness and empathy.
    Gratitude- the naming of something for which you’re grateful. Maybe over dinner, or out & about. And encouraging it in others.
    Mindfulness- meditation. Which can be a stretch. There are helpful apps around. HvC recommended a free Australian research-based app called Smiling Mind. It can be tailored to various age groups etc.
    Empathy- the acts of kindness. Setting a goal to perform an act of kindness today. Then looking for random acts of kindness. And closing the loop by talking about how you felt when performing them.

    Good stuff.

  10. Nanao was one of the beats and came on a tour to support the Wilderness Society in the early 90s. I did a terrible job in promoting him around the media. My mind was frenzied. He went for coffee/tea and handwrote me a copy of this, which I carry to every new workspace, and try and remember when the mind goes 100 to the dozen:

    Nanao Sakaki

    “If you have time to chatter,
    Read books.

    If you have time to read,
    Walk into mountain, desert and ocean.

    If you have time to walk,
    Sing songs and dance.

    If you have time to dance,
    Sit quietly, you happy, lucky idiot.”


  11. Trying to stay in the moment, I am very glad I spent the last minutes reading your words ER. Grateful.

  12. Love the Nanao Sakaki, PW.

  13. In my earlier posting re the topic of resilience i mentioned Mental Health First Aid; MHFA.

    I can hear you saying; what is Mental Health First Aid? Most of us are familiar with first aid for physical health: DRSABCD, with the meanings of each letter but what is the equivalent for Mental Health First Aid?
    It’s called ALGEE and it stands for,

    A; approach, assess, and assist with any crisis
    L: listen non judgementallly
    G: give support and information
    E: encourage appropriate professional help
    E: encourage other supports

    By learning MHFA it gives you a better knowledge of identifying and understanding the cause/risk factors, as well finding appropriate treatments, for mental health problems. You also learn how to provide practical assistance /support to a friend or family member who is unwell with a mental health problem. This can include situations such as panic attacks, suicidal behaviour, stress or an overdose.

    In an increasingly stressful world where so many of the certainties we took for granted are gone, Mental Health disorders are becoming more prevalent. Take care of yourself and those close to you.


  14. E.regnans says

    P Warrington – I’ve written down that Nanao Sakaki. Gold.

  15. Malcolm Ashwood says

    As always thought provoking,OBP both in article and in comments it is a vast subject I particuallrly like the point re being on holidays and away from technology and playing cricket on the road are some of my fondest memories

  16. Peter_B says

    Good stuff ER. Mental Health – such a profound and complex topic. The essence of life really. How we perceive and respond to the world around us.
    Resilience is great, particularly as a protective framework for young people. Though of course it is not too late for any of us to learn. Its just that the older we get the more the shell we build around ourselves hardens.
    Mental Health First Aid is a fantastic program as Glen! says. Did it myself 3 years ago as part of the induction to my current job working for Partners in Recovery in Fremantle. One of our best initiatives has been to offer MHFA 2 day training free to community groups. A number of sporting clubs have sent participants.
    How does a footy club identify and respond to club members who are depressed, grieving, unusually anxious and/or excessively drinking, gambling or doing illegal drugs? MHFA at least gives you some skills to identify it and respond appropriately (eg knowing when to draw the line and ensure someone sees a GP or mental health service). To my mind it is as essential as having appropriately trained physical first aid staff.
    Of course there is a whole other layer of serious mental illness (psychosis, serious mood and personality disorders) which are often a response to childhood trauma and exacerbated greatly by substance abuse.
    “Everybody is pretty normal until you get to know them better”.

  17. Rick Kane says

    Thanks DW. I attended The Resilience Project for parents at Northcote High last night. All Year 8 students go through the project. The session last night was to engage the parents in the project their kids were going through. As you said, terrific. For kids and parents.

  18. jan courtin says

    Gratitude, Mindfulness and Empathy are practices that have been around for millennia, especially in Buddhist teachings and practices; they have also been at the centre of “New Age” thinking in the West, as far back as I can remember in the ’70s. They are just so logical!

    The interesting thing is that these concepts are now, finally, being spoken about in everyday life – and of the utmost significance – children are being made aware of their importance.

  19. Luke Reynolds says

    Thanks for sharing Dave. Much to think about and implement from this (dis) as a parent.

  20. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    Wish they spent as much time on this stuff in primary school as they do on ‘persuasive writing.’
    Thanks Mountain Ash for the thoughts, the lines drawn. I have to say, strangely enough, that one of the places I experience gratitude, stillness and empathy all at once is in a blue plastic seat in the O’Reilly.

  21. yep. we had to fill out 6 forms to not do scripture and another 3 to not do ethics. FFS, our youngest is 5. ethics? I support it. it can probably wait.

    being happy? I would sign her up for a 6-year course of that (actually, she is very happy. I envy her that.)

    her sister is excelling at “Sizzling starters” – she writes better than many I work with and manage in senior government. but, at 8, I would like to see her happier. or, even, just less unhappy, less often.

    perhaps we need to move to that deadend street and get the cricket bat out?

  22. Don Meadows says

    Thanks E.r. for this thoughtful reminder of some hugely important skills for living. And I think they are skills and can be learned.

  23. Don Meadows says

    I meant to add: I was struck recently on reading some advice from Bachar Houli to new Tigers. He said, “Work hard. Be humble.” I think it’s a facet of empathy.

  24. Hi Dave,

    At first I misread this sentence to be “Medication is a good way to still the mind.” – sponsored by Eli Lilly? :)

    The comments on mindfulness raise questions on purpose. Why are we here? To have a still mind suggests no stress, no agitator, no Drive. Do we have a purpose? Should we have a purpose? Interesting questions. Questions a cow munching on grass probably doesn’t ask itself – it lives fully in the present.

    Not stirring, just raises questions on what it means to be human. A question that probably has more than 7 billion answers.

  25. ER – reading a book called “Preferred Lies” (many meanings in that term) at the moment by a Scottish Buddhist mountaineer poet (all true) who survives emergency brain surgery and returns to his roots to recuperate playing golf with old pals around the Scottish links of his youth.
    “It’s been like this ever since I nearly died but didn’t. One would think I’d be thankful to be reprieved. I am, but I have tasted dissolution and know, beyond all finessing, I will perish.”
    “I’ll be damned if I’m not going to experience and enjoy each moment here, each shot remaining in this round, as fully as possible. Then I’ll leave my clubs in the locker and go into town to meet my beloved and my friends, feel my feet and my wrists ache slightly as I raise a pint of Northern Light to my lips, and taste for one more summer evening the sweetness of not being dead.”
    “If ‘spiritual’ means anything it is this: inner awareness, held in balance with the outer world, and the connectedness of both and of all.”
    A lot that resonates there.

  26. E.regnans says

    G’day all.
    PW and MdH – it probably depends which school you attend. I’m in the camp that says all State schools should offer the same choices, but that’s certainly not the case in Victoria.
    J Courtin – I’m sure these things were being spoken about previously; especially in places of religion. All major religions would align with these values at some level. But I think it’s useful to give them an airing.
    Brad – I think you’re suggesting that mindfulness is incompatible with achievement, or with setting a goal to achieve. If that’s right, I will have to disagree, I’m afraid. On the contrary, mindfulness allows the achievement of a great deal more than would otherwise be the case. The idea of purpose is interesting, too, as it is through mindfulness that one’s priorities may come into focus.
    Indeed, there’s a great YouTube by “The School of Life” called “The wisdom of cows.” Check it out.

    PB – two wonderful posts by you. Love the Scottish Buddhist mountaineer poet.
    Thanks all. Go well.

  27. jan courtin says

    D Wilson – Extremely useful to give them an airing, as I intimated in the last para of my comment.

  28. i remembered today, as I chomped on a pink lady, how much I was moved by the Johnny Appleseed story when I was young. like, very young. I would have bristled, even then, at the overt religiosity of the man, but his singular vision and humble circumstances came rushing to me as we all sat around and whinged about the petty nothings, the clock ticking over the meter till payday.

    some of the shit we think about and feel when we are young is pretty powerful. kids are nobullshitters generally. i am ensuring my kids don’t make my mistake, of never writing anything down.

    maybe it’s the revisiting of the Phil Hughes stuff again and the despair of this election, but I just feel like grabbing the ones I love and hugging them close.

    apparently it eases the anxiety if you breathe in for half as long as you breathe out. cue three very unmindful people debating whether that was 4 seconds, or 5…

  29. simon taylor says

    Thanks Dave, Great piece.
    Have thought a lot about that young man in India with no bed, no running water, no shoes and with the prospect of a life that I’m sure no one on this site would want to trade for. I wonder if the inspiration that millionaire sports people like Scott Pendlebury and the kids in middle class schools in Northcote and Clifton Hill might draw from him hide our eyes from a far more unpalatable reality. That the boy in India is oppressed and should angry about it and we should be angry about it too and that mindfulness is another way of handing the responsibility to individuals to simply “look on the bright side” rather than to collectively look and and be angry about a world where kids to school without shoes.

  30. E.regnans says

    Thanks Jan – agreed.
    PW – i love your writing. And I recognise your media and information -generated sense of despair. Hugging a loved one was probably never been a bad idea.
    Long may we all breathe in whatever pattern works best.
    S Taylor – tackling the injustice of the world is a worthy mountain to climb, I agree. But it’s another mountain to climb. Before that mountain can be climbed, or even thought about, I reckon we need to first look after ourselves. We’re no help to anyone when crippled by anxiety.
    So I understand the message here to be that we’re grateful, we’re mindful and we’re empathetic. And via those things, the rest of our lives become more clear. Maybe we then see it as a priority to tackle systemic injustice. Maybe we see a priority to paint the laundry. Whatever. At least we’re better able to maintain an even keel.
    Well played.

  31. E.regnans says

    The Resilience Project and Hugh are on the back page of the Herald-Sun in Melbourne today.

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