Anatomy of resistance

Resistance to experience is one of those things that seem so solid and substantial, but turns out to be ephemeral and even fall away (at least as something identified with) when seen more for what it is.

When I explore resistance to experience, I find…

  • Attention shifting to something else. Instead of being with the trigger (the circumstance) or what is triggered (emotions, tension), it continues on to stories about what is going on, or something entirely different. It may go to stories about something else, or I may create other sensory inputs that attention can go to, for instance by talking with someone, eat, or watch a movie. In other words, there is subtle and not-so-subtle distraction.
  • A good deal of drama is created from identification with the stories and resistance. There is a clash between my stories of what is and what should be, and from here there is a split into a sense of I and Other, and a dramatic relationship between them.
  • Behavior aimed at changing the situation. Such as the trigger, which is usually something in the world, a certain set of circumstances. The triggered, such as emotions and tension. Or even the triggering itself, the process of resistance, for instance through inquiry into the stories of what is and what should be, and a being with of whatever comes up in terms of images, sensations and emotions.

For instance, say there is physical pain.

I have stories of how (a) there is pain and (b) there shouldn’t be pain, and to the extent I take those stories as real and true, there is a clash between them. There is also a clash between what is and my image as someone who either is generally healthy, or at least should be healthy.

So now there is resistance to the pain.

My attention then goes away from the direct perception of the pain to stories about the pain, or to stories about something else, or to different sensations created by something I do (eat etc.)

This clash of stories creates a sense of drama around the whole situation, creating more emotions and physical tension.

And I may try to change the pain itself (by taking a pill), I may try to change the emotions triggered (by talking with a friend, go for a walk, watch a movie, eat good food), or I may try to change the triggering process itself (by examining my stories of what is and should be, or being with what is alive in immediate awareness in a heartfelt way).

The funny, or tragicomic, part about all this is that resistance accomplishes very little.

It is a safety valve of sorts, allowing some of the steam created by the clash of stories to be diffused, so in that sense it is very helpful, in the short term. And it can bring us to certain actions in the world, although these tends to come from a certain compulsiveness (from beliefs) so often have unintended and unpleasant side-effects.

Beyond that, nothing much is happening.

Resistance is very much a spinning of the wheels, leading to not much apart from a sense of drama and a rehearsal of the habit of resisting experience.

But we can also see resistance as an invitation to explore the whole process of resistance in more detail. We can explore our stories of what is and what should be (are they true?). And we can explore what happens when we allow attention to be with what arises, as it is, as if it would never change, and in a heartfelt way.

By exploring the stories, we may find what is already more true for us than those stories, which releases the grip on them. And by being with whatever arises, what we previously resisted may reveal itself as something entirely different than what we thought it was (for instance pain may be just sensation, and beyond that, dynamic and fluid and even have a sense of sweet fullness in it).

From the initial draft:

As usual, there is the clash between stories about what is (the world, circumstances) and what should be. This fuels additional stories about what is going on, it fuels emotions and tension, and it deepens the sense of split within what is arising. This split, in general terms, takes the form of a sense of I, as someone who wants it different, and Other, as what is (or may be).There is already a discomfort from this clash. And then there is an additional comfort from the boundary going through the field of what is alive in immediate awareness, creating a sense of a split, separation, confinement, contraction, being trapped and locked in.

All of this creates resistance to what is, both towards the trigger (the circumstances) and the triggered (the stories, and especially their effects of giving rise to certain emotions and physical tension and discomfort).

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