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  • Writer's pictureAdam Jogen Salzberg

Decoding Resistance

 Resistance towards doing something apparently positive that part of us wants to do is something I explore with people often. This universal takes forms unique to each of us- maybe a mind muddy thick with indecision, trying to lift impossibly lead feet to even begin the thing, present with a hollow belly betrayal, a tank empty of agency, standing outside a door into appealing change but unable to find the motivation to even knock or push against the heavy and inert barrier.

The culturally pervasive Hero’s Myth suggests we could just slay our Dragon of Resistance and get on to the treasure. Sometimes this looks like imbibing an artificial motive force, amping ourselves up and sprinting around the Dragon, pushing through. Instead, we could take the view that that resistance is worth understanding, that it contains intelligent communication, that we might benefit from listening rather than slaying. Establishing a listening stance allows resistance's somatic and mental data to appear in awareness full spectrum. The skills of mindfulness are vital here, we are empowered by the capacity to be with what appears nakedly, prior to the hair-trigger discrimination of 'this should' or 'shouldn't be' happening.

  You can practice moments of fully inhabiting resistance, physically and mentally, wearing it completely, yielding into its reality. From there, what does it feel like from the inside?  What does feeling it from the inside feel like? What happens when you do so? Yielding yet wide awake, what else, alongside resistances’ textures, arises in body-mind from that immersion? Resistance, like many other states, is rarely inhabited with depth and decoded, because reaction to it is so instinctive.  Sometimes a needed and effective method is to amplify resistance, using your theatrical instincts (Some of us are doing this unknowingly all the time!) Turn it up to 105%, 110%, exaggerating it - what happens, what arises in body-mind from yielding into that intensified immersion?

With the foundation of a listening stance, we can spark inquiries into that open space, with confidence in curiosity's effect. What might this resistance be saying? Why resistance to that which could be positive? What’s the cost of engagement? If i were to take the invitation and step forward, what might I have to feel?  Or have to stop feeling? Fear of feeling something can freeze out a life, even if the fear of the feeling is not actually the feeling being feared. But fear is not enlightened to its own biased predictions and seems to forever never see the light. In other words, part of us may have a preemptive negative image about such and such undertaking or decision and isn’t going to change its mind.  

We can turn the inquiry around and ask, what’s the benefit in non-engagement? This takes significant self-honesty. What might I get from being stuck? Who do I get to be by things staying the same? Is something protected, sustained, or maintained by lingering in stasis? Could something be feeding me in that? Contemplative traditions name the universal presence of Resistance To Seeing Clearly. What might I see if I look beneath resistance? I might become responsible for how capable I am, or I might become responsible for how dependent I am, or both. I might see that I love drama and one way of sustaining it is by bearing down in what I complain is a bad thing. Maybe there is a saboteur that lives inside. It might put on the feeling and thought clothes of well-reasoned opposition but at its core it may simply be a force that seeks to undermine.  Why?  Maybe we can’t know why. Maybe ‘why?’is one of resistance’s costumes. Maybe like the Buddha on the Bodhi Seat, we can simply say, paraphrased, ‘Saboteur, I see you.’

Often what we call resistance is a stalemate between a part of us that says go left and a part that says no to going left, or yes to going right. What if we create a space where we can feel and hear both parts with less of the noise that bias creates?  Not to then choose based on the persuasive view or feeling of the arguments for This/Left or That/Right, but to see what happens when we hold a kind of council process for our inner community.  We could suspend speedy decision about the rightest view in the mix and hang out in uncertainty, informed by listening to both sides fully. In this way we might allow a slow emerging magic of non-polarized vision. 

Yes, and, well, simply put, part of you doesn’t care about the thing another part of you wants. It’s not so much resistance as differing desires. A consequence of being an intricate being is that the whole of you is limitedly aligned with every action or direction you might take or be taking. Some dissent in the crew doesn’t mean sailing east is wrong.  Beware the fallacy of the Always Enduring Hell-Yes.

What if in some cases resistance is as simple as preferring comfort to exertion? I for one am astounded that some people seem to find pleasure in vigorous exercise. I usually have to convince myself something is spiritual or ‘energy work’ to choose to break a sweat. Carl Jung said that laziness is humanity’s greatest passion.  Could something in us love laziness’s flavor and the consequence of indulging it? We have the power to squander our life force, we have the power to prevent the True, Good and Beautiful from taking root and flourishing in our lives and benefiting others.  That is a lot of power. Maybe I like having that power over my selves. The power of staying near to the ground, not so far to fall. The power to not face fear of success or fear of having something worth protecting and sustaining. 

Not all that is called resistance is resistance. For example, spiritual practice might fulfill its function and reduce your personal ambition or vaporize certain desires, leaving you with a core contentment and less energy for pursuits that aren’t infused with Bodhisattva Vow. Strange and sometimes confusing at first, motivation for egocentric activity is absent when it used to be readily on hand. Sometimes what is called resistance is our integrity or intuition locking away the energy to carry out an action that something in us knows better than to carry out.

It is just what it is, and it is more.  Entering and having gone through, in hindsight it was not what we thought. Many times we are in reaction to resistance’s appearing, entangled or fearing. Though resistance remains standing as a gate. 

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