Practical Matters: What to do with your resistance

Are you familiar with resistance when it comes to your meditation practice, or to other things important to you?  How about in your life in general - are there moments when you're aware of this force putting the breaks on things you want to do or don't want to do?  

If there's one experience that most of us can relate to in our meditation and mindfulness practice is that resistance will likely make an appearance.  At least a cameo, more probably a starring role. We may be aware of it when it arises, as it manifests in this resounding NO at the thought of sitting down to meditate.  Maybe we want to do anything but...

But resistance may be present even if we're unaware that it's there.  Maybe it manifests in the form of a forgetfulness or confusion about our practice, or about being truly present within our bodies. We may find ourselves fleeing into thoughts about how busy we are, but at heart we may be feeling fearful of being wholly present.  Maybe it comes in the form of a sleepiness or general malaise in our practice. 

Does this resonate with you?  And why does resistance show up at all?  What are we actually resisting in those moments?  Are you curious to know? 

The truth is, I can't tell you what you're resisting.  Resistance is often the experience we have when what lies beyond it - the emotions and sensations - is too difficult to be with, or so we believe.  Like an automatic flinch when a ball comes flying towards our face, we tense and constrict parts of our body against the felt sense of certain experiences. 

This tension and constriction in our bodies - so ingrained and automatic that it becomes normalized - can become trapped.  Just as squeezing a hose constricts the flow of water, so too does the tightness and tension in our bodies constrict the flow and exchange of energy. As one of my mentors puts it, resistance is trapped sensation.  We don't want to feel what's there, and the resistance arises in how we're relating to what's there. (But don't take my word for it - you can investigate this for yourself.)  

In that sense, you could also see resistance as a protective response.  Only, we're protecting ourselves in this case from being with our own experience.  Cutting ourselves off from emotions and sensations that want to be felt and expressed (they're there, and not allowing them to be there doesn't make them go away). 

Resistance might be our response, but it's not the resolution to what we don't want to face.  In fact, as the saying goes, what we resist, persists.  

There is a goldmine of information beyond our resistance, but resistance is not our enemy.  Instead, we can come to see it for what it is (this self-protection against uncomfortable experiences), befriend it, come to know its contours, and allow it to give way to what's beyond it.

Resistance is an invitation to a deeper understanding and self-knowledge about what we want and what we need in our lives to be fully connected and at ease.  And resistance can inform our response to situations and people in our lives.  But we have to first understand its presence within us.  

So, how do we do this?  How do we invite the resistance in?  

You guessed it - come to the body.  Bringing the qualities we're learning to cultivate in our mindfulness practice to the experience of resistance, we can begin to investigate how resistance feels in our bodies. 

We need to bring our curiosity, our kindness, our openness and acceptance if we're going to learn from it. Meeting resistance with judgment or criticism, guilt or shame, doesn't invite us to learn why it's there in the first place, and what it's keeping us from experiencing.  

Invite resistance in to tea...

Step 1 - Take a moment to sense into your body.  Connect with the floor through your feet, or connect with your body through the breath.  

Step 2 - Bring curiosity to your investigation of resistance.  Sensing into the body, where can you feel it?  What physical sensations are present that you'd call resistance?  Describe how it feels and where it lives.  

Step 3 - Notice any inclination to retreat to analysis or interpretation in the mind.  Just notice, and then come back to the body.  Stay in the body - letting be any fixed ideas or concepts we may have about what we're feeling or sensing.  

Repeat this process again and again when you feel resistance to your practice (or in other areas of your life!).  Notice what happens when you start to investigate its presence.  It may not lift for the duration of your meditation, but as you learn to befriend it, to understand it and why its there, it can give way to the experience beyond it that needs to be experienced in order to be resolved...the one that we are trying hard not to experience.