The Art of Resistance...
RESISTANCE. I feel this so strongly in my body right now. It's like two titans wrestling inside of me, arms locked, heads butted (maybe bulls, not titans). And the words that go with it "I DON"T WANT TO DO IT." These apply to everything today. When I think about dance class, when I think about resting, when I think about my social life, when I think about work, when I think about planning my week. This feeling so often just exists quietly in the background, but today it is screaming for my attention. The wheels that normally turn fairly smoothly are grinding slowly to a grumpy, cranky halt. So, I suppose, I will take a break and actually listen--ask myself, what is this about? I certainly can't ignore it, and I also can't just react to it.
Resistance has actually come up quite a bit this past week. The other day I was listening to Steven Pressfield's audiobook "Do the Work." The title, naturally, gave me a head's up to the fact that I might come into contact with some resistance about what Pressfield had to say. So I'm listening to the book and piddling around cleaning my apartment, and all of the sudden, out of Pressfield's mouth come the words: "the more important a call or action is to our soul's evolution, the more resistance we feel toward pursuing it." Upon hearing that statement, my brain turned into a warbled pile of telephone wire and I had to turn off the audiobook to wrap my mind around it. "is that true?" "No," I answered myself. "Yes/" "It could be." "If it is, I finally know what to do with resistance...." "But wait, that hasn't always been true for me, like that time I went to Burning Man even though I didn't actually feel like I wanted to." "But could it be true right now, with this apartment I feel ambivalent about applying for..." My thoughts spun into a web of mindchatter, and I had to call in reinforcements. I texted a sampling of my wise friends to ask them their view on that statement. I got such different answers, each one as possibly true as the next, each of my friends holding a different one of the many voices in my head. I realized that everyone has a different relationship to resistance, and it is up to me to define the value of it for me. I asked myself, what is my relationship to resistance? And, regardless of the cause of resistance, what is the value of resistance?
We've all heard the phrase "take the path of least resistance." In science, the theory is that energy follows the path of least resistance, i.e. wind or water move around natural obstructions finding the path of least resistance. Drawing from Taoism, the oft-touted belief in spiritual circles is that one should let go and allow oneself to be in the receptive flow of universal qi. But, on the other hand, if we look at our physical bodies in interaction with our environment, we see that our bodies are literally shaped through resistance. Our muscle fibers are built through the resistance of engaging, pulling, and pushing. In chemistry, substances are formed through the clashing of elements.
So given all the different ways resistance can manifest in the physical and natural world, the question becomes, when resistance arises, how do you want to meet it? You can take the path of least resistance, expend less energy, and evade the issue. Will you grow? Not noticeably in that particular interaction. So, in each given moment, when resistance arises, we are given a choice. Is this an area where we want to grow our muscle or an area we would rather surrender and let the flow carry us?
As a bit of a personal growth warrior, I like to think, "I always want to grow!" But, the truth is, any time we make a choice to invest and grow in one area, other areas of growth are limited. Any time we say "yes" to one thing, we are saying "no" to others. So, in truth, we can't say "yes" to everything. We have to choose what we want to prioritize. We must look at both who we are and who we want to be. Sometimes there is a value and relief in choosing to let go rather than engage with resistance, and it gives a necessary rest from discomfort, while we grow other things instead--like our awareness and our capacity to reflect. And sometimes, it's the easy way out. Sometimes, it is us not listening to "the call for our soul's evolution."
For long periods of my life, I've thought resistance was (kind of) a bad thing....a sign that maybe the choice I was making or the relationship I was getting into just wasn't the right one. I now realize that resistance itself is neutral. Resistance occurs when we are on the edge of new territory we have never entered before. It can look a lot like ambivalence here. There is often a "yes" feeling of wanting to try this new venture, and an equally powerful "no" feeling of wanting to maintain the status quo. It is through the ability to consciously drop in and listen to both of these, allow them to exist, and to move forward according to what we want to grow, that we learn from resistance. This can be tough in a society and a world that values decisive action and clarity, but I believe there is real value in tolerating the uncertainty of living in the grey between these two poles.
Perhaps that is the truest value of resistance-it forces us to look inward when so much of the world is asking us to look outward, and to reflect on our lives, our choices, and our inner moral code. It is in times of struggle and resistance, that we are called upon to define ourselves and our values. Just as our muscles become defined in relationship to the weights or exercises or daily activities we choose, our character is defined in relationship to what we choose to resist, accept, or evade. We are continuously sculptors of our own being.
I say, listen to the call of your resistance and explore it. In each moment. And see what happens. Don't let resistance or your reaction to it define you. If something feels inherently unmotivating and unsatisfying, let it go, but if it feels like there is some real call to the thing you are resisting, stretch to explore it and see what can unfold. If you feel you are hitting a breaking point where a decision needs to be made, see if you can find a way to expand your container for holding tension and opposites - meditate, engage in spiritual practice or prayer, journal, talk to trusted mentors, confidantes, and friends, see a therapist, healer, or coach. Do the work, as Pressfield so aptly put it. Like our musculature, our souls are not shaped in a vacuum, but through the web of relationships and connections we create and exist within. Let the container of your connections and your web expand through your seeking, follow what you are drawn to, and listen to the people and things that resonate with you. They are probably reflecting your truth. In this way, begin to define yourself through engagement with the resistance. Use resistance as a tool rather than letting it have it's way with you. You are your clay and resistance is your tool.