A Zen Master, Hakuin, was accused of getting the teenage daughter of a neighbor pregnant. The village was shocked, the Master lost his reputation and no-one came to see him anymore. When the baby was born, the parents demanded he look after it, which he did for a year. The daughter finally confessed who the real father was, the parents apologized and wanted the baby back. To every accusation along the way, Hakuin responded with a simple Is that so?
So goes a story told by Eckhart Tolle in A New Earth – Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose to demonstrate non-resistance. As Eckhart explains, “the Master responds to falsehood and truth, bad and good news, in exactly the same way: Is that so?”
Today our words might be Is that right? or Really? When we respond in this manner, we allow whatever is, in this moment, to be what it is. We can only do that when there is no resistance. (Or attachment, or judgment). It’s a kind of intervention. If I say Is that so to something that is concerning me or that I suddenly have to have, be or do, a space opens up and from that space I can consider other possibilities.
The Roots of Resistance
Resistance has its roots in mind’s beliefs of how things and people ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ be in the world. When I say this moment should be different from what it actually is, I am not only judging it and/or attached to it being some other way, I am resisting the gift Life Itself is bringing me in this moment.
True surrender to what is, requires a deep trust in Life Itself. Mind hates to surrender because to mind, surrendering means falling into the unknown, into uncertainty. And mind by its very nature needs to know what everything means in order for it to control, or at least think it can control, its world of people, things and places. Mind has an insatiable need to interpret, not understanding that Life Itself can never be fully understood on an intellectual level.
Mind Needs to Control
In order to control, mind fights what is, until what is, is in alignment with how mind thinks life should be. Then for a brief period of time mind can relax. Until the next moment when Life Itself brings something which is not in alignment with the way mind thinks things should be.
Resistance is born, resistance takes over. Resistance is a chameleon, able to don whatever form is needed in the moment in order to control.
Resistance explains how we can go from gloriously inspired and passionate moments when the world is clear and the road ahead open and beckoning, to wondering what on earth that inspiration was all about and eating a gallon of ice-cream, or binge watching mindless TV, getting fatter, stiffer and more zombie like in body and mind (or whatever your choice of mind-numbing addiction is).
An Invitation to Surrender
Non-resistance invites us to surrender not only what is, in this one and only moment in which we exist, but to also surrender to the resistance itself. If you are fighting procrastination, fear or guilt in this moment, then you can stop the resistance by surrendering completely to that procrastination, fear or guilt. Allow it to simply be.
Acknowledging what you are experiencing brings it to conscious awareness, and allowing it to simply be means you can let go of the fight and allow Life Itself to flow through the experience. You don’t need to analyze, dissect or understand. If an understanding appears, great. But you can also completely surrender to the experience and in doing so, release it.
The fear of being taken over by resistance contributes to keeping it alive. Everything passes and if there is no attachment in place for how things should or shouldn’t be, or what you like and dislike, and no judgment of the experience, there is less to which resistance can cling.
There are so many forms of resistance, and mind is so cunning at deceiving that you are off track before you know what has hit you. So obviously, the first step is being able to recognize resistance in action, then checking for attachments or judgments that might be lying below the resistance and then surrendering to what is in the moment. The act of surrender opens up a space for Life Itself to show up, sometimes with inspiration/solutions and sometimes simply with a feeling a peace.
Resistance Owns Us – Until We Wake Up To Its Power
Stephen Pressfield in The War of Art – Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles describes it all beautifully.
If there is a divinity in the universe, then it’s opposite is resistance – Stephen claims it to be the devil itself. In The War of Art he lays out bluntly and forcefully his own journey of the years of discarded novels and scripts, inspirations and distractions that it took for him to understand that the major cause of so much dysfunction in the world is resistance. Stephen says this resistance is resistance to following our calling. We end up living shadow lives that necessitate escape mechanisms such as addiction, illness, conflicted relationships and so many others.
While we can break resistance down into smaller components, such as procrastination, fear, guilt, etc., Stephen lumps them all together as one giant enemy to be defeated at all costs.
Don’t for one second, underestimate the power of resistance. Stephen suggests that, overstatement though it may be, it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than face a blank canvas. (Hitler had aspired in his younger years to be an artist).
Stephen Pressfield’s solution is turning pro. Whatever it is that you are called to do – and are resisting – look at it from the perspective of a professional instead of an amateur: be it a creative work, a healthier body/mind, a desire to help your fellow travelers through this life journey or preserve the environment. A professional has developed certain qualities and attitudes that serve her in her undertakings. An amateur has a glut of excuses to goof off, not commit or find the discipline necessary for success. An amateur is also blind as to the causes of being blindsided so much.
This is a very powerful book if you want to delve deeper into the nature, causes and solutions to resistance.
What does non-resistance say to resistance?
What is, is. Fighting with reality is futile. Changing reality as it is in this moment is futile. The first step is to become aware and acknowledge that you are currently in a negative state of mind or doing something you don’t want to be doing.
I am procrastinating, I am making something/someone more important than following my own truth, I am avoiding the hard work of following my own inner star, I can’t be bothered doing what is mine to do – I’d rather have a drink, go partying, watch TV, argue with my dearly beloved. The natural REaction of ego is to deny we might be less than perfect, that our behavior might not be optimum. But non-resistance says with absolute detachment I am procrastinating, etc. And then STOPS right there. This is what is in this moment.
And a space opens up. Stay with it.
The very next realization is this is NOT who I am. This is something I have learned, some way I have learned to be. This is a story I am telling myself that I am believing to be true. I am FREE in this moment to let it go, I don’t have to continue.
This opens up a further space. If this ISN’T me, if this ISN’T who I really am, then who AM I? The $64 million dollar question. Asking it opens up yet more space. New inspiration may flow into that space, or a simple peace of mind, an inner tranquillity. Judgment has gone, attachment to how life should be disappears, acceptance and self compassion appear.
This may all happen in the flash of a minute and the old resistance may be right back again to haunt you. Patience and understanding are called for. Repeat something often enough and it becomes a habit. The key is to stay conscious and aware enough to catch resistance in action.
Once you are able to recognize resistance in action, to stop and to allow it to simply be, you make a space for Presence. Presence is patience personified. and it is impartial. Presence simply emits the impulses that drive creation – just like the impulses that cause an acorn to grow into an oak. Your being pulsates light. You resist, or you don’t. Either choice has consequences that will grow.