Resistance is a powerful force in nature and is a powerful human capacity. It combats social injustice. It protects us. The action of resisting can block, hold, or divert opposing energy. If maintained long enough, resistance can actively and non-aggressively forge new channels for oncoming energy.
Sometimes, however, we misdirect or misuse our capacity for resistance. We fight aspects of our lives that we cannot change. We allow slow-moving traffic to boil us. In anger, we speak badly of someone who has let us down. We resist the realities and limits of our physical bodies, exercising wildly or dieting excessively in a hate-based fury to look just so. We forget the power of accepting and moving with what IS.
In resisting or fighting the parts of our lives and our selves that we cannot change, we miss out on life-giving opportunities: the opportunity to truly grieve what no longer is precedes the ability to find greater peace with what is and to utilize our capacity for resistance where it can actually make a difference.
It’s easy to think of grief as a “bad” thing: something we don’t want anything to do with. Grief is the intensely felt reminder that someone or something important to us has been lost. For this very reason, though, grief is essential. How can anything or anyone be truly loved and honored, how can value and importance be celebrated, without grief? Grief is one of the most honest and profound truth-tellers we have. Mourning is grief in motion.
Though grieving and mourning can initially feel overwhelming, they are natural processes that ultimately restore our vitality. When we resist grief, we block ourselves; we blunt our ability to feel much of anything. There is no way to cut off from only one, select set of sensations and emotions: when we cut off or dampen one, we inhibit them all. Like molecules in a river, our emotions flow all together. We can block off just the oxygen in a river and hope the hydrogen will keep flowing. The “cut off” approach to grief affects our motivation, our ability to make decisions, to act, to affect the world … to truly live. I believe that much depression in the westernized world has to do with unprocessed or blocked grief. When we are witnessed, joined, or held in the hardest moments of grieving, we move toward life. In the westernized world, most of us have lost meaningful and effective ways of grieving in community, so we must go to extra lengths to recognize, find support for, be joined in, and express our grief … but it’s worth it to do so.
Besides “big grief,” we also resist less significant aspects of life that what we cannot change. We may walk around angry that life and people are not “perfect.” I believe that in so-called “first-world” countries, within certain socio-economic groups, it can be easy to unconsciously accept a view that we can achieve a life without suffering, big and small. We’re sort of fed the belief that if we have the right job, the right partner, a certain amount of money and the right “stuff”. . . at that point (no, the next point … no, the next …), we will be happy. We can even fall prey to an attitude that we somehow deserve a life free of suffering and even the most minor inconveniences; or — as I see just as often — we feel there is something wrong with us if we’re experiencing suffering.
When we perpetually resist or actively fight the fact that small mishaps, significant inconveniences, and major losses are part of life, we spin our wheels. We dig ruts of anger, frustration, and shame in our minds and bodies. We waste precious energy. But when we become conscious of what we can change about ourselves, our lives, and the world, we utilize our capacity for resistance effectively. We can work for social justice. We can talk to the director of human resources at our jobs about policies that adversely impact us. We can openly and nonviolently talk to the person who has let us down. We can make choices about and within our relationships. We can turn away from substance misuse that causes us harm. When we trust our own ability to survive loss and loneliness, we can direct our energies fearlessly in fruitful directions. We can also cultivate inner contentment that’s not about trying to change things “out there,” but is about the peace that comes from relating directly and creatively to what is.
Resistance is about saying “no.” When we know how to say “no” effectively and also where in our lives it is worth our energy to say “no,” our “yes’s” become more meaningful. Our powers of resistance gain clarity and strength. Instead of spinning our wheels, we make real changes “in here” and “out there.”
*A licensed professional counselor, somatic psychotherapist, and Buddhist practitioner in Boulder, Colorado, I remind myself and my fellow healing and human services professionals to give credit to our teachers and influences openly and often. I would like to acknowledge those who have promoted my intellectual understanding and embodied integration of Buddhist teachings, other wisdom teachings, and the best in western psychology. In particular, related this this post, I am influenced most by the teachings of the Buddha and by Martin Prechtel’s “Grief and Praise” as well as my own lived experience. May all beings be well and happy.