What you Resist, Persists.
For the longest time I thought these were the words of the Buddha. The idea just fits so well with all of the Buddhist teachings that I’ve explored so far. (Though, as with so many things, I do still feel that I’ve just barely begun to scratch the surface of Buddhism.)
But no. These are the words of renowned psychologist Carl Jung. Who, apparently, alluded to Buddhism rather frequently in his writings even though he wasn’t actually Buddhist himself. (Note to self: add Carl Jung’s Buddhism-leaning writings to that infinitely long “Things To Read” list.)
This concept is a constant theme in my life. Or perhaps more accurately, I turn to this saying often when faced with difficult situations, as I’ve come to find that it pretty much always helps me find my way to a real resolution of whatever pain I’m facing.
Resistance comes in many forms.
Denial is the most obvious one. Trying to convince ourselves that things aren’t so bad when really, truly, they are. And this is a tough one, because keeping a positive attitude is something we value quite a bit in our culture. But when our positive attitude is really just a mask that is hiding life’s less positive elements from us, we are doing ourselves more harm than good. I’m all about staying positive, but sometimes life just sucks. And it’s okay to admit that. Not just ok — it’s important to do so.
I think the key is to find that balance between being positive and being realistic. Being positive does not mean hiding from reality in fluffy-puppy-unicorn-fairy land (like that hilarious Kimmy Schmidt spinning episode).
Pretending everything’s OK when it’s really not isn’t “being positive” — it’s denial.
Instead, try to face the hard things while remembering that, as with everything, “this too shall pass.” Have faith — in yourself, in the world, in the Universe or God or whatever you believe in — that even though things are bad now, they will get better. Because they always do. Because that’s how life works. Sure, they’ll get worse again too, but that’s ok. Because they’ll get better again too. And so on and so forth.
Because the only thing that is constant is change. (Heraclitus)
And the only way to catalyze a change is to face the thing that needs changing. Pretending it doesn’t exist will never make it go away.
Avoidance is another common form of resistance.
Oh, is that something unpleasant on the horizon? Well let me just take a left turn rather than heading straight into it. Because that’ll make it go away. Right?
We’ve all been there. That situation or relationship that we dread dealing with, so we just keep putting it off. Finding ways to avoid it, in hopes that it will magically disappear or get better.
And again I say, pretending it doesn’t exist will never make it go away. So just do it. Make the call, face the person, have the conversation, get the test done, see the doctor…whatever it is, just remember that the sooner you face it, the sooner you’ll be able to get past it.
Control — this is a form of resistance that can be harder to recognize. Because it doesn’t look like you’re resisting — it looks like you’re DOING something about the problem. You’re taking action. Taking matters into your own hands.
The problem with control is that with it comes an attachment to your desired outcome. You are trying to force things to turn out the way you want them to, rather than letting them continue down their crappy current path. And that, my friends, never ends well.
But I know how difficult of a pill that is to swallow. Hell, I’ve had such a hard time learning that lesson that I went and got a damn tattoo on my arm so that I’d never forget: you can plan and dream and work and hustle all you want, but in the end, you have NO CONTROL over the outcome.
So sure, have hope. Be ambitious and optimistic and proactive. But also be prepared to face facts if things don’t turn out as planned — which, frankly, is more likely to be the case than not.
So. What form of resistance do you usually employ?
Mine is usually control, with a healthy dose of denial disguised as “staying positive” mixed in.
And once I identify that what I am doing is resisting the problem, rather than dealing with it in a healthy way, the next step is to lean into the pain and let it pass through me. Now THAT is straight up Buddha talk, from the mouth of my hero and savior Pema Chodron. (Note to self: find a way to meet her in person. SOON.)
Leaning into pain is not easy. I’m still learning how to do it. I’m still building the courage and strength to even attempt to do it. But I have to say, every time I have taken that leap and opened up to my pain…it has dissolved. Often, almost instantly.
I know. It sounds crazy. Maybe it even sounds like the kind of chakra-energy-unicorn-reiki bullshit I’m always making fun of. What can I say? It’s true.
More on leaning into pain in a future post. For now, I invite you to mull over the title of this post. Identify your forms of resistance. Identify past situations when you resisted a thing, and so it persisted. Did the thing ever get resolved? If so, how? In retrospect, was that resolution somehow the result of your ceasing to resist the thing?
Feel free to share your stories in the comments. You know I always love to hear from you.