Non-resistance: Eliminating Unnecessary Suffering
How much of your suffering is due to resistance of the present moment? Resistance to what is.
We often think that the conditions of our lives are causing us suffering. But, as I’ve echoed the great philosophers, spiritual teachings, and psychological insights of our time, it is not the conditions of our lives, but our judgments about them.
Most times, it’s the internal world, not the external, that truly disturbs us.
It’s not what happens in your life, but your interpretation of what happens in your life. The stories you tell yourself. This is why you suffer.
Like some, you might be quick to challenge this: “But what about (insert catastrophic/tragic/annoying life event here)?”
We are so quick to defend our suffering. Because we are identified with it. That is to say, we are identified with our thoughts.
That’s fine. That is the reality for most of us. Which is why most of us live in a state of constant striving, effort, longing, craving… dissatisfaction.
I won’t take that away from you. Throughout my career, I’ve learned not to take people’s suffering away. That’s their job. All I can do is offer guidance. All I can do is hold the signpost. The choice is yours. Consider this a signpost.
Have you ever been waiting in line? The setting is irrelevant: DMV, grocery store, bank, airport, theme park attraction.
We love lines. It brings order to chaos. We know who goes before us and who goes after us. We have a direction. We don’t have to think about where to stand or when to go. We know who’s next. If someone is next and does not go, we tell them. “Hey, you’re next.”
We also hate lines. Long lines. Lines that are moving slowly. Painfully slow. When we are next in line and the person in front of us is taking “forever.” Has this ever happened to you?
What was the feeling you experienced? Unease? Agitation? Anger? Impatience?
Was this intensified because you were late? Did you have somewhere to be? Or did you simply want to be somewhere else?
What is so stressful about standing in line? Surely nothing. You simply have to stand, breathe, and occasionally move your feet in a certain direction… What could be more natural? What could be more easy?
See, it’s not the situation, but the meaning we’ve attached to it. The narrative we create: If this line takes a long time, I will be late. If I am late I won’t get something done or someone will be waiting for me. If that happens then someone might be mad at me. If someone is mad at me, I will no longer be viewed favorably which will undoubtedly lead to a whole bunch of negative events that will impact my social or economic circumstances and ultimately my safety. This could potentially mean death.
Side Note: Although this seems like hyperbole, to our outdated minds, this fear of not being enough or not being loved really could mean potential death. Our brain is a product of evolution, which advances far slower than society. It has been built over thousands of years, while life for humans has changed dramatically in less than 100 (or 10, for that matter). Most of our fears, although ridiculous now, make sense on a long enough timeline, back when death was much more of a daily reality and we needed to work closely with others for survival.
Back to the situation. You’re in line. At this rate, you’re going to be late. Your mind goes off to the races thinking about how terrible this is and all of the terrible outcomes. Your body starts to respond to your mind. Your heart races, your breathing becomes shallow, you get tense. You become irritated, anxious, stressed, or frustrated, which of course is totally useless. These are all states of resistance.
And somehow we believe that resisting the present moment will lead to some sort of change.
Whether you want to respond to a situation with resistance and stress or acceptance and grace is always your choice.
So say you choose to wait in line anyway, what good will anger do you? It won’t make the line move quicker. Couldn’t you wait in line joyfully and receive the same outcome. Of course you could.
Or say you decide that the line is taking too long and it is better for you to leave. You can storm off, muttering complaints under your breath, or you can peacefully remove yourself from the situation in a state of calm centeredness. Either way, the outcome will be the same.
Obviously, the line situation is just an example. Think about all of the other areas of your life where this sort of unnecessary stress comes to the surface. Think about all the other times you resist the moment with the melodrama of the mind.
Here’s the point… Every situation offers us two choices: Accept it as it is or take action to change it. Either way, inner resistance is not needed.
The moment something happens, what other rational choice do you have but to accept it? It has already occurred. To resist the reality of the moment will only cause more suffering, for yourself and others.
People will often challenge this notion of acceptance. The ego doesn’t like it. It feels like surrender. It sounds weak and powerless. But in fact, this is one of the strongest and most powerful decisions you can make in your life.
Acceptance does not mean you have to resign yourself to situations that are harmful or leading to undesirable consequences. It does not mean you give up.
Acceptance does not mean you can’t take action. You can certainly accept something and act to change it. In fact, if you choose to do so, the action you take will be far more clear and impactful.
This is because acceptance is a prerequisite to effective change. Accepting a situation allows it to move through us (and for us to move past it). It allows us to become transparent to disruption. A state where negative thoughts and emotions pass right through us. We become teflon. Non-stick. Be like water, as Bruce Lee says. We become lighter without the baggage of useless resistance. Once you accept something, you are no longer its slave. It frees up room within you to take meaningful action.
Resistance actually keeps us stuck. It holds us back. Resistance forms a blockage inside of us that traps the very discomfort we are often trying to avoid. I promise you that most, if not all of the suffering in your life is due to such resistance.
The solution is acceptance, which simply means non-resistance to what is.
With true non-resistance, you can eliminate all unnecessary suffering.
Observe your mind. Smile at your thoughts. Feel your emotions. But do not let them rule you.
In being the witness to your mind (which is the essence of spiritual life as well as the essence of metacognition exercised in many psychotherapies), you no longer have to identify with it. In doing so, you cut off the fuel source of resistance. You shine the light of awareness onto the illusion of suffering. You realize deeply that those thoughts are just stories. That you don’t have to believe everything you think. That you are so much more than the content of your mind. You are boundless. You are infinite.
You realize that, by accepting reality, you rise above suffering.
You experience the joy, ease, and grace that is always available to you in this moment.
You experience the deepest part of your being, a place of complete inner peace that can not be shaken by external events.
So watch resistance rise up within you and feel it quickly fade away, for it can not exist in your presence. That is, it cannot exist in your acceptance of this moment.