Learning from Resistance

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This week I’ve been dealing with some fretful stuff. We’re thinking about making some big practical changes in our life that start with putting our house on the market. We’ve lived here for fourteen plus years now and there’s a lot to do to make that happen; I’ve been feeling overwhelmed practically and emotionally.

I’m a member of Jennifer Louden‘s The Writer’s Oasis, which is (among other things) a weekly webinar about life and growth and taking care and writing. This month Jen has been talking about Pleasure and Freedom and her weekly email had this to say:

“Is there pleasure even here?”

It’s a variation of a question I learned from Mark Silver, business healer, master Sufi teacher, and a dear friend who asks, “Is there love even here?”

Is there pleasure even here?

I asked while I was sick and sure enough, yes there was pleasure even here. The cool sheets against my face, the breeze from the fan, the heating pad under my neck; so much pleasure even here when my stomach was roiling and my head was throbbing.

from Jennifer Louden’s July 24, 2019 The Writer’s Oasis newsletter

I thought on Jen’s question, “Is there pleasure even here?” and the first thing I felt was resistance. No! There is no pleasure here! It’s all terrible, it’s all awful, it’s all too much! My initial reaction was to hold tight to my displeasure in defiance of any effort to make me feel better.

It used to be that when I felt this way about anything I’d dismiss the advice out of hand. Or else I’d push through anyway, try to force myself to make it fit only to eventually fail and use that as another way to batter myself for being so difficult.

What I’ve learned is that resistance itself is a wonderful teacher so I thought I’d write about that first and then over the next entry or two explore why the question “Is there pleasure even here?” might be difficult for those of us trying to not be our mothers.

So first? Resistance! How it’s actually part of growth and change and progress even if doesn’t usually feel that way.

Reframe your resistance

Maybe Jen’s question doesn’t call up resistance for you. Is there another place where you’re feeling frustrated? What other goals are you struggling with? Think of them and think of your resistance.

Your resistance is the part of you that blocks change. It’s the part that throws up its hands in despair and tells you not to try, not to bother. It’s the part of you that throws an internal fit and refuses to make way.

Instead of seeing your resistance as a barrier to answering the question “Is there pleasure even here?” or to creating other change let’s look at your resistance as the point. There is so much to learn in what’s blocking us. Listening to resistance is such a terrific way to grow because understanding what gets in the way is part of the way.

In other words, not being able to answer the question “Is there pleasure even here?” is part of the dang answer. You may still be frustrated with yourself but trust me, if you’re willing to hang out there in that frustration and look around a bit, you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to do.

Before we go any further

Let’s picture a path and picture a barrier. Before we start hacking through the wilderness or building a bridge to cross the raging river or digging through the snowbank barring our way, we need to know the lay of the land. No one would fault an explorer for stopping and assessing the landscape, right? No, because that’s what a responsible explorer would do.

You’re on a journey and you need to know your climate. You need to have an idea if this is a one-off blockade or signs of things to come. You need to pick out your tools and get them ready.

Get curious (and toss the judgment)

Stop where the resistance starts and really let yourself feel it. Are you angry? Or sad? Or fearful? Or guilty? What emotions are simmering under that knee jerk “no” that came up for you? Don’t push through, just stop exactly there and really pay attention to all the feelings coming up.

Can you locate where the resistance lives in your body? Do you feel it in your gut? In your neck? Has your posture changed? Does it make you tired just thinking about it or do you feel revved up and energized, ready to fight?

These are the kinds of things I might notice in session with a client, how their shoulders creep up to their ears while we talk or how they fold their arms or cross their legs as we edge further into the topic. Does their voice change — start to get tight or start to shake? Remember what I said about getting small; now’s the time to get microscopic.

What does this particular feeling of resistance remind you of? When have you felt it before? What seemingly disconnected memories or thoughts come up for you? Go ahead and go on a tangent (journaling is great here but talking out loud or to a really good listener — the kind who won’t leap forward with advice — can be a help, too). What can you learn by staying right here?

Your resistance is not the enemy

You might be used to beating yourself up for not being better at stuff but we’re changing that up as of now. Now we know that being better at stuff is a process and that it’s OK to hang out here for a minute while you get perspective. Congratulations on being change in progress! You’re on your way!

Whatever emotions you have, whatever feelings are driving that resistance, they need some care. So stop right here and just acknowledge that you’ve got some feelings coming up and pay some attention to them.

Sometimes all your resistance will need is that attention and validation. Just recognizing it as a valid response that you’re allowed to have may give you room to stop having it. (Validation is magic that way.)

And sometimes your resistance is a signpost that you have other things to work on first. Which is why over the next blog post or two I’ll talk specifically why a question as seemingly innocuous as “Is there pleasure even here?” might be too hard for someone who is trying not to be her mother. At least at first.

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