Resistance is your friend

pehlivanlarEvery month my colleague Anne Fullerton and I host a Women & Power conference call for women who have attended one of our retreats. This particular circle of wise women has been coming together via phone for almost a year and a half now. Each month, we explore a particular topic that is emerging for the group and last night’s topic was resistance.

Curiously, the topic emerged on the heels of inquiring into passion. Resistance and passion, we discovered, are inexorably—and annoyingly—connected. So to serve our commitment to a more passionate, purposeful life, our circle of women dove wholeheartedly into passion’s counterpart.

‘It’s such a puzzle…’ said one member, ‘…sometimes resistance comes as an intuitive knowing that I should not do something. And sometimes resistance asserts itself between me and something that I should do, or even want to do, like work out, take time off, or journal.’

We hate resistance. It’s uncomfortable. It’s a puzzle. And when it stubbornly plants itself on our doorstep, many of us blame ourselves, judge ourselves and muscle ourselves through it. We tell ourselves we’re lazy or stupid and to just get on with it. We call ourselves cowards and failures. We say we’re bad friends, or terrible parents, or incapable of commitment.

So the women’s circle decided to do something bold. For one month they invited resistance in, and took the time to explore it completely through the lens of unconditional inquiry: What is resistance? When does it come? How long does it stay? What does it require? Why is it there? Is it just some kind of pathology, or is it a messenger? Should we trust it, or crush it?

After a month, here’s what we discovered: there is an invitation inside all resistance—to wrestle with it. Resistance is neither good nor bad, it is a doorway created to make us pause, wait, reflect and question. If you are willing to heed its invitation, then it will provide you with deeper insight into all manner of things.

Sometimes it makes us pause and discover that we don’t need to do something, or it is not in our best interest to do it. I recently committed myself to facilitating a workshop with several other people. I love my work. I love facilitating dialog. But for some reason, I found myself increasingly resistant to doing this particular workshop.

At first I berated myself, ‘Oh, you are just feeling intimidated by the topic; stop it!’ ‘You’re just a loser; you just want to sabotage yourself.’ Then I went into my own private version of spiritual conspiracy theory, ‘Something terrible is going to happen at the retreat and you are sensing it…cancel it!’ or my personal favorite ‘Your plane is going to crash.’

After spending some time with it, and discussing the above scenarios with a mentor friend, she said, ‘Or….it could be something else entirely.’

‘Like what,’ said I, in an accusatory tone of disbelief.

‘You could just be exhausted,’ she said succinctly.

I started to cry. She was right. It had been an enormously emotionally taxing winter and I had yet to catch my breath and recalibrate my life. The workshop was scheduled in a particular window between my children’s school holidays, and it was a possibility for some rare solitude me-time. Just the idea of several days off made my mouth water.

I resigned from my facilitation post and took the time instead.

Sometimes resistance gives us insight into other helpful information. Like when we resist things we love.

My favorite thing in this entire world is taking my horse Artemis out for a long ride in the mountains. And guess what I resist most? You got it, taking Artemis out for long rides in the mountains. So, instead of judging myself as entitled, lazy, no longer passionate, or pathological, I spent some time with it. I discovered that it is not the time or the riding per se that I am resistant to. It is the fact that I hold myself to such high standards when I ride. How silly is that? My resistance was an doorway to discovering a hidden habit of self-criticism, and an opportunity to heal it.

No more resistance to rides in the mountains.

If you think about exercise, the principle of resistance is important. Resistance training works by causing microscopic damage or tears to the muscle cells, which in turn are quickly repaired by the body to help the muscles regenerate and grow stronger. The breakdown of the muscle fiber is called “catabolism,” and the repair and re-growth of the muscle tissue is called “anabolism.”

Anabolic means to grow, and that’s exactly what happens after you break down the muscle fibers with resistance exercise. In fact, many biological processes of growth in the body require some breakdown, or catabolism, prior to re-growth. For instance, bones must be broken down first before calcium and other growth factors repair the bone and make it stronger.

So, resistance in our life helps us grow and become stronger. It breaks down our plans, our beliefs, and our preconceived ideas so that we can be better. So that we can live better. If we embrace it as an essential personal development mechanism, available to us as a means to pause over, to wrestle with, and emerge from with new insights, then life becomes more magical.

But if we try to muscle through it, berating ourselves along the way, then we miss how life supports us to grow and become wiser.

Next time you are resistant to anything, drop what you are doing (or not doing, or dreading doing, or forcing yourself to do) and hang out with it for a while. And then take it by the hand and hit the mat. It’s your wrestling buddy sent to bring you a gift.

(with much thanks to Linda, Marilyn, Betsy, Hilary and Cheryl)

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