I have a very rocky relationship with my understanding of the spiritual ideas of “surrender” and “letting go” in regard to what they actually mean in a practical day to day way. I have talked before about how, to me, it often seems that in taking particular (mostly bastardised) Buddhist ideas to their conclusions, it would lead you to the suggestion that the best thing is to”just give up”.
It feels to me, that ultimately these sort of teachings purport that to be happy, you must give up on your ambitions, your goals, your dreams, your drives, your whatevers. The cause of your suffering and my suffering is our desires for life to be better or different from what it actually is. We should let go of the craving and the struggle to be somewhere else, instead of contentment where we are.
I believe these sort of thoughts mostly stem from the much touted idea that everything is illusion. The only way out of this illusion is the removal of our equally unreal or illusionary graspings and cravings. These drives or cravings, it is suggested, are the sole cause of our “suffering”. Depending on the source, they keep us in some sort of trap, bind us to a cycle of death and rebirth, or contain us in a circle of perpetuating karma. All agree they make us unhappy.
I don’t buy it.
There is also a popular analogy that says you should stop swimming upstream and instead, go downstream with the natural flow of the river. It sounds good, but what does that really mean? Is wanting a better job, promotion or a happy marriage swimming upstream? Does following your ambitions mean you are swimming against or with the flow of the river? How can you actually tell what is the true direction you should be swimming? How do you know you aren’t just indulging yourself? Life doesn’t seem to get any easier whatever way you swim so how exactly are you meant to judge your direction?
Ultimately, I haven’t ever had a satisfactory answer to the question: “What does not grasping, craving or struggling actually look like in a day to day life?”
Does this lack of grasping extend to say, being hungry and wanting to eat? Is hunger a form of grasping that is leading to my suffering? It can’t be, right? That would be insane, we need to eat to live and all that. But where do we draw the line? Is wanting shelter a form of craving? Is wanting love just a craving to be removed? Are the elements the same for everyone?
Does accepting things as they are and not desiring them to be different imply that you must give up any forceful or froward action or intent on your part?
The answer usually given is something along the lines of “do your best but don’t get annoyed if it doesn’t work out”, which to my ears is a very different idea than the end of craving or desiring, and seems like a sanitised cop out for people who don’t really want to stop desiring their live to be different. I also don’t think it’s actually really possible to do. If you are genuinely passionate about something, how can you possibly not care if it doesn’t work out?
My answer is – I don’t think that is what it is all about. I don’t think living passively, without passions, goals, ambitions or the self instigation of change would bring happiness. I don’t think “giving up on life” is what the Buddha meant at all.
So, if that is not what the Buddha is on about, what is it? Well, in my opinion (YMMV), I think a better way to look at what causes suffering would be to use the word Resistance rather than desiring, craving or whatever we want to call that “thing”. Labelling it resistance flips it on it’s head – rather than wanting your life it be different, you are resisting the way it is.
I have often told people that I don’t really get any results from Meditation other than the occasional sore back. But it’s not really true. While I don’t get the states, ecstasies or insights that a lot of people do, I have noticed that I am aware of how I think a lot more these days. I have started to really see how resistance appears in my mental process.
And, it seems I resist life an awful lot. In my mind I try to control events, people, outcomes, ideas, politics, you name it. I resist the way things are and spend a lot of time thinking about how I could change them. This can physically feel like a tightening of the mind – like my mental outlook becomes narrower. I can really feel it in my body too – my muscles tense, I even notice how often my hands get tight when I think. The physical muscles release usually ends the thought process.
By resistance I mean that I am pushing things away from me mentally and not letting them in. In a strange NLP way I do actually see them further away from me than thoughts I like. I have a boundary and a lot of mental energy is used to keep all resisted things at bay.
I spend way, WAY more time on mentally trying to stop or battle things than I do trying to create better things.
So, I have now tried to stop that. In my mind I let things happen. I don’t engage them and I don’t resist or push against them. I allow worries to come close and dissipate. The expression “what you resist-persists” has been proven without a doubt to me at this stage. When I resist an outcome it hangs round on my mind for hours, days, weeks. When I stop resisting it goes away. That’s not to say it never come back – it just means it isn’t a constant companion.
I feel much lighter mentally, My day to day anxiety and stress is massively lowered, my fear of the future is practically gone. I wouldn’t say it has made me “happy” but it has really lessened my suffering.
WHAT DOES NOT RESISTING LOOK LIKE IN DAY TO DAY LIFE?
Let’s say you plan to have a barbecue or outdoor party at the weekend – don’t battle the rain in your head all week long! If your mind wants you to worry about rain, you allow the picture in your head to rain and don’t resist it. Relax your body, if you are like me you’be probably tensed your shoulders, hands or some other muscle. Don’t push the worry away because the opposite will happen. Don’t indulge it either. Just don’t resist it. Don’t try to control or argue with the idea, don’t give it any meaning, but mostly don’t resist it.
(And in the end if it does rain, let it rain, and don’t put any extra meaning into it – Life isn’t out to get you, it’s not that things never work out for you, you aren’t unlucky… it just rained.)
When I meditate now, I just stop resisting. This isn’t the same as trying to clear my mind, or just let it go or anything. I just stop resisting whatever happens. If my mind starts to chatter about something, I allow it – I don’t engage it, I don’t welcome it, I don’t thank it, I don’t ignore it, I don’t get angry at it, and I don’t laugh at it.
I just don’t resist it. It usually goes away and with it my mind view expands and I feel lighter and bigger. There is a physical sensation that accompanies this, that I can only describe as a widening or clearing.
My meditation practice is really starting to bleed more and more into the rest of my life and I am very grateful for that.
Until next time..
15 thoughts on “Resistance is Futile”
Pushing away is pulling in. Those are 2 sides of the same coin. Of holding it.
On the side note, I like your site design, lean and clean but I had to adblock Facebook widget, it causes memory bloat issues on devices with less RAM and makes browsing problematic.
Cheers for that, I don;t think it is of much use anyway, so I’ll just get rid of it.
Really loved this. You explained it so perfectly and simply. Keep bringing it!
Thank you! Delighted.
I enjoyed your description of this experience in consciousness. I think Stoic philosophers would call this “acceptance” of reality. Sometimes acceptance without conditions means that “reality” sucks, sometimes otherwise. Reality is what is experienced in the mindfield. Conditional acceptance is “it’s the worst thing ever that my car has a dent” where the only reality there is “car is dented… exhale…”.
Thanks for that Drew.
I haven’t looked into Stoicism enough, I really should. Any tips on where to start?
Tommie, In Nassim Taleb”s book Antifragile he goes into Stoic philosophy quite a bit. He often mentions it in his blogs etc too….so he might be a good place to start.
Thanks SS, I have actually read Taleb’s books, and loved them. I guess I was asking more where do you start to read the Stoics rather than reading about what other people say about them, if that makes sense.
Of course yes. Makes perfect sense. I seem to remember he listed a set of recommended reading but can’t be sure now. If I remember I’ll take a look and see if I can find it.
Just what I need at the moment. I’m facing a lot of battles right now and it seems resistance is the right word to describe how I’m reacting to events.
Thanks for this.
Glad it helped!
I often have to remind myself that you can only control, that which you can control. Chase your dreams and goals and ambitions! That’s what you’re here for! Just don’t let them consume you, and like the rain example, don’t worry about the rain. Just do what you can, and leave the rest to be.
I too think the secret is in not letting them consume you. Thanks Shin.
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