In my recent book I wrote in detail about my physical, mental, and spiritual transformation, an awakening of sorts, although that word feels a little cliché and over-used, sounding a little too complete, as if I have awakened and I can lean back, cross my arms behind my head, put up my feet, and take a long sigh because, “I’m done! Phew! Glad that’s over, now I can rest here in my awakened lovely state…”
*screeching sound of a car coming to a halt*
Not so fast… I might be more awake, but there is more awakening to be had – isn’t there always? Self examination continues, unraveling self-imposed, culturally-reinforced conditioning, reaching uncharted territory.
Yes, the road of self examination continues. An inevitable part of of any journey is obstacles. On the path to self examination and eventual discovery there is always this unfortunate yet necessary thing called resistance.
“Kites rise highest against the wind, not with it.” ~Winston Churchill
what is resistance?
Imagine for a moment, people around you are suddenly plagued with a sore throat, fever, chills, dry hacking cough, often followed by an overwhelming feeling that’s a bit like, “Oh no! It’s coming for ME!” and then followed by, “NO, I do not want this!” (resistance). Then, you wake up in the morning and the inevitable has happened, your throat feels like razor blades when you swallow. You furiously wished it wasn’t going to happen to you – and now you fight this thing angrily thinking again, “but I don’t want this”. This is about the simplest example of resistance I can think of.
Self-imposed road blocks
Resistance, in the context of this article, is a word I use to describe a feeling when I have hit something (figuratively), much like a road block which stops me from progressing and growing past the place where I am. These road blocks provide protection against a perceived threat, but often these threats are just illusions, like the ever present fear of the unknown. These blocks are often our body’s way of just wanting to keep doing what we have always done. Resistance is usually a self-imposed road block that we put in place to resist becoming the new person we know we can be. It’s human to resist change, and it might even be a survival instinct.
A natural part of the journey
Along my journey I expected the resistance along my path to disappear because I didn’t allow resistances to have power, I sensed I was gaining control over resistance, because I was more mature (maybe even above it), because I was finally in the natural “flow” of my life (so why would resistance pop up?).
I often thought, isn’t flow a sign that you are right where you are supposed to be? Well, yes and no. Flow happens more easily when you accept the present moment, when you embrace peace, when you stop letting fear own you, and when you rest in a place of security. It’s a phenomenon that I have experienced first hand and it’s real; the part I hadn’t realized is that resistance is still a part of the process, that these road blocks are a part of the drive. I am not mad about it, but I admit that I think it kinda sucks.
We are spiritual beings on the search for expansion and evolution. For a lobster to shed its shell (referred to as molting) it must go through quite a bit of resistance. For a flower to burst through the soil it must face the resistance of the soil, ironically, the very thing nourishing it. For a baby to come into this world- you get the picture, I will spare the gory details on this one. The bottom line, as a growing and expanding BE-ing we must face resistance and not expect it to be absent from our lives as we evolve. Births are always a little painful and yet always worth it in the end.
A signal to Let go
Sometimes resistance can signal the need to let go of a belief that might no longer serve you. Like, for example, in the health and fitness world many of us believed that fat was unhealthy; once I began reading information and educating myself about the importance of fat in my diet I began to challenge myself to eat fat again. But after years of feeling that fat was “bad”, when I began to include fat in my diet again I faced resistance, this resistance felt like doubt, hesitation and/or fear.
In North America, women face a conditioning from both themselves and our culture, perpetuating the notion that to be healthy, sexy, or even to have basic worthiness they must be slim. I do not agree with this, and yet at times I face these road blocks of resistance myself, the conditioning creeps in and I find myself looking in the mirror, examining my body as if it’s an object in need of improvement, instead of seeing my body as the incredible, loyal vessel that it is, to all of the experiences I have been and will be, gifted with.
Strategies to crushing Resistance
Often when it comes to resistance, just being aware of the blockage is enough to make it disappear. But if it isn’t then I’ve provided some strategies below that might help.
Whatever strategy you choose in dealing with resistance, please don’t run. Ever. If you run, if you turn around and go back from where you came, you are merely grasping at the person you were, trading in the person you can be and certainly the person you want to be. You are good enough as you are, you don’t need to change but change is calling your name, why deny the you that is trying to come out?
Ask questions, stay curious
When you notice resistance popping up, the first step is to ask questions, like, “What is this feeling and what is stopping me from moving past this?”, or “What am I afraid of here?”, or “What is this feeling I have?” Like Brené Brown suggests, stay curious – she is always right!
Resist the urge to protest
When you face resistance, you might feel the need to add your own external resistance to the mix. It’s like when you get sick, instead of letting your body heal, you feel stubborn about giving into the illness and accepting it, you take on too much as if in denial of the very thing that is happening. Have you fallen victim to this? Adding external resistance is like seeing a road block and adding 10 more in front of it out of fear of moving past the barrier. It makes no sense. Resisting the urge to protest is big.
If you have read my book you know that I am no stranger to perpetuating my own resistance- for me this took life in the form of fear. Fear of not being good enough, fear of not being kind enough, fear of… you get the picture. For you it could be cynicism, anger, or any host of creations you add to the mix.
These obstacles are like protests against your own change. Don’t do this! Don’t add more layers of fear, more stories about why this new version of you cannot come into fruition, like maybe you aren’t deserving, like maybe you don’t have it in you, like maybe you are too old to change, too young to change, too broke to change…
Finish this sentence to look for clues: I could grow if only it wasn’t for…. The answer to that question is likely the added layer of resistance (the protest) – it’s probably not even the resistance itself.
What you resist persists
A good way to deal with resistance is to embrace it. Just like when you get sick, don’t resist it –allow it. “What you resist persists” – I have been hearing this cool mantra buzzing around lately and I love it! Embrace the phase of resistance with the knowledge that when you feel resistance, you are just at the finish line of growth, this is the ribbon at the end of the marathon, the break-through, and then you are free- at least until the next ribbon (see what I meant when I said it kinda sucks?)
These obstacles are the very entrance of the next growth period, like the seed pushing past the soil; when we feel the discomfort of resistance we must lean into it.
self compassion is a must
You can’t attempt to disturb any internal blockage without practicing self-compassion. In these moments I remind myself saying, I am not this resistance, this is just a trapped fear or emotion. I am not my thoughts, I am so much greater than this. Just like dust might be found on a window sill, dust is not a part OF the window sill, it can be cleaned off. Sure, you might be afraid, fear might be present in you, but fear is not you.
During these times, practice good self-care. Don’t be too focused on the resistance, just a few minutes a day is often enough. Take breaks. Practice mindfulness to draw your attention away from the road block. Sometimes acknowledging the road block and then asking the question is enough for you to move past it. Don’t be harsh on yourself and don’t be judgmental of yourself- that is not helpful. Remind yourself that everyone has resistance, and everyone is on the same path. You aren’t alone here.
Observe from a safe space
Once you have asked the questions and noticed the road block, notice what is popping up, observe with curiosity the stories that are circling in your mind about why you can’t move past this. Observe, keep asking, stay in the moment; for me resistance usually lasts a few days but for some it can be years. Ask yourself what it might look like if you move past this. Ask yourself what it might feel like if you just gave into this, if you gave into the fear; what you might miss out on by giving in. For example, if you give into the sickness and just accept it, the very thing we often resist, does it stay? No, it disappears with time and acceptance.
Ask, “What would it feel like if I let go of this thought?”, or “What would it feel like if this road block were gone and what would I do differently?”
To face resistance, I stay in it and I lean in gently, not in a pushy way but in a curious kind of way. I keep asking and I keep silent so that I can hear the answer. For example, when I feared walking into my first yoga class, I felt I wanted to go, I felt the resistance pop up, I could feel an obstacle of my own creating stopping me from being the person I wanted to be (in this case a yogi). I observed the road block, I asked, “What is this?” and the answers came in an instant: “You aren’t slim enough!”, “You aren’t flexible enough!”, “You aren’t spiritual enough!” I knew as soon as I got the answers that these were road blocks of my own making perpetuated by the culture around me. I knew these were lies but I still was overcome by FEAR and it stopped me from being the person I wanted to be. Then I asked the hard question, “What would I look like if this road block wasn’t in front of me?” It would look like me walking into a yoga class and doing yoga for MY body, not for any of the potential onlookers. Of course, once I took the plunge, yoga ended up being a safe space of others just like me and now, fast forward a few years, and I don’t know what my life would be without this sacred practice. I molted, like a lobster, and it was worth it.
a little goes a long way
When it comes to resistance I like to think of the old school game Ker Plunk, clear plastic tube filled with marbles and a bunch of sticks below the marbles which prevent the marbles from dropping. The sticks resemble resistance and the marbles resemble the new you; the sticks (resistances) are stopping the new you (marbles) from emerging. The good news is you never have to get rid of ALL the resistance to proceed past the road block; taking just a few of the sticks out allows the marbles to pass. For example, when I finally pushed past the fear and went to my first yoga class, I was still fearful, there was still some resistance, but I got rid of enough “sticks” to move past and attend the class.
ACT AND TEST
The final step is to act as if the resistance is gone. As you act it will become clear if the resistance is gone, or if you still have work to do. Once it’s gone you’ll know it because you’ll look back and say, “I grew! Look at me!”, and it should feel a little lighter.
At times, resistance is like a clogged pipe – once the pipe clears you feel a gush of “flow”. Other times, however, it’s much subtler and feels like more of a trickle than a gush, you barely notice it and then, when you do notice it, you become filled with a sense of pride.
Often when I unknowingly let go of some resistance, I don’t even know I am doing it until I take a moment to reflect on, and look back at, the previous versions of myself. I have been practicing yoga religiously for a few years now; often I don’t feel like I am learning and then I do a pose and reflect on the abilities of my body, realizing my tree pose (or any pose) looks stronger or deeper than it did before, realizing I grew and evolved!
Repeat, repeat, repeat
And then… Bump!
Wait a minute, what is this now? Oh man another road block. And so, the cycle begins again…
Oh, and if you think your expansion and growth ends at a certain age, think again. I spend a lot of time with seniors and I continually observe their growth. Life doesn’t let go of its persuasion of personal growth and expansion, no matter how late in the game we may be.