Resistance as a Guide


I was intrigued by the fact that you put RESISTANCE and RESILIENCE in the same sentence!

We need resistance

Resistance as a guide. We discovered that most of us feel similarly toward the topic, equating resistance with struggle, tension; being stuck, unable to move forward. Resistance reminds us of difficult situations, illness, frustration . . . And we think about people we interact with, finding them resistant to us, or ourselves resistant toward them.

But we know that resistance is inevitable in life. In fact, we need resistance. In the same way that an electrical current requires resistance in order to transform energy, we can use our awareness of what we are resisting — or what is reisting us — to learn and grow. And resistance can inform us about what our next best step might be. When we are unaware, however, we can expend a lot of energy on resistance in unskillful ways.

How can we use resistance as a guide?

This month we used resistance as a touchstone to engage our awareness. We tapped into our ability to use the resistance we feel to find openings, to move closer to our desired presence.

The first exercise, The Wrist Grab, revealed the typical line-up of nervous system reactions: fight, flight and freeze. One participant found themselves pushing back, resisting the resistance and bouncing back against the force (fight). Resisting in this way built tension and emotional hardening. Another participant stiffened and pulled away, also resistant to the impact but with a different reaction (flight). And yet another found himself unable to move a muscle (freeze): “I was really intrigued by how quickly the body reacts. I see that’s my tendency when I feel resistance.”

Softening into resistance

What happened when we took the next step and softened in the face of resistance?

We were reminded of the powerful impact our stories can have: softening felt like a weakness, a giving in to something, or someone. For another, softening brought the energy down, her shoulders released and her heart opened. Softening resulted in feeling less scared, as she did during resistance, and more tender toward the situation. Softening diminished the conflict.

Another participant realized that by “giving in” the confrontation had disappeared. But she remarked:

The struggle is gone, but no problems get solved like that. Even when I just think about it, I can feel the tension in my body.

Increasing awareness

This is exactly why we do in these labs: to practice under what Wendy Palmer calls “low grade threat”; to become aware of our patterns. In this case, to notice how the tension builds, and then to invite more softness. Even when we just think about a situation where we are resistant and soften, we increase our self awareness in the moment and increase choice.

During The Wall exercise we found resistance manifested in the form of gritting our teeth, wanting to push through no matter what. The physical tension of one participant rose from her legs to her lower back, then to her arms and torso and resulted in a sense of strong determination with her whole body+mind onboard. Another felt strong but also increasingly empty, with tense shoulders and shaky muscles.

One of the beauties of these monthly explorations is the variation amongst us. We come to understand more fully the uniqueness of our experiences, both between us and within ourselves, as well. Our culture, environment, temperament and mood all play a role in how we experience the world and how the world experiences us.

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Centering in the face of resistance

During the second part of The Wall exercise, we discovered that centering in the face of resistance altered our experience. One of the participants became overcome with the sense that she would never be able to “move” the wall: “I felt extreme loneliness, a tremendous sorrow; helplessness in not knowing how to move the wall, that it would never move.”

In response, another participant reflected that perhaps there was over emphasis on the “other” — the wall — and not enough on the embodied experience:

What would it be like to focus less on the wall and more on how you are experiencing it in your body?

Communicating our experiences enables us to learn from others and for others to learn from us. Our unique makeup provides us with insight that is impossible for anyone else to have in that particular way.

For another participant the exercise resulted in greater self-awareness: “When I aligned in the face of resistance it allowed me to become aware of my emotions. Instead of trying to push through the situation, I realized that I actually felt quite sad about it.”

And yet another realized that simply being connected to the situation without resisting allowed her to use less energy, she could even rest: “I could be in the situation but also rest. Use the wall both to remain standing and to give in. I don’t have to stop engaging to use less energy.”

Changing the relationship

We can expend a lot of energy in resistance mode. By realigning we find that our relationship to the situation changes, we may discover that we actually don’t care about the situation, or that we care and want to keep moving ahead despite the resistance. But the perspective shift itself changes our relationship to it, making the situation easier to work with even though it’s stressful.

In the first exercise I was determined and forceful. After aligning I had an increased sense of calm strength, more whole, less effort . . . a sense of natural assertion. I was there by choice.

Engaging in new ways

Embodied exploration allows us to engage in new ways . . . “I was playing with connecting and softening. I recognized that whatever is going on with that person is not directly related to me. I could stand back and be more objective, not take it so personally.” “I kept asking myself, ‘Why are you still pushing?!?’ It was hard to soften and just be there. It is really unnatural for me to NOT do something!”

Curiosity and attention are all that is required to increase our embodied awareness! As we become more aware of what is happening in our body we can realign and connect to ourselves, which opens us to choice, to our ability to respond rather than react.

What a great hour! Thank you all that joined. Looking forward to next month!

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