The pain caused by resisting is a pointless pain. So unnecessary. What if we were spared that? What a great blanket of misery would be lifted from life, which can be hard enough without that suffocating burden laid over it.
It’s worthwhile to look at the anatomy of resistance. When somebody becomes aware of the option not to resist what is here, real, occurring . . . that awareness includes the recognition that resistance is deliberately (if unconsciously) done. When the light starts to come on, the choice unconsciously made is starting to become conscious. This is the radical discovery, no small thing: that what feels like an inevitable response (balking, denying, frustrated anger, etc., etc.) is actually not inevitable. The negativity we want to believe is inherent to the life development (as if there could be no other possible response) becomes subject to questioning. The radical opening is toward the insight that in fact option is at play.
Resistance requires some prior assumption, or wish, that a certain thing will (or won’t) happen.
When you discover that resistance is not inevitable, and you begin to explore the depth of suffering it engenders, then the other option comes alive. The matter of how acceptance opens the door to peaceful well-being — regardless of what life is dishing out — becomes increasingly vivid.
The question of whether or not the preferred thing has taken place becomes blessedly irrelevant, in terms of the condition of your inner state.
But there’s more, a lot more, and this more is worth exploring in your own experience.
After the discovery of choice has come alive for a person accustomed to knee-jerk resistance, what typically happens is that the reality of option will be viscerally felt, on some occasions, in the moment when the habitual resistance tries to start up. The engine begins to rev, and then you notice that creepy familiar feeling of tension in the body. You hear your mind muttering, and maybe your mouth. The fact that you are noticing these familiar patterns means a light has come on. You’re noticing the pointless rigidity, feeling how it actually hurts. You’re observing how you are, in effect, wrestling with reality, trying to get it to be different from what it is. You’re seeing, maybe, the madness of the wasted effort.
Choice blossoms like a lotus. You reverse course, go soft, let unwind the terrible knot, the pushing-against. You say, quietly, Yes, it is so.
This is a two-step phenomenon. First you begin to resist. Then, because of the discomfort caused by resistance, the light comes on. You let go into reality, and rest comes. Two steps: push > surrender; tighten > relax.
But it may not be this way forever. You need the two steps only as a self-teaching device. Once the learning has occurred, you may wake up one day to realize there are no more two steps. That the habit of resistance, as the default, has unlearned itself. Acceptance has become the default. (Surely at this point you will have noticed that you are suffering much less than before.)
In a person to whom resistance doesn’t occur at all, what is the state of mind, the condition in the body, that enables the environment of ongoing soft receptivity to reality? What is there, or what is missing, in such a person, that means resistance doesn’t start up in the first place?
Here is the juicy part. We are moving toward exploring a deeper process, looking at a kind of suffering that (while more subtle) probably takes up more space, more weight and effort, than all the accumulated episodes of blunt resistance — the million times you’ve pitched a fit, groused, raged, obsessed over something that’s occurred. This more subtle (but all-pervasive) suffering has to do with how people constantly prepare the ground for resistance. Take a look at the set-up that makes resisting well-nigh inevitable. And you don’t even notice yourself doing it.
It’s all got to do with assuming you know what’s going to happen (or what’s not going to happen). It’s about expectation, about hope. About attachment to a particular outcome.
All of which, fundamentally, has to do with wanting to be in control. With predictability, the desire to know what’s ahead (and what’s not).
This is how the trap is set for inevitable resistance. It’s why there’s this current of anxiety running below so much of ordinary life, what accounts for the vigilance that attends our dealings, the radar alert to trouble, instability, danger. It’s about the forward-moving momentum we fuel steadily, as if urging forward were necessary for anything to ever happen.
We don’t like acknowledging the ongoingness of uncertainty, the vast force of chaos in which we live our lives. So we feed ourselves expectation, assumption, and hope. This is how we unconsciously set ourselves up to resist, later on. In order for things to change — for acceptance to become the comfortable norm — this prior trap-setting must become subject to conscious noticing. We constantly don’t know what’s around the corner, so we make ourselves tense (subtly or dramatically) with imagining that (say) the car will start, the plane will land, the house will stand, the job will hold, the milk won’t spill, the bulb will stay illumined, the accident won’t happen, the lover will remain loyal, the icy sidewalk won’t cause a slip and a broken bone.
A person without expectation cannot be caught off-guard. Or startled. Or go into resistance. Resistance requires some prior assumption, or wish, that a certain thing will (or won’t) happen. What if you are in an uninterrupted acknowledgment of not-knowing, not-controlling? It’s not an acknowledgment that’s mental. Though if the intelligent mind is consulted, it will see the truth of the radical and ongoing uncertainty that is the human condition. It will be unable to deny the brevity and changeability of every scrap of life.
But the deep recognition of not-knowing is a visceral thing, felt in the bone. When there is a beat of the heart, it is felt there, in the beat. It is experienced in the breath. Given this deep recognition, there will not be resistance, nor even the two-step sort of acceptance, starting with the initial impulse to push against.
Spiritual adept, beware: It doesn’t work to start to resist and then (with your mind) to remind yourself that you aren’t in control. The part where you hoped to be in control occurred long before the episode of resistance. What we’re looking at here is how the ground was prepared for (well in advance of) the episode of resistance. This is a really good place to notice how spiritual knowledge can be misapplied (backwards!?!), how it can keep illusion going.
This isn’t about becoming indifferent to outcome or ceasing to have preferences. It’s about ceasing to be attached to your preference. It’s about letting yourself deeply acknowledge how little control and predictability there is, and to stop grasping for the dream of these things.
Now, the strangeness is . . . Why does this absence of assumption, expectation, and hope amount to a peaceful condition, when it might look like a recipe for rampant fear?
Somewhere along the line, it has registered at an elemental level that your inner state needn’t be subject to the balls pitched by life. That’s one piece of it. Why fear life, or try fruitlessly to control it? But there’s another thing, maybe more radical, or at least more surprising.
The truest heart of a human being is completely at home in the presence of the real (without regard for whether the real is “positive” or “negative”). When we are aligned with reality, without wishing it were different, without filtering it through a story (about meaning, good/bad, whatever), then we are at peace. Regardless of the circumstances. Being aligned with what-is is one way of understanding nonduality. You aren’t separate from life. In order to resist, it’s necessary first to (artificially) distance yourself from life. Hence the pain.
Something in us has known right along that we are not in control, the future being one big blank of the absence of what can be predicted or managed. The reality of the radical absence of control is something the deepest part of us aches to rest in. We’ve always known about the unpredictability, the limit on our power to shape what’s ahead. The ego hates this, finding it extremely threatening, and works very hard to deny it, to wrest the illusion of control wherever it can be pitifully assembled via toothpicks and spit and tissue paper.
But see, if you don’t consult the ego — if instead you let the bottom-level knowing rise up in your bones like warm water — you will become at last friendly with radical uncertainty, and will be able, finally, to radically rest. You’ll be able to never again resist, or get caught off-guard; to never again anticipate or feel anxious or vigilant, or cling to a desired outcome.
Imagine the relief. How very lightly you will travel. No longer will life be your adversary.