We’ve been experiencing regular rainfall—so far—this past month, and that means the winds have blown from the southeast at times. It’s startling to gaze out the window and see the river flowing north, against the current, kind of a “what’s wrong with this picture?” puzzle until it’s named and understood.
I couldn’t help but see the metaphor this presented for the resistance, or blocks, we encounter on our journeys through life. Our minds, bodies, and spirits resist change, challenges to our status quo, surprises to our routines, and threats to the directions we’re headed, and our wiser companions (dead and living) consistently invite us to notice our resistance, name it, and move along.
However, I’ve not often encountered the idea that I should honor my resistance, be with it fully and unpack its messages with gratitude before setting out again. Prompted by the river’s seeming ease while flowing in either direction, I’ve been pondering the value of acknowledging my resistance and its partner, denial, with hospitality, rather than responding to them as unpleasant messes I need to scrape off my shoe, quickly purging them from my spirit while apologizing to the Universe for being such a dim-witted gob, before zooming brilliantly on towards enlightenment, unencumbered by such glaring hesitancy.
So many gifts and blessings on our spiritual—and emotional—journey seem to derive from an acceptance of “what is,” a constant adaptability and reframing that, ultimately, lead us to enter the unity of all, and join our energy with that of the Love/Creator generating reality, that I’m not sure why a more gentle handling of our reluctance to take the next step isn’t more greatly emphasized and kindly embraced. She who hesitates may sometimes be found. Discernment shouldn’t be about merely overcoming resistance, but about listening, in stillness, for its wisdom as well.
I’m not advocating Better Living Through Prolonged Avoidance. As a spiritual director, I know that a tight embrace of our denial ultimately leads to illness, a breakdown of the mental, physical, and spiritual health that nurtures our stability and growth. Long years of forcing our minds, bodies, and spirits to conform to beliefs, systems, relationships, and patterns that we’ve outgrown or that were never “true” to begin with causes us to project the shadows ever-outward. Refusing to recognize our complicity in hurting others or ourselves and declining to take responsibility for making peace and asking for forgiveness are forms of denial that are destructive. In a real sense, our health is dis-eased and we’re (often largely unconsciously) infecting the energy around us with our illness as well.
These shadows require a deeply honest encounter, often assisted and guided by a trained professional, for healing to be possible. Without this, we can’t and won’t even recognize and name the “monster” we’re denying to begin with, or our resistance to seeing it for what it really is, and the resulting diminishment of its power—from monster, to human, to only a facet of our multi-dimensional selves—is inhibited.
Instead, I’ve been pondering that initial “No, thanks” we offer to transitions or insights that have been forced upon us, or sometimes even those we desired, worked towards, or chose. Our behavior, practices, and patterns might regress to a time and place we knew to be “safe,” or we might reach for the ice cream instead of the yogurt, or indulge in procrastination rather than productively tackling whatever re-ordering is necessary to adjust to the coming (or already-assuming-residence) change.
We’re far enough along on our life’s journey to be aware that these responses indicate our resistance; we catch ourselves, and…
What then? Do we berate ourselves for back-paddling? Do we feel like spiritual losers and shame ourselves for not embracing transformation and gliding peacefully into the offered enlightenment without missing a beat? Do we call ourselves names other than Beloved?
I think we do, and too often.
Instead, I wonder if we should welcome and embrace our resistance as a necessary partner on our journey, a wisdom voice we ignore at our peril and an integral stage of authentic transformation. Resistance can offer a kind of respite, like winnowing through our possessions before moving to a new home, pulling off the road when we’re too tired to continue driving, or taking a “mental health” day to renew our spirits. It’s as though we’re saying, “I need to mend, or re-weave my tapestry here; I need to gather more information about where I’ve been and who I’ve become before I step back into “becoming” with mindfulness.”
Usually, after a day or two flowing north, the river shifts and runs true to her orientation. What I’ve noticed is that either way, she flows peacefully along; she doesn’t seem corrupted or disturbed when the winds blow her northward. Neither, perhaps, should we resist our resistance, but instead welcome the lessons it has come to share.