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Yes. It’s true. You may ask, "How is inspiration and cleaning my room linked?" Well, it goes something like this: (read more...)
- I'm minding my own business when a super idea drops into my lap.
- The idea manifests before my eyes like a time-lapsed video of flowers growing and blooming.
- Great jolts of enthusiasm, excitement, and creativity outpour into my notebook.
- I sit down to actually take steps to create this idea.
- I suddenly experience an uncontrollable urge, desire, and mania to clean my room from top to bottom instead.
Anyone else been bitten by the excitement bug, got all revved up to create, only to find yourself piddling on anything and everything to AVOID IT?
I tell you, this one dupes me more often than I’d like to admit. But that’s why I’m thankful for awareness practice. I get to see over and over again how I am fooled so that eventually (eventually), over time, I start to catch on to the set up coming sooner and sooner until eventually (eventually) I see it attempt to redirect my attention (“you must clean the room, Alex”), laugh at it, say “Ha! Nice try! No dice! I ain’t buyin’ it!” and continue laughing as I refocus my attention on the course I was originally taking.
I’m reminded of a conversation I had recently with a stranger I met while I was out on my weekend walks. He was a friendly older gentleman out strolling with his puppy. During our conversation, he eventually confided in me that he was going away to Florida for the winter and couldn’t take his puppy with him due to the rare medical issues she had. He said he didn’t know what he was going to do. Being a big dog lover, on the tip of my brain popped up the phrase, “If you can’t find anyone to care for your puppy, I’d be happy to walk her, feed her, and play with her.” But that never came out of my mouth. At the end of our conversation, he introduced himself to me, shook my hand, and they both walked off.
Jerry and Cassie. I still remember their names.
So what happened? Simple – I got talked out of it. Who knows what would have happened, but one thing is for sure – I’ll never know. I’m where I am right here/right now as a result of similar situations in which I said or didn’t say something, did or didn’t do something.
In the cosmic picture, all is perfectly fine as it is. How do I know that? Because it is what it is. I know there’s no alternate reality in which I am walking and playing with Cassie everyday.
And yet I think what strikes me about this incident is that I know in my heart-of-hearts that I was poised to “take a shot” but didn’t. And quite a rather harmless shot at that. Wayne Gretzky (a famous hockey player) was quoted to have said:
You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
What’s ironic about it is that we are all taking shots ALL THE TIME. It’s just a matter of looking to see which goal I’m shooting the puck into! In a broader spiritual context, am I shooting toward freedom? Or am I shooting toward suffering?
I look around my room at the half-cleaned state it’s in now and know that at the sudden awareness of what choice I was making (to avoid the impulse I had to create), I chose to make a different one. That’s why this article on resistance exists.
I am grateful for similar awarenesses and practice daily to take the difficult shots. Are they guarded well by resistance? You bet they are! That’s why there’s resistance – the return on acting on them is so high!
Some refer to spiritual practice as “the warrior’s path” and I think that’s what they are pointing to. That’s why there are images of the Buddha being seduced by Mara or Jesus in the desert being tempted by the devil.
I never know where acting on insights will lead me. But they have always been worth it. They have been the springboard for more insights. And for that, I am grateful.
What difficult shots are you being talked out of taking? Which of the easiest ones can you act on today just to see what happens?
Please leave your comments below.
I knew soon after publishing the merits of meditation that I needed to follow up with how to deal with resistance. For if meditation is the number one game changer, then resistance is the number one ANTI-game changer. Even if we manage to successfully sit and meditate for a set number of minutes, the system of resistance can buck up and create havoc in our bodies and minds such that we just absolutely need to get up and stop meditating for fear of some undisclosed consequences. And then walk away with the message that we just can’t do it. Or we go strong with our meditation practice and then stop suddenly for a period of time and then pick it back up again when our lives stop working. (read more...)
As someone who practices exploring this kind of phenomenon, I am always fascinated with the shenanigans resistance pulls to throw more and more roadblocks into our path. I look at my own life and marvel – now how on earth did THAT happen?! I had a successful exercise program that made me feel good and I stopped because …???
Once we catch on to how it does what it does – we can start to notice other areas of our lives where it’s busily at work. For example, I get fooled out of meditating and then I watch how I get fooled out of eating well. And then the same excuses overthrow some other commitment I make. So I am aware of how serious the consequences are when I succumb to these decisions. Since our lives are shaped by our thoughts, words, and deeds – and all it takes is one thought, word, or deed to create a snowball rolling down a hill toward disaster – we want to watch very closely to how our attention gets hijacked. This is why resistance should distress us.
But not for too long! Because the same process works when I apply it to overcoming resistance. One thought, word, or deed has the power of rippling out to every other aspect of my life and suddenly things begin to work like a miracle. The birds are singing, the people are kind, I’m full of energy, and I wonder “how on earth did the entire universe suddenly change?” failing to notice that there was someone much closer to home that changed!
There are lots of images to describe this process of overcoming resistance: rewiring our brains (neuroplasticity), not following the same worn grooves, pushing the wheel of karma in the opposite direction. People liken the experience of choosing something that is antithetical to the way they have always done it by using phrases such as “born again” or “taking the leap of faith.”
I am the experiencer of whatever choice I make in this moment. There is only THIS moment. It is alive and waiting for my choice.
Okay, that is all fine and dandy when I’m aware in this moment. But what happens when I forget? How do I work with resistance on the fly?
Job one is to find out how resistance haunts your life. It usually shows up in areas you claim you have no control over yourself. Like you MUST smoke, eat the donut, or spend 2 hours on Facebook.
Notice your to-do plans. What doesn’t get done? What always gets done? What do you do first? What do you constantly put off and never do until pressed to?
You are just gathering information here. This isn’t an opportunity to feel bad. In fact, feeling bad is the glue that holds the whole system in place so it’s the first thing to jettison if you’re ever going to be free. Pretend you are a brave explorer on a mission to find out how you work. Trap doors open and poisonous darts fly, but this is part of the adventure!
Next, notice what form the monkey wrench takes when resistance throws it in. I had an on-going issue of getting sleepy in meditation and nodding off. I watched how that happened repeatedly. And then one day I became aware that the placement of my hands affected my level of attention and that lifting them just slightly caused a shift. I stopped falling asleep!
Find out for yourself what stops you from doing something. Is it a voice in your head saying “you don’t feel like it”? Or does it talk you into doing it later? Or does it equate fidgety energy with “AAARRGH gotta get up!” Keep jotting down how resistance works in your life. Keep looking. Keep at it. When you do this, you are locking yourself up with you – the good, bad, and the ugly – and embracing all of you in kindness.
Okay, so that’s mission #1.
- Find out how YOU get fooled.
- How is the almighty wall of resistance being thrown up in front of you?
- What do the voices in your head tell you before, during, and after?
- Scribble it all down. Draw pictures and diagrams if it helps.
- Be kind to yourself in the exploration. Acknowledge how brave you are for looking instead of avoiding yourself.
- Don’t feel bad.
- Don’t give up (and if you do – note how that happened! )
If you feel moved, please let me know how resistance shows up in your life by commenting below. I have added my comment first to begin the full disclosure rolling!
“Gasp. Well if it’s not that – what on earth is it?!”
It’s your undivided attention.
Undivided attention means your focus is on your experience. It means your attention is on what is going on in this very moment. The quality of your life depends upon it. Because if you’ve ever noticed – you could actually HAVE the new car, the latest gadget, the dream home, AND the amazing partner AND not be happy. Happiness is a by-product dependent upon your undivided attention. And I'm not talking about ear-to-ear grinning, silly, goofy happiness, (nothing wrong with that, by the way!) I'm talking about equanimity. An acceptance of what is because, well ... because that's what is! (read more...)
The only practice I feel that comes close to delivering upon this goal of harnessing your undivided attention is meditation. I know that there are as many different forms of meditation as there are people, but my practice has its roots in Zen Buddhism and it’s the only one I can recommend. It cultivates awareness while sitting still as well as while engaged in activity. It is very simple. For all its simplicity it can be extremely challenging ONLY because the very system we are attempting to see through and become aware of IS SABOTAGING OUR EFFORTS.
What do I mean?
I recently posted a humorous article entitled “Whose Idea Was it to Do Yoga at 6 AM, Anyway?” It really points to what we are all up against and if you haven’t read it yet, I invite you to do that.
It's a graphic illustration of the various ploys resistance takes to undermine my commitment to do yoga at 6 in the morning. People laughed after reading it and wondered how I got into their heads. “That’s me!” they said. But the hilarious aspect of it is that we are all the same. The inside of my head looks a lot like everyone else’s. Resistance just shows up to hound us on different topics. For example, I get suckered into not following a schedule but am told repeatedly that it is desperately important that I do so. For others, being productive is of utmost value and if they’re not being productive then they’re a loser. These are the interchangeable “whats” of life, but the overall sabotage method is the same.
Take for example this most common way resistance manifests itself – when we attempt to form a new habit or program that will benefit us.
Here’s how that can look:
I get talked into putting it off for tomorrow.
I get told that I don’t feel like it today.
I get told that I don’t feel like it went well the first time and so because of that – I will never get it right so I might as well quit.
I do the new habit consistently and, magically, by day three I somehow forget the commitment completely. (Image of fairy dust!)
Fill in the blank ___________.
This is the way the all-mighty wall of resistance works.
And trust me when I say that it will show up before, during, and after meditation.
“But that’s awful!” the crowd shrieks.
"What’s the good news?"
You can count on it. This is NORMAL.
Get used to it.
If you see it, you can bet you’re “doing it right.” Here’s the kicker: The more successful you become at seeing the resistance and sitting through it – the harder it will work to sabotage your efforts.
We generally quit right upon the verge of some breakthrough. The pressure just gets too big for the system to allow us to go any further. Why? Because the more we are free of the system – the more it withers, fades, and dies in the process. Keeping us in control is truly a survival strategy for itself.
Here’s the practice. You need to try this to experience it. So why not try it with meditation? Make it manageable. If you have never meditated before, do it for an insanely short amount of time. Five minutes? Can you sit still for 5 minutes? Then commit to that. For 5 minutes every day at an agreed upon time, you will just sit and do the following:
Focus on your breathing. Notice the breath coming in and out of your body. Keep all of your attention there. When your mind wanders, bring it back to the breath.
That’s it. There’s a formal posture and method to meditation, but for now, this is a good place to start. You will run into the same resistance with just this basic set up and commitment.
Notice how there’s no mention of “clearing the mind” or “focusing on happy thoughts” or “a correct way to do it” or “a way to tell if you’re doing it well.” So don’t fall into any of those idea traps that it will spring up to knock you off the wagon. You just sit there, silently, and bring your attention back to the breath. Your attention will roam around to what you had for lunch, what you need to do about your career, opinions on how well you are focusing on the breath, the itch under your armpit, how you need to get up now now NOW to check Facebook, and all sorts of other fanciful distractions. But you just notice them. Like ducks crossing the street. And when you get derailed, just gently bring your attention back to your breath. That’s it. No opinions about how it’s going, (‘cause that’s another derail – right?)
The breath! Got it? Good.
If you practice this regularly, (when you commit to doing it and honor that commitment) you will start to notice a shift in your life. You don’t need to look for this shift. You don’t even need to know what or how it will come about or what form it will take. Just know that it’s coming. And the stronger the resistance to doing this simple practice becomes, (strong can be subtle too – like forgetting!) the closer you are to that shift.
I support you in this shift. It’s the greatest gift you can give to yourself this holiday season and the greatest kindness you can offer to yourself and others as well.
- How long you will sit and focus on your breath (5 minutes?)
- What time of day each day you will do it.
Set your alarm now. Set the timer for 5 minutes. Don't put it off. Resistance is working even as you read this...
P.S. Please feel free to let me know how it goes. And if you would enjoy some support, please let me know that too. I understand 100% what resistance to meditation is all about and would be happy to assist you in anyway I can. It’s definitely defeatable!
I suppose this article has been wanting to write itself for some time now and this is just another opportunity for me to explore kindness, self-compassion, and the “bigger picture.” Because I know that in my rational thinking mind, this kind of thing makes sense and appears kind, but I hope to shed a different light onto the issue and perhaps open it up to a discussion. (read more...)
What did I mean when I said it was horrible? Here are a few things that came up for me:
- I saw this student devaluing her own effort. Here she was showing up, (in freezing cold weather, no less) and doing this kind act for herself. Meanwhile, rational thinking mind put her doing yoga second to “taking care” of her teacher. What signal was she sending to herself about how much she and her practice mattered? Was she really taking care of the teacher? Let’s explore this too.
- Would the teacher be more thrilled to have one student do yoga this morning, who braved the cold like she herself did? Or to have no one show up so that she could go home – IF she would go home?
Maybe I heard too many stories from the monastery’s early days. Those times when people leading meditation groups would show up and no one else would come. What would that person leading the meditation do? Sit and meditate. He or she would ring the bells, recite the recitations, bow and sit, then bow and leave when the meditation period was over. Which leads me to my painfully revealing perspective: why am I showing up for anything? Is it for others? Or for myself?
Or is it for something even greater? Like a commitment that I made to myself that honors integrity and places value on the act of kindness over everything else? Over how I feel about it, over how others may feel about it, and over the results?
Receive a guest with the same attitude you have when alone. When alone, maintain the same attitude you have in receiving guests.
This passage is from an old Zen story in the book Zen Flesh Zen Bones. I feel it spells out perfectly what is being revealed to me in all of this.
In the teachings of the Buddha, there are such amazing assertions that there is no self and other and that everything is one. When we treat a table with reverence, we are treating ourselves with that same reverence. One could say that between us it’s the reverence that shines forth.
Years ago, I had the opportunity to see this in action at the monastery during the cold winter months. Tired from a day’s work, I would go home and brave my cold hermitage – not feeling like starting a fire in the stove. “It’s only for me and I really don’t feel like it.” Only after I had gotten to care for a big German Shepherd in my hermitage did I see this process of self-hate at work. Now that I had another being to care for in my hermitage with me was I permitted the beautiful act of bestowing kindness. I projected onto him what I myself had not been allowed. I began starting fires in that stove and enjoyed them. Alone, I didn’t matter. This sometimes shows up when I think it would be fun to cook something new. Since I cook for only myself, I hear the same rational voice say, “it’s only for you – why go through all that work?” It still takes a lot of self-mentoring to break through this and practice seeing myself as a “someone” worthy of kindness and compassion.
This post is to let everyone know that “Yes in fact, you do matter!” Only when you get it that you matter can you live as though what you do matters. So participate. Even if you’re the only one who shows up for your life – you’re all you’ve got. And you count!
P.S. If you like this post and this website and know others who would enjoy it, please let them know. Like this by clicking the Facebook button, or send this as an email by clicking the email button. Spread the kindness! Thanks!
P.S.S I’ve set up a Twitter account that sends at least 4 tweets throughout the day and draws your attention back to kindness. If you would like these supportive reminders, follow @JoyPCynlove and be sure to set up your account to send these tweets to your mobile phone. What a deal! Be kind, people.
P.S.S.S. Okay, last thing from me and then I’ll go – promise. I’ve gotten some questions about my artwork and the monastery. In case you are interested, I have created a separate site that is dedicated to just my artwork. And the pieces that are on display now were all created while at the monastery. More on the way!
Want a knock-their-socks-off gift to give to those special loved ones in your life? This homemade project will go above and beyond the call of duty! (Okay, sure they might want stuff that comes from China too, but for a personalized touch, nothing beats your heart – pun intended!) But wait! There’s a 2-for-1 bonus deal with this gift! That’s right, you become the recipient as well as the giver! What am I talking about? Read on… (read more...)
The Gift in 9 Easy Steps
Make a list of people you love with enough room under their names to write a bunch of stuff below them.
Write 10 short phrases for each of these people on the following theme – “What I love and admire about you!” Really sit down and consider this. Conjure up each person in your awareness and let the adjectives bubble to the tippy-top.
Some examples are:
“I love how attentive you are to details”,
“I admire your courage”,
“I love your voice”,
“I love how you listen to me”, …
Find a container that best represents these people to you – could be a jar, a shallow vase, a decorative bottle, whatever speaks to you. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, in fact, I have found some rather fine containers at thrift shops. The one qualification is that it should be at least the size of your fist and smaller than a bread box, (don’t ask me how big a bread box is – I really have no idea.)
Now find a container that best represents YOU.
Go ahead and decorate your containers if you’d like. (You should have at least two now – one for a loved one and one for you.) Glue or tape on things that would represent each of you better. You can paint them, tie ribbons to them – sky’s the limit!
Make small signs for your containers that say,
“What I love and admire about you. Read one each day.”
You could doodle this up in crayons, markers, paints, or type it on your computer and print it out. Then fasten them on with glue, tape, or string.
Before you start making a twisted up face – yes, you’re making a sign for YOUR container too! What kind of kindness would it be if there wasn’t one for you?
Print out or re-write the 10 phrases for each person in a nice or decorative way, making sure to create an extra copy per phrase. So you should have 2 copies of each phrase. Cut these out. The goal is to be able to fit these slips of paper into the containers you’ve made, so you may need to fold them up to accomplish this.
Put the ten phrases for each loved one into their designated containers. You should have the extra copies left. Surprise! These extra ones all go into YOUR container! Why? Because the only way you would know these things about your loved ones is because they came from YOU! Every description, adjective, and compliment came from the same place – that’s right, YOU! As hard as it may be for you to own them, really sit down and take a moment to see how each description is true for you. It may not manifest in the same way or to the same degree that it does for others, but it shows up somewhere, somehow. Take the time to acknowledge this. Every day, you will have the opportunity to draw a phrase from the container and own it.
Come up with as many extra phrases as you would like for both you and your loved ones. I kept it manageable with 10 – but there really is no limit. And watch out for any resistance you may experience to this. It could show up as resistance to doing the entire project, or to your container, or to selecting the phrase from the jar every day. That’s okay. I do hope you will give it a shot. No one said that this Kindness Business would be easy. I will say that it is rewarding!
Please let me know how it goes!
♡ Joy ♡