Ten years of regular meditation, practicing mindfulness and chopping wood and carrying water on the spiritual path have done wonders for me. I’m calmer, more focused, more compassionate and just plain happier.
But I’m not all the way there. I still lose my temper on occasion, mostly when my kids drive me off the deep end. My mind still yaks on and on, of its own volition, without my telling it to, though I’m far better at noticing when it’s happening.
And there’s another area where I need work: Resisting people’s resistance.
What is resisting resistance?
What the hell does that mean? When I’m with someone who is in resistance mode — for example, “I can’t believe these people keep doing this to me! For years I’ve had to deal with this crap. Aaagh! I can’t stand them!” — I immediately get tight inside. I resist their resistance.
Why? Because I know what they’re doing. And I know what they need to do. In general, what most people need to do when they think they have “problems” is realize that the problem is not the problem.
The problem isn’t what we think it is
In the above example, the unnamed people driving this person crazy aren’t the problem. The problem is how this person is handling it internally.
If someone makes a crappy comment about you and you shut down and feel terrible, they aren’t the problem. You shutting down because of the comment is the problem.
That may sound harsh, but it’s true. Our work lies in working on our inner selves so that we don’t shut down due to all kinds of different circumstances.
So back to how this is my challenge. It’s because I immediately, on the inside, go to a place of, “No, no, no! They aren’t the problem. You’re dealing with their crap is the problem.”
As you can see, I’m resisting their resistance. And I don’t care what the circumstances are, resistance is resistance. And it’s not helpful. To them or me.
How to deal with it
How should I handle these situations? That’s where my ‘Why reinvent the wheel?’ theory of figuring things out comes in handy. Which means I look to my spiritual teachers for guidance. If you’re a Christian you ask, “What would Jesus do?”
If you’re me, you ask, “What would Eckhart Tolle, Ram Dass or Mickey Singer do?” And the answer, as is usually the case in matters of spirituality, is that they would remain in their seat of self while that unconscious person prattled on about their perceived problems. They would be present. They would listen intently.
Listening, then shutting down
That’s not what I’ve been doing. I’ve been listening, but early on, I shut down because I know what I’m going to say and I can’t wait to say it. In other words, I’m not present.
So what’s my work? First, is to notice when I’m feeling resistance inside. Someone is going on and on in an unconscious way and I need to notice that initial pang of my own resistance.
I’ve written this several times before, but it bears repeating Eckhart Tolle’s wise quote:
“Awareness is the greatest agent for change.”
He’s right. Step one for most spiritual work is simply noticing.
After noticing that I’m resisting, the next step is to take a few deep breaths in an attempt to return to my seat of self; aka, come back to the here and now.
And then? Listen intently. With no agenda and no thoughts of, “Alright, alright, enough already. Shut up and let me give you the solution to your problem!”
Finally, when your interlocutor has vented all they’re going to vent, in a calm and present way offer them your suggestions. That’s what I need to practice.
The question now turns to what the heck this means for you. Well, if you’re reading this, my assumption is that you are interested in, and are traveling, the spiritual path. As such, I’m assuming that many of you also experience what I’ve described here. That is, getting anxious, resistant and impatient with people who are exhibiting some kind of unconscious behavior/resistance.
If you’re one of those people, try this. To recap, it’s:
1. Become aware of your resistance.
4. Offer suggestions, if appropriate.
That’s it. Simple stuff. But it requires a commitment to practice it. I’ll let you know how it goes.