In these challenging times, acceptance can be hard to come by. The pandemic has left many of us stuck at home, either wishing things would go back to ‘normal,’ or living in fear of that very same prospect.
It’s tricky to practice acceptance when your world seems upside down, but without it, there can only be suffering. The opposite of acceptance is resistance. In other words, any way in which we’re not embracing the present moment exactly as it is.
We all experience some form of resistance each and every day, even over the things we know are enjoyable or good for us. Noticing this resistance is the first step to change.
With a little cultivation, we can use this awareness to switch from resistance to acceptance, developing a greater sense of resilience to life’s challenges along the way.
Resistance Is Suffering
Resistance shows up in a multitude of forms. As I sit here writing this, aware of the blazing summer sun high in the crisp blue sky, resistance is sitting right beside me.
I wish I could be sunbathing.
I wish the heat didn’t make me so sleepy.
I crave the feeling of sunshine on my skin and I feel aversion to the foggy mind I find myself inhabiting.
This is nothing special. In fact, it’s simply one in a large handful of ways in which resistance has shown up for me already today. When exploring resistance, it’s vital to remember that it’s as inevitable as it is relentless—after all, we are only human.
Sometimes resistance is subtle, a nagging feeling deep below the surface. Sometimes it’s more obvious, like those broken records that go round and round in your mind.
Have you ever been caught up in a loop of thinking about how little sleep you had last night, how much you long for the pandemic to be over or why your back won’t stop aching when you meditate?
Chances are, you and resistance are old friends.
Raga and Dvesha
At the root of all resistance is suffering. From the yoga perspective, suffering is caused by various afflictions of the mind known as kleshas.
Raga (sometimes spelled raaga) is characterized by craving, clinging and greed; a kind of grabby, anxious energy that pulls us away from life as it is.
On the other hand, dvesha is the tendency to lean away from things or bury our heads in the sand, anything to avoid a direct experience of what is happening right now.
The constant tug-of-war against the present moment keeps us almost continually uncomfortable in our own skin.
Awareness, Equanimity & Tolerance
Of course, resistance can sometimes be useful. From an evolutionary perspective, it is a large part of what has allowed us to survive in the face of danger and uncertainty.
However, if we allow resistance to drive our decisions and behaviors without awareness, it’s all too easy to become agitated, restless and ill at ease.
When our actions are guided by idealized notions of how things should be, we become separated from a real and direct engagement with life, exactly as it is. Both attachment and aversion tend to color our perceptions, making things appear worse than they really are. As such, it becomes impossible to enjoy our mind’s natural equanimity.
Whilst more resistance ultimately leads to more suffering, actively choosing a path of less resistance builds tolerance.
If we can learn to be present with our emotions and sensations rather than trying to escape them or change them into something else, we have an opportunity for growth. We develop a capacity to push our boundaries that little bit further.
Read: Dissolving Resistance
However, when it is so pervasive, how can we possibly begin to transform resistance into resilience? The first step is awareness, which is why mindfulness is vital.
Simply tracking sensations can help us to see that resistance often shows up as an embodied, physical "squirmy" feeling. Next time you realize you’re avoiding the pile of assignments building up on your desk or desperately craving a beach holiday while at work, stop what you’re doing and take a deep breath.
Notice how each part of your body is feeling and try to determine where there are areas of tension or tightness - perhaps at your jaw, your chest or your belly.
More often than not, the simple act of observing and accepting the presence of resistance is enough to make it evaporate. After all, it is as transient as everything in life. Realizing how quickly it comes and goes can turn down the volume of suffering in itself.
In transforming resistance, a mindful and non-reactive approach is key.
Instead of judging what comes up, open yourself to simply experiencing it. Get intimate with it. Remember - it’s not about making it go away. Instead of always analyzing and critiquing what you find, approach yourself with a childlike sense of curiosity.
Treat this practice as a life-long experiment of self-exploration, knowing that resistance to life’s inevitable challenges will give you endless material to uncover.
Formal meditation provides a particularly direct means of examining resistance, since at some point most of us will either start to feel horribly uncomfortable, or so blissed-out that we don’t want the experience to end.
In life, we so often lean away from the things that feel uncomfortable, or cling to the things that feel good, willing them to stay the same forever. Watching these tendencies unfold from a neutral, non-reactive place of meditative stillness is unparalleled training for learning to be with that same discomfort in real life.
When we learn to accept rather than resist the present moment, life becomes more fluid, more malleable, and we gain a greater tolerance for change.
Rather than running away from life or grasping onto how things are, we can approach adversity as an opportunity for transformation. Now is a challenging time, but hardships are what shape resilience.
As the current global situation has reminded us, we cannot always choose our circumstances - but we can choose our reaction to them. Our minds are the filter through which we perceive all experience; the good, the bad and the ugly.
If we can alter our perceptions and learn to find acceptance, we can effectively change the world around us, regardless of our circumstances. With resistance, challenges will ultimately break us. With acceptance and resilience, they can break us open.
During These Times of Stress and Uncertainty Your Doshas May Be Unbalanced.
To help you bring attention to your doshas and to identify what your predominant dosha is, we created the following quiz.
Try not to stress over every question, but simply answer based off your intuition. After all, you know yourself better than anyone else.