What You Resist Persists; How To Practice Overcoming Resistance
The latest lockdown has felt tough, and although strength and resilience will get us through it, sometimes being strong and "just getting on with it" feels like suppressing how I'm really feeling.
Since my father passed away at the end of 2020 I have been avoiding the difficult feelings that come with a bereavement; anger, guilt, and overwhelming sadness.
When one of these uncomfortable emotions seeps through the floor boards of my mind, it is swiftly rationalised as "bad". I might say to myself things like, "snap out of it", "other people have it so much worse", and "just get on with it". I shift my attention away either making myself busy with work, or numb with trashy tv , or uplifted with a walk with a friend. As helpful as some of these are to change my mood it is also a defence mechanism to something difficult.
And it's not just emotions brought up by bereavement of course, uncomfortable feelings could be a result of multitude of experiences, events, traumas that happen to us in day to day life. Emotions such as disappointment, anger, betrayal, jealousy, shame, guilt feel so unpleasant, even painful, it's no wonder we brush these under the carpet, lock the door, and throw away the key.
But what happens if we do not acknowledge what comes up? As psychologist Carl Jung put it,
“what you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.'
Things that haven’t been emotionally resolved don’t simply disappear because you’ve paid them no attention. They remain under the carpet, buried within the crypt of the unconscious mind collecting dust and festering. We may even be so good at resisting we forget they are there.
When you resist difficult emotions your energy, your focus, is concentrated on not moving beyond what you are resisting, and not coming to terms with it. In an ideal world we'd do the opposite, we'd invite the uncomfortable feeling to sit with us, be in each others company, even if it's taut with difficulty. In other words we'd put our energy and focus into feeling what's there, which allows for processing, coming to terms, and accepting.
Easier said than done right? We might not be ready to feel difficult emotions; I certainly don't feel ready to really sit with my grief.
But what we can do is practice becoming aware of what we are experiencing in the moment. We can practice noticing what we feel in the physical body, the breath, the emotional body, and the mind without trying to change it. By doing this we can become more comfortable with what is.
Here's a practice to help becoming aware of the layers (koshas) of your experience.
In a comfortable sitting position, close your eyes.
1. Bring your awareness to your body.
What body sensations are here right now? In your mind, scan your body from your toes to your crown and pick up any sensations of tightness or tensions. Acknowledge the sensation, but without trying to change them in any way.
2. Bring your awareness to your thoughts.
What thoughts are going on through the mind? Maybe your thoughts are really active, if they are that's OK, it's normal. As best as you can acknowledge the thoughts without any judgment, frustration, or attachment.
3. Bring your awareness to your breath.
Where do you feel the physical sensation of your breath in your body? Perhaps the nostrils, your thought, the chest, the belly. Theres is no right or wrong, it's just where you feel it. Without forcing your breath follow your breath all the way in and all the way out.
4. Bring your awareness to your feelings.
What emotions are here? Perhaps you feel neutral, perhaps something else. Turn towards any sense of discomfort or unpleasant feelings, acknowledging them without trying to make them different to how you find them. Can you sit with that feeling.
When you feel ready, slowly open your eyes.
So the next time an uncomfortable feeling comes up notice you have a tendency to resist these feelings. It's OK if you are not ready to feel them.
Try practicing checking in how you are really feeling and asking yourself "what is my experience right now?" By getting comfortable with uncomfortable we may even be ready to unlock the crypt and unearth those really hard ones.
When we stop resisting, we can start processing, accepting, and eventually letting go.