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The Paradox of Resistance

Posted on May 29, 2019
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Oh, how I love paradox. This wonderful insistence that things are not always “this OR that” — instead, they become “this AND that.” This opens us up to the simple truth and complex mystery of life. It demands that we grow our consciousness to be able to move beyond our set understandings and definitions of all that we “know” and look again at all of that for the flip side that is also true.

This is difficult as we rush headlong into the ever-accelerating, task-focused reality that we seem to be rushing into in a way that almost forces us to react to our circumstances. For most of us, these reactions, learned habits and behaviors mostly favor us always moving to this OR that, right OR wrong, red OR blue. When we mostly live in reaction, we rarely get the chance to slow down and truly comprehend the paradoxical nature of things and then, from that fuller understanding, sink into our Leader Within and CHOOSE our path or our personal philosophy. That path or philosophy is then full of paradoxes at every juncture, which then gives us further reason to pause and choose again.

I have been in conversation with a participant in a program I am leading who posted a quote about resistance that I had a reaction to. The quote seemed to speak to me about resistance being a bad thing that creates suffering. The quote is from Dan Millman, a philosopher and author whom I’ve read and gotten great value from. His book Way of the Peaceful Warrior (interesting paradox in that title) had a profound impact on me at one point in my life, and his book The Life You Were Born to Live was an awesome book for Karen and me when we got married. Here’s the quote:

“Resistance creates suffering. Stress happens when your mind resists what is.… The only problem in your life is your mind’s resistance to life as it unfolds.”

Now, this is an awesome quote. It is so true in so many ways. And yet it seems to give resistance a bad name. If not looked at through a paradoxical lens, it seems to say “don’t resist” and “resistance is bad because it causes suffering.” If I were to just believe this outright, then I would really work hard in my life to rid myself of all resistance and attempt to just be a passenger on this journey called life. This is in itself not a bad thing. I would love nothing more to just go with the flow and relax into a stress-free, struggle-free and love-filled life. For me, though, it’s only half of the paradox of resistance.

The other half is the power of resistance to be a creative force. So much of what I’ve created and how I’ve created over the years has come from resistance. This resistance has definitely caused suffering in myself and others — and yet it has completely and powerfully helped shape what I have created in the world. So much of what I have created has been founded on the phrase “no, not that.”

When I say “no, not that” to something — that is, when I resist something — that I see occurring in the world, whether it be the way we are educated or the way we are governed or the way we are told to be in relationship, told to raise our kids or told to look, feel or think, I often will first respond by saying “no, not that.” From that place of “no, not that” I now have a choice:I can either get stuck in being the victim of that resistance, or I can look for a way that works better; I can activate my inventor, my creator, my peaceful warrior and put them on the job of taking responsibility for my world and creating a new way. My resistance opens my eyes to finding a new way. “No, not that” becomes “What then?”

So let’s all take a breath and notice when we are in reaction, take another breath and look at the paradoxical nature of what we are about to react to and then powerfully choose how we will respond.