“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.” – Steven Pressfield
I can’t help but notice that Steven Pressfield refers to Resistance with a capital ‘R. ’ It’s inevitable and relentless. Resistance is something we all work with, whether we’re aware of it or not, as we grow (or not) into our lives. When it comes to living out what we want most, and doing our work–the work you are here to do, the person you are here to become–resistance is the wall between where we are and where we’d like to be.
If I don’t explore my Resistance, I end up living a contained life, and find myself bound in that container (perhaps steeping in some self-loathing), despite wanting to leave it behind. I will not do what I say I long to do, or I may never change into what I most want to become. This may look and feel like keeping my best gifts and potency swaddled under wraps, or struggling to break free of them. The task, for ourselves, is to become aware of what our Resistance looks like when it shows up, know how to handle it, and not let it get in the way of what we want most.
Resistance is a good sign. It’s a signal that we’re coming close to something important. The bigger the importance of the thing, the bigger the Resistance that will show up. Another way to say this is: the closer you get to something you want, or something deeply important to you/your psyche in terms of belief and identity, resistance can show up in the following sly forms: denial, cancelling a therapy session at the last minute or getting too busy (i.e., to see your therapist, coach, mentor, new date, doctor, etc.), and Intellectualization. All of the above in one form or another arise at our bootcamps. Which is a big clue that we’re on to something significant.
As I listened to Jerry’s conversation with Semil, I realized we all do it. We all have a wall (or a labyrinthine series of them) within ourselves, placed there by early conditioning and self-preservation, that is made of resistance. Others, can have locked room, within locked room, within locked room. And the most locked room of all is the room that we deny that it exists; “What room? I don’t see any rooms.” (Or, another favorite remark of resistance: “There’s no such thing as the unconscious!”)
When we hit the wall, Resistance shows up. Resistance creates a blind spot so that we can’t even see what’s happening for us. Sometimes it doesn’t want us to be even mildly suspect of our inner “stuff’ that’s lurking. [Insert denial. Insert avoidance. Insert rationalizations and intellectualizations.] We can’t even see it for ourselves (though sometimes a dear heart, friend, or colleague can help us find a way through so that we are not stopped by the wall).
What makes the wall of Resistance so halting? How can we not talk ourselves out / over it? As Peter Block writes, “…resistance is an emotional process. Behind the resistance are certain feelings. You cannot talk people out of how they are feeling.” What you’ll often find is that the deeper the resistance, the deeper the pain. This wall or labyrinthine series of walls we have inside ourselves were solidified to keep that deeply wounded part of us safe.
Working with resistance is a delicate thing. As Parker Palmer writes, “the soul is a shy, wild creature.” You have to build rapport with it, sit on the sidelines with it, and be on its side. You can’t go talkin’ straight to it, for the more you go up against the resistance, the stronger it gets. You have to join up with the resistance, and see what it has to say. Most often, Resistance is rooted in a delusional statement or belief. Once you recognize and articulate what that is, you can see what’s really happening for you. When you lean into your resistance in that way, you can then choose and shift into a more fluid space or state of mind.
Moving through and working with resistance requires some radical self-inquiry, which is as Jerry describes it: The process by which self-deception becomes so skillfully and compassionately exposed that there’s no mask that can hide us anymore. Here, we can begin to see our blind spots.
While Resistance never leaves us alone entirely, we can work with it so that it doesn’t work us over. Once we can notice that our Resistance is present, we can separate ourselves from it, and in that space, choose something else. What does your resistance look like? What are the thoughts and feelings that circle around when it is present? How does it feel in your body? What are you really feeling emotionally?
When we can get in touch with what lies beyond the wall of resistance, what keeps us contained, we move into a truer part of ourselves. I am reminded of Anais Nin’s words, “The day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”