How to Get from Resistance to Acceptance

(For the first part of this post, see How to Accept Just this Moment)

Resistance, the opposite of acceptance, is a blockage of energy. Think about how we experience tension, anger and worry on a physical level: the stomach feels like it’s in knots; our throats clench; there’s a heaviness in the chest. All of those are blocked energy.

Often, we don’t even realize we’re resisting. Our mind believes that whatever negativity we’re feeling will make a difference, the same way we think that pressing an elevator button numerous times will make it come faster.

It won’t.

Resistance doesn’t work

Resistance only ever accomplishes two things: 1) It makes us feel bad, and 2) It strengthens our sense of separation (the ego).

It causes suffering, too. One of my favourite Tara Brach quotes is “Pain x (multiplied by) Resistance = Suffering.” In other words, pain is inevitable. But suffering is optional. If we don’t resist the pain, if we let it pass through us, then it can move through energetically. I’ve experienced that with emotions. But if we resist it, we trap that energy in our bodies and minds for an indefinite amount of time. Like, decades. I speak from experience.

For a long time, I felt guilt about having resistance – I resisted my resistance – until I learned about what Buddhists call the “second arrow.” I’m paraphrasing here, but a Buddhist teacher once told a disciple, “If you shot yourself with an arrow, would you not feel pain?” And the student said, “Yes.” The teacher then said, “Why, then, would you shoot yourself with a second arrow [guilt]?”

Worrying about my bills isn’t going to change whether or not I can pay them today. Worrying that a partner might leave isn’t going to make him stay. Feeling angry that a client hasn’t yet paid me doesn’t actually make that client pay. It just makes me feel bad, on top of not having the payment.

Anger, worry, anxiety and resentment (among others) are all the ego’s ways of pretending it’s being useful. This is a classic case of the intellect torturing the soul. Not one of these things actually accomplishes anything except to make us feel bad. Really bad. Constricted throat or chest, raised blood pressure, agitation throughout the body, surges of adrenalin. Those don’t feel good.

The Mid-step: Accepting the Resistance

When I can’t accept a situation, I try to accept that “Well, this is how I feel.” That lessens the resistance a little bit. I try to remind myself that I don’t have to drop whatever I’m feeling (anxiety, irritation, etc.); I just have to allow peace to flow through me. For some reason, that often does the trick. At least for a single moment. Then I have to repeat it in the next moment. And the next.

To use yet another Tolle example, he talks about putting space around a feeling – not minding resistance. If you don’t mind that you feel angry, and just allow the anger to be… it’s amazing how quickly it dissipates. He talks, too, about how the pain-body is an addiction to unhappiness, and every single time I remember to notice my attachment to the pain I’m feeling – the way in which it bolsters my identity as deprived or abandoned or whatever – it disappears.

That said, I recently had an episode – ok, an emotional earthquake – that made me realize I’d been suppressing a lot of anger and pain. For the better part of three weeks, this anger coursed through me, and it felt awful. Intellectually, I knew it didn’t make any sense, it wasn’t logical, it wasn’t going to change anything, yet emotionally, I couldn’t stop it. I didn’t remember to “not mind.” I didn’t remember to “put space around it.” All I could do was witness the torture it inflicted on my mind and body and try, in various moments, to consciously release it (in ways that didn’t harm me or anyone else). Old pain does get trapped in the body, and it needs to come out.

Acceptance and Transformation

It’s yet another paradox: as Tolle says, the ego believes that if we accept this moment, nothing will ever change – when in fact, the opposite is the truth. It’s counterintuitive, but it’s like the Chinese Finger Trap: The more you pull, the more stuck your fingers become. It’s only by fully relaxing/accepting that you can escape.

Only when we don’t need anything to be different…can things actually change. And acceptance can lead to miracles – the word we use for positive events that we can’t rationally understand or explain.

And in those rare moments when I have found complete and total acceptance, sometimes something in the universe has shifted, and miracle after miracle unfolds. Money comes in ways I never could have expected; when I accept people or situations completely as they are, something changes. I don’t know what – this is beyond the scope of the human intellect, but acceptance has no downside. At the very least, I feel peace. At the most, the situations I’ve accepted change.

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Sarah Chauncey

For more than two decades, I struggled multiple treatment-resistant mood disorders. I spent more than 20 years in psychodynamic therapy and tried 18 different medications. In 2010, I began searching for ways to rewire my brain naturally for inner peace. I write about the practices and insights that have improved my mental, physical and spiritual health.


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