I’m feeling some resistance to write on this topic, which, as you’ll see, is pretty ironic. It feels big, it feels confusing, mostly, it feels sticky. But, in my own experience, the actual implementing of this practice has only felt expansive and grounding. So, here goes.
Over the past few years, I’ve been working with the idea of acceptance versus resistance, and, I imagine, it will be a lifelong practice. I’ve noticed, as might be expected, that the times this practice is most difficult is when I find myself faced with a situation or circumstance that I wish wasn’t as is, that I wish was different, that I wish didn’t exist at all. In fact, it is really only in those times that this comes up as a practice. When things are going smoothly and all pieces feel like they’re falling into place, acceptance flows freely. It is when we are faced with circumstances that seem to throw a wrench into, disrupt, or bring a sense of discomfort into our lives that we can be faced with the choice of resist or accept.
Speaking for myself, in those times, resistance is the first response. It feels safe. It feels like whatever that disquieting situation is it can’t get to me, or I’ll be able to deflect it by resisting it. A number of years ago, while trying whole-heartedly to resist a circumstance, I felt how resistance was affecting my body physically. I felt closed and tight, especially around my heart. I felt stuck.
Around that same time, a book was lent to me, Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach. The entry for January 23rd was titled “Accepting Real Life,” and began with a quote from Katherine Mansfield, “Everything in life that we really accept undergoes a change.” The entry goes on to speak to the incredible transformation that can occur through acceptance and the shift of energy resulting from the shift of mindset.
Here’s where it can get sticky, or maybe at first appear to be.
First off, acceptance is not complacency. It’s not sitting back saying, “Well, I guess this is how it is and I just need to get used to it.” Acceptance is saying “a holy yes to the real things of our life as they exist,” as Natalie Goldberg says. It is acknowledging the reality of a situation, whether you like it or not. It is truly “acknowledging what is going on,” Ban Breathnach writes, whether it is your current job, financial situation, your feelings, etc., at this moment. This notion can seem terrifying, vulnerable, and chancy. It can feel uncomfortable, and we may be hesitant and resistant toward acceptance, moving towards it begrudgingly. It can feel like everything we think we’ve been holding in place through resistance may come crashing down and there we will stand empty handed and broken hearted.
Acceptance, however, through the experiences of my own practices, has brought feelings of opening, settling, and spaciousness. Whereas resistance can keep me blocked, shut down, and in a feeling of struggle, accepting can soften and open me up to be able to see more clearly what is going on and what next steps to take. It is within that idea that acceptance does not mean we succumb to our circumstances, but instead that it gives us the room and clarity to see how to proceed, what to do next to bring change to and transform our circumstances and/or ourselves. It is a radical notion, for sure.
I recently found myself in a thought pattern that was resulting in resistance and anxiety. When I fully realized what was happening, I began what I now call “Open to the Flow” in my meditation practice and anytime during the course of the day, or if I wake up in the middle of the night and suddenly anxious thoughts flood my mind keeping me awake. If I feel resistance and anxiety taking hold, and the tightening in my heart and chest, I breathe into my heart and silently say “open to the flow,” and, so far anyway, it has resulted in a sense of ease, opening, and expansion.
To open to the flow, to me, is in the same spirit of acceptance. It is to soften the blocks and restriction that impede forward movement and momentum, and to step into the flow—of life, of love, of light, of the current of life energy, of something greater, of the radical Yes! to life, of whatever it is to you. When we step into that current, the flow that maintains momentum and moves us along, we are more able to see the possibilities and options that are available to us. We are more able to clearly see the next step.
All that said, nothing in life is black and white. As my teacher Christina Sell says, in yoga and in life there is no always and never. There are times when resistance may be exactly what’s called for. If we find ourselves or someone else in a situation where we need to protect ourselves or that other person, then, yes, resist, fight, defend. With the injustices and prejudices in our world, yes, we need to stand up to them. There are many things that are not acceptable, and we must work for change in many of life’s arenas. It has been of great interest and incredibly thought-provoking to me that the rallying cry towards Trump and his administration is “Resist.” I get it. This, however, is a big topic in itself, with many points of reflection and intricacies for perhaps another time.
What I am speaking to are the mental and emotional resistances that can keep us stuck and prevent us from moving forward, growing, evolving, and stepping more fully into ourselves. They are the patterns that can keep us stuck in the status of victim to our circumstances rather than acknowledging and accepting our circumstances, then asking, “OK, what next? This is where I am, and now what do I do to move forward?” in an empowered way. Because when we step more fully into ourselves, our hearts, and our power, we are better equipped to assist and serve others.