Resisting what IS
We resist anything uncomfortable, from physical pain to emotional upset to being overworked. But resistance just adds more discomfort, so it’s more beneficial to learn to accept what is than to resist it.
Well, I’m back in overwhelm stage. I’m pretty good at the whole balancing act thing, but it seems at least 4 or 5 times a year, I get slammed and don’t seem to have any control over it. I have been under intense pressure lately, because as is not unusual in my line of work, I can’t control my flow and volume of work very well because much of it is driven by outside clients. I’ve learned to reasonably balance that pretty well. But as soon as an unforeseen event occurs, I’m immediately in over my head. Now I’m always busy despite my best attempts, but my best schedule usually looks like a roller coaster track. So when a big project or drastic increase of work pops up, it’s a trainwreck.
January looked super light in December which I thought was great since January is chock full of legislative, tax and accounting duties. But as soon as the new year started, the whole month filled up in just a couple of days. And naturally, at the same time, my volunteer work took a turn that was out of anyone’s control so my light January suddenly became quite heavy. February’s not looking very spacious either, so now is the time to take a pause and reflect on the situation.
I’ve been working pretty much 7 days a week including some evenings for the last few weeks and had to work hard at not judging myself for being, I don’t know, poor at time management? In reality, this is largely out of my control, so that’s an unfair judgment. And of course, we shouldn’t judge at all. It’s not really about time management or even over-extending myself. I’ve turned down several new clients over the last few months knowing that my plate is full. It’s the roller-coaster effect where someone else or fate determines how the ride is going to go. It’s also about commitment to my work, to my volunteerism, to family and friends, and to myself. I feel good about what I do 95% of the time. It’s just these crunches that start to erode my merriment.
Three weeks ago, I caught Covid, of course. And having to work while feeling awful also took a toll. I would gladly call in sick, but I’d be calling in sick to myself and I’m short-staffed, so there’s no one to pick up the slack. Resistance started rearing its ugly head around day 5 of being sick. I just didn’t want to do any of it. As I struggled trying to record the podcast and meditations, on top of conducting workshops, with sinuses gushing and feeling foggy, and struggling to control coughing fits sans cold medicine due to shortages, I thought, I just can’t do this. I want to run away to someplace warm and just lay on a beach and heal. And then the little filter light turned red in my refrigerator.
It's new so I had no idea what the little red light meant, other than to assume it wasn’t a good thing. After researching, the answer was that I needed to replace the filter, but of course I had no idea what that entailed. More research on how to remove the filter to determine what to order on amazon, and then trying to put it back in until the new filter arrives to prevent water from leaking in the meantime. But it was a no-go. I could not get the filter back in and water gushed out each time I tried. My resistance achieved new heights. My mind went to that dark place of why the manufacturer made this so difficult, why did the filter go bad so quickly, why was this happening at exactly the time I have no spare time to deal with it and why can’t I just retreat to a beach.
As pressure mounts, many of us have at least a fleeting fantasy of running away. But as we move into resistance, we’re just increasing our discomfort. We’re already uncomfortable from obligations, demands and deadlines and instead of accepting where we are, we add resisting obligations, demands and deadlines that aren’t going to go away. We’re actually adding pressure to ourselves by fighting whatever it is we have to do. That’s where self-judgment comes in and maybe some blaming as well. Not helpful. Instead, I went through the calendar and blocked days off to take a day here and there and two weeks this summer for a vacation I haven’t even planned. But knowing those rest periods are coming definitely helps.
The mindful solution is to be open, to allow events to unfold, to keep self-care in the forefront as much as possible, and to honor our boundaries. Keep in mind that when we’re under intense pressure, our boundaries usually have to be adjusted and that’s okay. As long as we ensure it’s a temporary adjustment. There is no perfect work/life balance. It shifts with circumstances and if we can keep that in mind, we can better manage resistance.
How many times have you hunkered down, teeth grinding, determined to just get through a pile of work, feeling frustrated and pressured, with resistance to the whole situation building? I’m betting it wasn’t your best work, nor was it an enjoyable experience.
Again, when we resist whatever is happening, we make the pressure worse. Think about a woman in labor. The reason for all of the breathing classes is to ensure that the woman can stay relaxed as the pain hits during childbirth. That’s because the natural tendency is to resist the pain and resisting tightens the muscles, actually making the pain worse. It is no different on a mental or emotional level. Resistance intensifies the discomfort.
I cognitively understand that if I’m relaxed, taking care of myself, and enjoying my work, I’m more creative and more productive and of course, that all supports hitting my deadlines without so much stress. But instinctively, my first reaction is to drop all personal plans, skip exercise and relaxation, and push forward. Fortunately, I didn’t act on my instincts. I did have to cut back on some activities. My now weekly bread-making hobby halted and I bought bread at the grocery store. Meals cooked became very basic or pre-made. My gardening, yard maintenance and house-cleaning have largely been set aside.
What I haven’t given up is any personal appointments, time with friends, or plans with family. Despite the workload, I had to give up evening work a few days ago. I’m tired and have to listen to my mind and body. I admit, it takes strong determination not to give in to freaking out a little, locking myself in a room and just working 24 hours a day to catch up. But I know the power of mindfulness. Working 24 hours a day is completely mindless. And while we all fall out of mindfulness occasionally, we can choose to return, living a more sane life that has purpose, meaning and joy. So today I choose to relax, let go of the resistance, and seek ways to enjoy what I’m doing. I’m grateful I’m not in labor, but I need to remember to breathe, relax, stay centered.
As I sat down at my desk this morning, quite early to write a workshop I’m doing this afternoon no less, I came across an Eckhart Tolle quote.
“Ask yourself: is there joy, ease and lightness in what I am doing? If there isn’t, then time is covering up the present moment and life is perceived as a burden or struggle.”
What a lovely, confirming gift to receive right now.
Keep in mind, there is a time and place for resistance. Resistance to oppression for example, or injustice or the status quo that might be harmful to us. Resisting freezing due to the elements is a smart choice. Resisting that big slice of chocolate cake is good for our health. So it’s not that resistance is always a negative behavior. Resistance can be the first step to change. But when it comes to resisting our own behaviors or situation because we’re uncomfortable and simply want to avoid that discomfort, we fall into the pit of what we resist doesn’t just persist but tends to become even more uncomfortable.
It takes mindful reflection to determine if the resistance we’re experiencing is healthy or self-sabotaging. If I decide to run away for two weeks, what am I returning to? And I will have to return at some point so avoiding the discomfort temporarily is only going to cause me to be under more pressure when I come back to what is – a lot of work, a lot of contractual obligations and a lot of deadlines that will be even closer or even already passed.
Resistance in the form of avoiding or fleeing is really based in fear. There’s a part of us that believes we can’t do it, that we’ll fail. Or that we’ll miss out on other aspects of life that we can’t get back. Or that we don’t have control over our own lives. But these are all just thoughts They are possibilities of course, but they are not truths. Take a little tour of your life right now. Does it feel like a struggle? Are you resisting what is? These are simply signs telling you to lighten up, to allow whatever is happening in the present moment to happen. It will pass. It always does.
Mindfulness doesn’t mean you don’t work hard, that you don’t live up to your commitments, or that you practice it only when you’re not busy. Mindfulness does mean that you accept whatever is in the moment and instead of resisting it, you find ways to work through it with ease. A mountain of work can be seen as a nightmare of stress or as a challenge that you work through, step by step.
It’s finally nice outside here after weeks of rain, cold and wind, and there is a part of me that wants to play outside in the garden because it’s a beautiful day or binge a little Netflix and just chill. But I have commitments that must be met. Instead of resisting the pressure, I choose to release the pressure. I’ll do the best I can while enjoying the process. I’ll remember that the great outdoors and Netflix will both be waiting for me when the next downtime arrives, which it always does. I’ll work hard today, but not with force. I’ll play music, take breaks, and remember to breathe when I hit a creative wall. I’ll remember that I chose this work, to help others learn to live their purpose, which means I’m living mine, and most importantly, I’ll choose to find the joy in doing it.
Part of the problem with resistance is that we tend to dig our heels in. We get rigid and difficult, kind of like a toddler who isn’t getting a cookie. That rigidity influences how we view the world. Suddenly, it might feel like life in general isn’t fair. If we don’t mind our minds, we might start to assign blame. This has to be someone else’s fault, right?
Bruce Lee said, “Notice the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survive by bending with the wind.” Do you want to be a stiff tree or the bamboo? It’s funny but my view through the door is a lot of very tall bamboo shoots, bending in the breeze right now. I think I’d rather bend than crack.
Mindfulness is based on Buddhist teachings and in Buddhism, the first of the Four Noble Truths is suffering. Suffering is resistance to what is. It causes us unhappiness. Think of all of the suffering that has occurred due to world events in the past few years. Did resisting it change anything or just make us feel more miserable? In the case of our own internal resistance, the only thing that works is acceptance because change is the only constant in life. Whatever occurs, we can meet it when it happens and do the best we can to work through it and that’s true of trivial stuff as well as the big challenges in life.
Remember, acceptance doesn’t mean we like it or that it’s easy or that it will pass quickly. But it will pass as all things do and when it does, so will the suffering, if we don’t resist whatever it is. My work surge will pass, and in the meantime, I can remember that I have a choice. I can accept that this is just the way it is right now, focusing on finding pleasure in what I’m doing and finding meaning in the work. Or I can resist the reality I’m temporarily in and add to my suffering while still having to get the work done. Which makes it kind of a no-brainer.
Consider letting go of any resistance you’re experiencing whether it’s due to personal circumstances, relationships, work, or world events. Try practicing acceptance. Notice how much lighter you feel. Notice how much easier it is to focus on what you need to do. By releasing the resistance, you’ll be happier, healthier and much more fulfilled.
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A Mindful Moment is written and hosted by Teresa McKee and/or Melissa Sims. The Spanish version is translated and hosted by Paola Theil. Intro music, Retreat, by Jason Farnham. Outro music, Morning Stroll by Josh Kirsch, Media Right Productions. Thank you for tuning in! This podcast is produced by Work2Live Productions.