RESISTANCE IS FUTILE
Episode 5: "You thank God for the good things that happen to you, but not for the bad. This is where you go wrong." These words were spoken by a great sage, Ramana Maharshi. In this episode, we'll be using them to investigating an invisible habit that can overwhelm our lives with unnecessary suffering, and then look at how to skillfully use the practice of surrender to enjoy more calm, more joy, more often.
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"You thank God for the good things that happened to you, but not for the bad. This is where you go wrong."
Welcome to Real Yoga, a podcast dedicated to helping you use yoga's ancient wisdom to unlock your life of radical happiness, connection and meaning right here, right now. I'm your host Eric Walrabenstein, and I'm glad you're here.
This quote is from a great Sage Ramana Maharshi who lived in India in the first part of the 20th century. Whenever I share this teaching with students, it seems to bring about a kind of collective befuddlement.
"Thanking God for the bad things that happened to me? How does that make sense?"
And it's a fair question because it is an idea that flies in the face of how most of us were raised to live, celebrate the good and double down on our efforts against the bad. So, thanking God for the bad, well, it just doesn't compute.
At least it doesn't until we realize there's a tremendous negative consequence to us railing against the so-called bad, that when we go to war with what we don't like, we end up filling our lives with mountains of unnecessary misery. That's right. Our best efforts to feel better actually backfire and make us feel worse.
It's all driven by a nasty habit called psychological resistance, and it's one that has the power to poison virtually every corner of our lives, but we can put an end it more easily than we may think.
To understand how psychological resistance works against us, we need to first set the stage with three remembrances.
First, let's remember, we're all seeking the same thing. All of our actions, all of our efforts, all of our striving is ultimately aimed at creating a particular internal state. Some may call it happiness, others inner peace or fulfillment, but whatever term we use, it's about creating an inner experience that is free from agitation or turmoil.
Second, let's remember that we want this inner experience of peace or happiness or fulfillment now, because let's face it now is the only thing that really matters. And to be clear, I'm not speaking of now as in whatever time it is in this moment for you. But instead I'm speaking of the eternal now, the now that moves with you through time, this now and this now and this now.
And third, we have to remember that now is as now is. What this means is that now this moment cannot be any different from how it is, at least for now. And this is true for every moment, for every now.
As an example, right now, you don't have any choice but to be where you are listening to this podcast. Now I know the mind might try to tell you that you could have chosen to listen to a different podcast, but the fact is that you didn't. And so here you are. Now, if you have one of those really clever minds, it might try to convince you that you could simply turn off the podcast and do something else. And while that may be true in a microsecond from now, for now, for this infinitely thin slice of time we call this moment, you're stuck.
And so it goes for each and every moment of our lives. As each one bubbles up for that moment, it literally can't be any different from how it is, and all of the struggling and scheming and striving in the world cannot change it in any way, at least for that moment.
So why am I bothering to describe such an obvious truth? Well, it's because as hard as it may be to believe, many of us seem to forget this simple fact and we end up going to war with the one thing that can't be any different from how it is—this moment. It's this war against now that is the real problem. This war against now is the habit we're calling psychological resistance.
Psychological resistance, or the mind's going to war with what we don't like, would make a lot of sense if it worked, but it doesn't.
As we've just seen, because now is as now is, because this moment cannot be any different from how it is, all the resistance in the world can have no effect on changing what is happening now. But it gets worse, because not only does resistance have no effect on what's happening now, it actually poisons the moment by adding unnecessary misery to our experience. Something we call suffering.
So, the truth is you may not be able to make this moment better, but you can certainly make your experience of it worse through psychological resistance.
To understand how it all works, we need to first make a distinction, a distinction between pain and suffering. Now I know pain and suffering are terms that are often used interchangeably, but teasing them apart can offer us a tremendous clue into how to live with more peace and clarity.
So, for our purposes, pain is what we might think of as mandatory discomfort. It may be physical or mental and emotional, but there's no getting out of it because pain is the actual discomfort that is inherent in a particular experience. Pain is the ache in the stubbed toe. It's the icy cold of the wind and it's the crawl in the traffic jam. Ache, cold, crawl. Period.
Now suffering on the other hand is an altogether different kind of animal. Suffering is optional discomfort. It's the anguish, the frustration, the anger or the guilt that you yourself add on top of the pain and yes, you got it right. I said that you yourself add. You see, here's the thing, suffering is created when your mind goes to war with what's happening now. This is what we mean by psychological resistance.
Psychological resistance operates through a single repetitive thought: "This should not be like this." Of course, it may not always be phrased exactly like that. It could come as "why me" or "how much longer will this take?" Or even "this is a load of crap", but in every case the thought is at odds with the one thing that cannot be different from how it is this moment.
The thought, "why didn't you leave the light on for me", adds frustration on top of the ache of the stubbed toe. The thought "I hate winter" adds irritation on top of the wind and rain and the thought, "why didn't I take the freeway" adds impatience on top of the traffic jam.
And in fact, traffic is a perfect example to explore this a bit more deeply because nearly universally we find traffic to be frustrating, irritating, and even maddening. But is it really?
I mean, imagine yourself to be in a colossal traffic jam. Cars lined up for as far as the eye can see and you're crawling along at a blistering 14 miles per hour in the fast lane. Now let's look at the experience just as it is. Traffic is you sitting in a comfortable padded seat. Traffic is you listening to your favorite radio station or podcast and traffic is you looking out the windows at a pretty amazing view.
So, the so-called pain in the experience is just that: seat, radio, view. And that's traffic. Hardly anything there to prompt the least amount of misery, frustration, or irritation at least until psychological resistance comes onto the scene.
Once the mind starts in with "this should not be like this" - "this speed", "this under-built freeway", "this stalled out lane should not be like this", we begin to unwittingly add suffering on top of the pain. We add impatience and frustration on top of seat, radio, view.
Now, even though it's caused by our own habit of psychological resistance, most of us are completely aware of our own culpability in the process. Most of us blame our suffering on the traffic and this self-created suffering or optional misery is happening in nearly every corner of our lives.
Imagine yourself standing in line at Whole Foods. You're third in line reading the National Enquirer like you always do, and you're enthralled in a fascinating alien baby article. All of a sudden, a woman with a full grocery cart comes cruising down aisle 13 behind you and runs into your right hip.
The unexpected bumps startles you out of your article and you turn around, you look at her, she looks at you, and without so much as a by your leave, she calmly turns and disappears down aisle 12.
No "I'm sorry".
No "excuse me".
And so "well" you think and turn to the person standing next to you in line.
"Did you see that? That woman just bumped into my hip with her cart and just wandered off without so much as a, pardon me".
Then when you get up to the checker, the checker asks, "did you find everything you need"?
And you say, "yes, I did. And in fact, I found something I don't need. This crazy rude lady just crashed into me with a cart and just wandered right off. I think I'm okay now, but who knows? Tomorrow you should really tell your manager about this! Somebody's going to get hurt!"
Then you pack up your groceries, head to your car, pick up your cell phone. You call your friend Mabel. "Mabel", you say, "you're not going to believe what happened to in Whole Foods! A woman crashed into me with a cart, right into my hip and walked away without so much as a word."
"Are you okay?" Mabel asks.
"I think so, but you never know. But to be safe, I think we really need to start shopping at Piggly Wiggly from now on"
And then off to work you drive, and at work you stopped by every cubicle to tell everyone about the crazy woman loose at the Whole Foods and at the end of the day, you walk into the front door of your home. Your partner looks at you, "How was your day, honey?", "Well, you're not going to believe what happened to me at Whole Foods".
Now I realize this is a goofy little story, but it illustrates an important point, namely how suffering is a much bigger problem for us than pain.
To be clear, the pain in the story is the simple bump on your hip. Just that momentary experience of pressure on your hip caused by the meeting of the cart in the hip.
Everything else-the entire days diatribe, together with all of the attendant emotions of frustration and irritation and outrage is suffering, optional misery created by that though "This should not be like this".
"This (the woman with the shopping cart) should not be like this (running into people without apologizing)". And the crazy thing is that all of us do this all day long every day of the year.
But as always, I invite you not to believe a word, but check it out for yourself in your own life.
So, this is all well and good, but what exactly is the cure for all of this unnecessary suffering? As you may have already guessed, is to simply stop the psychological resistance. And we do this through something most traditions would call surrender.
To revisit and slightly paraphrase Ramana Maharshi's words from the beginning of the episode, we need to thank God for the bad things that happen to us as well as the good.
It's no accident that nearly every tradition has an orientation towards surrendering to God. Or we could also say, surrendering to this moment or to now. In yoga, the term is Ishvara Pranidhana, which literally translates as surrendering to the Divine. In the Christian tradition, it's "Thy will be done." And in Taoism they warn "Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them. That only creates sorrow."
And this is why the practice of surrender is so powerful and important, not because some sort of obedience is required to commune with God, or, if you prefer, Source, but rather because not surrendering or living a life in a perpetual state of psychological resistance creates such inner turmoil.
Things like anxiety and fear and anger, frustration and worry, all, all of which obscure our perception of God. So once again, the ancient sages got it right and in a way that is surprisingly as relevant to our lives today as it was to their lives so many years before.
The fact is when we surrender, we come into harmony with things and when we are in harmony with things, our whole lives are lifted, our relationships blossom, our clarity improves. We connect with purpose and our bodies and minds radiate health and vitality. In the words of the great poet Rumi "Out beyond the ideas of right doing and wrongdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there".
To be clear, surrendering, or giving up resistance, doesn't mean we should become doormats.
It doesn't mean we should give up our goals and it doesn't mean we should just roll over when things don't go our way. Remember the problem here is psychological resistance and the unnecessary suffering it causes. And the solution is surrender.
But if you hear nothing else, hear this—surrender is a completely different thing from inaction.
I'll say it again. Surrender is a completely different thing from inaction.
Here's what we forget. I don't need to work myself into a fine fit of the fan Todd's to take action. It's not necessary for me to go to war with this moment in order to do something to make the next moment better.
I don't have to get pissed to change lanes in the traffic jam. I don't have to make myself miserable to move to a warmer city and I don't have to turn someone into an enemy to find a new relationship.
In other words, it's entirely possible to take action from a place of calm and joy and clarity. I can be totally surrendered to the moment, that is free of psychological resistance, and still take action. And a side note: action taken from a place of the calm of surrender is much more likely to be skillful and appropriate and effective.
Now for some reason, this concept is a tough one for many people to grasp. Perhaps it's because we're so used to having our actions driven by frustration or dissatisfaction or anger or desperation, and in that, we've come to believe that this kind of inner turmoil is necessary for us to do something about our situation, but the fact is the inner turmoil is optional.
Your actions in no way need to be driven by negative feelings. You don't need fear or anger or anxiety or desperation to do your best. You can be relaxed and surrender to the moment while at the very same time you make calm and skillful effort to make the next moment or hour or year even better than this one.
Here's a little experiment that you can use to verify this in your own experience.
The next time you feel yourself swallowed up by frustration or overcome with impatience or even roiling with anger, take a moment and ask yourself, what am I resisting?
Is it someone's behavior?
Is it a delay or inconvenience of some kind?
Is it a lapse in judgment?
And once you've zeroed in on what it is, give that thing, whatever it is, your partner, the dirty dishes in the sink or the little blue haired old lady at Starbucks writing a check, your full and unequivocal permission to be as it is just for 30 seconds.
And for those 30 seconds of surrender, for those 30 seconds of no resistance, if you look closely, you'll see that something will change.
It might be that you feel a little calmer. It might be if you feel a little less impatience, it might even be that you find yourself breathing a little easier.
And here's a quick pro tip. You're not looking for huge seismic changes, at least not yet. You're just looking for a little glimpse of momentary improvement, just the tiniest sliver of relief from impatience or irritation. And this is because huge changes don't happen overnight.
So, what we're really fishing for here is evidence. Evidence that surrender works to relieve turmoil, to improve our experience even just a little bit. And maybe most importantly, surrender works even in the middle of the same circumstance that just a moment ago felt so assaulting.
You see, this evidence proves to us that we have the power within ourselves to create more ease and harmony and calm out of thin air. And if I can do this with a silly little experiment today, just imagine the possibilities of what I could do with a sincere and committed effort over time.
Well, that's going to do it for this week. As always, thanks for listening and keep your comments and questions coming by dropping me a note from my website at ericwal.com. I'd love to hear from you.
Also, if you can do me a quick favor and leave an honest review of the podcast to help people understand if it might be right for them, I'd be grateful.
And lastly, please, please, please help me spread the word about the life changing power these ancient teachings can have for us in our over-busy lives by sharing the podcast with those who could benefit. Thanks again, I appreciate you and I'll see you in the next episode.