Why resistance is futile (and causes suffering)

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Aug 312016
Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean Luc Picard after assimilation by the Borg. Acknowledgement 

‘Resistance is futile’ was the famous battle cry of the Borg, the alien stars of the Star Trek First Contact film, as they assimilated other species into the Collective. The process was grim involving injecting microscopic machines called nanoprobes into their unfortunate victims. As their success proved, resistance was indeed futile.

In terms of our human experience, resistance to thoughts and emotions is not only futile but causes an immense amount of unnecessary suffering.

Sydney Banks, the Scottish Canadian welder who first put into words the understanding known as The Three Principles, said,

“If the only thing people learned was not to be afraid of their experience, that alone would change the world.”

Resistance is fascinating. I’ve previously put it down to procrastination, laziness, being ego driven, pig headed, stupid or stubborn and that was only when I noticed it in operation (often I was unaware).

So what is this thing we call resistance?

The dictionary always comes in handy to get to more specific meanings of the language we use. So what does the dictionary have to say about RESISTANCE.

To resist:-

To stand firm (against)
Not yield (to)
Fight (against)

Are you getting the idea? The dictionary goes on:-

To oppose
To refuse to accept

It comes from the Latin resistere, to stand still, oppose from re+sistere to stand firm. And my favourite definition of all:-

RESISTANCE — any force that tends to retard or oppose motion

Our natural state is one of flow with thoughts moving through us effortlessly. As soon as we get stuck on a thought we have brought resistance to bear on it. It blocks that free flow of thought.

You know you’re experiencing resistance when what you are doing and what you want to do are in conflict.

Resistance will be familiar to anyone who has set themselves a project to do and then finds it nigh on impossible to drag themselves to the desk or workplace to get down to it. Or when sitting scrolling through your Facebook feed while your shoulders are up round your ears because you feel you should be doing something else. Or when you’re slumped on the sofa late at night, feeling tired, watching something rubbish, knowing you need to sleep but unable to move off the sofa. These are every day examples of resistance at work. They probably don’t cause too much stress but what about more persistent resistance?

When does resistance cause suffering?

More persistent resistance can appear in response to emotions we dislike. They come in all shapes and sizes: fear, desolation, sadness, loss, shame, guilt. According to the Three Principles, every feeling is a reflection of a thought in the moment.

Sometimes we can see the thinking that has produced an emotion e.g. The thought, ‘I always screw up’ can produce a feeling of hollowness and despondency. Other times, all we’re aware of is the emotion, say, feeling yucky.

Thoughts are swirling through our brains all day and all night. The ones we are aware of are just the tip of the iceberg. Left to their own devices, they’ll just mosey on through.

The thing that stops those thoughts just moseying on through is resistance.

Resistance kicks in when we interfere with a thought.

Why does resistance kick in?

The answer is key to dissolving resistance. It seems to me, resistance is a response to an experience we dislike. That might be an unpleasant feeling or an external situation we don’t like.

Superficially we might say it is the product of non-acceptance of a feeling or situation but I think it is more than that. I think resistance is a form of blocking.

We are literally trying to blot out that feeling or situation, as if by refusing to allow it to exist we can somehow make it disappear.

And this desire to banish a feeling or situation comes from a fundamental misunderstanding. From the mistaken belief that a feeling or an external circumstance can undermine our well being. If you believe this, then clearly it is vital to police those feelings and circumstances and not allow anything we perceive as damaging to get a foothold.

Like a sentry guarding the walls of a castle, you’ll always be on alert, ready to pick your enemies off before they get a foot on the castle wall.

Why do we try and block out feelings?

If they scaled that castle wall, you would be overwhelmed. And that would be the end of you. In the same way, I think behind resistance is a primeval fear that we can be crushed, destroyed or diminished by thoughts and feelings in our head or circumstances in our environment.

If that is where you are coming from, resistance is a logical response.

What happens when resistance kicks in?

Like a highway man, resistance intercepts a thought or feeling and holds it up, at gun point, saying,

You can’t come through because I don’t want to feel this. I can’t feel this. This isn’t okay.

And what happens? Does the thought say,

Okay, fair enough, I’ll go away.


The thought cannot move through or dissolve when it is caught in the grip of resistance.

And the effect?

That thought, which would have gone merrily on its way is now sitting in your mind, blocking the way for any new thought to come through. It starts to weigh you down as you attach more and more significance to it and wrap it up in more and more thinking: judgement, criciticism, opinion and questioning. This produces more and more unpleasant feelings as resistance tries to argue with it, plead with it, ignore it or hustle it away.

You can feel the effect of resistance in your body. Tension in your neck and shoulders, shortness of breath. Lethargy and even temporary paralysis.

And yet, it is all unnecessary. Instead of bringing out the guns of resistance, all we have to do is acknowledge the feeling, feel it and let it pass on through. The trick is not to examine, judge, analyse or in any other way hold up that feeling. The thought that created it will also pass on by.

What about when that doesn’t work ie when the yucky feeling is still present. Ask yourself what feeling are you trying to avoid or get rid of?

Can you see that a feeling on its own, can’t hurt you?

Once you see this, the intensity diminishes and the feeling just fades away, like all our other thoughts and feelings.

So when we’re stuck in feeling yucky, remember RESISTANCE IS FUTILE. Loosen your grip on that thought and feeling. Don’t worry about it. It will pass. It is only hanging around because you are trying to manage it.

Go forward with the cast iron certainty of the Borg and don’t waste mental energy on battling thoughts and feelings that will pass anyway. Instead, be curious, notice the emotions and feel them fully.

If you are interested in having a conversation with me for yourself or your team, please email me.