Holding hands with my desperate need to run away
In Buddhism (and in many spiritual traditions), we’re taught to become conscious of our fear of suffering. We’re taught to face it, to develop the courage to face it head on, and just “be with it.” For decades I’ve been trying to do that.
I’ve navigated complex, sticky situations with my grown children, feeling my own ineptitude, guilt and confusion. Feeling it head on. I’ve found myself struggling in my marriage, and faced that struggle, the hardest part of it, head on.
Some of what I’ve just said is true. Some of it is how it happened.
But most of it is not.
The sneaky, deeper truth hiding in plain sight is resistance. I was ‘diving into the heart of trouble’ as a strategy to keep from actually feeling my own pain. My ‘fearlessness’ was a clever facade that masked my fear. A brilliant example of resistance as distinct from suffering.
For instance, as a mother, my familiar territory is guilt. I know my way around in that whole scene. The grooves of my motherbrain are deep. But the much scarier territory is resistance. How did I, how do I, run away from all that guilt? Do I look at my watch? Change the subject? Not answer the phone? Oh my God, and what effect does that have on my kids and my relationship with them? (Ooo, yummy. More fuel for the guilt machine. More strength for those depressive neural pathways.)
Do you see what just happened there? As soon as I identified how I resist suffering about my kids, I immediately transformed the resistance back into suffering itself. Instead of noticing a moment of clear seeing, I made it food for more guilt. I enslaved my noticing mind to the suffering machine. This is not what Buddhism is about. At all.
So what could I have done instead? What can we all do instead?
When something makes us suffer, we can feel into the nature of our resistance to it.
For instance, is there something you know you’re probably resisting right now? Sit very still and feel it. Try to distinguish the difference between the suffering itself and your resistance to it.
How does that resistance express itself? How does it feel in the body? What actions do you take (or not take) because you’re resisting something unpleasant? Familiarize yourself with your own Resistance Body Guard. It’s trying to protect you from feeling bad. It’s doing its best to keep you safe.
But like so many of our survival strategies, its methods are outdated, overblown, and exhausting to implement. And while releasing old habits rarely happens overnight, we can start today by paying attention without an agenda.
Day by day, let’s face our resistance before facing the suffering it’s trying to save us from. Let’s hold its hand tenderly, and speak the following words to it with compassion:
I see you. Thank you for all the protection you’ve been trying to provide. But you don’t need to drive anymore. Let’s take a walk together. Here, hold my hand. We’re good. Whatever happens, we’re going to be okay.
This simple act can cut your suffering right in half.
Blessings to all beings.