Finding Peace in the Heart of Resistance
Got tangled up in a struggle this week that took about 5 hours to shake loose. It went how it usually does: tried a few tactics to get untwisted and nothing worked—‘til something finally did.
During an extensive renovation on my house last year, one of the projects was replacing my wood burning fireplace with a gas one.
As happens with these bright ideas, it evolved and grew in unexpected ways, and the next thing I knew we were cutting a hole through the side of the house to get the job done.
It was an epic undertaking that went on for weeks, but the day finally came. We got the new fireplace installed and fired it up!
And…drumroll…it looked like crap. A wimpy little flame that was NOTHING like the showroom model.
The fireplace guys said, “You can’t expect it to look like it did in the showroom. The air pressure is different in the mountains, your house is in a dip, the venting is entirely different here than in the store. There's nothing we can do.”
I said, “I don’t believe it. I know we can make this look better, there must be something more to try.”
3 months and several trips to my house later, they figured out what was wrong (including replacing the vent) and got it burning brightly and beautifully. Like this:
Yay! Good! YES.
Finally, I could rest in the joy of all-being-right in my fireplace world. BIG high-five. Daily appreciation. It’s truly one of my favourite things.
Man, if I could just freeze that YES in place, prevent the thing that’s working from changing - like ever. Then I could live in yes all the time.
About a month ago, I noticed some black soot building up on the outside of my chimney, so I called the fireplace folks and they said, “Yup, we need to do an annual maintenance, that’ll sort that out.” I said, “Ohhhkaaaay - but remember how long it took for us to figure the flame out? Don’t wanna mess with that.”
Reassurances given, appointment booked, work done. Here’s how it looks now:
NOOOO. Bad! Boo.
And then there was this:
Black soot on cream chair.
I get it. The world is not coming to an end, no one I love has died, all my limbs are functioning—etc. Don’t care. Not okay. THIS is not good, not good, NOT GOOD.
Whyyyyy can’t things just go smoothly? Come ON.
When a stress response gets activated, it’s no place for reason. Cortisol is surging, the story’s in charge, and it’s off to the races. I was hooked.
AND it was a chance to practice yes.
I try to use these minor disruptions as training ground, so when the stuff that really kicks my ass shows up I can find my way home.
START WITH the “NOT OKAY”
I was in an argument with this situation. Fair enough. Get to be. To a part of me—it really mattered that things were not going according to plan. That self is allowed to have her opinion and her response.
When she finally paused for a breath, I got present with what else was here. Not this morning, when the wheels first fell off, but right now.
The resistance was a streaming commentary of NO.
My mind was like a wild horse let out of the barn. It ran in circles and bucked and kicked. It whinnied and shook its head emphatically. Every now and then it stopped and paused, was still for just a moment. Peace…
And then it was off again, rearing up, snorting and pawing at the ground, gnawing on fence posts—it was a full on rodeo inside my head.
My mind wanted to get rid of this thing, and the goal was to out think it.
keep trying stuff ‘til something works
Getting bucked out of well-being is unsettling—our instinct is to try and get ground under our feet.
How do we let go of trying to fix what we don’t like, and relax with what is?
The challenge is to turn our attention inward—away from circumstance and toward ourselves—until we hit on something that unlocks the constriction.
Reach out for connection
It often helps to share what you’re feeling with a trusted fellow human—someone who will listen and hold space for whatever storm you’re in. Company and love almost always makes the big thing feel less big.
Sometimes I’ll call 2 or 3 people, and if no one’s around, I trust there’s another way through.
Fresh air and moving your body can create shift for a couple of reasons.
One is connection with the wisdom of the natural world (more on that later).
Another is that agitation and fear are fast moving energies, and choosing the speed of your energy through conscious movement frees you from being pulled along by the turbulent pace of your thinking mind.
*Bonus points: bring a canine sidekick along. Lily and I headed for the woods.
“There she goes,” said the birds and the squirrels as I marched past them grumbling and muttering away. So much for good intentions—might as well have had a paper bag over my head. My mind was galloping through the forest with all of its attention fixated on the ‘problem’.
Ok, shift not happening.
One simple gratitude practice is to imagine something you love gone, and then appreciate that it’s still here.
I watched my furry red friend rolling around with her stick in the snow, playful paws batting the air. Can’t not smile. Okay, sure. Yes, yessity, yes—I’m filled with joy that she’s in my life right now. I truly am. But the unsettled tension in my stomach was still persistent and loud.
Some days gratitude just isn’t gonna do it.
Separate the story from the feeling
Our experience becomes repetitive, persistent and solid when a mental story gets woven through it.
Have you ever felt frustrated or angry for hours in a row? Being attached to your opinion about the situation (your story) is what’s keeping you stuck.
The thinking mind generates stories and our body feels something in response. These are two SEPARATE THINGS that seem like the same experience—until you slow it down.
I find I can get there if I toggle back-and-forth:
story/thought…what’s happening in my body?….story/thought… oh, knots in my stomach…story/thought…churning/burning…story/thought…the energy is doing somersaults…
Once there’s a distinction, try to shift away from the mental story and bring your awareness to the physical sensations, without having a preference or opinion about them.
*Note: this is tough to do, it’s not how we’re wired.
With practice you’ll notice that your felt experience, when it’s observed separate from a thought, is continually shifting and changing. You begin to discern your energy as unique and different in each breath.
So now that I’m in touch with the energy—what to do with it?
Go Straight For It
How the hell do you find magic in an experience when what you feel is resistant and anxious?
I was in a fearful relationship with the stress and trying to get rid of it—which was making it worse.
So instead, I went straight toward the constricted, revved-up, stomach-in-knots discomfort of it.
Taking a deep breath all the way into the centre of it, I imagined the in-breath was collecting the tension, and then let out a long exhale. I took another deep breath, continuing to gather the energy, and on the next slow exhale I imagined it moving down my shoulders and arms, and out through my hands into the forest.
And then a crazy thing happened.
I felt the forest meeting it. Actually receiving and absorbing it.
The trees and the air that connected them said, “Hey, let us carry this with you. You don’t have to hold it on your own. We have no story about it, it’s just energy, it’s welcome here.”
I took a few more long, deep breaths, releasing the tension into the forest and taking its presence in. Letting the negative charge flow outward past the boundary of my ‘personality’ self was so helpful. When it was “just me struggling with this” it felt fiery and constricted.
Now there was more room to breathe, and I felt less alone.
track MAGIC—not outcomes
Getting closer to ease, I shook the last of it off with a couple of laps on my bike. The stories were riding along, but they had way less traction—I saw now where I’d been caught.
When we’re identified with small self, we’re fixated on ‘getting’. Comfort, certainty, control. Me, me, me.
Ego asks, “How do I manage things to get what I want, and fix or avoid what I don’t?” Fear is driving and the events of our life, including our dealings with others, become transactional.
When we objectify people and circumstances by making them a means to an end, we lose our connection with magic. When we’re aligned with our true nature, we show up to create with life as it is, not how we wish it was. We ask, “What can I bring to this experience?”
Near the end of my ride, I sat down on a bench overlooking the lights of town just beginning to twinkle in the dusk, face to face with one of my favourite mountains. Solid, present, still. So goddamn wise.
It said, “This need not concern you.” And in case I didn’t hear the first time, “This need not concern you. Talk with us instead.” It included the sky and the trees and the earth. “Notice how WE are being with this thing you find troubling.”
The boughs of the trees rocked softly in the winter breeze. The sky, clear and vast, was just beginning to share its stars. The rhythm and patterns of the mountain revealed an amicable response to being thrust into the sky by the life force of the earth.
The world was welcoming me to BE in it, without an agenda.
It was showing me the way through. I could shift from the struggle of “This is not what I want,” to the engagement of “How do I want to show up for what’s here?”
I could let go of needing things to be a certain way, and open to connect with a source of well-being more steady than circumstances—the present moment.
Willingness replaced resistance. I leaned into life’s generous, unwavering presence, turned my helmet light on, and wove through the night forest back to the sanctuary of home.
Another day, another cartwheel through the adventure.