Guaranteed resistance means: say a thing, and you will hear back from the Customer Service Department, which you may sometimes experience as the Customer Disservice Department. But really, they are all working out of one huge warehouse in Metuchen, or Ho-Ho-Kus, or someplace else off the New Jersey Transit lines that tells me clearly that I am not from there.
Guaranteed resistance comes in many flavors: there’s the relentless push, as of new shoots from underground. There’s the “says you!” defiance of opinion, and the unstoppable inertia of ignoring what you don’t want to know. And there’s also the Universe’s opposition to anything pretending to be what is not. This is the toughest of the lot, the one that makes me throw my Buddhist hands up and say, Really? You can’t cut me some slack just this one time?
Say you are walking the dog, when really you’re bargaining for time away from his impatience, and he will briefly go medieval on some old lady’s poodle. She will tell you you’re a terrible person. You will say OK, but is your dog alright? And she will tell your dog is a terrible person. This will go on for a while, and your back will be saying, For fuck’s sake! What kind of game is this? I want to lay down in hot tub and not get out till next year.
Guaranteed resistance is the force in the Universe that will reliably bring things to a crisis point where change can happen. So it is the most important thing to pay attention to, and also the easiest to fear.
I watched a video about the Brazilian judoka who just won the gold medal in the women’s 57kg category. That is one fierce, fierce woman. Her open hands, her wide stance, the braces on her teeth, lending her face a special category of do not fuck with me. She came from a favela, and her parents enrolled her in judo because from the age of five, all she wanted to do was fight in the streets. So she learned to fight big, and hard. I didn’t know anything about judo till watching this, but, holy shit! That is some intense resistance, some gnarly ground-wrestling, some big thumping dished out, back and forth.
So my question is: what’s the relationship between that kind of I will grapple your ass to the ground, and the if it be your will strand of spiritual growth that I have been dancing with, these many years? (Spoiler: this is not the essay where I solve this question.)
I guess part of it is: honesty. I honestly want to take this situation, and wrestle its ass to the ground. Okay, good. Is there some way to do that? Yes. Try it. Oof! Here I am, on the mat. Here I am, not on the mat, but looking down at this situation, and wondering, Now what? Guaranteed resistance means that unless I understand what I’ve either just thrown to the ground, or been thrown by, this particular thumping will keep happening, back-and-forth, into endless time. Which, actually, might not be the most beneficial way to spend time.
The trees sough and sigh. I pull on my jacket, feeling the cold of almost-September rising from the rain-soaked ground. The ground both resists, and doesn’t. It’s there to push back at my steps, and also there to take in all the spilled sodas and myriad raindrops of the world. The golden retriever pee, and the discarded milk.
Tai chi, from what little I understand, doesn’t work exactly like judo. Instead of resistance, there’s going around, snakily, remembering that around any point of resistance exists a wide world of space. I don’t want to wrestle you, and I don’t want to be thrown. Swish. Now I’m not where you want me, and I’m somewhere safe instead. Now I’ve taken your resistance, and turned it on you. Not my circus, not my monkeys. Goodbye.
I think this is an amazing way to be in the world, and it’s really hard for me a lot of the time. Partly a Taurean thing: I lower my horns, and go right for the point of resistance, forgetting all about the lovely, unobstructed, untrammeled space all around it. There! That pesky weasel! Not, Everywhere, the soughing trees and the earth, ready to support my footfalls in any direction, and not just weasel-ward.
The train hoots and the Listen short-bus screech-tweets its intention to back up. Both operate on resistance, and so travel the world.
I am finished with my addictions coursework for the summer, and about to be finished with my teaching, too. Something’s ending, and something else will begin. In the midst of that change, I can feel both the eager, open, curious part of mind; and the part that says Why bother? Why-bother mind is guaranteed resistance. It says, These efforts amount to not-much. What’s the big hurry? The whole system's rigged. It knows a lot about everything, and none of it is good. If I resist this voice, then I am playing life on its terms, and that is a deeply tedious place to be. Notice instead – Thank you for this bright stripe of sunlight between cloud-banks. Thank you for the delphiniums not flattened by the storm. Thank you for a sound night’s sleep next to my sleeping pup.
Gratitude is an antidote of guaranteed resistance. It’s got better things to do. It sees gifts everywhere, even in the most painful places. Thank you that our dog biting someone woke up to how wild he’s been getting. Thank you that the person he bit is kind, and did not insist that we fire him Immediately through a cannon into outer space. Thank you that this nutty situation, tending to our other dog, post-surgery, has brought us closer together. Thank you that I have friends to call on, when resistance yields to despair. Thank you that now I have some sense of what it might be like for parents with troubled children – the horror, and the love.
My friend writes me a gnarly note on the back of a rehab handout about Acceptance. Of course, I resist, but the medium should be the message, and eventually, if I keep working at it, it will be.
The medium can’t stay at cross-purposes with the message forever. It’s just too much work. Once, on a coffee table in one of the communal areas of the YMCA of the Ozarks, in Missouri, I found a Jesus handout that talked about love on one side. On the back, written in a child’s crayon hand, it said “when I had a bad attitude I was wrong.” We kept the bad attitude side on the refrigerator door for a couple of years, until we moved. It was a useful reminder of how resistance is born, and how it can be laid to rest.
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.