by Alan F. Zundel
Many people are aware of meditation, but few actually practice it. Yet those of us who do meditate are not that different from those who do not—we all experience resistance.
Some people have heard of meditation but are not interested in it. Their goals and priorities are different; they are not as interested in looking inward as they are in outward achievement. They may think of meditation as something weird that normal people do not engage in, or that it is a waste of time when they could be doing something useful.
Other people express an interest in meditation but never seem to get around to practicing it. They say they cannot find time for it, but likely they could give up time from other activities such as watching television if they really wanted to. Something other than lack of time seems to be the real reason, perhaps a belief that meditation is going to take effort or be boring.
In both sets of people there is a resistance to meditation; there is a resistance called ‘I don’t want to be weird’ and there is a resistance called ‘I don’t have time for it.’ But resistance is also present in people who do meditate.
When you meditate you find your mind resisting becoming quiet and still; it wants to go running off in different directions, and it take a little time and effort—sometimes a lot of time and effort—to get the mind to settle down. There is resistance to silence, resistance to stillness—resistance to whatever it is that meditation is meant to bring into your life, even when you express a desire for those things. So what is this resistance all about? What is it in us that wants to avoid spending time in stillness?
Some of it is inertia. We are so used to operating on a more superficial level of the mind, of thought, of emotion, that it is hard to break out of that. It takes effort, and we resist making effort. We sense that being left alone with one’s mind, as when someone is shut in solitary confinement, is not fun. There is something about the way our mind functions that is tiresome and annoying and irritating and even painful; that is why we want to be entertained, because we don’t want to experience the pain of listening to our own mind run on and on. If it takes effort to deal with that, well, it is a lot easier to distract ourselves from it.
When the mind finally begins to settle and we experience a degree of inner stillness, then we sense that between this initial experience and a much deeper sense of silence and stillness there is something else we must pass through in order to get there: the pain of unresolved emotions. When you begin to open yourself up, emotions that in your past were too intense and painful to fully accept have to be relived to fully integrate them into your consciousness and go beyond them. Feelings come up from your childhood—humiliations, fears, traumas—and your mind will start kicking at the bit so you do not have to go through that, creating all kinds of fantasies and interesting distractions.
Beyond that, we vaguely sense that the inner stillness brings change, and we are afraid of change that the mind cannot control. Even when we say we want change in our life, what we really want is to be able to control the change and direct it toward an outcome we can predict. Opening yourself up to the stillness represents letting go to something deeper that may change you in ways you cannot control. There is resistance to this something ‘other’ in ourselves.
We may tell ourselves and truly believe that this ‘other’ is the divine, yet still there can be resistance; it is hard to give up control even to God—maybe especially to God! But then there is the fear that maybe the something inside is not transcendent love and goodness; maybe it is dark unconscious psychological forces or even demonic spirits. There can be a fear that you will totally lose control and ‘go crazy’ by giving in to the stillness. We may think we know who we are, but there is the feeling that some hidden and powerful part of ourselves can take over and maybe even obliterate the familiar self.
So resistance has many levels, and many manifestations and rationalizations, but at the bottom it is a sense of fear—fear of letting go, fear of facing emotional pain, and fear of change, all of which are related. Letting go allows the pain to arise, yet precipitates the process that changes you into the person whom you have yearned to become. And that is what we fear most of all—being fully ourselves, without all of the masks and defenses. Naming the resistance for what it is allows you to see the choice that is open before you.Alan F. Zundel is a counselor, author, and teacher currently living in Eugene, Oregon. His talks are available to download for free at HeartAwake Center at www.heartawake.org.