Flash back to a scintillating conversation with colleagues over beers 20 years ago. We’re talking about a chemical process that causes fish cells to “leak” ATP. I witness the shock and horror of my colleagues, unable to fathom the embodied experience of such rapid energy depletion. Given my colleagues’ reactions, the patrons around us likely suspect we’re gossiping about a scandalous love affair. Nah, just discussing involuntary, “invisible,” detrimental physiological processes. (Hey, we all have our preferred variety of drama)!
Nowadays, I help people identify involuntary/invisible/detrimental leaks in their personal power (not exactly my elevator speech though!). When you’re intent on maximizing your potential and living a rich, joy-filled life, it’s key to retain every drop of your precious, life-altering power.
One way you leak power is by suppressing or resisting certain aspects of yourself, your life or circumstances. When you’re averse to something, it has power over you because your focus, and subsequently, your energy is directed to the problem or on blocking the associated undesirable emotions. The late psychologist Carl Jung is attributed with saying, “what you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.”
Resisting Reality Inhibits Momentum
Wishing that reality was different is the root of frustration. Frustration keeps you stuck in the reality that causes your suffering and prevents you from moving forward with ease. When you’re frustrated, your perceptions are obscured, your world-view narrows and your body tightens. Paradoxically, when you allow what is, you create more space and are able to access a bigger perspective. The chain reaction of allowing is access to more warmth, a deeper connection with yourself and a shift in the whole situation.
In this post, I’m referring to recent-present or present-moment annoyances, setbacks, disappointments, inconveniences, emotions, personal conflicts, bad weather and the like. I’m not referring to past traumatic experiences (though Seltzer 2016 does in a post on this topic), politics or injustice.
Gain More Control By Allowing What Is
If you’re experiencing a difficult emotion or mood, an interruption to your work or leisure, a physical pain, or discord with another person, you unconsciously amplify the event by resisting the experience. When you allow or even befriend the experience, these events have less influence over you and you remain in control. When you allow reality to be as it is you can expedite the shift in your experience, spend less time in struggle, and more time in command of steering your attention and energy to what you want.
This is the essence of resilience — transcending present circumstances by accepting reality and focusing on a positive future. Again, the key to moving forward is allowing the experience to be as it is, to not resist or suppress it, but to allow it to be without adding details to the storyline that cause you to keep clinging-to or amplifying the source of your suffering.
Real Life Examples
One of my favorite mindfulness teachers, Pema Chödrön, tells a story that beautifully illustrates the power of befriending our circumstances. Several days into a meditation retreat, Pema explained to her teacher that she had a difficult feeling and that none of her tools were helping the feeling move—it was solidly stuck in place. Pema’s teacher exclaimed, “This is the dakini bliss!” “All right!” she thought. And as soon as she embraced the feeling, it was gone.
A personal story, that I can recount more accurately, was when I traveled with 50 high school athletes. We were “group housing” in a community room. As you can imagine, there was considerable more noise than I’m accustomed to at bedtime and I really needed some zzzs. I was listening to a sleep track on Amazon to block out the sounds. The sounds were not too muffled, but the speaker suggested, “let the sounds drift by, the sounds are not important.” With that simple yet powerful suggestion, I stopped resisting the sounds and drifted off to sleep within minutes.
These days, I use the mantra, “I can work with this,” when I run into snags. When I keep an open perspective and ask questions like, “what next?” or “what now?” instead of “what in the hell?” I get much better results.
Change Requires Acceptance
The same concept holds when you resist aspects of yourself. Until you accept who you are, you can’t create changes in yourself. In psychology, this is referred to as the Gesalt Paradoxal Theory of Change. According to this theory, only when we allow ourselves to be as we truly are will we naturally change in an organic and meaningful way. Research suggests that this theory has broad application (Seligman and Reichenberg 2014).
Psychologist Leon Seltzer (2016) said, “It’s wise to accept what is, if only to put yourself in the best possible place to change it.” When you accept and befriend reality, you retain your personal power and ability to effectively direct your energy toward what you want. As you make this a habit, remember to be gentle on yourself when notice that you’ve become hooked in frustration. Allow that too, and know that greeting reality with kind attention is a practice of a lifetime.
Seligman, L.W. and L.W. Reichenberg. 2014. Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy, Pearson. Boston, MA.
Seltzer, L.F. 2016. You only Get More of What You Resist – Why? June 14, 2016. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evolution-the-self/201606/you-only-get-more-what-you-resist-why