This post is the essence of a talk I gave February 24, 2008 at the Spiritual Awareness Community in Bend, Oregon.
Raising Resistance to an Art Form
”Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated”– the Borg in Star Trek, The Next Generation
There’s not going to be anything said or done today that you don’t already know or understand. What you hear is because you are ready and willing to hear it. On some level your resistance has already weakened…
I will be asking you observe your resistance and experience it in a new way. I will be asking your resistance to take you on and try to manipulate you as it habitually does.
Some of you may know that a Siberian Husky named Geronimo, aka You Dog You or also lovingly known as Damn Dog has adopted us as a rescued dog. Damn Dog (DD) is almost deaf, weighs about 65 lbs, and was possibly abused, as he is very skittery. He knows no typical commands (sign or voice). He eats only raw meat. He is 9 years old, and has been, up until a few days after New Years, with one owner since he was 6 weeks old. What is interesting to me is that Damn Dog is neither people or dog aggressive. Even though quite timid, when out for a beloved walk, he eagerly greets humans or dogs. Yesterday while out for his early evening walk a pitbull broke away from his owner and screamed across the street at Damn Dog and me. I halted, knowing that whatever would be couldn’t be avoided. I gave Damn Dog some extra leash so he wouldn’t feel constrained, and waited the few seconds it took. The pitbull was easily 10 lbs heavier than DD, young and aggressive. What was curious to me was DD’s approach. He stood still, relaxed and alert, wagged his tail and somehow let the other dog know that he was not going to either submit or be resistant. By the time the other dog’s owner got to us, the encounter had been defanged, so to speak, by DD’s approach: non-defensive and curious.
Josh, the weekend before I put him down, September 2005
For 11 years I had a black German shepherd, bred for guard duty. Josh never knew that he was 110 lbs, and never seemed to fully occupy his body.
He was beloved by most who knew him, and while never people-aggressive, I had to restrain him from more than one fight with a dog much smaller than he.
The differences in temperament between the 2 dogs are startling: one who was never abused and always coddled was fearfully dog-aggressive and edgy. He never seemed to mature emotionally. The other who has been if not abused, was at least neglected and abandoned, is non-aggressive and curious.
I used to work with a nun in hospice who said “Comparisons are odious”. So, Sister Joan, this is not a comparison, but an illustration of the complexity of how we relate to life.
A poem by Antonio Machado sort of illustrates how I’m thinking about Damn Dog’s approach to threats:
Mankind owns four things
That are no good at sea—
Rudder, anchor, oars
And the fear of going down.
The last few years I have listened to a set of tapes over and over again. The tapes are read by an Irish actress with a lovely brogue, of Pure Heart Enlightened Mind.
These tapes (also available in book form) hold the true story of a young Irish woman, Maura ‘Soshin’ O’Halloran, who in 1979, at the age of 23, after university, but before entering the Sorbonne, took at trip to Japan. She ended up, by chance, if you believe in such things, as a novice in a Zen Monastery in Japan, and never left. While not intentionally written to be read by an audience, Maura’s letters and diaries highlight her courageous journey towards enlightenment and have touched me deeply. Her journals and letters offer an unusual record of her experience, which included sustained period of meditation, arduous manual labor, and an ascetic discipline of mind and body. In the cold of winter she joined the other monks on an annual begging expedition in the North. With her shaved head and monk’s robe, wearing only straw sandals in the snow and sleet, she would join the other monks as they passed through the streets, ringing a bell and holding out their bowls for alms and donations of food.
“Suddenly I understood that we must take care of things just because they exist.”–Maura
Maura’s humor and grace were (are) amazing. What stays with me is that whenever asked by anyone to do anything she simply said, ‘Ok’. That was her true koan (although the one given to her by her Roshi was ‘mu’.) If I had read the book I might not have heard this so clearly, but this simple act of non-resistance stands out in hearing her journal read. Maura achieved enlightenment in 3 short years, and was then killed at the age of 27 in a bus accident in Thailand while on her way home to Ireland for a visit. She is considered an Irish Zen ‘saint’.
In my desire to live my life with the practice of “OK”, I have been observing my resistance to doing so. It is sometimes blatant, sometimes subtle, and ever-present. There are, of course, a million reasons to not say ‘ok’ to whatever life brings me. But watching Maura and Damn Dog say ‘ok’ to whatever comes to them have led me to a particular train of thinking.
Recently I posted a poll on the Virtual Tea House:
Loving what is unlovable in others OR
Showing up 100% for your life?
Right now, showing up 100% for our life is winning the poll at 78%.
These are not opposites and are connected. But what if in the interest of understanding resistance, we did try to ascertain its polarity?
What would you say is the opposite of resistance?
(dialogue with the group)
I know that this is likely to evolve, but my answer today is ‘curiosity’.
I am becoming aware that when I’m in resistance to something, I am blocking any natural curiosity about that idea, person, thing that might be of service to me: Resistance is my rudder, anchor, oar and ‘ fear of going down’ in the sea of life.
Curiosity leaves the end game to someone else. It replaces anxiety and fear with an openness and generosity of spirit. Curiosity leaves me feeling alive and engaged. Curiosity gives me something I can use in the sea of life: a way to navigate.
Curiosity opens the mind and heart. We can then feel the music that life is composed of.
Recently I have had the sheer good fortune to run smack dab into my resistance…having been brought up as an evangelical Christian and having left that world behind long ago, I thought I knew what that particular type of Christianity was about, and my stance was: ”nice people, a little rabid. Theology is way too literal. Leave them alone and maybe they’ll do the same for you.”
In putting together a blog carnival about engaged spirituality(due for publication on the Virtual Tea House March 1st or 2nd, I stumbled onto some sites of engaged dialogue between evangelical Christians and ‘the other’ that have been blowing my socks off. ‘Conversation at the Edge’, ‘Square No More’, ‘Off the Map’ are some of the names of the sites. One says that it’s ‘helping Christians to be normal since 2001’… These folks are alive, engaged, funny, irreverent. I’ve been having a blast recognizing and unraveling my resistance, based on ignorance and only seeing what I wanted to see. I have, consequently, made some new friends…
(and the mystical violin changes to ‘you’)
When the violin
Can forgive the past
It starts singing
When the violin can stop worrying
About the future
You will become
Such a drunk laughing nuisance
Will then lean down
And start combing you into
When the violin can forgive
Every wound caused by
The heart starts singing.
The payoff for forgiveness is a singing heart…
Since there’s always a pay-off for all our behavior, what is the pay-off for resistance?
□ Sense of control
□ Sense of security (known)
□ Sense of timing of inevitable loss
□ What else??
The pay-off for curiosity was bigger and more potent than the pay-off for resistance?
Here’s a poem by M. Truman Cooper that highlights both pay-offs:
(I’m taking the liberty to substitute ‘resistance’ for ‘fear’ in this poem.)
Suppose that what you resist
Could be trapped
And held in Paris.
Then you would have
The courage to go
Everywhere in the world.
All the directions of the compass
Open to you, except
The degrees east or west of true north
That lead to Paris.
Still , you wouldn’t dare
Put your toes
Smack dab on the city limit line.
You’re not really willing
To stand on a mountainside
And watch the Paris lights
Come up at night.
Just to be on the safe side,
You decide to stay completely
Out of France.
But then danger
Seems too close
Even to those boundaries,
And you feel the timid part of you
Covering the whole globe again.
You need the kind of friend
Who learns your secret and says,
“See Paris first.”
So, we’re going to be the kind of spiritual friends to each other today that say: “See Paris first.”
I’m asking for your resistant self and your curious self to come out to play today. I’d like to ask you all to clear some space and stand in a half-circle.
I’m going to read a poem by Sophia de Mello Breyner to you. * It’s a poem about resistance and grace, curiosity and risk.
After reading it the first time, I’m going to ask you to move your body to the images and feelings brought up by the poem. This may be your intro to liturgical dance…move as your heart moves you…
Work it through—feel the resistance…engage your curiosity. What does it feel like to move to ‘a keen consciousness’?
Sister Joan would be proud of us—comparisons even among our internal aspects are odious. Resistance and curiosity, grace and spiritual blindness are all of the human condition, all are being ‘assimilated’…the rub is to walk, regardless of our state of being, as one “beloved, beloved and known.” See Paris first.
* I’m listening
I’m listening yet I don’t know
If what I hear is silence
I’m listening but I can’t tell
If I hear the plain of emptiness echoing
Or a keen consciousness that
At the bounds of the universe
Deciphers and watches me
I only know I walk like someone
Who is beheld, beloved and known.
And because of this I put into my every movement
Solemnity and risk. –Sophia de Mello Breyner