Being content can be much easier said than done. There are so many things that can interfere with our sense of contentment and inner peace. Unexpected obstacles, tasks we don’t really want to complete, the words and actions of other people, even not getting enough sleep the night before. The list could go on and on, depending on the day, our mood, and how consistently we’ve been taking care of ourselves and our lives. But there’s one thing that tends to go hand-in-hand with all forms of discontentment, and that’s what I’d like to focus on in today’s post. That is, resistance.
Specifically, I’m talking about the ways in which we reject what’s happening, or needs to happen, in our life. The disgruntled or put-out opinions we form about our circumstances and what life is asking from us on any given day. Our mechanisms of procrastination, as well as the flashes of irritability that flare up when things don’t go the way we want or expect them to. All of these forms of resistance, whether subtle or loud, prevent us from being content.
Ever Had an Off Day or Off Week?
I’m writing about this topic this week, because it’s been a recent issue for me. Last week was one of those off weeks where I just didn’t feel like my usual self. I can’t pinpoint exactly what started it. I know my allergies were acting up. And my motivation plummeted. Consequently, I skipped on many of my self-care practices. It was one of those weeks where I ordered take-out more times than I cooked, which left me feeling even less healthy and energized for life.
There was a bit of a snowball effect occurring. I let the dishes and recycling accumulate in the kitchen, even though seeing the mess made me cringe every time I walked by it. Little inconveniences seemed much bigger than they were, wearing on my patience. A sense of overwhelm started creeping in. Though I happily did everything I wanted to do, and pushed myself to finish what I had to do, I could feel irritability brewing within me. All in all, I was just off.
The off-ness gradually grew until I finally took notice of it. It was my practice of mindfulness that helped me see it. In fact, it was mindfulness that turned everything around, illuminating the true nature of my problem. I was suffering from resistance.
Mindfulness Develops Our Capacity for Being Content
Although I’ve practiced mindfulness for many years, I’m not always mindful. And there are times when I’m really disconnected from mindful awareness. I get caught up in some drama or just life’s busy-ness, and it’s usually not until I’m feeling especially discontent that I snap out of the haze to realize how mindless I’ve been.
That’s what happened last week. After a couple of days of feeling crappy and irritable, I suddenly remembered to observe myself mindfully. My husband and I were just about to head out the door for some not-so-fun errands, and I realized I was dreading it. I didn’t relish the idea of driving all over the city. My mind was thinking about other things I’d rather be doing. I could feel the resistance in my body as a tightness in my shoulders and chest, as well as a slight burn in my belly.
I recognized the feeling, as well as the thoughts that accompanied it. I’d been having them for a few days. And the result was, I’d been feeling more stressed and discontent than I had in a long while.
I took several mindful breaths and observed my inner state. In those few moments, everything shifted. As my mind surrendered to the day’s tasks, my sense of irritation evaporated. I felt the resistance fall away from my body. It was as if I’d been under some moody spell that suddenly lifted. Like it had never been there.
I saw how insubstantial it was – my discontentment. Just a barrier to inner peace and ease I’d erected through my own resistance to what is. One that could be deconstructed far more easily than it had been constructed. All I had to do was stop resisting.
By the time we got in the car, I was content and open to whatever the day might bring. We ended up sharing an enjoyable time together! How different it would’ve been, though, if I hadn’t shifted my internal state.
Being Content Arises from Non-Judgmental Acceptance of What Is
Mindfulness asks us to be aware of our present moment experience without placing judgment on it. It asks us to accept what is, as opposed to feeling the need to control or change it. It’s resistance to what is that makes us feel discontent, and in turn, stressed. We feel compelled to try to change our situation, and if we can’t or don’t change it, we feel at odds with it. Enter negative thoughts, emotional reactions, and even uncomfortable body states.
But when we let go of our resistance, we remove our barrier to being content. I know this, and I’ve known it for a long time. I’ve experienced the peace that follows my surrender countless times. But still, sometimes I forget to bring this mindful acceptance to my life.
Now, obviously there are things in life we do need to actively resist. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the ways in which we get hung up on things not going our way or having to do tedious tasks. And the ways we put off doing things we need to do, which sometimes can include the very things that can help us feel our best. I’m talking about the negative thoughts that go through our heads before, during, and after something arises that, for whatever reason, we don’t like. The micro-stressors.
Our judgments, rejections, and resistances prevent us from being content. It’s not the person, thing, or event. It’s our own minds. But when we let go of all that and simply surrender to what is, we immediately return to our natural state of inner peace.
Types of Resistance That Keep Us From Being Content
It may not be news for you to hear what’s happening in your life isn’t always what causes your suffering. It’s your reaction to it. Quotes and memes on this topic abound on the internet. But, for me at least, knowing it in my head isn’t enough to truly impact my way of relating to life circumstances. What’s made the difference for me over the years is being able to recognize when I’m resisting life, and then cultivating the capacity to let go of that resistance through mindful acceptance.
We all experience resistance to life, though we may feel it in slightly different ways. If we want to be able to stop resisting, we need to know how resistance manifests specifically for us. The best way to do that is to start paying attention, mindfully, to what’s happening internally for you when you have that aha moment. When you suddenly realize hey, I’m being resistant. What thoughts, emotions, bodily feelings, and behaviors have been showing up for you? And how long have they been there?
If you’re resisting, your thoughts are likely negative. But how exactly? Are you blaming or criticizing yourself or someone else? Do your thoughts have a decidedly pessimistic slant? What are your expectations? Are there any fears or worries underlying your resistance? What have you been telling yourself about your life?
You’ll likely notice a pattern emerge as you observe yourself over time. The same types of thoughts pop up when you start feeling more resistant to life. Bringing awareness to this pattern can make it easier to recognize future episodes when they arise.
Emotions feel more substantial than thoughts. That means they can be easier to notice and can provide a good clue that you’re experiencing resistance to life. For me, irritability is a good indicator. When I’m being resistant, I’m quicker to anger. It becomes harder for me to find the joy in life, and I tend to feel more sadness than usual.
Reflecting on your own tendencies can help you see more clearly when resistance starts showing up. You can recognize it for what it is, rather than getting swept up in your emotions. And seeing this, you give yourself the option of turning things around, practicing acceptance instead.
Resistance can show up in your body in many of the same ways stress does. Tightness in your jaw, neck, back, chest, or shoulders. A burning, twisting, or otherwise unsettled sensation in your stomach, as well as shallower breath and fatigue. We all experience it differently, but if we’re resisting life, eventually it will present itself in our body.
Pay attention to your bodily sensations next time you find yourself not being content. Take note of how it feels, so you can learn to recognize it when it comes up. This is how and where I feel resistance in my body.
When we’re not content, our behaviors often reflect it. Procrastination can be a big indicator that you’re resisting life. Putting off things you need to do because they’re not fun or you view them as too daunting, too tedious, or not important enough actually prolongs your state of discontentment. Because so long as those things remain on your to-do list, they’re going to grate on you.
Other resistant behaviors can include snappy communication, consuming food or other substances in an attempt to make you feel better, oversleeping, passive-aggression, and complaining. Again, what behaviors signal resistance will vary from person to person. But, there’s likely a pattern that will emerge for you.
How to Stop Resisting and Be Content
Once you realize you’re being resistant, the question becomes how do I stop? This, of course, is a complex question. And clearly, I’m still working toward this goal myself. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect we’ll ever reach a state of contentment that lasts forever. We’re human. That means we’re subject to a bunch of neurological and biochemical fluctuations that affect our reactions to our environment and life circumstances. And, we have brains that produce a stream of non-stop thoughts, trying to determine what’s safe, desirable, and advantageous to us versus what is not.
We would be setting ourselves up for failure if we were to set a goal of obtaining an everlasting state of contentment. However, we don’t have to settle for being mere puppets to these inner mechanisms either. The key is bringing more conscious awareness to our inner states of being, and actively choosing to override signals and reactions that aren’t serving us.
Just because something isn’t bringing us pleasure doesn’t mean we can’t choose to release our resistance to it. The same goes for things that scare us, challenge us, bore us, or in any other way bring some kind of discomfort to us. By letting go of our resistance, we give ourselves permission to be content even in the midst of these things.
Acceptance is an art form. To be able to surrender to what is requires us to shift our thoughts about it, as well as to release any emotional reactions that may have formed around it. To let go of resistance in our body, we have to be able to relax our body in the present moment. In doing all this, we’re consciously creating our reaction to what is. And when our body, heart and mind align with an accepting reaction, we’re able to move forward with actions that further support our contentment.
Mindfulness is, at its most basic level, the cultivation of acceptance. It’s a skill that takes time and practice to develop fully, but it can also produce immediate results. So much of letting go of resistance can be accomplished with your breath. Awareness of your breath brings you instantly into the present moment. It draws your mind’s attention to the immediate sensations of your breath, which interrupts any thought loops you may be having. And when you allow your breath to expand gently into your belly, your whole body softens.
Focusing on your breath as you breathe fully and slowly engages your parasympathetic nervous system, which places your entire system at ease. A few moments of this sort of mindful breathing releases much of your resistance. It becomes easier to make a conscious choice to surrender to what is. You can then offer yourself a thought that supports you in acceptance.
This quote is a beautiful example of the type of thought you can give yourself to enhance your capacity to ease into a more accepting state of being. But anything that helps you let go of your resistance works. You can repeat it as many times as needed, until you feel your whole self relax and surrender. And you can return to it later with mindful breathing if the pattern of resistance resurfaces.
Letting Go of Resistance Reduces Stress
There are many things we can’t change that produce stress in our lives. And even some things we can change can’t be changed right now. We can’t eliminate all stress, and it’s questionable if we would even want to. Sometimes stress shows us what we do in fact need to pay attention to, what we do need to change for the sake of our health and well-being. But we can significantly reduce our stress levels by practicing the art of being content. Learning how to let go of unnecessary resistance reduces our suffering.
A build-up of resistance to life’s lesser stresses, or micro-stressors, can keep our stress response system on when it doesn’t need to be. This wears on our overall well-being, prevents us from the peace and joy of being content, and leaves us with less inner resources at our disposal when the big stresses arise.
I know I’ve mentioned my frustration with traffic in previous blog posts, but I’m bringing it up again here, because it can be one of my biggest micro-stressors. I can feel the stress rise quickly in my body when I’m stuck in traffic. And every time I remember to do it, introducing mindful breath and a more accepting mindset brings me back to contentment. Almost instantly. Why is that? Because I’ve let go of my resistance to the idea of being stuck in traffic. If it’s going to make me late, I’ve surrendered to that reality too. The moment I stop resisting, my stress response evaporates.
It comes down to this. The more often we practice non-resistance to life’s little stressors, the less overall stress we have.
Next time you notice yourself having an off day or week, check in with yourself to see if resistance – whether subtle or loud – has somehow taken root within you. Breathe mindfully and relax your body, heart, and mind around whatever it is you’re resisting. And even if you find yourself resisting the letting go of your resistance, relax around that too. Keep breathing. Keep observing your present state. Offer yourself some kind, loving thoughts. And when it feels right, let the barrier of your resistance drop away.
May you be at peace. May you find your inner source for being content within each breath you receive.