April 5, 2020
Resistance = closed mind.
Resistance is about refusing to accept something that is physically, mentally, or emotionally painful or uncomfortable.
Logically, the simple alternative is to accept whatever shows up—although not as easy as it sounds because we’re talking about accepting discomfort as well as pleasure. The shift from resistance to acceptance is about being fluid in the ability to change our minds.
We’ve never needed that ability more than we do right now. The Coronavirus Pandemic took us by surprise, and we are still reeling from the abrupt shift in every single area of our lives. That discomfort is compounded by the reality that we don’t know when or how it will end.
We are confronting shortages in critical medical supplies, a confusing lack of basic human staples, and conflicting messages about how to handle ourselves.
At the same time, we are seeing heroes rising to meet the seemingly endless needs that have arisen. Front-line workers are continuing to put themselves in precarious positions to take care of the people who need their expertise.
We’re also seeing things happening behind the scenes, neighbor to neighbor, community to community. Individuals making and donating facemasks. Neighbors reaching out and finding those who need help with shopping and getting medication refills. We’re helping to stock the food pantries, and throwing drive-by birthday parties—horns honking and everyone hollering “Happy Birthday!”—so our kids can still celebrate.
The first couple of weeks caught us off guard. But within a short time, we came together. When we stopped reeling and began to confront the reality, focusing on learning and understanding what is needed, we quickly began to look for how we could help.
When our minds are open, and our attention is on what we can do to improve things, we are able to deal with what we are handed, exactly as it is, with openness, willingness and curiosity—which is, incidentally, a perfect description of mindfulness practice.
Resistance is a mindset; acceptance is another. Most of the time, our automatic response to something uncomfortable will be resistance, because we’re human and hard-wired to avoid discomfort. That resistance will tend to result in extreme reactions like caving to something we don’t want, or feeling immobilized, or aggressing against whatever is causing the discomfort.
What Gives Us Power?
Our power—our ability to manage ourselves effectively—returns when we recognize that we have the opportunity, at any moment, to open our minds and take advantage of the options that didn’t occur to us when we were in resistance and our minds were closed.
I remember a particular moment many years ago when that idea—the idea that I always had the power to change my mind—became real to me. I had said yes to something my adolescent son wanted to do and then worried all night long about that decision.
The next day I went back to him and said: “You know what honey? Yesterday, when I said yes, I had pressured myself into a yes because I didn’t want to disappoint you. After I thought about it, I’m really sorry, but I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
He wasn’t a happy camper, but the critical outcome is that I was! Not glad that he was unhappy. But confident that I made a decision that was in both our best interests.
Changing our minds can play a critical role in the degree of discomfort we experience. I didn’t sleep like a baby that night because I knew my son was still upset with me. But I slept better than I had the night before when I caved to something that felt wrong.
The shift from resistance to acceptance is a choice. I choose to adopt an open, growth-oriented, flexible mindset not because it’s trendy, or right, or enlightened, or guarantees success. I choose it because the alternative — a closed and psychologically rigid mindset — takes me down the proverbial rabbit hole of, “This is awful, life sucks, and then you die.”
I’ve been there. I still go there occasionally. Today when it happens, I choose to climb out of that hole as soon as I notice things are getting dark because I’m happier in the light.
When I bring an open mind to a situation, I can utilize the mindfulness skills I’ve been practicing for years.
The Green Card
When I first began my private therapy practice, I created and printed up Green Cards for my clients. I got the idea from my previous work with people who had immigrated to the U.S. I knew that to them, the Green Card represented freedom. The green card I created, with its simple message, represents power and freedom to me:
Breathe All the Way Out
Notice Your Story
Soften Your Body
A Simple Practice
Use these four lines throughout your day as a mantra to calm down or to give your mind and body a break: pause/breathe all the way out/notice your story/soften your body.
Pause means just that. Stop whatever you’re doing and check in with yourself before your next action. Where are you? What are you doing? How do you feel?
Breathe all the way out. Gently let all the air out. Let the in-breath take care of itself. Do it a couple of times. That will ground and center you. When we keep our attention on breathing in, we can hyperventilate and increase our anxiety. Getting all the air out calms us down.
Notice your story. Whatever you’re thinking, notice the thoughts but allow them to come and go without attaching to them.
Soften your body. Put your attention on the physical sensations in your body, dropping your shoulders, relaxing your forehead, jaw, throat, tongue, belly, arms and legs — anything that’s tight and tense and closed.
Play with it. Please don’t work on it. You’ll know you’re playing when it feels like a gentle process, each step flowing into the next. You’ll know you’re working at it when you forget a step and tell yourself you did it wrong. You can’t do it wrong. It’s “play.”
Use the mantra when your body feels tight or weighted down, or when you feel like you might shatter into a million pieces. Use it when your emotions feel out of control, or you feel dead inside.
We each have a finite amount of time to experience what life has to offer. Few would argue that there’s no escaping the reality that life will hand us things we would prefer not to have. Yet strangely, most of us live like that isn’t true! We’re shocked when life gives us something we don’t want.
The coronavirus has swept through the world like a global, gale-force wind. We have a choice. We can work together, take care of ourselves and each other, and increase our skills in conversing to understand rather than be right, My wish is that we’ll all get better and better at changing our minds about anything and everything that’s keeping us small or stuck.
A few extras:
I had the opportunity to do a podcast interview with Kim LeClair of East Willow. She’s hosting, “How Are You Doing?”–talking with people she knows to get a sense of the different ways folks are handling what is for all of us, unchartered territory. I hope you’ll take a listen. She’ll be adding more interviews and I think it will help us feel a little less alone and more connected.
If you’d like to have a real green card to keep with you, send me an email at email@example.com with your mailing address, and I’ll be happy to send it to you for free. And stay in touch, because I love hearing stories about how the green card has made a difference in someone’s day.
Here’s the link to the CDC instructions for how to make cotton facemasks at home. I made the one with the t-shirt and rubberbands yesterday and it worked!