Pain times resistance equals suffering

In my previous post, Tamara asks:

So I'm averse to a situation in my life or in the world, but I'm even MORE averse to the action(s) I'd have to take to make it better. And then I become averse to being the kind of person who is averse to the action needed to resolve the thing I'm averse to. (This is humorously worded, but I'm very serious.)

I can see how you start digging yourself into a hole of aversion that it seems impossible to get out of. So you say if I have aversion to doing it, I need to "address the aversion." What would that look like?

This is a really good question.  I'm on the fence about whether to give a didactic answer or a practice answer; let's see how the practice answer goes.

This situation happens all the time.  The first thing to do is notice that it's happening.   This isn't always easy; one of the benefits of a meditation practice is that you can actually create a little distance between trigger and response, so that you can notice this coming up, or at least notice that it has come up while it's still going on.   One useful way to approach this is to just notice whenever you feel uncomfortable, and investigate it.   If that's all the time, you may have to add a second step, which is to notice if you have time to investigate right now.  If you do, investigate; if you don't, let go and don't worry about it.

Suppose you have time to investigate.  What does that look like?  Well, sometimes it's obvious why you're uncomfortable.   Sometimes it's not at all obvious; these are the hard ones.   But Tamara asked about a situation she's uncomfortable with, so let's assume that it's obvious.

The next question to ask is "is there some action I can take, right now, that would make a difference?"  This second part is really important.   There's always an action you can take.   Usually it's a waste of time, and you don't have time to waste.   You could be getting something else done, or you could be sitting quietly, enjoying the sun on the hardwood floor as it crosses the carpet.   Both of these activities are way more important than doing something useless.

It's often the case that this really is the choice before you, but it can be really hard to permit yourself to take it, because the problem is a real problem, and you really want to solve it.   But you can't.   And it's hugely uncomfortable.

When this happens, you have to get in touch with your resistance to what is.   This goes back to what I said a while back about stoicism and suchness: things are just as they are, and not different.   You are who you are at this moment.   Things are as they are at this moment.   They aren't some other way.   If you can't change something, you can't change it.   The suffering that comes up about the thing that's happening that I want to stop is not because the thing is happening, and it's not because I want to stop it.   It's because I can't accept that right now I can't stop it.

Shinzen Young said something that's quoted a lot, including by my meditation teacher: suffering equals pain times resistance.  I found this statement really frustrating.   It made sense; the problem was that I couldn't identify the resistance, so I couldn't let go of it.   So I would just sit there suffering.   Unfortunately I can't give you a road map to how to find the resistance.  Indeed, to be quite honest, I can't find it either.   The only thing that's worked for me is to just stop, notice that I am suffering, and then go looking for the resistance.   Even though I never find it, somehow the looking seems to release it.

That may or may not work for you.   If it doesn't, then all you have left is the intellectual approach: notice what is happening, and notice that it's a mistake.   Recognize that you can't actually do anything, and try to at least intellectually accept that not doing anything is in fact the right thing to do.   If you have time, gaze at that sunbeam on the carpet.   If you don't, breathe into the discomfort, and look around you, and be here, now, in the moment, if you can.  See the beauty in the color palette of the traffic jam in front of you.  Notice the resistance rising.   Do it again.   Don't make it a struggle.   Just keep releasing into the moment.   Andrea and I were in an hour-long traffic jam on the way into Montreal a couple of weeks ago, and this was what I did for that hour.   The suffering that came up wasn't fun, but the rest of the practice was.   Granted, traffic is pretty easy in comparison to a lot of the problems we see in the world.

Of course, the other way it can go is that there is something that you can do, that would make a difference.   And now you are faced with a second dilemma.   The dilemma is that you probably have to make a choice.   You can do this thing that would address the problem, and might (or might not!) make a difference.   But in order to do it, this other thing that you consider your responsibility would have to fall by the wayside, or be done differently.

One way to approach this is to simply notice that you've already made a decision.   You already know what to do right now.   You might not feel good about the decision you've made, but just notice if you've made one.   You probably have.   Now, why don't you feel good about it?   Is it because it was the wrong decision?   Or is it because it's the right decision, the decision that's totally consistent with what is, but in your heart of hearts you wish it could go differently?

If that's the case, then ask yourself if you want to become the person who would have decided differently.   Because that's really where the opportunity lies.   You might be a person who can drop everything and just do what your heart wants to be able to tell you to do, but often in order to be that person, you actually have to fail at a lot of things you've already committed to.  So, is that the person you want to be?   If so, that has some implications on your life right now, and you have some changes you need to make.   So see if you can decide to make them.   How does that go?

Maybe what you really need is to be a person whose life is more aligned with what you consider important, this decision you didn't make the way your heart wished you could have made it.   Not a person who drops everything at the spur of the moment to go off and save the world, but a person who is saving the world in the way she is living her life.

Or maybe you already are that person.   Maybe you already are doing what needs to be done, but it's just not as satisfying to that little nagging voice that says “there's a problem there, we have to solve it!”   Then it can help to just notice that this is the case: that there isn't a problem, that the reason you're having difficulty is simply that you aren't satisfied.

The way this comes up for me is that I have a huge list of things I imagine myself doing, that I wish I were the person to do, but that really I'm not the person to do.   I'm never going to do those things.   They aren't things I actually need to do.   I just want to be the person who does them.   Noticing this and letting go is hard.   You have to practice at it.   You might have to let go of the same thing a dozen times or more.   But it's worth doing.   I'm never going to be the author of the One True Programming Language that frees us from the chains of servitude of our Dark Master, the C programming language.   Tough shit, get over it.   Sorry.   The stuff I'm actually doing is more important.

Whichever of these it is, if it's one of them, the best thing you can really do is to just notice that and get square with it, and sit with it if you need to: let the little voice of dissatisfaction argue for a while with the knowing that you are actually doing what you need to be doing in this moment.   If you can bring yourself into this moment as I described earlier while that conversation happens, that can help.

The last possibility is that you could do something, you are the person who could do that thing, you aren't giving up something to do it, and you just don't wanna.   Well, okay, why is that?   Are you really the person who could do the thing?   Check in with that.   Be honest.  Maybe you'll discover that you're kidding yourself.

Or if you just don't wanna, is it really something you should be doing?   Again, really check in with that.   Maybe you feel like if you don't do it, nobody will, so you have to do it.   That's not a reason to do it.   Maybe it's just not going to get done.   There are so many things that need to be done that are not getting done.   You aren't making the world a better place by feeling guilty about not doing that thing.   So stop it.

But maybe it really is what you should be doing.   If that's the case, why aren't you doing it?  There can be a lot of reasons.   For me, the usual reason is just that I don't know how it's going to turn out, and if I start, I'll find out, and I might not like what I learn.   Of course, in practice, this literally never happens.   In practice, when I do the thing I've been putting off, I always feel better afterwards, even if it didn't turn out the way I wanted.

But what really used to kill me, used to totally suck my spirit out of doing these tasks, was all the triggers that would go off.   This tool isn't the right tool.   I can't find anything, we need to organize the house.  I have a dozen other things I need to do.   “I don't wanna” usually comes down to something like this.   And then the only thing that works for me is to just start doing it.   Just.  HAH!   It's to notice that this is happening, and decide “not today!”   And start.   Once I've started, it tends to flow.   The more I can notice all of the ways that I beat myself up, and not do those things, the less likely it is that the flow will get interrupted.

And there, the only thing that has helped me is continuing to develop my meditation practice.   Which is why I keep going on and on about it. :)