“What you resist not only persists but grows in size.”—Carl Jung
The Butterfly Net And Fly Swatter Approach to Life
In her book “What’s In The Way Is The Way,” Mary O’Malley uses a great analogy to describe how most people live their lives.
She describes a person standing in a beautiful meadow, holding a butterfly net in one hand and a fly swatter in the other.
With one hand, she’s trying to fill the net with as many butterflies as possible—wealth, success, pleasurable experiences, happy outcomes etc.
And with the other hand, he’s busy trying to swat away the less desirable things in life— the pesky flies of failure, mediocrity, self-judgement and emptiness.
She is so preoccupied with chasing after the (perceived) good stuff and trying to avoid the bad that she loses sight of the beautiful meadow she finds herself in—the exquisite dance of light and dark that’s called Life.
We suffer to the extent that we resist what is.
We have little control over the experiences that come our way—inner or outer,
Some days you wake up full of beans, ready to take on the world. Other days the world feels more like a dark and gloomy place and you just want to stick your head back under the covers, ostrich-like.
One moment you get the promotion at work and feel so happy… until you leave the building at the end of the day and discover that your car has been stolen.
We have no problem dealing with the things we perceive to be good. We welcome success, pleasure, and happy outcomes with open arms.
When we experience the things we view as negative or ‘wrong’ however—whether it’s an event or a difficult feeling or emotion—we become like the guy in the meadow with the fly swatter.
It’s unwelcome and we furiously swat at it, trying to make it go away.
Now we are suffering twofold.
The first blow comes from the event itself. And we then create an added layer of suffering through resisting what’s happening.
“This is awful. It shouldn’t be happening. Why do these things always happen to me? Life sucks.”
The Buddhists use the expression ‘second arrow’ to describe the tendency to resist difficult experiences and, in doing so, create additional and unnecessary suffering for ourselves.
Imagine you’re feeling a bit down—for no particular reason perhaps. It doesn’t feel very nice and creates a certain amount of emotional discomfort.
Let’s say the feeling then triggers a mental commentary, “This is awful. I hate feeling down. What’s wrong with me? I shouldn’t be feeling like this.”
This type of reaction adds fuel to the fire and amplifies the level of suffering experienced.
Imagine if, instead of resisting the feeling, you were to turn towards it instead—to embrace it rather than try to push it away.
“OK. Sadness is there. It feels a bit uncomfortable, but that’s OK. Maybe I can allow it to be there? Everybody experiences sadness at times. It’s just part of being human. And, if it’s there anyway, there’s no point in resisting it?”
Without the negative commentary, it’s not such a big deal. Acceptance wraps a layer of peace around the discomfort.
More about dealing with negative emotions later.
The 3 Consequences Of Resisting Life As It Is
1. Adding Fuel To The Fire
Let’s say you’ve worked hard on a project at work and someone who contributed very little gets all the praise and recognition.
Ouch. (I know from past experience how painful clinging on to feelings of injustice can be).
It’s perfectly natural to feel angry, frustrated and powerless—to think, “This is so unfair. Why is he/she getting all the praise when I’m the one who did all the work? I hate this.”
Maybe you’ll spend the rest of the day (or month even) feeling like a victim and replaying your grievances over and over in your head—all the while, piling more and more misery onto yourself.
And you may well feel justified. Many people hold onto these patterns for years.
The question is, how long do you want to go on punishing yourself over something that is now in the past, something that can’t be changed?
Maybe you could reframe the whole event in a way that leads to an experience of peace? More about this later.
2. What You Resist Persists
The more we resist the difficult experiences in our lives, the more they persist.
During my time as a novice monk, I shared a room with three other novices.
Each night, there would be a tremendous cacophony of snoring that shook the roof and made sleep all but impossible.
The first couple of nights, I lay there, intensely resisting the experience and giving it all my attention.
My mind would go into overdrive, “This is unbearable. It’s impossible to sleep here. I’m going to be so tired tomorrow. I need to get a different room.”
A couple of days later my teacher asked me how I was doing.
I explained how the snoring was driving me nuts and asked whether I could change rooms.
He smiled and said, “Try using the sound as a focus for your meditation. Stop resisting and see what happens.”
Amazingly, not only was I able to fall asleep with relative ease, but, as soon as I let go of wanting the snoring to stop, the room mysteriously became silent. I’m not sure that my snoring didn’t then keep the others awake!
What you resist persists. What you accept dissolves.
I later discovered, when there was some construction work going on at the temple, that I was able to meditate a few yards from a pneumatic drill. It’s all in the mind.
When you start accepting the flies instead of swatting them, you find yourself back in the beautiful meadow of your true Self.
3. You Attract More of What You Don’t Want
“Worrying is praying for the things you don’t want.”—Donna Stoneham
According to the Law of Attraction, we attract to ourselves the things that we spend most time thinking about. Through being obsessed with the snoring, what did I attract? More snoring.
If you’re always worrying about debt or how unfair life is, you’ll keep attracting the same ‘unfair’ situations over and over.
Life is like a giant photocopier that will faithfully reproduce whatever you give the most attention to—desirable and undesirable.
It will always give you exactly what you ask for. This is why it is so important to choose your thoughts wisely.
Life is neutral. It just is. Good and bad are superimpositions created by the human mind—consequences of second arrow thinking.
Once you make a decision (poverty or abundance), the Universe will conspire to make it happen.
4 Ways To Let Go Of Resistance
“The average person is a bundle of conditioned reflexes and nerves that are constantly triggered by situations and circumstances.”—Deepak Chopra
Most people are slaves to their reactions. You offend someone and their blood pressure goes through the roof. Five minutes later, you give them a compliment and they are all smiles again.
In spiritual teacher Anthony de Mello’s words, “Most people are like trick monkeys. You pull the tail one way and elicit a smile. You pull it the other way and get a frown.”
The trick is to stop getting lost in the unconscious pursuit of chasing butterflies and avoiding flies— to remember that every experience is temporary and not lose sight of the meadow.
Becoming more mindful is the first step towards dropping our resistance to whatever the present moment presents.
1. Notice You Are Resisting
The first step is to make your unconscious reactions conscious through taking a step back and paying close attention to what’s happening inside.
If you’re experiencing a difficult emotion such as fear or anxiety, take a deep conscious breath and acknowledge, “Fear is there.”
If you notice any commentary, any resistance to the fear, acknowledge, “Resistance is there.”
Through the simple act of stepping back and taking an objective look at what’s going on inside you, you’ve already created some distance between yourself and the feeling.
Thoughts, feelings and emotions themselves aren’t the primary cause of suffering. It is our identification with them that’s the problem.
If you’re experiencing a difficult moment, stop, take a conscious breath and notice your reaction.
If there’s a baby screaming on the airplane and you notice yourself getting stressed and agitated, realise that you can choose how to respond.
You can become obsessed with the baby crying and create a whole bunch of added misery for yourself or you can choose to let go of your resistance.
It is as it is. Fretting over it won’t change anything.
Focus on your breathing. Unclench your jaw. Allow your body to soften.
So often, I find that when I no longer mind whether the baby continues to scream or not, it suddenly stops. As if by magic.
Our energy influences the events around us. When we choose to be quiet inside, the world becomes quieter outside.
From the standpoint of peace, it’s always better to work WITH what is happening than against it.
2. Allow Space For Your Difficulty To Be There
Returning to the previous example of fear or anxiety, after acknowledging that the feeling is present, ask yourself, “Could I welcome it in… give it space to be here?”
This will take more of the sting out of the feeling and further help you break your identification with it.
The more we objectify thoughts and feelings, the less power they have over us.
Your fear won’t trouble you nearly as much if you consciously welcome it rather than fight it. Without your resistance, the feeling has no juice to affect your peace.
What happens to your sadness if you don’t mind it being there?
The same goes for thoughts by the way. The way to create peace with the mind is to give them free rein to come and go as they please. The less you engage with them, the more peace you’ll experience.
I go into this in detail in my book, “Kick the Thinking Habit”.
3. Soften and Relax
Another way to break the cycle of resistance is to take a few relaxing breaths and tune into what’s going on in your body. Whenever resistance shows up (which it will, again and again), check in to notice where in your body you are holding tension.
Straighten your back, unclench your fists, relax your jaw and your forehead.
Allow whatever you’re experiencing to be OK. Don’t push anything away.
I’d strongly recommend the following mindfulness practices:
“Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it,” – Eckhart Tolle
What You Resist Persists—In Conclusion
Difficult situations and emotions are an unavoidable fact of life, as are pleasurable ones.
The more open you are to embracing WHATEVER appears in your inner and outer world, the more peace you will experience.
It’s better to be flexible like a willow tree than rigid like an oak.
The more you resist the things you don’t like in life, the more they will show up.
What you resist persists.
In my own experience, there are two main things I’ve learned that help me stay peaceful inside.
The first is non-resistance—consciously monitoring my inner reactions to life’s inevitable difficulties and choosing to respond with an attitude of non-judgemental acceptance. I don’t always manage it though!
The second is understanding the role that life’s challenges play in helping us grow spiritually. We are not here to be comfortable. We’re here to realise our full potential as humans.
Difficulties are the catalysts that enable you to mature as a person. Every cloud has a silver lining and, as such, every challenge provides an opportunity for growth.
All is well.
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