Big storms can uproot the largest and strongest trees. However, the rushes and shrubs weather the gale quite well. The secret lies in flexibility. While the larger trees put up a stiff resistance, the smaller shrubs fold downwind.
In life, many times we behave like those resistant trees. We become too rigid. We fight against the course of events. We deny reality. As a result, it is not difficult for us to end up being swept away by the force of the world.
The futility of going against the course of events
We all have mental patterns. We have formed our idea about what the world and life is like. However, reality constantly challenges those patterns. If we are not capable of incorporating these changes into our mental patterns, we become more and more rigid. We develop a psychological resistance and begin to fight against the world.
If we think that life is fair and it happens to us a misfortune that we believe we do not deserve, it is likely that we feel devastated and stay longer than usual regretting what happened, assuming the role of victims. Not only do we cry over spilled milk, but we can even go into a paralyzing state of denial, rejecting what happened.
In those cases, going against the course of life causes us additional suffering. It prevents us from turning the page as it keeps us tied to a situation that we cannot understand or integrate into our vital history.
Most of the time, that psychological resistance leads us to fight against windmills. In that battle we not only lose a great deal of energy, but we also lose our inner peace. When we think that reality should take other paths and we hide ourselves up behind denial, emotions such as frustration, hopelessness, anger or resentment do not take long to appear.
When we believe that people should behave according to our expectations, disappointment and conflict await us just around the corner. When we believe that our professional career should go in one direction and it goes in the opposite one, we fall apart. When we think that society should embrace certain values and it doesn’t, we feel frustrated.
All of this takes us away from serenity. We cannot be at peace with ourselves when we always have a battle to fight, a mistake to point out, a behavior to criticize…
Serenity, on the other hand, is a source of calm in the face of the complexity and uncertainty of life. It allows us to see things from an island in balance and peace, to decide better and act more correctly.
How to recognize a psychological resistance?
Generally, psychological resistance is manifested through the “must” and “should”. Those words often express our beliefs, values, and expectations. When we say that “people should be honest” or that “our partner should be more attentive” we are expressing an expectation. We try to make the future fit our mental patterns.
However, expectations are just probabilities. And because the odds don’t always materialize, we can’t hold on to them, get angry or frustrated when they go the other way. We cannot expect everyone to share our values and abide by our beliefs.
Those “must” and “should” are the bricks with which we build our mental patterns and if we are not willing to update them, we will pay the consequences. We will become more rigid people who find it difficult to accept change and diversity.
However, when we enlist in this war against the world, with the intention of changing reality and those around us to adapt them to our patterns, the main loser will be ourselves. As Alan Watts pointed out, “One cannot separate himself from the present or define it. He can refuse to admit it, but only at the cost of the immense and futile effort of spending his entire life resisting the inevitable.”
Acceptance as a way to have peace of mind
To face life with the right mindset – the one that leads to peace of mind and allows us to grow – we need to apply radical acceptance. Resorting to resistance as a defense mechanism to avoid accepting reality only makes the pain worse.
We do not need to deny or fight reality, but learn to incorporate it into ourselves. This does not mean assuming a passive role, becoming defenseless or suffering stoically. It means doing the math with the real situation, not with the desired one.
Watts explained that “Sometimes, when the resistance ceases, the pain simply disappears or subsides to a tolerable discomfort. At other times it remains, but the absence of any resistance means that the pain is no longer problematic. I feel it, but I no longer feel the compelling urge to get rid of it.”
It means that there will be things we don’t agree with, beliefs we don’t share, and behaviors we won’t replicate. However, we develop the degree of maturity necessary to understand that the world does not adapt to our patterns, but that we are the ones who have to update our “self” constantly.
When we accept that people are free to decide and that life is neither fair nor unfair, but simply “is”, we achieve an inner serenity that will allow us to deal with all problems with a balanced perspective. In the long run, we will live infinitely better. We will feel infinitely better. And probably everyone around us will be better too.
In Watts’s words, we can “Resist the tide in sterile panic or keep our eyes open to a new world, transformed and always with renewed curiosity.”
Watts, A. (1994) La sabiduría de la inseguridad. Barcelona: Kairós.