Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Resistance and Loss

"Resistance is futile,"' my yoga teacher says to me.

She has to say it a lot. Because, as I admitted to her yesterday, I am a connoisseur of resistance. It's many moods, flavors, colors, textures, the many subtle nuances that unfold themselves to those of us who know it well. Believe me, those oenophiles have nothing on me...

Lately my flavor du jour has been the kind of big, broad-stroke, child-like resistance that I have recently had the opportunity to observe in an actual, living 6-year-old child; the kind of resistance that reminds me of the famous exchange Marlon Brando's character had in a movie (The Wild One):
"What're you rebelling against, Johnny?"

"Whaddya got?"

Exactly. Whatever you've got, I'm against it. It is common for this to be my first response to most things, as I've discovered from years of careful observation of my closely guarded private thoughts (aka meditation). I remember a meditation instructor telling me that the irritation that arose in me as resistance to certain rituals that we followed day after day after day in a month-long meditation retreat was "an intelligent response." I don't think she was complementing me. She was just commenting on our human tendency to react to the same-old same-old over and over again. Just noticing. That's what is intelligent in such a response.

Recently my resistant reaction is totally outsized to the situation. This also reminds me of the 6-year-old I had under close observation. I object so strenuously, and become so wedded to my objection that it seems impossible to give it up--even after it is clear to everyone, including, finally, me, that my objection has long since become obsolete. The only reason we can't move on is that my inner 6-year-old is still screaming NOOOOO!

Shit. Now what do I do? I can't back down, damnit. And there I am stuck and stranded in my own resistance, "hoist by my own petard," as my mother would say. (Yeah, she could quote Shakespeare, too.)

In examining our shared experience I asked myself, what does the 6-year-old get by saying no, even beyond the point where no is what he really wants? The answer, of course, is control. He gets to say no, therefore he gets to be in charge of his experience. Intelligent response, yes? And as I've been telling acting students for years, saying no only means you get to stay right where you are. Everything interesting that will ever happen to you (onstage, certainly, and maybe in life) comes from summoning the courage to say yes. Yes to whatever lands on your door step. Yes means you are willing to enter into an improvistional relationship with the universe.

Because the real grown-up truth is that we are not in control of nearly as much of our lives as we like to think. And our desire to control-- what happens to us, what other people think, or say, or do, the situations we find ourselves in-- well, it contributes to our suffering. We cannot control what happens to us; We can control how we respond to what happens to us. At least, ideally, we can...

So what am I so desirous to control right now? Oh, lots of things. But let's take the one that came up for me in yoga: Loss.

We all experience loss all the time-- big losses and little losses. Lots of people get sad this time of year about the loss of summer. (Even if we have every reason to think we will experience summer again next year.) We lose things all the time, regardless of our desire to hold on to them. Heck, I regret the vegetables I throw in the compost: But I wanted that avocado! We bump up against impermanence everyday, and often we just shrug it off: Things Change.

But some losses can really shake us, really wake us up. When we lose a loved one, a friend, a dream we held dear, when we lose something we've come to assume as part of our identity-- a job, a spouse, a home, an ability or aspiration. Who am I without this part of me? How do I let this go?

My experience with this cancer recurrence feels like something has snuck up on me and started taking parts of me away that I did not know I would be saying good-bye to-- or at least not this soon. (If we are ready to say good-bye, then perhaps we aren't losing something so much as letting it go. Which I think is a different although possibly related experience, but we can debate that another time.) But coming to terms with a disease which will likely kill me-- unless a bus gets there first or something, as could happen, let's hope not, to any one of us--coming to terms with the losses that start to tally up even this early in such a journey can shake me to my very core.

Something as simple as a forward fold -- you know, you just stand with your feet hip-width apart, and bend over letting your arms and head reach towards the floor-- an utterly simple and, historically, an utterly satisfying position for me. I can't do it right now. What was so right feels all wrong. I am too "sloshy" (see earlier post for explanation), it's too challenging to breathe, it is just too fucking uncomfortable. And to lose something so simple and so comforting-- something so familiar that it never occurred to me I could lose it-- was devastating. I wept like my dog died. And you know how I feel about my dog...

So, I am left to ponder the correlation between resistance and loss. Does the size of the resistance equal the size of the loss? That seems both too simple and too knowing. And gives too much power or credence to resistance, which is, after all, as Meg has been telling me for three years now, futile. Acknowledge the resistance and move forward anyway. Forward into loss? Yes. What else were you born for? Forward into whatever it is that happens next.

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