On embracing resistance
Lucia Cockcroft of Satvada Retreats explores how to embrace resistance
I am unambiguously a summer person. I love the warmth, the long days, al fresco meals, the freedom and ease of wearing one layer of clothing rather than four. My hands and feet uncomfortably resemble ice blocks when the thermometer drops below 17 degrees. And so when Autumn comes round, with its soft light and nip in the air, I always notice feelings of resistance, and a low-key mourning for all that the summer represents – even if, as is often the way, the British summer hasn’t delivered what I’d hoped for.
More than we usually know, we humans are creatures of habit, and many of our mental – and therefore emotional – reactions and judgements are based on pure memory; on an unwritten feeling that what’s gone before will reoccur, as sure as night follows day. For just about everyone, September is when we went Back To School or college. On some unspoken level, this time of year can represent change and renewal, as well as sadness. A bitter-sweet, non-verbal sense of things renewing and dying away at the same time. The Buddhists would say that Autumn can herald more ‘dukkha’ – the Buddhist term for suffering – if we let it. They have a philosophy that to resist life, and the inevitability of change, is to create more ‘dukkha’ – something humankind is astonishingly adept at doing.
The meditation teacher Pema Chödrön has these rather wonderful words to say about resistance:
‘The way to dissolve our resistance to life is to meet it face to face. When we feel resentment because the room is too hot, we could meet the heat and feel its fieriness and its heaviness. When we feel resentment because the room is too cold, we could meet the cold and feel its iciness and its bite. When we want to complain about the rain, we could feel its wetness instead. When we worry because the wind is shaking our windows, we could meet the wind and hear its sound. Cutting our expectations for a cure is a gift we can give ourselves. There is no cure for hot and cold. They will go on forever. After we have died, the ebb and flow will still continue. Like the tides of the sea, like day and night – this is the nature of things.’
Beautifully put and wise-to-the-core – yet it is one thing to recognise the truth of this sentiment, and another to put words into action. For me, overcoming resistance to the passing of summer is a work in progress, and rests in the minutiae of noticing. The essence of mindfulness – which is the art of paying attention in an open, non-judgemental way – is to notice without resistance; without adding anything, or taking anything away. An entirely simply sentiment which, in practice, is incredibly challenging.
Try it yourself – there’s a lot to notice in Autumn. The drop in temperature, sure, but also the new golds and reds in the leaves, the colour and abundance of autumn veggies, the opportunity the darker evenings bring for lighting candles and staying in to read, cook, write, listen to music or chat with friends – whatever you fancy. Success lies in tuning in to your sensory awareness, to sights, smells and sounds – if we pay attention long enough to crawl out of the noisy narratives playing and re-playing in our heads. The practice of mindfulness asks us to firstly recognise what is occurring, whether good, bad, or neutral; and secondly, to work on ways to be with things as they are, instead of continually, and exhaustingly, trying to manipulate things to fit our mental picture of how life should be.
For now, I am content with accepting that autumn comes whether I like it or not, and my own challenge is to quit resisting the cold and the dark by dropping into my senses a little more, reminding myself of my good fortune, and noticing the details that make life at this time of year – at any time of year – so precious and vital. It’s a life’s work, and I’m dipping my toe in gently.
Explore mindfulness more
Yoga and mindfulness teacher Lucia Cockcroft of Satvada Retreats organises brilliant, accessible mindfulness and yoga retreats around the world. Find out more about them or contact Lucia directly from our reviews on Satvada Retreats in England and Morocco. You can also read Lucia’s thoughts on being mindful, on learning to meditate, on technology and on mindful travel in our Journal.