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Sunday, September 30, 2012


The nature writer Terry Tempest Williams wrote "Dying doesn't cause suffering. Resistance to dying does." Another way to say it is "Pain in inevitable. Suffering is optional.," which comes from Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.

I was reminded of these quotes the other day when a colleague was talking about her new way of handling jet lag. Instead of returning to Japan at the last minute and pushing through the jet lag, with discomfort and suffering, she decided to return to Japan a week earlier than her responsibilities began, and to experience jet lag by sleeping when she was tired, and waking when she was awake. This time, she enjoyed her jet lag and simply let it be. Jet lag doesn't cause suffering; resistance to jet lag does. (Obviously no children were involved in this experience, and more particularly no children with jet lag, but even if there were, what could be done to reduce everyone's resistance?)

Obviously there are things that require resistance: evil, manipulation, unfairness. But I for one waste a lot of energy resisting what is and what cannot be changed. If I need good weather for an event and get a typhoon, instead of hunkering down and enjoying the quiet day of being stranded in a typhoon, I tend to struggle against the rearrangement of my plans. When an extremely difficult relative calls or visits (or I even hear her name mentioned), I immediately begin to resist without even hearing what she wants, from long practice of suffering through her unreasonable demands, constant complaints, and general meanness. But I don't have to do that. I know she has her way of looking at the world, and I can let her have it without letting it affect me. I don't have to suffer just because she has decided to.

I was wondering about resistance in my writing. I sometimes resist sitting down to write, finding all kinds of chores to do instead, and meanwhile I suffer thinking about how I should be writing and am not. Instead of resisting writing, I can merely sit down with my notebook and wait. I also tend to suffer through fallow periods in my writing, when I try to write and nothing comes at all, or nothing of use, even though I know that fallow times are almost always followed by extremely productive periods in which problems that had been plaguing me in certain projects or in writing in general are resolved. So instead of resisting fallow times, I can just accept them, sit with my notebook, and know that my subconscious is doing important work.

It's a good reminder for me (again) to notice when I feel resistance and to see if it is really necessary, and to notice when I am suffering and try to identify what (if anything, and more particularly if anything worthy of such a struggle) that I am resisting.


Mari said...

This is a great post, Jessica. "So instead of resisting fallow times, I can just accept them, sit with my notebook, and know that my subconscious is doing important work." Sounds like psychological Aikido to me! I constantly struggle with my relentless internal Western taskmaster that harshly demands output, output, output (which, of course, results in my heightened resistance to producing). Like you, I'm going to try to pay more attention to my resistance and find out what it's trying to tell me. Non-directive, welcoming receptivity may be more conducive to creation than forced generativity.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Hi Mari,

Wow, you say it so much better than I do: "Non-directive, wlecoming receptivity"!