A Confusing Lesson in Resistance, Ego, and Illusion


By Lisa Alber

A few weeks ago, I happened on a funny little book at the New Renaissance bookshop in Portland. After scoffing at a book about how to analyze my issues by observing my dog’s behavior, my gaze stopped on a title that read, I Don’t Want To, I Don’t Feel Like ItHow Resistance Controls Your Life and What To Do About It.

If I believed in the metaphysical, I’d have said it was a sign from the book gods. I knew I had to buy the book when I opened it and read at random:

“If you recognize this trap [i.e. nasty internal voice naysayers], perhaps as a result of years of failed self-improvement plans, you’ve most likely spent a lot of time and energy trying to figure out why this is happening. “Why do I keep failing?” And, you’ve probably heard plenty of internal “advice” about what you should do differently, usually amounting to “just try harder.””

It’s as if the author wrote to me personally. Having grown up in a positive-thinking, self-improving family, I am the Queen of Failure when it comes to self-improvement plans. Sometimes I despair of myself, and I do ask myself why I keep failing, and I do have a voice that always demands that I “just” try harder.

“Just” — such an awful little word.

I’m no stranger to pondering the notion of resistance. I’ve talked about it enough in psychological terms and in terms of creativity. This little book comes at it from a Buddhist point of view. The book defines resistance as an ego-identity maintenance system. It’s all about how the “I” maintains control and its status quo.

Our egos want to survive above all, and when we set out to change the status quo, the ego brings out the nasty little internal voices that rationalize, accuse, blame, shame, taunt. So, we fall back into old patterns and feel rotten about ourselves.

OK, I can see that, but then the book talks about illusion. As in, what the ego presents to us is illusion: worries, anxieties, shoulds, coulds. All these thoughts about how our lives would be better if X. These are just stories. They aren’t real and the thoughts behind them aren’t real. It’s all illusion.

We tend to believe our thoughts, don’t we? But our thoughts are just thoughts; they’re not indicative of any kind of truth about ourselves. But we believe them and we suffer.

I know I suffer a lot. I feel like I’m always striving, trying to outdistance my voices. Try harder, try harder.

The galling part is that the more I read this book, the more I realize how ego-driven I am. MASSES of ego. Ego all over the place. Oozing ego almost every waking moment — and maybe while I’m asleep too.

Thing is, I’m reading this book and gaining insight, but I’m not sure what lessens the resistance … Awareness? I think calling out the thoughts as the unhelpful beasts they are and taking a few breaths to bring myself back to the moment could be helpful.

Of course, the most interesting thing about delving into a book about resistance is that all the while, I’m resisting my writing. So my quest to lessen resistance is itself resistance?

Hmm … Seems confusing, this Buddhist philosophical stuff. Oh wait, is that resistance again?  That is, was that a naysayer thought about reading the book, just to get me to quit reading the book?

And is this tendency of mine to overanalyze yet ANOTHER example of the ego’s resistance tactics?

Dang.

What do you do to lessen resistance?

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10 thoughts on “A Confusing Lesson in Resistance, Ego, and Illusion

  1. You made me smile big time with this one lady! My aha moment came when I asked “why do we humans set ourselves up for failure day in and day out?” I believe it’s the society in which reside that surrounds us with the belief, or more accurately the demand that we can and must “have it all”. My new mantra is “little things”. When I get caught up in the illusion of more, more and the resultant anxiety that follows. I stop and find a “little thing”…as little as sitting quietly and staring at a flower for two minutes. It is always surprising to me how easily the illusion disappears in just those brief moments.

    • Yeah! That’s what I’m figuring out right now. My mantra of the moment is to say to the thoughts, “That’s unhelpful.” And then do like you do, breath and bring myself to the here and now.

  2. Thank you for sharing Lisa. For me, resistance was about learning to tell the difference between the small, still voice within and the cacophony of everything else that is not that. Its a journey of self discovery. The more of myself I become, and the more I can center in and listen to that voice, the less I care about everyones else expectations, ideas, approval or rejection. Becoming myself is peeling away, or letting fall away everything that is something else.

    • Hah! Funny man. 🙂 I actually understand what you’re saying — you wouldn’t believe some of the technical writing projects I’ve completed in my life. (Scary electrical engineering stuff …)

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