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The Gift of Despair: Giving Up Resistance 

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A client asked me last week; How come I’m making so little progress? I basically have enough time to work on myself, and I also know what this ‘work’ is. I know where my pitfalls lie and I also have enough insights on how to tackle them.

But I just don’t have the energy to work on myself any more. Nothing changes anyway. I’m beginning to believe that’s it, that I have to resign myself to the fact that I’m incapable of really changing myself.”

Tears welled up in his eyes. He was exhausted, unable to satisfy his inner demand to improve himself. He had come to the point where he concluded that this was it for him, there just wasn’t any luck in it. I felt his pain and sorrow. But I also felt that this was an almost sacred turning point in his life. To him it felt like a standstill and giving up, but it was a huge leap forward.

The gift that comes in our despair. The feeling of hopelessness for change. That brings us to capitulation, we lay down our weapons and give up the fight

When despair sets in, we finally manage to stop resisting reality. That which is, that which hurts us. Giving up is often the biggest and all-important turning point in our lives, because through despair and surrender we are forced to accept our reality. And acceptance is the key concept, the essential ingredient for greater well-being and happiness.

Very often I meet people who for months, years – sometimes even as long as they can remember – feel that life is a struggle. A great struggle to get and stay happy. They work extremely hard on themselves for years in order to counterbalance unwanted circumstances, painful setbacks or depressive and insecure feelings that bring them down. They are in resistance

Resistance is any attempt we make to lessen our pain. Creating solutions, seeking help, tightening our bodies, seeking distractions and consequently developing addictions, discussing our problems in hopes of solving them, trying to change people around us so that we can feel better. In short, anything to avert our pain. Resistance to reality is one of the most sickening psychic mechanisms of man.

A simple formula shows what resistance does to us:   pain x resistance = suffering

Pain in this formula does not just represent physical pain, but everything we find unpleasant in our lives. Our current work, our body, our partner, our financial situation, an illness, the loss of a loved one, our insomnia, our youth, in short, everything that we find annoying, but that nevertheless presents itself in our lives.

The degree and nature of pain varies from person to person, but we know one thing: as long as we live, there will be moments and feelings of pain. And we don’t want that. That is unpleasant and we automatically resist those things.

And there we take a wrong turn. Because resisting reality, the pain that is as it is in that moment, creates a gap between how our life is, and how we would like it to be. That’s what the formula says; the greater our resistance (the more we wish our reality to be different) the greater our suffering. And surprisingly, the formula also shows that with zero resistance, the suffering is also zero.

Pain x 0 = 0. That explains why some people can still experience happiness in the most appalling circumstances. People who are paralyzed in a wheelchair, can still enjoy life. They have given up resisting reality, giving up the desire that that reality be different from what it is. That is acceptance.

Acceptance is giving up the wish that reality is different from what it is

So acceptance is the key to breaking our cycle of suffering. Acceptance is a term that we also hear all the time in self-help country, but in my opinion there is a great lack of understanding. It is associated with ‘tolerance’, or ‘don’t mind something anymore’, or even ’embracing’ pain. And that’s where the resistance starts again for many people, because how can I embrace something that I find terrible?

We’re going to tell ourselves that it’s not bad anymore, that we’ve come to terms with it. And with this tactic, acceptance becomes a trick to lessen our suffering. With that we don’t really accept it, it has been resisted again but in a nice-sounding packaging. The only way out is to surrender to the here and now, to that which we cannot escape in any way.

Yet we try to deny or alter our reality in all sorts of subtle ways. How come?

It stems from one of the false basic beliefs in our present time: life is malleable. The harder you try, the better you fare. The belief that as human beings we can shape our world or vice versa, that we ourselves have to adapt. Because of this conviction there is an enormous emphasis on ‘doing’ things, getting things done, on results.

From an early age, the focus is on our behavior. No matter how small our children are, we compliment them for what they do, for what they can do; “You can crawl well already”, “How great that you can already build a block tower”, “Good, that you can already cycle yourself”.

This seems like an innocent encouragement to motivate our children, but in fact we are demonstrating: if you ‘do’ things well, we are enthusiastic about you. In the undeveloped child’s brain this is stored as: I am valued based on what I do. And with that, our penchant for delivering results and output orientation was born. Our intrinsic motivation is exchanged for the extrinsic one.

This movement continues into the rest of our childhood and adulthood. At school we are graded for our achievements,

The misconception of doing versus being

But it is precisely this emphasis on the ‘doing level’ that draws us away from the ‘being level’. And by the ‘being level’ I don’t mean who you are, but how you feel . What state of being you are in; satisfied, frustrated, insecure, desperate, optimistic, hopeful, euphoric, happy, etcetera. After all, isn’t that what life is all about? When we’re on our deathbed, it’s not about what we’ve done , it ‘s how we’ve beenwhile we did it?

Were we a happy person, were we optimistic, or at least a little satisfied? What we know about the terminally ill is that they don’t value themselves on how many successful projects they can credit, how many hours they worked, how expensive their house was, or how many times they were proven right.

They value the moments when they were happiest most of all in their lives. Their happiness determines the appreciation for their lives.

And it is not only at the end of our lives that our ‘being’ matters more than our ‘doing’. Any psychological study shows that people who are happy are automatically more successful at work, are more physically and psychologically healthy and get more things done than people who rate themselves lower on the happiness scale. So it is a matter of order. First be, then do, as it turns out.

I also see this in my practice. I speak to many people who struggle with the question of what their purpose in life is, their destiny, their mission. And what they get stuck in is exactly that ‘doing level’. They look for it in activities and results that get them excited; change jobs so that they can work more passionately, they collect things in hopes of making them happy or try to find satisfaction in various hobbies.

My approach is always: your feeling is your compass. Your feeling comes first, then we’ll see what we’re going to do next.

We are human beings, not human doings

Whatever we do, the ultimate goal is to increase our happiness and decrease our pain. I believe that this is the ultimate and only goal of every human life: happiness. The misconception is only that we have to do things before we can be happy. That is perfectly possible, but sometimes doing something is also not doing something ; our resistance to reality, for example.

Resisting—whether it’s in our heads through worrying or actually criticizing our partner or complaining about your coworker—is an activity that leaves us annoyed, frustrated, and ultimately exhausted. States of being that do not bring us closer to the goal of our life, are happy.

So resistance is not only unintelligent because of our inability to make reality disappear, it also keeps us away from our only goal in life, which is to be happy. Not to mention the unhealthy effects of negative feelings on our physical constitution…

I believe that we can judge ourselves and our children much better on this ‘being-level’ with the aim of improving this ‘being’; “Does it feel good to crawl around like this?”, “It makes you happy, building block towers”, “It’s great that you are so enthusiastic about learning to ride a bike”. In short, how does it feel?

Your right is not happiness

For yourself it means : uncompromisingly say goodbye to activities and patterns that bring you down in how you feel . How does it feel to worry, does it make me happy? If not, I don’t need it in my life. What does the resistance (against …) bring me, does it serve me in the pursuit of peace, well-being and contentment? No? Then I turn my attention to something that brings me that to a greater extent.

It seems simple and simple, but it is mental top sport to train yourself to become aware of ‘where’ you are in terms of feeling thermometer and not to lose yourself in the tendency to control negative circumstances or in analyzing and discussing the storyline around it. .

Pain is part of life. We cannot change pain, only the way we deal with pain. Not the content, the degree or the frequency of that pain, but how we internally relate to that pain. And in improving that ratio, only one question is relevant: ‘where’ am I on my sensory thermometer in relation to that pain?’ Angry, disappointed, frustrated, tired? Does that bring you closer or further away from how I want to feel?’.

Despair is a final station on your feeling thermometer. A point where you can’t go beyond giving up, it stops there. Despair thus serves you, by giving you a break, a time out from all your struggles and resistance. A time-out in which surrender and acceptance can take their place and form a great basis to climb further in your ‘being’.

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