Moments in our lives when we are humbled by struggle are often the most memorable teachers. Unfortunately, these teachers tend to arrive at inopportune times, but I find that the wisdom they offer is always what I need to learn. It seems, a few weeks ago, I was due for a lesson.
I was facilitating a pilot training program for professionals on bringing mindfulness to their organizations. My co-facilitator and I had spent countless hours developing the content material, recruiting participants, and designing the exercises that we intended to deliver to eager participants. Needless to say, we were quite proud of our work and excited to share it. In the world of mindfulness, we would call this “getting attached”; and ironically, it is one of the most common culprits of derailing awareness and presence. Mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn warns that attachment “arrests development and short-circuits the cultivation of wisdom.”
And boy, was he right…
Halfway through the first day, we asked the participants for feedback on the training methods since this was our first time facilitating this particular program. One participant boldly challenged, “This feels tedious. There must be a more efficient way we can learn this. After all, we are mental health professionals. We’ve done a lot of this stuff before.”
Immediately, I reacted. My vision rapidly narrowed so that this participant became the only person in focus. My heart rate spiked. My body tensed. My whole field of awareness constricted. All of the qualities inherent in mindfulness—curiosity, non-judgment, presence—evaporated from my consciousness. The more she questioned, the more I sought to rationalize away her opinion as a way to preserve my ideas, and—more accurately—my ego. So, there I was, teaching mindfulness, yet in that moment, I was anything but mindful! Thankfully, the humor in the irony saved me from the paralysis of self-judgment, and encouraged me to investigate this experience further.
I realized that my attachment to “our” program left no space for exploration and possibility. When I sensed a threat to “our” ideas, I wanted to cling even tighter to keep them intact. In doing so, I inhibited the potential for meaningful connection, deeper understanding, and a chance to co-create collective wisdom.
However, this moment of (what felt like) failure actually contained within it a profound reminder: when resistance arises, meeting it with the intention of spaciousness is essential in order to cultivate the potential for connection and transformation. An intention of spaciousness promises patience, curiosity, and an acceptance of what is emerging, exactly as it is. Resistance loves opposition and thrives on judgment, but when it encounters non-attachment and curiosity, resistance begins to soften.
Our lives tend to offer ample opportunities to practice working with resistance, whether it is in a disagreement with a loved one, a conversation with a disgruntled employee, or perhaps even within yourself. When resistance arises, the invitation is to attend to it with curiosity and spaciousness—and then, be prepared to watch the limits of what is possible expand, too.
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