Chapter 21.  Resistance, clinging, and acceptance

21.1. What are resistance and clinging?

In the meditation for December 20 in A Net of Jewels (1996), Ramesh says,

"It is only resistance that transforms the eternity of the present moment into the transience of passing experience as time or duration. Without resistance there is only eternity."

In the meditation for February 20 in A Net of Jewels (1996), Ramesh says,

"Apart from the futility of effort itself, any attempt to prevent thoughts from arising divides the mind artificially into that which does the prevention against that which is being prevented, creating only neurosis and conflict. Whatever thoughts arise (being without substance) will promptly vanish by themselves if they are not accepted and pursued as effective reality. To try to erase thoughts consciously and deliberately is like trying to wash away blood with blood."

Question: What is it that tries to resist thoughts, feelings, and emotions?

On p. 270 of I Am That (1984), Nisargadatta Maharaj says,

"Suffering is due entirely to clinging or resisting; it is a sign of unwillingness to move on, to flow with life."

In his book and CD, Breakthrough Pain (2005), the noted Buddhist meditation teacher Shinzen Young says,

suffering = pain x resistance.

Thus, pain is not suffering in itself. Suffering also requires resistance to the pain, whether it is physical, mental, or emotional pain.

Resistance is a thought, feeling, or emotion that resists something, be it a thought, feeling, emotion, sensation, perception, or action. Resistance stems from the judgment that what-is should not be the way it is, and from the belief that there is something we should be able to do about it. (Judgment is not the same as evaluation, which does not involve a judgment about what should or should not be.) Resistance is always present whenever victimhood is experienced (see Section 11.7), whether the victimizer is thought to be the self, the body, the mind, others, life, God, or whatever. It powerfully activates the thinking mind (see Section 11.9), and obscures the truth about us (see Section 23.3) by clouding our awareness of it. However, whatever happens---thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations, actions, and perceptions---must happen. What-is cannot be other than what it is. Therefore, if resistance occurs, it is because it must, and if awakening occurs, that also is because it must.

The dual opposite of resistance is clinging. [In the Second Noble Truth, the Buddha taught that the cause of suffering is craving (Section 14.5).] Like all dual pairs, whenever there is one, there must also be the other. Just as resistance is a thought, feeling, or emotion that resists what is happening and thereby makes it seem real, clinging is a thought, feeling, or emotion that clings to what is happening and makes it seem real (see Section 14.5). But, since change is intrinsic to the manifestation (see Sections 12.1, 12.6), both resistance and clinging ignore its most fundamental characteristic and thus inevitably they create suffering.

The illusion of an "I"-doer results when there is clinging to the sense of separateness (see Sections 7.7, 11.4). Because the "I"-doer seems to be separate from the body-mind (see Sections 5.11, 11.6), there is resistance to the body-mind's thoughts, feelings, emotions, and sensations, or there is clinging to them and resistance to changes in them. This can result in feelings of despair, self-punishment, dissatisfaction, and bondage (Sections 11.8, 16.2). The essence of the "I"-doer, and also the source of all suffering, is clinging to the thought that "I" should have control.

Exercise: Remember a time when you experienced regret or guilt. Did you also have the thought that you should have had more control?

The "I"-doer and clinging/resistance define each other in a self-reinforcing feedback loop as shown below:

Thus, whenever there is clinging/resistance, there is the sense of a doer that is clinging/resisting, and whenever there is the sense of doership, there is also clinging/resistance.

Questions: What is the feeling of embarrassment? Is it a form of resistance, a form of clinging, or both?

There are many other kinds of self-reinforcing feedback loops. A common one is the self-hatred loop:

Self-hatred can be as subtle as mild dissatisfaction with "oneself" or as violent as an impulse to suicide. If there is no "I"-doer, there can be no self-hatred because self-hatred requires a doer to hate. If self-hatred persists, it is because there is clinging or resistance to either it or to the "I"-doer. Otherwise it spontaneously disappears.

Whenever pain, poverty, sickness, danger, or ignorance are present, there may also be efforts to try to change, eliminate, or defend against them, but if there is no thinking mind (see Section 11.9), there is no resistance, no clinging, and no suffering. If the thinking mind is present, resistance and clinging are also present, and the same conditions and efforts will entail suffering.

Whenever there is craving and clinging, the Presence that is the Background of all existence (see Section 23.5) is concealed, so we are cut off from the knowledge that everything is in us. If there is no craving and clinging, absence of separation from all objects is our constant experience.

Exercise: Close your eyes and go inward and downward, out of the head and into the body. Sense the boundaryless Presence. Now open your eyes. Can you still sense the Presence?
Now, choose any object and focus your attention on it while still maintaining the same sense of Presence. Can you sense that the Presence of the object is the same as your Presence?

Resistance, clinging, and suffering result from ignorance of our true nature. When we are open to the suffering of others (see Sections 16.1, 24.2), we feel their suffering, but we also feel our connectedness. When we resist the suffering of others and close ourselves off from it, we feel lonely and we suffer alone.

Exercise: Open yourself to the suffering of everybody you see. What is your experience? Do you feel more connected to them or not?
Now close yourself off from everybody else's suffering. What is your experience? Is it loneliness and isolation or not?

21.2. Repression of emotions creates physical illness

In the meditation for December 23 in A Net of Jewels (1996), Ramesh says,

"Every attempt at controlling our inherent nature results only in suppression and its adverse consequences. All that one can do is live according to the inherent nature of one's psychosomatic apparatus and let the understanding of our true nature deepen and work such changes as are necessary without any thinking or volition on our part."

Every emotion is expressed as a body sensation as well as a thought (see Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha (2004)). Because the body is more persistent and less fluid than the mind, the body sensations corresponding to the emotions are more persistent and less fluid than are their mental correlates. Long after an emotion has seemingly disappeared from the mind, it still resides in the body as a congealed memory (see Section 7.10 for a possible mechanism), quickly to be expressed in the mind when a suitable stimulus appears.

Emotions are not rational--if they were, they would not be emotions but would be thoughts, instead. Thus, to try to justify our negative emotions by rationalizing them is not only futile, but it can also lead to destructive attempts to justify our behavior. For example, if we feel guilty for our racial or sexual prejudices, we think, "they are unworthy", or "they are inferior". If our private rationalizations do not work, we join allies in order to dilute our guilt; hence, the creation of religions, movements, and ideologies to discriminate against others or to make war. However, when negative emotions cannot be accepted, they are resisted instead.

Question: Have you ever felt racial or religious prejudice? Did it make you feel guilty or ashamed? Did you try to suppress it?

Resistance to emotions takes the forms of suppression and repression. Suppression is a conscious process that pushes down an uncomfortable emotion, such as anger, so it is temporarily unseen. Habitual suppression leads to repression, which is an unconscious process that renders the emotion completely unseen. By investigating the emotions as they are expressed in the body, suppressed emotions can be brought back to awareness, but repressed emotions are usually unavailable without some kind of external intervention. Both suppression and repression must lead to suffering because they try to divide Consciousness into parts, the desired and the undesired, or the acceptable and the unacceptable.

Fear, anxiety (fear-based apprehension), anger (frustrated desire), guilt (self-condemnation), and shame (self-punishment/disgust) are among the most potent and imprisoning emotions in our lives (see Sections 11.4, 11.5, 11.6, 11.7, 11.8). Before the age of two (see Section 5.8), we began viewing ourselves as being separate, and we learned that our anger was "bad" when our first spontaneous, angry outbursts were met with stern disapproval and perhaps even with physical punishment. Fear of disapproval, then anxiety, guilt, and shame quickly followed. Fear of these emotions in turn then created the powerful mechanism of repression, which banished them from our awareness. In fact, so effective is the repression mechanism that it even banishes itself from our awareness, and therefore, we never know when we are repressing an emotion

Parents, culture, religion, and society all approve and reinforce the suppression of emotions--in fact, it is an essential part of our socialization. Socialization enforces conformity by teaching us that we can resist our emotions, but the belief that we can resist them causes us to live in fear of them. Our perceived needs to be "nice", "good", "perfect", "conscientious", or "responsible" are conditioned responses to the fear of our own emotions, but these needs themselves foster even more fear of, and anger at, the responsibilities that are created by them.

Question: Do you think it is possible to raise children so that they feel neither guilt nor shame?

Because repression/expression form an inseparable pair, repressed emotions must always be expressed--and the stronger are the forces for repression, the stronger are the forces for expression. The longer the repression of anger, guilt, and shame continues, the more they become rage and hatred, and the stronger must be the barriers against their expression. After rage/hatred has been internalized for many years, it forms a powerful core of conditioning that we always carry with us, but that we glimpse only when it is revealed by an intense, uncontrollable explosion.

Question: Have you ever had an uncontrollable outburst of anger?

Repression of rage/hatred has devastating consequences to our physical and emotional health and our well-being. John Sarno, MD, after three decades of practicing rehabilitation medicine with thousands of patients, has described in his remarkable book, The Mindbody Prescription (1998), how repression leads to many disabling kinds of physical pain and distress (see also his website at

According to Dr. Sarno, the forces for expression of culturally forbidden rage/hatred (e.g., in the forms of racial or religious hatreds, or of anger toward our parents, siblings, or children), and of emotionally painful shame, are so strong that the brain creates a defense against them by distracting our attention from them. This defense takes the form of intense physical pain and distress. (It is hardly surprising that the mind can create physical illness because we already know that it can create physical healing (see Section 5.2). Furthermore, all "negative" emotions, whether they are repressed or not, have their counterparts in the body and can cause physical illness.)

Among these illnesses are back pain, tension and migraine headaches, and gastrointestinal distress. These are genuinely physical, rather than mental, disorders but they stem from stress in the nervous system.

Question: Which of the disorders in the previous paragraph have you experienced? Do you think they might be psychosomatic?

The defense against expression also creates fear of its own engendered physical pain and distress, which increases them even more, and even creates anger at them, which further compounds them. (Another mode of defense is to divert our anger, guilt, and shame into culturally approved channels like moralistic, ideological, or self-righteous anger and blame. These and other modes are described in Section 11.8.)

According to Dr. Sarno, our understanding of the function of the defense leads us immediately to the antidote for the pain and distress, which is to focus our awareness on the emotions that surround the repressed ones rather than on the pain. This undermines the purpose of the defense, which is to distract us from these emotions. The antidote requires 1) a deep understanding of the purpose of the defense, 2) a realization that the physical pain and distress are a result of physical processes that stem from the repression of emotions, and 3) a persistent focus on the emotions and all of their possible sources, both past and current. The more the emotions are allowed into the awareness, the less will be the need for the pain and illness. They then either vanish or are greatly reduced. This usually requires investigating the body sensations corresponding to the emotions, and accepting them with kindness rather than avoiding them (see Section 16.2). Mindfulness meditation (see Sections 14.6, 24.2) and psychotherapy are valuable vehicles for this investigation.

21.3. Clinging/resistance, desire/fear, attachment/aversion

Clinging/resistance encompass the attachment/aversion dualism, and this in turn is based on the desire/fear dualism. But whenever there is desire, there is fear also--the fear of losing or not getting--so both halves of both dualisms can be thought to be fear-based (see Section 11.6). Fear is always present whenever there appears to be separation, so a fear-based life is the bane of those who think they are separate. Fear stems from the belief that we can, or should be able to, change what-is so that we can get what we want and avoid what we do not want (see Section 17.5). When the "I"-doer disappears, so will fear, as will all feelings of victimhood and powerlessness (see Sections 20.2, 20.3, 20.4).

A particularly difficult desire/fear dualism to deal with is that associated with survival (see Sections 11.4, 11.5, 11.6, 11.7). Many people feel a consuming stress associated with making a living and ensuring the survival of self and family, yet this stress is no different from any other. All stress depends on the feeling of personal responsibility (see Chapter 15), and this feeling in turn depends on identification with personal doership (see Section 11.4).

In the meditation for September 21 of A Net of Jewels, Ramesh says,

"Spontaneous, natural action happens only when the mind is vacant of the slightest trace of intention or planning. The greatest liberty is in having total trust in that final authority that makes the grass grow and our limbs, organs and minds work by themselves."

In any moment any body-mind may or may not survive, but survival never depends on a personal "I"-doer. Even certain biblical passages, which are usually interpreted dualistically as prescription but which can also be interpreted nondualistically as description (see Section 17.1), make this clear. For example, we find in Matthew 6:

24: "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
25: "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
26: Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
27: And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?
28: And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin;
29: yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
30: But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith?
31: Therefore do not be anxious, saying, `What shall we eat?' or `What shall we drink?' or `What shall we wear?'
32: For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
33: But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.
34: "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day

Question: Do you feel the stress of responsibility?
Question: Nondualistically, what would it mean to serve God? What would it mean to seek his kingdom and righteousness?

Without identification, there can be concepts (see Sections 9.2 and 11.1) but there can be no objects (see Section 11.4). This can be seen through inquiry (see Chapter 23) and meditation (see Chapter 24). With identification, objects seem to arise, along with the attachment/aversion (clinging/resistance) dualism. We might think that we are attached to a person, object, or condition but we are actually attached to the feeling or emotion that the person, object, or condition engenders. For example, if we love somebody, what we are really attached to is the feeling itself. Without the feeling, there would be no attachment to the object.

Attachment is persistent clinging to a thought, feeling, emotion, or image. Aversion is persistent resistance to its opposite. Actually, fear and desire are present in both, as is shown in the table below. A grievous but common misunderstanding is that fear/desire are necessary for efficient functioning, but in fact, they are an enormous obstacle to it, and, when identification with them disappears, they themselves tend to disappear. [After awakening occurs, fear/desire can continue for some time because of conditioning but they cause no suffering because there is no identification with them (the fan continues to turn even after the electricity has been turned off, see the metaphor of Section 13.7.)]

The following table lists some familiar examples of attachment and aversion. Note that, except in the first six cases, the aversion listed is the polar opposite of the attachment listed. In the first six cases, the primary aversion is the aversion to emptiness, i.e. to the loss of the self (see Section 14.5). This aversion is a result of the failure to realize that emptiness is fullness (see Chapter 22).

Question: Do you fear the loss of the self?

Any thought, feeling, or emotion may be present at any time, but, if there is no attachment to it, there is no suffering. 

Whenever one desire is satisfied, another always replaces it. The mind jumps from one desire to another like a monkey jumping from one branch to another (this is called "monkey mind"). Thus, one suffering is always replaced by another, so suffering can never be ended by trying to satisfy desire.  

Everyday life as we know it could not exist without fear/desire. Even entertainment depends on it, from the ancient Greek comedy-tragedies to today's love-hate-terror dramas. To the fearful, the thought of life without fear/desire might itself seem fearful. However, fear of the absence of fear/desire is based on the concept that we are determined by our fears and desires. But we are not determined by them because, as we have already seen, we transcend all fears and desires (see Section 9.3).

Question: Are you attracted to violence in television and the movies?

A seemingly unlikely, but actually common, form of attachment/aversion is aversion to life/attachment to death (listed in the above table, see also Section 17.4). Identification with this dual pair can result in chronic mental depression (what used to be called melancholia). Before such a depressed person can be cured, he/she must clearly see his/her aversion to life/attachment to death. Clear seeing may not remove the attachment/aversion, but it will reduce identification with it.

In the meditation for September 22 in A Net of Jewels (1996), Ramesh says, 

"Feelings and emotions are all based on duality. So long as they continue to dominate one's outlook, duality will continue to have a firm hold, excluding the real holiness, the wholeness that is UNICITY."  

However, this does not mean to suppress our feelings and emotions, because suppression is resistance. Rather, it means to become aware of them and to accept them so that we are no longer estranged from them (see Sections 16.2, 24.2).

21.4. What is Acceptance?

In duality, acceptance/resistance form a polar pair. However, Acceptance as we shall speak of it transcends all duality. Therefore, we cannot practice Acceptance because the dualistic "I"-doer is present in all practices. However, we can see directly that our true nature is Awareness.  Awareness accepts everything and rejects nothing. Therefore, Acceptance results from seeing directly that Awareness is our true nature and understanding that it is our true nature

21.5.  When resistance ends, life becomes stress-free

To live without resistance is to live without stress. In the meditation for June 27 in A Net of Jewels (1996), Ramesh says, 

"To live naturally is to live as a mere witness, without control and therefore without mentation, want or volition, uninvolved in the dream-play of life and living."  

In the meditation for November 23, he says,

"As acceptance gradually expands, then life becomes easier. Suffering becomes more easily bearable than when you are looking at it as something to be rejected, something to be ended."

On page 76 of "The Wisdom of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj" (1992) by Robert Powell, Nisargadatta Maharaj says, 

"The moment you know your real being, you are afraid of nothing. Death gives freedom and power. To be free in the world, you must die to [disidentify from] the world. Then the universe is your own, it becomes your body, an expression, and a tool. The happiness of being absolutely free is beyond description. On the other hand, he who is afraid of freedom cannot die."

And on page 426 of I Am That (1984), he says,

"Once you realize that the road is the goal and that you are always on the road, not to reach a goal, but to enjoy its beauty and wisdom, life ceases to be a task and becomes natural and simple, in itself an ecstasy."

We might think that it is impossible not to resist suffering, but resistance to suffering creates even more suffering. If we shift our perspective from seeing suffering as a curse to seeing it as a necessary part of life, resistance to suffering tends to disappear and, with it, the suffering also (see Section 17.2).

Instead of the word Acceptance, Francis Lucille uses the word Welcoming, which he defines as "benevolent indifference". Both words, Acceptance and Welcoming, imply more than pure indifference (see also Section 17.7). They also imply the transcendental Love of the Self for the Self as discussed in Section 16.1(For more about Love, see Chapter 25.)

This page last updated August 6, 2010.
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