Copyright 2013 Pacific Northwest Writers Association. All Rights Reserved
The Grace of Nonresistance: Ending a Nightmare
Nonresistance is the key to the greatest power in the universe.
~ Eckhart Tolle
Around the age of eight I had a dream in which I am captured and brought to a large indoor swimming pool filled with oil - where I am to be boiled alive. That's a nightmare. But what really makes a nightmare a nightmare? Surprisingly it’s not the threat of being boiled, shot, hung, hunted, or eaten; it's the sense of being unable to change the situation, of having no power. If every time we encountered something frightening we immediately knew we had the resources with which to handle it, the nightmare quality would quickly dissipate.
When my oldest son was in the first grade, his teacher notified us that he had “melted down” and taken refuge under his desk. When I asked him about it later, he complained that the teacher acted as though she was in charge. I explained she was, that in the classroom she was somewhat like the captain of a ship. Apparently, my son was under the impression he was in charge, so when the teacher was directing the class, he found it stressful. To my surprise, he took the news fairly well. Just knowing what was his to control (or not) helped him work with the situation. Over the years, he found his own way of adapting to school while remaining himself, discovering his true power in a situation he once feared rendered him powerless.
When my son was under his desk and I was on my way to being boiled, we both feared we had no control. Ending a nightmare requires a shift from believing we are powerless to knowing we have power. But it’s a difficult thing to know if we perceive power as the means to take action or manipulate the external world to get what we want – and we don’t currently have that ability. But luckily our perception of our power is actually more relevant to how we feel (and down the line to taking action) than the situation in which we find ourselves.
Like any experience, a project can also feel like a nightmare. What starts as a dream fueled by enthusiasm and vision can devolve into an upsetting chore. But our resistance always plays a role. The stance of running from, pushing against, or struggling with creates a nightmare. Resistance can come in the form of judging ourselves, others, our abilities, or the quality of the work, all of which makes for a kind of creative war zone. When we say writing is hard what we really mean is we’ve got a lot of thinking – assessments and expectations that are creating resistance. Our focus is caught in the war of that resistance rather than in the flow of the creative process.
To make peace with an enemy one must work with that enemy and that enemy becomes one’s partner.
~ Nelson Mandela
We can make partners of anyone or any experience. It might not seem easy but it’s always possible. Grace is the moment of choosing to work with rather than work against one’s current experience. In working against some seeming force, we unwittingly resist our own greatness because our attention remains not on what inspires our growth but what we think stands in its way.
In the children’s classic, The Secret Garden, the boy Colin, locked in a room for years, believes he cannot walk, the he will become a hunchback (like his father), and that he will die young. This is his nightmare. Mary, our heroine, challenges this story and, eventually, Colin does as well and thrives. We could say he never had any real problems – that his experience of himself as weak and ill was all misperception. But until Colin focused his attention on the power he had, there was no chance of him living a different reality.
What if powerlessness is the act of simply neglecting our own strength and power - not using the “muscles” we have, focusing on what we fear can make us weak instead of on the truth of our own strength?
Grace is a state of nonresistance and a nightmare experience cannot sustain in such a state. We have the power to stop struggling mentally. Whether we’re fearing and resisting creative work, an authority figure, or a projected future scenario, we can free ourselves. Conditions may not instantly change but our distress will dissipate. The control we once sought will now be experienced by us as clarity and we’ll realize that our power never left us, we had only, for a time, left our power.
Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle. Please visit her website at www.jenniferparos.com.