Nonresistance is the Secret to a Bold Life


This is a guest post from Bobbi Emel of The Bounce Blog

Many years ago, my partner, Ruth, and I sat in an exam room with her oncologist, Dr. Patel. Ruth was describing her doubts and anxiety about the side effects of the chemotherapy she was taking for her metastatic cancer. Was she doing the right thing by taking the chemo?

Dr. Patel, seated below her on a short, rolling stool, listened carefully, his hands folded in his lap, his eyes never leaving Ruth’s. Finally, he tilted his head slightly to the side and said something we never forgot.

“Ruth, don’t resist.”

He continued, “Don’t resist the chemotherapy, allow it to enter your body and let the healing drops do their work. Resisting will just get in the way of the healing.”

Ruth and I looked at each other. Don’t resist? We had been told by others that we needed to “fight” her cancer and “attack” the tumors. And now we were being told to not resist it or the treatment?

Incredibly, it made sense. And changed both of our lives. We saw how we had tied ourselves in knots resisting her cancer diagnosis, wondering why she had it, and fretting ourselves raw about both the cancer and what the future held.

We let it all go. We decided to go with the journey that cancer had set us on rather than against it.

I watched as Ruth, who had struggled with severe anxiety throughout her life, suddenly realized that she didn’t have to struggle with it anymore. She was still anxious on occasion, but she became much bolder in her life, trying on new experiences that would have previously frightened her and loving every minute of them.

Although not an anxious person by nature, Ruth’s illness had my emotional thermostat ratcheted up a few notches. When I began to practice not resisting her cancer and the path we were on, I began to notice something important: Everything really was small stuff.

The everyday frustrations that I tried so hard to control so I could feel better were just not worth the energy I was putting into resisting them.

Ruth and I, ensconced in her journey with metastatic breast cancer, were freer and lived more boldly than we ever had in our lives.

How do you live a bold and free life, able to bounce back from minor to major disasters?

1. Notice what you resist.

It could be something small like being stuck in traffic. Are your hands gripped tight around the steering wheel? Are you cursing and muttering under your breath about your predicament?

If so, you are fighting something that just is and that you have no control over.

Perhaps it’s something big, like losing your job. Are you cursing and muttering out loud, ruminating about why this has happened to you? Are you holding on to anger about being let go? It’s taking up a lot of energy, isn’t it?

2. Don’t resist.

Non-resistance is a practice so realize that it’s an ongoing matter of remembering to let go rather than hang on. It’s going with the current of the river rather than trying to walk against it.

You’re in traffic, you’re late, and you’re frustrated. Take a deep breath. Release the death grip you have on the steering wheel. Remember that you have been late before and lightning hasn’t struck.

Let go of fighting to change circumstances you can’t control.

You’ve lost your job and you’re angry. It’s okay to allow yourself a time to grieve your loss. But the anger and frustration you feel are just like trying to walk upstream against a raging river – you’re not making any headway and you are expending a lot of energy fighting to stay in your same place.

Don’t resist. Let yourself be carried with the current. It’s very possible that new opportunities lay just around the bend in front of you. But if you struggle to stay where you are, you won’t see them.

3. Notice the difference.

Once you have stopped fighting and resisting, take a look around. How does your body feel? How do other frustrations in your life appear now? Do they seem smaller?

What does the thing you were fighting look like now? Has your perspective changed?

4. Give thanks.

Feel and express gratitude for the freedom of non-resistance. Write a note in your journal about the change within you and your thankfulness for it. Tell a friend or family member. Whisper “thank you” to your higher being. 

The prognosis for Ruth’s life was nine to eighteen months post-diagnosis. She lived four rich, meaningful years with cancer spread throughout her body, each day a measure of grace. And it was triggered by two simple words.

Don’t resist.

 Bio: Psychotherapist Bobbi Emel specializes in helping people face life’s significant challenges and regain their resiliency. In addition to seeing clients in her private practice, Bobbi is a well-regarded speaker and writer. You can find her blog at The Bounce BlogTwitter or Facebook. 

{ 28 comments… add one }

  • Steve Rice March 9, 2012, 12:04 pm

    Bobbi, This article is SO powerful Thanks for sharing such a beautiful tribute to Ruth and her life energy.

    The concept of non-resistance is a fundamental one that I embrace in my life. It seems to run counter-intuitive to everything that we have been taught.

    Our fear tells us to “fight or fly”. Our spirit says, “calm your physiology to listen to the soul.”

    Sometimes people ask “How?” How do you *do* non-resistance. How do you release it?

    For me–in real-life experience–I have found that stillness–physically, mentally and emotionally–has allowed me to experience the greatest release of resistance. It is not something I can do, but rather something I experience through awareness.

    What methods were helpful to you as you learned to release resistance? Did you practice any form of stillness like prayer or meditation?

    • Bobbi Emel March 10, 2012, 9:15 pm

      Hi Steve,
      Thanks so much for your insights on non-resistance. I think it’s a really tough skill to remember because our very being is geared toward resistance.

      I only occasionally practiced meditation as a form of stillness. When Ruth was alive, we would often remind each other about the practice and held each other accountable when we found that we were resisting something.

      It continues to be a daily practice for me and, as I’ve practiced, I get more familiar with what my mind and body does when I’m resisting. My breath gets shallow, I get a tightness in my chest, and I start to feel uptight and angry. I’ve learned to take these things as cues that I’m resisting or holding too tight to something. So, I take a deep breath, relax my shoulders and look for where my resistance is. It can still be difficult to let go, but I think noticing the resistance is most of the battle!

  • Betsy at Zen Mama March 9, 2012, 1:15 pm

    Bobbi and Tess,
    I love this! Just the opposite of what you’d expect to hear. It more loving, too, instead of those attack type words. I love your tips esp. gratitude! I been reading up on detachment recently which seems similar to this non resistance approach. It all reminds me of a river flowing around rocks and heading to the big picture passing the little things along the way.

    Thanks for this wonderful post!

    • Bobbi Emel March 10, 2012, 9:18 pm

      Thanks so much for your comments, Betsy! Yes, I think detachment and non-resistance are quite similar. And it’s likely that non-resistance is a component of detachment.

      Love the image of the river flowing around rocks! That’s a metaphor I use frequently, too!

  • Rand March 9, 2012, 1:25 pm

    “He is the mountain stream’s own darling, the hummingbird of blooming waters, loving rocky ripple slopes and sheets of foam as a bee loves flowers, as a lark loves sunshine and meadows. Among all the mountain birds, none has cheered me so much in my lonely wanderings — none so unfailingly. For both in winter and summer he sings, sweetly, cheerily, independent alike of sunshine and of love, requiring no other inspiration than the stream on which he dwells. While water sings, so must he, in heat or cold, calm or storm, ever attuning his voice in sure accord; low in the drought of summer and the drought of winter, but never silent.”

    “Such then, is our little cinclus, beloved of every one who is so fortunate as to know him. Tracing on strong wing every curve of the most precipitous torrents from one extremity of the Sierra to the other; not fearing to follow them through their darkest gorges and coldest snow-tunnels; acquainted with every waterfall, echoing their divine music; and throughout the whole of their beautiful lives interpreting all that we in our unbelief call of terrible in the utterances of torrents and storms, as only varied expressions of God’s eternal love.”

    ‘The Water Ouzel’ ~ John Muir

    • Bobbi Emel March 10, 2012, 9:20 pm

      Rand, thank you SO much for this passage from John Muir. It is stunningly beautiful and achingly poignant at the same time. I shall keep and treasure this.

  • Lynn Hess March 9, 2012, 2:06 pm

    It’s amazing how much creative energy is lost to the world because of fighting and resisting “what is.” I know I’ve certainly lost my share that way!

    Like Steve, stillness is the thing that helps me stop resisting. But the ironic thing is that when I feel most resistant, taking the time to be still ends up being one of the things I resist the most! At least for me, that’s why having stillness be part of a routine is SO important. Because if it’s not, I won’t tap into it at the very time I need it.

    Bobbi, there’s a whole chapter in the book “Enjoy Every Sandwich” (which I was lucky enough to win a copy of here on Tess’s blog) that talks about how Dr. Lipsenthal made a conscious decision that he wasn’t going to “fight” or “battle” his cancer, but accept it with grace while still doing what he needed to do to take care of his treatment. It’s a wonderful book — if you haven’t read it, you might enjoy and be able to relate to it, having had a similar experience with your partner.

    And I’m so sorry for the loss of your Ruth.

    • Bobbi Emel March 10, 2012, 9:23 pm

      Lynn, thank you so much for sharing your practice of stillness. I think you are very wise to create such a routined practice.

      And thank you for telling me about Dr. Lipsenthal’s book – I will certainly pick it up.

      Finally, thank you so much for your words about my loss. It has been eight years now and I still think of her every day.

      • Lynn Hess March 12, 2012, 7:37 am

        I would be thrilled to pass on my copy to you, if you’d like it. It was a gift to me, and I’d love to pay it forward. I just sent you a message using the contact form on your website.

        • Bobbi Emel March 12, 2012, 1:05 pm

          Thanks so much for your generosity, Lynn! I’ve responded to your email.

  • Galen Pearl March 9, 2012, 8:20 pm

    I love so many of your articles, I didn’t think I would ever have a favorite, but this might be it. So powerful because of the personal story (thank you for sharing that), and so meaningful because of the lesson you drew from it. I will remember this one for a long, long time. Thank you.

    • Bobbi Emel March 10, 2012, 9:24 pm

      Galen, thank you so much! I’m really moved by your words . . . thank you!

  • Vidya Sury March 9, 2012, 9:48 pm

    Very beautiful words. I remember saying this to my mom when she had to go through various treatments…to accept and allow healing to happen. It worked for us, until years later, her lung collapsed and after five days on full life support, she passed away in 2010. Not resisting makes all the difference – and it is a gift to have someone say those words. I try and practice that whenever I can – in most of life’s situations.

    What a gift to learn these powerful things that make a big difference. Thank you so much.

    • Bobbi Emel March 10, 2012, 9:26 pm

      Vidya, thank you so much for your kind words. I’m so sorry about the loss of your mother because of the ensuing grief, but I know that a non-resistant journey can be so incredibly fulfilling, too.

  • Elle March 10, 2012, 6:51 am

    Wonderful post…so heartfelt…so open and honest. Thank you Tess and Bobbi for a different perspective on dealing with life threatening illness. I’ve heard the expression ‘what you resist, persists’ and this speaks to an even higher level experience.

    Encourage each other.

    • Bobbi Emel March 10, 2012, 9:27 pm

      Thank you so much, Elle.

  • Emanuele @ Freedom and courage March 10, 2012, 9:23 am

    To me resistance is a second name for the obsession with control. Unhappily, it’s what our society is made of. Control in the workplace, control of the consumer by advertising, control of the student by giving marks. Everything is about control because the founding belief of our society is that people are not to be trusted. I suffered from that form of self-control called perfectionism. Everything had to be perfect. No mistake allowed. It was a huge suffering. Call it control, call it resistance, it’s to suffer, and we are not born to suffer. Now I tell myself that I’m perfect as I am, and the suffering has gone away.

    • Bobbi Emel March 10, 2012, 9:28 pm

      Hi Emanuele,

      Yes, I think you’re right and I think learning to let go of control fits into the general idea of detachment as mentioned in Betsy’s comment above.

  • Sandra / Always Well Within March 10, 2012, 8:25 pm

    There is so much wisdom in these two words “don’t resist”! Whether you choose to be bold or quiet, these words will bring a different quality and dimension to your life. I’m so grateful for this awareness that you have shared.

    • Bobbi Emel March 12, 2012, 10:16 am

      Thanks so much for your kind words, Sandra!

  • Paige | simple mindfulness March 11, 2012, 1:10 am

    There’s the age-old saying, “What you resist persists.” It’s so true. Whenever we talk about fighting something, we’re actually giving it more power and energy. Not resisting it allows it to dissolve away.

    I’ve had issues with control for so many years. My life changed dramatically when I discovered not resisting. I still have to remind myself of it sometimes, like all of us. As soon as I make that mental switch, my world seems to magically change for the better.

    Bobbi, this is a beautiful story exemplifying the saying. I’m sure Ruth’s “extra” years were due in part to her lack of resisting. Your close relationship with her had much to do with it as well. Thank you for sharing it!

    • Bobbi Emel March 12, 2012, 10:19 am

      Hi Paige,

      Thanks so much for your kind words! And you’re so right about “what you resist persists.” Even though I still have to constantly check myself for resistance, I feel so much freer having this practice in my toolbox of resiliency skills. It has helped me immensely and, as noted in the post, really set Ruth free, too.

  • Cathy | Treatment Talk March 11, 2012, 11:22 am

    Hi Bobbi,

    What a powerful lesson! I can feel it in my body when I’m fighting something or trying too hard. In my situation, talking about recovery, we often use the term surrender. Letting go helps all of us to find joy rather than fighting for control. Thanks for sharing your beautiful story.

    • Bobbi Emel March 12, 2012, 10:19 am

      Thanks so much, Cathy. “Surrender” is a terrific word, too!

  • Nea | Self Improvement Saga March 13, 2012, 5:28 pm

    It is indeed empowering to stop resisting. I’ve found that when I just surrender, things work out in the best possible way; whereas when I resist what is, the heaviness gets heavier. Thanks for the reminder, Bobbi!

    • Bobbi March 14, 2012, 1:30 pm

      Hi Nea,

      So true! Thanks so much for your comment!

  • Noel March 14, 2012, 7:04 pm

    “Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” Lao Tzu
    Bobbi, thanks for sharing such an inspiring story. I saw Ruth’s and your courage and strength in facing life challenges by not resisting. It’s a great motivation for everyone!

    • Bobbi Emel March 15, 2012, 10:00 am

      Noel, thanks so much for the wonderful quote from Lao Tzu – it’s perfect!

      Thanks also for your kind words.


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