beginner’s mind

Thoughts on resistance

beginner’s mind

It’s a sunny morning in lockdown. Aware – always supremely aware – of the outstanding privilege my rural lifestyle affords, I am sitting on the hill above our house, preparing to meditate. This is a new meditation.

In the spirit of continuing professional development, I am exploring other programs, taught by other people – it seems good, always, to go back to the beginning, or perhaps, better, to go to other people’s versions of the beginning, to come to things with a fresh, open mind, and see what there is to learn.

This is not a complicated course. It’s run by people I have come to know online and, although I have never met them in person, I trust them. That’s not a sentence I thought I would ever write, but this is the world we inhabit. So here we are. I have earphones in, there are bees spiralling into the hawthorn just on the edge of my awareness…and the deep-smooth-chocolate American voice in my ear tells me to observe my breathing.


This should not be too taxing. I have been meditating for 40 years. Pretty often, I watch my breath. But this morning, I set a clear intent to come to this with Beginners’ Mind. I also find that I trust and respect this voice in ways I rarely do with other teachers.

And so this morning, someone I trust and respect tells me to follow my breath and instantly my diaphragm locks. WTF? Within three breaths, I have a steel plate across my solar plexus. Within 6 breaths, I’m inhaling through a straw and my former-anaesthetist mind is adding up my arterial partial pressures and not liking the result. And I realise that I get a lot of feedback from my students (and my wife) that this is what happens when I ask other people to do the same.

Huh. There’s a phrase about hoist and petard in here somewhere. I am locked in the irony of it for a while and thence of the several competing voices in my head points out that there are some basic strategies that I would offer to my students, the first of which is to shift into a different feeling-frame.

watching like a fox


So, I bring the joyful curiosity to this… ‘How interesting, it hurts to breathe. That’s fascinating. I wonder what the air flow feels like at the back of my throat?

Can I fox-watch this?’

(I have an inner part of me that is a young fox, who watches the sensation of the breath as it hits a particular point at the back of my throat as if that breath and the sensations it brings were a rabbit appearing from a hole in the ground.

If I can find that particular essence of fierce, wild, youthful, joyful absolute fascination – then I can lose myself in the act of watching.)

Peer-pressure, self-pressure

I do what I can to bring this back and slowly – very slowly over the next 45 minutes, with much falling-away from the place of curiosity and more into a place of intense self-recrimination – I return to a space where breathing is a thing to which I pay attention. I can shift from the back of my throat, which started as a whisper and begins to feel like a shout, to the air flow from my nose onto my upper lip, which was entirely invisible at the start and now feels like painting a white line on a road. Or a rabbit. You get the gist.

The panic is over. But it has left a source of fascination. I truly had no idea that the ‘must get this right, Peer-pressured, self-pressured, self-judging’ part of me was still so powerful or that it lurked quite so close to the surface. There’s more work to be done and it’s going to be interesting to see where it goes.


Just as interesting is the way the rest of the day pans out. It’s my mentoring day (that is, I am mentor, to other mentees. The reverse happens at other times). So I head down the hill for home, and then sort out the livestock and the frost coverings on the potatoes at the poly tunnel, all the while ruminating on this because while the initial realisation came quite fast, my inner processes can be pretty slow and it can take me a while to sort them all out.

I am working my way through feelings and tensions and the sense of a bruise at my solar plexus when I return to the house for the Zoom calls. And Every. Single. One is about the need to perform before ourselves or our peers and the resistances we meet.

They are not all the same, but they are so strikingly similar that I make myself double check after the second, to be sure I’m not simply projecting my morning’s experience onto the students that I’m talking to.

But when I wait for Number 3 to tell me what’s most alive in this moment and they say, ‘I’m struggling with a kind of inner resistance…’ I can conclude that I might be drawing in the experiences that match mine, but it truly doesn’t sound as if I’m projecting them out.

So I relax into being astonishingly grateful for the experience of the morning because I can hear what’s being said with the memory of recent experience, and can respond freshly, which has so much more integrity and authenticity than a memory of other times, or ideas fed by other people.

joyful curiosity

And then that evening, still thinking, still processing, still experiencing, one of our Accidental Gods members posted in the forum, talking about connection and resistance and someone used the metaphor of the sensation as being like bringing a horse to a gate that it just doesn’t want to go through…and hanging around the gate for months until one day the horse just walked through and then the tears flowed…

All of which leaves me in awe of the way things roll together, of the majesty of the world and its complexity and the wonder of the dance within it.

I offer this, then, to anyone who may be in that moment where the familiar feels all-too-familiar, or where we feel the mud on the road growing sticky, or where a part of us is nagging that we’re coasting in assimilation when a quite different part thinks we ‘should be achieving’ something different.

When in fact, all there is, is the being-ness of life, and the joyful curiosity of watching it.

Image credit: Sarah Hunter-Rodwell ©

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