Sunday, March 7, 2010

Saying ‘Yes’ to the ‘No’ – A Meditation on Resistance

I was just listening to a meditation from Tara Brach’s audio book ‘Radical Self-Acceptance,’  and liked it so much I thought I'd transcribe it here. 

I've mentioned Tara Brach quite a few times on this blog.  She's one of my favorite Buddhist teachers, because she combines practical psychology with Buddhism in a way that I can really relate to.  She emphasises working with elements of shame (which she says are so pervasive in the West), and has a strong focus on Loving Kindness to her teachings.  I find her teachings profound.

If you like this meditation you can get free audio talks and guided meditations by Tara from the Insight Meditation Community of Washington website.

A Meditation on Relaxing Resistance

Let yourself bring to mind a difficult situation; one that’s current in your life and brings up a reaction of anger, fear or grief.  It might be a rift with your partner, the loss of a loved one, or concern for someone with a life threatening illness.  It might be a hurtful behaviour that you regret, a way you know you’ve been ignoring or neglecting someone. Just bring a scene to mind that might provoke this feeling.  See what’s happening and hear the words that might be exchanged.  Notice what you’re feeling or believing.

Let those feelings be as full as they want to be – feelings of grief or fear or anger - so you can feel them in an embodied way. Then mentally direct a stream of the word ‘no’ at the feelings.  Let the word carry the energy of ‘NO!’

‘’ -  to the anger or the fear or the grief. 
‘’ – rejecting or pushing away what you’re experiencing.
‘’ – to whatever is happening.

As you do, feel what this is like in your body and your heart and your mind. Imagine what your life would be like for the next months or years if this situation and related feelings were continuously encountered with a big ‘no’ – if you encountered your life with ‘no.’ Look into the future.

Now take a few deep breaths, and let go by relaxing through the body or shifting your posture a bit.
Then, reflect again on this aversive situation. Bring the thoughts, feelings and images up again.  Feel what it’s like.  This time, let there be a stream of the word ‘YES’ that surrounds your experience. 

‘Yes...yes’ - just agree to whatever arises, whatever is going on this moment.
‘Yes...yes’- Even if the experience is of anger, a feeling of ‘no’, hold that ‘no’ in a gentle and larger space of ‘yes’.

Sense what this is like in your body, your heart, your mind.  What would your experience be in the months and the years to come if you could bring the spirit of ‘yes’ to difficult experiences?

This is quite a short and simple meditation, but it can be powerful for me to see how saying ‘no’ affects my whole body.  When I say it my leg muscles tighten, my jaw is clenched, and my whole world feels smaller and constricted. I can also see how I notice all this tension and then leap straight into thoughts such as, ‘I’m so angry!  I’m always saying ‘no’ to the world – what a terrible, angry person I am!’  I’m  learning to stay with the physical effects of the word ‘no’ without judging the tension and tightness.

 I think it’s really important that Tara has said towards the end that ‘even if the experience is of anger - a feeling of ‘no’ - hold that ‘no’ in a gentle and larger space of ‘yes.’  I think this particular technique can offer a helpful way of working with the resistance, anger, and grief around pain and illness (or other difficult situations). 

If Tara had said, ‘just say ‘yes’ to your pain,’ that wouldn’t be very useful.  I might try to say ‘yes’, but I wouldn’t really feel it and I’d just end up feeling more confused and hopeless.  But this meditation offers a way of saying ‘yes’ to the ‘no’.  It allows us to say 'yes' to anger, bitterness, frustration -  and a multitude of other dark, murky feelings that we're often taught to feel ashamed of having.  

It wasn't until I started allowing all these dark feelings to have their say, that I started feeling any space or awareness around my physical sensations. It felt as though these powerful emotions were clamped tightly around my illness, and that they were the first things I had to bring into awareness. This meditation allows me a bit more clarity and space around my physical pain.


  1. Hi Emma. I feel like I've just found a kindred spirit! I got to your blog through the blogroll on Green Words Growing. Like you, I am housebound with so-called chronic fatigue syndrome and I'm also a practicing Buddhist. Before I got sick, I regularly went on meditation retreats led by many of the teachers you mention (Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzberg, Tara Brach). Perhaps you know the teacher, Sylvia Boorstein (She and Jack Kornfield were the founding teachers of Spirit Rock which is about an hour and a half from where I live.)

    With her encouragement, I've written a book on using the Buddha's teachings to live well with chronic illness. It's called: "How To Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers." It's going to be published in September by Wisdom Publications. (It still feels like a dream.) I wish we'd met before I'd written it because it looks as if I'd have had a lot to learn from you.

    My daughter is helping me create a website for the book. It's at If you go there, it will say it's "under construction" but several of the links are working.

    The theme of the book is that, although our bodies may be sick, our minds can be at peace. Of course, that's a work-in-progress for me, but I have written about many Buddhist practices that have seen me through the past nine years.

    It's great to find your blog. I've just subscribed.

  2. Hi Toni,

    I wanted to e-mail through your contacts page on your website, but that page wasn't up yet.

    Your book looks wonderful - well done. Such a great idea, and I really like the title (very catchy and easy to remember. I'm sure the marketing dept is pleased with that!) The cover of your book is beautiful.

    I'm really looking forward to getting a copy of the book. Can you please pop back here and let me know when it's published? I'll keep checking into your blog too.

    I can't believe you live close to Spirit Rock, and have done retreats with all the teachers I write about. I am envious!

    I have a psychologist (who has also had CFS and is a Buddhist) and she's just been to the US to do a retreat with Sylivia - she was bowled over by how warm and genuine she was.

    Your artwork is beautiful. I've just started doing a bit of art as well (I'm a former classical muso), and I'm really enjoying it.

    best wishes


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