Are Resistance and Acceptance Contradictory?


There are a lot of spiritual teachers that have the path of non-resistance to what IS as a teaching. Accepting everything as it is, without trying to change it, anchored in the Now, etc. In a lot of Master's teachings there are references to resistance, both of negative thoughts, actions, and many other things. This creates confusion for me, as surrender and non-resistance seems to bring me peace, and resistance to certain thoughts brings tension. Just need some clarity on this issue. Thanks

—w, USA


Dear W,

It’s one thing not to resist what is; it’s quite another to do nothing about it.

Not to resist means to accept it fully, not to deny its reality, not to think you deserve something better. That is fundamental to spiritual growth. Without it, we are living in a fantasy world. True acceptance does indeed bring inner peace.

The question is, Should we stop there?

Well, if “what is” is perfectly fine with you, if who you are “Now” is everything you want to be, then sure, why try to change anything? You’re good to go, and there’s no need to read farther in this message.

But if you want something better, then you don’t want to stop there, right? You are faced with the choice of either (a) doing something to change what is, or (b) hoping the universe is going to change it for you.

I’ve noticed that the universe doesn’t tend to make, on my behalf, the sort of change I’m looking for. That leaves me with the uncomfortable option (a): doing something about it. I must accept what is – to refuse to accept its reality would be counterproductive, foolish, and tension-creating – but if I want something better yet won’t do anything about it, then I am like a leaf blown by the wind.

This is the thrust of the Bhagavad Gita: We need to act if we want freedom. Most people have considerable momentum in the direction of non-freedom: habits, desires, reactions to life. To overcome them means resisting, absolutely: resist that which is taking you in the direction you don’t want to go.

In the Gita, Arjuna doesn’t like that idea. He doesn’t like what is, but he also doesn’t like the tension – i.e., the effort and the loss of what is familiar to him – that such resistance can entail. He would rather give in to those tendencies. It’s easier, and besides, who knows whether anything good will come from overcoming them? The only problem is, as Krishna points out, Arjuna will never achieve happiness and freedom if he doesn’t overcome them.

Yes, our ingrained tendencies are a force to be reckoned with. But don’t focus only on them. Such an approach isn’t particularly enjoyable (and hence you won’t take it very far). As Paramhansa Yogananda said, “If you want to get rid of the darkness in a room, don’t beat at it with a stick. Turn the light on, and it will vanish as though it had never been.” So keep in mind your aspirations, cultivate an ever-greater hunger for them, dedicate yourself to following them, practice wholehearted devotion to them. That makes the act of resisting your tendencies an act, not of denial or self-deprivation, but of self-fulfillment.

Focus on who you want to be, and don’t let the past (or any present reality) keep you from it. Accept what is, then do what you need to do to make it – or you – better.