Fear vs. Resistance. The Vortex.

I have often seen the words fear and resistance being used interchangeably. I don’t believe they are one and the same thing. Often we use words that are slight variations of each other for nuance, but I don’t think this is the case either with these two. I think the distinction is as follows:

Fear is the pure experience of danger, of a perceived threat. It is an emotional response as well as the sensations that accompany it.

Resistance on the other hand has an element of reluctance within it, reluctance towards what is being experienced. In resistance, the will is at least partially opposed to the experience. It isn’t fully convinced about the necessity of a course of action, but goes along with it.

Perhaps the connection between the two is that resistance can create fear and fear can create resistance, but I don’t believe they are one and the same thing. Because one can experience fear and not experience resistance, which is what perhaps courage is, the key element here being the willingness to experience.

A good visual for this is climbing stairs in order to reach the top. Resistance either isn’t convinced that it wants what is at the top, that it is worth it, that it is right or it wants it but isn’t willing to climb the stairs to claim it.

Resistance and fear can create a very nightmarish vicious circle, which I sometimes refer to as the vortex. It pulls you in and you feel like you can’t escape it, feeling like you have no control and being sucked deeper and deeper into it.

For the purposes of illustration, imagine that one finds themselves in a circumstance where their sense of safety is destabilized. This is something that has happened to me. I had a few experiences after which the trust that I was safe and supported in the world vanished. This was not something that was objectively true, but an inner perception.

Now imagine that at the same time, this situation cannot be left due to resistance. You can see how this situation may appear like captivity, like a deadlock… The person tries to leave, finds themselves unable to, panics, tries again, then repeats. This response inevitably leads to a sense of helplessness and despair.

The fear presses upon the will to take action, perceiving itself to be unsafe, but the will is blocked, so the person is caught in an endless cycle of fear and resistance which can destabilize the person significantly.

Now, once again imagine that a miracle opportunity presents itself, almost like the rescue one was longing for. The person may get well excited in the beginning and engage with it, but watch what happens when the moment of choice comes along. Should be easy to say yes to this opportunity, right?

Ha, not quite. If the opportunity isn’t a clear soul calling that neutralizes all resistance, the person will feel resistance to it. One may wait for the occasion to follow their bliss and that may never come along. As for the alternative, going forward in resistance is painful. That would be much like putting your car in reverse while going forward, or another visual, like an upset child who has to do something he doesn’t want to do, messing everything up or doing everything halfheartedly or partially, with no sense of commitment or responsibility towards the goal he is meant to fulfill.

At the other pole, you have the fear of landing back into the same scary situation one was trying to escape from. So on one end you have the fear of being trapped pressing upon the will to take action, while on the other you have the resistance to the much wanted change pulling it in the opposite direction. Which causes the will to short-circuit, to paralyze. The will is torn apart and cannot take action.

Outwardly it may look like the person has difficulty deciding, like they can’t make up their mind about what to do, as though every perspective was equal and no motivation carries more weight than another. The mind tries to make sense of it objectively, but the true discussion, the true pros and cons are happening at an irrational and unconscious level. The mind cannot solve this problem because the external is not a strong enough motivator for change, but the unconscious makes it seem so.

Blue Water Swirling in a Whirlpool

Since to the person in question it seems that this is a matter of life and death, it is more convenient, or so it seems, to hype one’s self up about the change, to push themselves into the change that appears to them like salvation. That’s applying pressure from above, forcing one’s self into action despite partial reluctance, only to find one’s self unable to carry the choice to its natural conclusion.

You see, you can’t win this game, not within this framework. Perhaps the only way out is through, gotta feel that baseline in order to neutralize it… I don’t know another way… well, a way that doesn’t take great risk. But for a more balanced or incremental approach, I suppose that the only way is to relax where you are, like that spiritual advice I heard, thus making the struggle irrelevant. Finding that safety and stability right there. Because the part that wants to run away thinks that the only way it can have it is for it to be given from an external factor. So in the pursuit of freedom, the person ends up feeling less and less free.

Seek freedom and become captive of your desires. Seek discipline and find your liberty.

– Frank Herbert

There are a few aspects to this that I want to mention. I think this is tightly linked to depression and anxiety. I have a theory that depression comes when one feels powerless to achieve what one believes is important to them, while anxiety happens when one feels resistance towards their experience but still feels a sense of possibility. The reason I am mentioning depression is that it seems to me that depression takes away the concern about one’s survival needs and that means it becomes difficult to find inner motivations to act towards purposes pertaining to survival. That’s why external motivations become important, for one cannot find within themselves the will to pay the price for the purpose of survival only, not seeing beyond this any possibility of fulfillment. It is a painful situation to say the least.

The trick is that because one is so distracted by trying to escape, one misses the opportunity to find fulfillment through other channels. Because one does not accept their situation, they are living in fear and resistance. Whereas, if one accepted their limitations, temporary limitations, one could engage with other people, find joyful experiences that can enrich and support their life and arrive at an entirely new baseline of safety. Basically what one was trying to achieve trying to escape – safety and freedom, the safety to explore, a safe haven – paradoxically comes by accepting the situation itself and taking steps towards self-responsibility.

At least that’s my theory, since I haven’t seen the end of this. I have to admit, I resisted till the end. But hey, negative experience is experience too.

So there you have it, a proposition of a way out that is really no way out at all, it’s more like a reorientation of attention. And then perhaps it would become apparent that it was you who were spinning the vortex all along.

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