The Art of Dancing with Resistance: A New Way of Handling Conflict


How do you handle frustration?  Conflict ? My usual coping style is to relent and let conflict swallow me like a spoon in pudding, but occasionally I push up against problems like Sisyphus and his boulder.  But I am looking at things differently now. Writers, spiritual leaders, and everyday experiences have inspired a new approach to difficulties.  When it comes to stress I look to the path of no resistance. 

E.B. White (Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web) tells a great story about being a lowly mess hand on a ship bound for Alaska. Alaska was an untouched frontier at the time, so he fancied himself a wilderness explorer.  The wilderness turned out to be a farce.  No Eskimos or igloos or aggressive walruses.  The real adventure was life on the ship.  White went from being a passenger, to being a saloon man to being a humble mess hand (preparing and serving food to the crew) all in an effort to stay on the voyage.  His crowning moments of glory occurred in the midst of a violent storm during the last three days of the journey.

The three gale tossed days gave me a feeling of elation and well-being; it seemed exciting to be up and about, busily tending the sick and doing my duty….this sensation of drunkenness was heightened by a trick I invented as an anti-sickness device; instead of bracing myself against the lurches of the ship, I let myself go and yielded to her every pitch and roll, on the theory that bodily resistance is – in part, at least – the true cause of nausea.  

I reeled crazily through the corridors, responding to the sea physically, as though the sea were a dancing partner whose lead I followed.


Handling Motion Sickness


I am no stranger to motion sickness.  I spent the majority of family road trips in the front seat (after a few gross stomach-emptying incidents) staring out the windshield practicing mind over matter.  I never learned to roll with my uncle’s one foot on the gas/one foot on the brake driving technique.

In other life matters I have been just as susceptible to irritation and queasiness.  If I am unable to avoid conflict (good or bad, always my first choice) I try to control it or give up and succumb to it.  The idea of dancing with frustration, NOT resisting, is new.

I could practice non-resistance in countless situations; with my husband, my in-laws, when I’m late, when technology implodes, etc., but the best application of my new-found malleability has been with my kids.  I have spent years telling them what to do. I truly want(ed) to control their behavior.  I had chore charts and point systems.  I yelled when they didn’t do as expected.  I punished when they failed to comply.

Being a dictator is exhausting.  My spirit drains out a little with every butting of heads.  And it doesn’t work.

What I’ve Learned

Eventually, a brilliant piece of advice came to my attention.   Heather Forbes, author of Beyond Consequences, Logic and Control, said to stop trying to control behavior and start focusing on your relationship with your child.  I realized what a control freak I had become.  I expected perfect behavior but forgot about the being behind the behavior.  I hadn’t fostered the bond, just the hierarchy.

I can’t say our house is a bastion of harmony (see Getting Back to Good) but I realize pointing out what I don’t love and minimizing what I do, is a recipe for disaster.  We still have rules and boundaries but I’ve worked on getting closer to each child.  Spending time doing something meaningful.  Walks in the woods.  Extra chat time at nightly tuck in.  Watching campy movies with our oldest.

I dance with their personalities rather than plant my feet.  I pause and notice my own resistance.  I envision and allow my body and thoughts to soften, become permeable to tension. When something gets on my last nerve I realize like a storm at sea, it will pass.  I can choose to move within the flotsam and jetsam or fight it head on.  The former being so much better for the family and my blood pressure.  I still react too quickly at times and there are days of yelling and waves of insecurity (on both sides) but overall the sailing IS smoother.

I challenge you to go out and sway with the waves.;)

When or how do you practice non-resistance?

**A theme of Taoism (ancient spiritual practice pronounced dow-ism) is unity based on yielding rather than resisting.  There is an art to being fluid rather than rigid.  It takes practice. Like Zen Buddhism, the Tao is a spiritual path that must be experienced intimately rather than intellectually understood in order for clarity to be discovered. **


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9 thoughts on “The Art of Dancing with Resistance: A New Way of Handling Conflict

  1. I loved this post. It reminded me of a yoga class where the instuctor told us that if we want to be successful in some of the most advanced poses, we would need to surrender into the pose, the breath, and the bodies we had at that moment of practice. We are never the same person day in and day out if we pay attention. We are mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically changing. Always in flux. Like those waves. And I to get motion sickness but sometimes we need to go to surf school and ride it out. Beautifully written, my friend.

    • I’ll have to remember your yoga instructor’s words next time I try to do the crane or a headstand.;) Surrendering is so much more than giving up. Makes me think of standing on one of those Bosu balls at the gym as well. Always moving to maintain balance, all the while strengthening your core.:)

      Thank you for reading and responding Kimber. I always appreciate your perspective.

  2. Love the idea of this. I have been so concrete that I think I need more examples. I also have a fear of succumbing to the conflict just to pacify and then growing resentful. Or letting the conflict change who I am because I just want to avoid the uncomfortableness of it. Advice?

    • Jill I have stood firmly in the resentful and avoidance shoes. I’ve learned there is a difference between surrendering and succumbing. Surrendering is letting others feel power but still radiating your own light, knowing you have inner strength and knowing what is…is. I always think of the weather as a good example. We can’t change the weather but we still resist rain, more snow, the cold. It is more peaceful to accept the weather, let it be. I still get stressed out when dealing with conflict. I have a hard time speaking up, especially if I have to be loud. My best responses to conflict come when I have “rested” with it a bit. I take in a negative comment or thorny situation and breathe into it. I listen to my gut and consider what the other person may be afraid of. When I do speak I don’t have to yell or speak loudly. I say what I truly feel. The best thing I’ve learned is to say, ” Give me some time to think about that.” It cools everyone off and I can get some clarity. I don’t have all the answers, obviously, but letting some of the anger/resentment/jealousy whatever seep out of or through me(I actually visualize this) helps. There is a chapter or more about resistance in A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle too. That’s where I found the idea of being permeable.:)

  3. Another thing to do that ties in with making bonds is trying to see why the other person thinks the way they do even when they are wrong. This means, yes, you still believe their wrong BUT they DO have a thought process that brought them there. Understanding why they think or thought the way they do or did gives you more compassion and makes you feel the need to fight your way out of a situation less. I have a person that I really care about that I still do, but was ALWAYS feeling this conflict with. This idea that I learned in meditation group helped a lot so far!

    I tried to role with the waves this year in the Break-A-Thon. It helped me get through with all but two incidents…and only one unfortunate, unavoidable blowout. Those are AMAZING results considering the past!

    • It would be beneficial to ask straight up why someone feels the way they do. Better than assuming or battling blindly. I’ve been visualizing myself as permeable and letting my own resistance to situations bleed out or dissipate. I do feel lighter and less rigid when I let it go or move through tension. Thanks for reading and your awesome insight! :)

      • This tactic was for situations when you can’t ask why someone feels the way they do. I have a person like that…too much upheaval to no avail. If I think it through, it’s not really that difficult to see her train of thought. It makes it a LOT easier on me most of the time to roll with the waves.

      • I often kick myself afterwards for not rolling with the waves. My spirit is damaged more by the tension and stress than by the original issue. I’m getting better at acknowledging the way I fight or resist. I can actually feel my breathing ease when I let something go that has been bothering me. Everything works out in the end.

      • Ii like your response…to my response. I feel the same relief in rolling with the waves. Occasionally, I get a bit of tension, but I find that many times its’ less strenous and ultimately mentally healthier than arguing and simply rolls right out the door…kind of like pick your battles, and I’m picking a LOT less of them.

        Acknowledging to myself that I disagree with what’s being said to me or how I am being treated and consciously letting it go, usually allows me the end result of peace of mind that I’m looking for. I have to admit too, that SOMETIMES, when I think through the other person’s thought process…usually the person I spoke of in my prior post, I CAN see that I took something simple and non-accosting in an attacking way because of a prior interaction, a conversation I just had with someone else, I’d been by myself for too long over the past couple of days, my brain was moving too fast, etc. Also, OFTEN, I can see a person’s, again…particularly…let’s call her Jane…Jane’s, train of thought, and though it is inaccurate, it makes complete sense, given the information and their past, to think down the route they took. It’s been a growing experience for me and, with Jane…so far, it has mad significant strides. I still have long learning curve, but it’s happening.

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