Sunday, July 12, 2009

Resistance Is Futile

I was listening recently to a teaching by Tara Brach. She quoted a Christian teacher, Anthony de Mello, who defined enlightenment, very beautifully I think, in the following simple terms: absolute cooperation with the inevitable.

If enlightenment is absolute cooperation with the inevitable, then, by contrast and by definition, ego is a bundle of strategies for putting up organized resistance -- the opposite of cooperation. Ego is perpetually locked in battle against the inevitable.

Think, for example, of the way in which we resist the truth of change. Change is completely inevitable, on every level, at all times, no matter what the situation or thing or person with which we are dealing. Our bodies are aging and decaying, inching moment by moment ever closer to death, the Big Kahuna of changes. Our creations crumble and fade, our wealth and possessions wax and wane. Our relationships are like rollercoasters, never providing us with the stability and security we seek from them; friends can turn to enemies, and even the most beloved and intimate partner can become a source of relentless torment, someone from whom we cannot wait to escape. None of the things at which we continually grasp can actually provide us with any solidity or permanence, because they are all constantly changing, never the same even from one moment to the next.

Intellectually, conceptually, we know all this. And yet, emotionally, our egos resist and struggle against this very obvious truth, and our emotional struggle against reality causes us a great deal of unnecessary anguish. Ego is forever waging war against the truth, hoping against all common sense that one of its strategies of resistance will finally result in a permanent, positive outcome that will make us happy and not be subject to change.

Operating from ego's perspective, we constantly shoot ourselves in the foot by placing our faith and our hope for permanence and security in things that are forever changing into something else. We work tirelessly at collecting all the best stuff around us, and when that stuff breaks down or gets stolen by someone else, we scramble to fix it or collect more stuff to replace it. We strive to establish relationships with the right people, and when those people begin to change into someone who no longer fulfills our wishes in the same way, we poison our relationships by struggling to prevent the other person from changing, as if we could turn them back to the way they were when they made us so happy.

Above all, there is one inevitable change, the Big Kahuna, which is so fundamentally threatening to ego that we dare not even think about it most of the time. It is not uncommon for human beings to go their entire lives without giving any serious thought to their own inevitable death, until one day it takes them by surprise. If that is our approach, then it is difficult to imagine meeting death in a state of total cooperation.

On the TV show Star Trek: The Next Generation, there was a sinister, emotionless species called The Borg, a single-minded cyborg entity that was gradually expanding its dominance over the galaxy by transforming each new species it encountered into versions of itself. The Borg would always greet any non-Borg species with the blunt and unwelcome news: "You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile."

The Borg's generous advice -- don't struggle or you'll just make this worse -- contains great wisdom, although it's terrible news from ego's perspective. The simple fact is that we *will* be assimilated, despite all our struggles to the contrary, into the great Borg that is reality -- and reality is rarely to ego's liking. In fact, to be truly kind to ourselves, we could let ourselves in on a cosmic secret, which is that we already *are* assimilated -- we only *think* we are separate from the great, unceasing flow of change and interdependence that is Life. The more we can let go of our futile resistance and enter into a state of total cooperation with the inevitable, the less we will suffer.


Bruce said...


Thank you for this posting... something that is very timely for me as I have seen many dramatic changes in my life in the past 8 weeks.

I resisted, only to my great detriment... or better yet.. TRIED to resist. Once I accepted the inevitable, I realized what a tremendous gift it was to give up resistance and allow the inevitable to occur.

It was humblng and enlightening and now see that events that seemed far out of control were truly a gift of change that will allow for huge growth in the coming months and years.

Thanks for the reminder :-)

Anonymous said...

In the Quaker reading discussion group I am a part of, we have been discussing Buddhism. I am probably the only dissenter in the group. This idea that: "you can't change the world, but you can change yourself," that I find in Buddhist teachings, disturbs me.
I did a search with the words, "Borg" and "Buddhism" and here I am.

Yes, change is inevitable, but there is not one future. Like the child in "The Emperor's New Clothes," if you speak up, others may follow. Exposing truth, questioning everything, and knowing when to resist and fight, are very important in life. Even if you get nowhere and get beaten down, it is better than passive submission.
I believe, in a sense, there is a history of the world in my DNA and most thinking is done below the level of consciousness. I have an obligation to say when things don't seem right and to expose truth.

Derrick Jensen, a writer/speaker whom inspires me, says it best in this article:

P.S. You are cute!