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Just This
Just This

What We Resist Persists

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Richard believes that true prayer starts with a positive “yes” and surrender to God and reality:  

When I entered the Franciscan novitiate in 1961, part of our training was learning to avoid, resist, and oppose all distractions. It was such poor teaching, but it was the only way they thought back then. It was all about willpower: celibacy through willpower, poverty through willpower, community through willpower. But what we need isn’t willpower; we need the power to surrender the will and to trust what is. That’s heroic! It was a fruitless and futile effort because if we start with negative energy, a “don’t,” we won’t get very far (see Romans 7:7–11). That was the extent of the teaching, and it’s really no teaching at all—it’s just “Don’t! Don’t do anything!” When we hear that, the ego immediately pushes back. Somedays we have strong willpower and we succeed, but most days we barely succeed. [1] 

We know the old shibboleth, “Don’t think of an elephant.” If we try not to, that dang elephant invariably sneaks back into our minds! Just wait. To actively oppose something actually engages with it and gives it energy. That’s why good spiritual teachers say, “What you resist persists.”  

Our first energy has to be “yes” energy. From there we can move, build, and proceed. We must choose the positive, which is to choose love, and rest there for a minimum of fifteen conscious seconds—it takes that long for positivity to imprint in the neurons, I’m told. [2] 

Richard advises “neither clinging nor opposing” as helpful when it comes to facing our distractions in contemplative prayer:  

If I had told my novice master that I wasn’t going to fight my distractions, he would have said, “So you’re going to entertain lustful or hateful thoughts?” But that would have largely missed the point. The real learning curve happens when we can admit we’re having a thought or feeling and see that it’s empty, passing, and part of a fantasy that has no final reality except as a lesson.  

We must listen honestly to ourselves. Listen to whatever thought or feeling arises. Listen long enough to ask, “Why am I thinking this? What is this saying about me that I need to entertain this negative, accusatory, or lustful thought?”  

We don’t have to hate or condemn ourselves for a thought or feeling, but we do have to let it yield its wisdom. Then we will see it is the wounded or needy part of us that wants these unhealthy thoughts. Our True Self, our Whole Self, does not need them, and will not identify with them.  

If we can allow our thoughts and feelings to pass through us, neither clinging to them nor opposing them—and without ever expecting perfect success—I promise that we will come to a deeper, wider, and wiser place. Even our inability to fully succeed is, in itself, another wonderful lesson. [3] 


[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Morning Sit, June 12, 2023. Unpublished meditation. 

[2] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Just This (Albuquerque, NM: CAC Publishing, 2017), 43, 44.  

[3] Rohr, Just This, 44–45. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Izzy Spitz, Wings (detail), digital oil pastel. Izzy Spitz, Tuesday Chemistry (detail), digital oil pastel. Izzy Spitz, Field Study 1 (detail), oil pastel. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

In the midst of color and movement we focus and are present to one point in a sacred sphere. 

Story from Our Community:  

Recently, in the midst of a busy day, my husband approached me with a request to help him process a conversation with his sister. I felt annoyed at the interruption but agreed. As we moved to sit down together the words “opportunity to love” came into my mind and I knew I was being asked to set aside my agenda and become fully present to my husband in that moment. I am finding that the daily meditations and practice of contemplative prayer is having this effect on me. I am perceiving and responding differently to the many “opportunities to love” that surround me all the time. —Jane M. 

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