Wise Words – Why We Resist Growth

We would rather be ruined than changed
We would rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And let our illusions die.                                                             

W. H. Auden


Even though I want spiritual growth, I often resist the necessary change that comes with it. The process of growth is a continual shedding of my previous ways of seeing, and that can feel like a kind of death. So I cling to what I know and resist the change that brings the things I say I want.

We all have a worldview, a set of assumptions about how the world works. It is the lens through which we see the world and interpret the events that happen to us. These assumptions are hidden, embedded in our conditioning. We don’t usually realize we are looking through a lens, we just think we are looking at “reality.” But our reality is always filtered through our worldview and it is disconcerting when something intrudes that shakes the apple cart of our assumptions.

The world, of course, is far larger and richer than our worldview, so there are many cracks where disconcerting information can intrude, stretching the edges of what we think we know for sure. Growth is the process that reworks our assumptions about how things work, casting off old views that no longer serve us like a snake sheds its skin.

The assumptions we carry can be large and distant like our cosmology of the universe or intimate like our self-image. And we seem to cling most desperately to the latter. Beliefs rooted in our self-image include things like what it means to be a good person, or a smart person, or a spiritual person. I might view myself as polite, so I avoid arguing, but this self-image prevents me from entering into healthy conflict. Or I might view myself as assertive and willing to stand up to people, but I don’t recognize the times I lash out in reactivity. In order to grow, our assumptions have to be exposed and then released, expanded or changed.

That is the change Auden says we fear.

“We would rather die in our dread than climb the cross of the moment.” This is an evocative phrase implying that we experience change as a kind of crucifixion. Strong language, but that is how it feels when the assumptions we challenge are deep. After all, we’ve worked hard to fashion a self-image that gives us a sense of security and control. To abandon this leaves us feeling naked and at risk. To lessen our resistance to change, we need to approach our fears and vulnerability with empathy.

The resistance I feel to growth comes from the smaller part of me, my ego self, that is vested in my self-image. There is comfort in knowing that I have a connection to another part of me, my higher self, that does not have this fear. When I switch my perspective to my higher self, I can hold the fears of my ego self with tenderness and still move forward. This is the great gift of Auden’s insight – we are the ones getting in the way of our own spiritual growth.

You can use the perspective of your higher self to step back from the conditioned habits of your ego self and look to see where your assumptions have become sticking points. Start with any irritations or frustrations that are currently nagging at you. When you have a comfortable moment to reflect, pause and settle into your higher self, the part of you that feels natural compassion for yourself. Pick one of these irritations and sit with it for a short while. Don’t let it hide, give it your full attention.

Ask yourself if this issue feels like a “cross of the moment” that you do not want to climb? Behind the irritation, are there illusions that need to die?

Notice what emotions come up. Can you stay open and let yourself feel what wants to be expressed, including fear and vulnerability? You are mining your inner world for hidden assumptions. What if these irritations contain the gold you’ve been looking for?

Photo by Linus Nylund on Unsplash

4 Replies to “Wise Words – Why We Resist Growth”

  1. Great post! It is interesting how much we want to grow but often we don’t because we want to grow without having to change our beliefs and habits.

  2. I’ve just started getting your writings in my inbox. I was particularly drawn to the latest one on resisting change, and how we resist it. I can attest to that. In my struggle with depression, my brain wants to keep me in the negative space that it knows. Even though I have had some relief in the past few months, my brain still wants to go back there. So, I appreciate your thoughts on the difficulty of change.

    I’ll look forward to your writings in my inbox

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