It had all the makings of a great weekend: one of my favorite authors, Dani Shapiro, would be leading a meditative writing retreat at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in the picturesque Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. I admittedly had a bit of a “girl crush” on Shapiro and couldn’t wait to meet her. I was also looking forward to some quality alone time. What I wasn’t expecting was to be joined by a familiar and annoying companion – Resistance.
As I set off on the four-hour journey from New Jersey, Resistance hopped in the passenger seat and buckled in. As we drove, she was quite talkative, even drowning out my Audible book.
“What a waste of money,” she said. “You think you’re going to be the next Dani Shapiro? Please. Aren’t you a bit old to be pursuing such nonsense?” She was relentless. We argued almost the entire way.
I thought I had rid myself of Resistance. I spent the entirety of 2023 serving as a Peer Artist Leader for book inc’s Memoir Incubator, helping myself and 12 other writers commit to writing 500 words a day in order to produce a 50,000-word manuscript by year’s end. I overcame every form of Resistance there was, including resisting the urge to stop reading The War of Art, a book by Steven Pressfield dedicated to Resistance. Yet, she was back, fierce as ever.
During the 30-minute wait to check in at Kripalu, Resistance tapped her foot, ogled the other attendees, and made snarky remarks about how I didn’t belong. The other guests wore parkas and fleece-lined Birkenstocks and carried colorful Cotopaxi backpacks. I wore all black, a tailored red wool coat, and dress boots. Resistance convinced me to just stay quiet, try to blend in, don’t mingle. It would all be over soon, she promised.
We both settled down a bit as soon as we saw Dani Shapiro, barefoot and donning all things comfy, sitting cross-legged on a pale orange chair at the front of the Main Hall at Kripalu. The altar-like room was filled with meditation chairs and requisite yoga blankets. Despite the peaceful ambiance, Dani seemed to sense Resistance in the room that first night. She began the session with a confession that she felt out of place on her first visit to Kripalu three years earlier, even calling her husband to whine that “these aren’t my people.” What she was saying, of course, was we all have resistance. Acknowledge it and move on to the work.
We were her people, though – a mostly middle-aged group of women, a few men sprinkled in, aspiring and published writers. There were even some non-writers who hadn’t even read Dani’s books but were hooked on her podcast, Family Secrets. I started to feel a bit more at ease. Resistance had just started to quiet down in the seat next to me.
But then, Dani unknowingly fed the belly of the beast. She announced that over the course of the weekend, we would be sharing our writing prompt work in small groups.
“What?!” Resistance yelled. I was afraid everyone in the cavernous room would hear her.
“Haven’t we shared enough this year? I did NOT sign up for this! I don’t even know these people!”
It was hard to argue with her. Working up the courage to share my memoir with my fellow Memoir Incubator writers was my crowning accomplishment of 2023. We shared narratives about the most personal of struggles, such as divorce, abuse, and parenting. I wasn’t prepared to share anything again just yet, especially with people I didn’t know.
As Resistance railed, I felt myself growing smaller, wishing I were seated in the last row. Maybe, I thought, I could just skip out on the rest of the weekend. My mind started plotting an escape. I wasn’t far from Albany, my former home of almost 20 years. I had close friends there. I was sure someone would take me in.
I managed to commit to staying for at least one more day. At the end of that first session, Dani left us with suggestions for things we might write about later that night, but I knew instinctively what I had to do. Before I went to sleep, I wrote about Resistance in my journal, unpacked her, let the truth of her show itself naked on the page. I called her out, writing, “When did I stop being willing to be vulnerable? The truth is, I want to be the person at the front of the room, but I’ve let you hold me back.” It turns out Resistance didn’t like being exposed. In fact, she was so miffed that at the end of the 6:30 a.m. yoga class the next morning, she stayed behind pretending to be asleep in savasana. I was glad to be rid of her for a while.
That morning, Dani shared her journey with spirituality captured so beautifully in her book Devotion. She shared her belief in the power of meditation to set the tone for writing. So, in her soothing voice, she led us in a “loving-kindness meditation.” We were to share this loving-kindness first with ourselves, then with someone we loved, followed with someone we had a troubled relationship with, and then, finally, with the whole world: “May you be safe; may you be happy; may you be strong; may you live with ease.”
I chose Resistance as my troubled relationship and, in my meditative state, wished her to live with ease. When I opened my eyes, and we all began to write, I could tell my Resistance had melted away. I wrote freely, and I shared my writing. There’s something about sharing the written word that forms a glue between people, even complete strangers. Resistance didn’t stand a chance.
On the last morning, one participant told Dani that she envisioned her on the other side of a bridge from the rest of us “wanna-be-writers” and asked for advice about how to cross over. Dani sighed. She didn’t like the visual of herself all alone, separate from everyone. She invited us to all “come on over,” hinting that it was just that easy.
Maybe it was. By the time I drove off on my way home, I realized that perhaps the only thing keeping me, maybe many of us, from meeting Dani on the other side was Resistance and all its glorious, self-protective intrusions. I had spent the last year wrestling Resistance to the ground. I hadn’t really taken the time to listen to her, to respect her message. Maybe Resistance truly believed she was extending loving-kindness by keeping me safe from failure, even if she kept me from success. I realized, too, that Resistance and I rarely did anything without each other, so I should have expected her to show up to the retreat. Next time, I’ll invite her, pack snacks, and let her sing at the top of her lungs in the car. I’ll tell her she’s safe, she’s strong. I’ll wish her happiness. Maybe in doing so, she’ll return the kindness and finally let me write and share with ease.