An Overview of Book 1
“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.”
The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield begins by defining what the enemy in the war that we, as creators engage it. That war, of course, is to get our work done, to find our inspiration, our creativity, but most importantly, to find and relinquish to productivity.
The enemy, according to Pressfield, is Resistance.
In Book 1, which this post is about today, Pressfield discusses at length the ways in which we creatives let Resistance get the better of us. And in his opening pages, he is scathing about our inability to be a match to this enemy
“Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet. It is the root of more unhappiness than poverty, disease, and erectile disfunction. To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit.”
Pressfield further explains that Resistance is, in essence, our shadow selves. Ever coin has two sides, the moon has a dark side, and “every sun casts a shadow, and the genius’s shadow is Resistance.”
Writing and creative endeavors are not the only things to succumb to Resistance, according to the author. Things such as diet and health, long-term goals, launching of businesses, etc. can all be victims of resistance.
“In other words, any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health or integrity. Or, expressed another way, any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower.”
This is not an outlandish claim. Any one of us can easily come up with a list of things to which we have fallen prey to Resistance. Was it saving for a trip abroad? Putting to use that gym membership for a year? Putting off going back to school?
In case you aren’t quite sure how Resistance may have come into play, Pressfield spends a good chunk of Book 1 defining the characteristics of Resistance. For brevity and for copyright reasons, ill only list a few (of my favorites) here:
- Resistance is Internal
While we may use external excuses, Resistance comes from within. “Resistance is the enemy within.”
- Resistance is Infallible
Pressfield says this is what can guide us, and this is a characteristic that we can use against Resistance, a point I’ll expand on later.
- Resistance is Universal
We all experience it. This is personal in that it comes from within, but it is impersonal in that it is not a unique experience.
- Resistance Never Sleeps
“…the battle must be fought anew every day.” One day, one week, on month, one year, you might defeat Resistance, but it will always be a battle. Every. Day.
- Resistance is Fueled by Fear
This is another on that I’ll come back to later in this post. However, it is because we experience fear that Resistance can come into control. Fear is the motivator that Resistance uses or rides in on, take your pick.
After listing the characteristics of Resistance, Pressfield goes on to list the symptoms which accompany it, such as
- Sex (“Why sex? Because sex provides immediate and powerful gratification.”)
- Self-Medication (I’ll talk more on this later)
Discussing Book 1 of The War of Art
Resistance is Fueled by Fear
“Resistance has no strength of its own. Every ounce of juice it possesses comes from us. We feed it with power by our own fear of it. Master that fear and we conquer Resistance.”
This is the single most important take-away from this book. If the entire book was to be boiled down to one statement, this would be it.
And it is the thing I want to explore more deeply.
What is Fear?
As I read through this book, all I could think was that Resistance is a symptom of Fear. Because we, as evolutionary beings, fear change, any act we take toward betterment is met with an internal Resistance.
Eckheart Tolle, in A New Earth, explains that the ego thrives on identity. That might seem like a redundant statement, but what it means is that the idea of self is important to the ego. The ego is what says we are important enough to spend our energy on existing. Essentially, it’s the thing that is driving you to keep breathing, the thing that does not want to die. Hence, it is a safety mechanism, if you will.
When we adapt to a situation/new living space/way of living/identity, then that becomes something that is known to the ego. It is something that it knows how to handle. Any change in that means that the ego has to learn new ways of surviving, which can be perceived as a danger or threat to survival. After all, if you don’t know what’s coming, then you don’t know how to face it.
We fear the unknown.
Is Fear Resistance?
When we are changing ourselves for the better, then we are creating the unknown. That is why you might find that there are people who have a fear of success. It brings forward new challenges and situations, and thus, it will change the identity as well as you adapt to these new situations. A new identity is a change to the ego, and thus, the ego implements fear, warning us that there is danger.
When the fear strikes, then it uses Resistance as a tool.
However, conversely, Marie Forleo, in her book, Everything is Figureoutable, takes a different stance on the matter. She says that fear is actually an excellent guidance tool. She explains that a crying baby or a barking dog bothhave something they want to communicate, but don’t necessarily have the toold or the language in which to do it. Thus, it just sounds like noise. Fear can be the same way. It can be the thing that is trying to express something to us, but doesn’t have the adiquate language tools. Thus, instead of seeing fear as a negative, we can attempt to look in the direction it’s trying to poiunt in to find the answers.
We can use it to pinpoint where we should be steering our attention by how much we don’t want to do something. If something is easy, then we need to question how much reward we are getting from it, and how much the success of said thing is changing the way we live or identify.
This leads us to another characteristic of Resistance
Resistance is Infallible
By seeing what we are resisting the most, we can determine what it is that we need to be aiming toward. Resistance is trying to deter us, and because it is trying to deter us, we know that there is something worth fighting for there.
“Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”
To use a personal example, when I went to community college at the age of 27, I was terrified, but I was determined to make it work. Once I had it figured out, it was pretty straight forward and easy. However, for me, personally, getting my AA wasn’t going to change my life or who I was. All it did was feed my interests and give me an excuse not to have a full-time job. I still had my friends and family around me, I lived in the same town, and things were pretty same-y.
However, when I went on to Durham University in England, I met intense Resistance. Everything from emotional issues to depression to financial excuses for why I wasn’t writing my essays to deciding I needed to take up an entirely different and unrelated hobby in order to make money. The result was often pulling all-nighters to get my essays written up, and torturing my poor partner in the meantime.
Resistance for other students came up in different ways, such as partying so much that the bar at my college had to close down to stop kids from drinking instead of focusing on their studies. Or it resulted in changing degrees, regularly, which mean they had to start all over again.
Resistance and Self Medication
I wanted to take a moment to discuss this particular point in the book. Many readers might see this as making light of serious mental illness, and will put the book down at this point.
I see and hear you, and I understand where you are coming from. I, too, take issue with this.
Reading things which we disagree with helps us to analyze what we know and examine why something gets under our skin.
My knee-jerk reaction when I read this section was to get upset. Instead, I calmed reminded myself that breathing is an important part of living, and I made myself read the rest of the section and spend some time thinking about it.
“Attention Deficit Disorder, Seasonal Affect Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder. These aren’t diseases, they’re marketing ploys. Doctors didn’t discover them, copywriters did. Marketing departments did. Drug companies did.”
You can see why this statement can be met with opposition to those who experience any of these, right?
As someone who experiences Seasonal Affect Disorder, I did not respond well to this. However, I pushed on, and read the statement immediately following, in the next paragraph:
“Depression and anxiety may be real. But they can also be Resistance.”
While it doesn’t quite walk back on what was initially said entirely, I think that there is a compromise there. Depression and anxiety are real, and are debilitating for many people. However, there are people who experience situational depression or temporary depression, and of course, while it’s not chronic, it isn’t any less valid. Though, because it is something that can come and go, it is worth considering whether or not it is a form of Resistance.
A way to test this is to look at when you feel depressed or anxious over say, the span of a year. And consider what was going on in your life during these surges. Was something new about to happen? Were you reaching the finish line on any project? Were you potentially about to encounter success or judgement? If the answer is yes, the chances are, these experiences of depression and anxiety were, at least in part, attributed to Resistance.
The good news, if that is the case, is that it means that it’s manageable by reclaiming control over yourself through a variety of habit-forming methods. If you can break through the Resistance and get to the other side, then it might resolve itself. Might being the key word. Every person is different.
Pressfield also explains how he battled Resistance while writing this particular book.
When I began this book, Resistance almost beat me. This is the form it took. It told me (the voice in my head) that I was a writer of fiction, not nonfiction, and that I shouldn’t be exposing the concepts of Resistance literally and overtly’ rather, I should incorporate them metaphorically into a novel. That’s a pretty damn subtle and convincing argument. The rationalization Resistance presented with me was that I should write, say, a war piece in which the principles of Resistance were expressed as the fear a warrior feels.”
The importance of this is not only to demonstrate the crafty ways with which we can experience Resistance, but to remind us that even experienced, successful, and talented writers can experience Resistance. This is not something that goes away once we become professionals, once we make a best-seller list, or once we morph into Stephen King.
Resistance is something that we must always fight, and one of the best ways we can do this is to know ourselves. The better we know ourselves, the more able we are to catch what is authentically our wellbeing trying to direct us out of actual danger, and what is actually Resistance craftily taking control.
When we are faced with a form of procrastination, whether it be feeling too down or tired one day to write, or the fear of rejection is taking its toll, ask yourself what is real. Sleepiness can feel pretty real, but it is just your mind relaxing, a lot. When you engage in your writing practice, force yourself to push the keys on the keyboard and make words happen, then you’ll find that the excuses that Resistance doled out to you are just that: Excuses.
“Resistance is fear. But Resistance is too cunning to show itself naked in this form. Why? Because if Resistance let us see clearly that our own fear is preventing us from doing our work, we may feel shame at this. And shame may drive us to act in the face of fear.”
First of all, if you haven’t already found yourself a copy of this book and read it, do so. It is a quick an interesting read that provides an artistic approach to writer’s block.
Secondly, write out a list of all the reasons you haven’t written today, yesterday, last week, etc. Write out everything you can think of.
Once you have your list, ask yourself how many of these reasons are legitimate, and how many are, when it boils down to it, just fear and resistance. Spend some time thinking about your list, thinking about your response to the list, and the next time you pur off writing, ask yourself what your motivation might actually be.
This is a topic that will be discussed further in a post later in the week, but for now, simply contemplate your list.
Next week we will be looking at Book 2, in which the author explains his conclusion to Book 1: Resistance can be Beaten.
Book 2 comprises of ways in which we can overcome Resistance and turn this developing strength into the Pro Mentality.
In the mean time, feel free to leave a comment. I want to hear your thoughts, comments, and questions on this book so far. I look forward to hearing them!
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