Cover art The War of Art by Milton Glaser
Steven Pressfield on Why It’s Always you
Bored with practice? Criticizing everything in sight? Yeah, it’s the resistance thing.
BY MAGAZINE EDITOR SUSAN MAIER-MOUL
Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole.
Resistance is protean. It will assume any form, if that’s what it takes to deceive you. It will reason with you like a lawyer or jam a nine-millimeter in your face like a stickup man.
Resistance has no conscience. It will pledge anything to get a deal, then double-cross you as soon as your back is turned. If you take Resistance at its word, you deserve everything you get.
Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.
For a few years in college, I was a smoker. Delayed teenage rebellion maybe, or a silly self-destructive admiration for the writers I’d seen depicted in the grainy black and white photographs in the New York Times.
I wanted to go on the pill, though, and I’d read that smoking and the pill were a seriously dangerous mix. So I quit smoking, just like that.
Wow, that was no problem, I thought.
I went back to smoking.
I cut down. I smoked only on the weekends, or only after dinner, or you know, whatever was this week’s flavor of “since it is so easy to quit I will just do it some other day.”
This was my first lesson in resistance.
You’re talking a lot but you’re not saying anything
Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art is for everyone who would like to succeed with something.
That something might be establishing a consistent yoga practice. Or as Pressfield describes it
The pursuit of any calling
The launching of any venture for profit or otherwise
Any activity whose aim is tighter abdominals
Education of every kind
The decision to get married, to have a child, to weather a rocky patch in a relationship
In other words, though The War of Art is leveled at creative work, it admirably describes the challenges of overcoming inertia that eventually becomes entropy – the leaking away of our lives that’s happening while we’re busy blaming it on someone or something else.
The subtitle of The War of Art is “Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles,” it could just as accurately be, “how to notice that you keep saying you want to do something but never get around to it and are therefore depressed and/or angry and mostly expend your energy criticizing yourself and other people.”
It is an excellent practice manual for anyone who would like to practice yoga.
Wise up: recognize rationalization for what it is
I remember when my son was small, if he was frustrated he would make himself heavy. If you are a parent, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Also, if you are a person prone to fits of hysteria or melodrama.
We can reach into the gravity around us and become a very unwieldy package. The ability to make ourselves and our lives heavy and impossible to move is resistance.
Resistance is, as Pressfield describes it, “A force of nature.” If we give ourselves to it, resistance will drag us down and hold us to the floor. Pressfield notes this quality is one of the signature aspects of resistance; it’s one of the ways we can identify it:
“Resistance only opposes in one direction.”
Another trait of resistance, says Pressfield, is that it’s logical. Resistance has a way of making it seem reasonable to avoid doing what we believe we ought to do, as though failing to achieve were somehow inevitable or beyond our control. This kind of thinking, says Pressfield, is rationalization.
“Rationalization is Resistance’s spin doctor.”
Rationalization has its own sidekick. It’s the part of our own psyche that actually believes what rationalization tells us.
It’s one thing to lie to ourselves. It’s another thing to believe it.
Resistance presents us with a series of plausible, rational justifications for why we shouldn’t do our work.
What’s particularly insidious about the rationalizations that Resistance presents to us is that a lot of them are true. They’re legitimate.
What Resistance leaves out of course, is that [it] means diddley.
Resistance and “healing”
Pressfield is at his most passionate when he is defending nascent awareness of resistance against those who prey on that awareness. Those who co-opt and appropriate it.
Have you ever spent time in Santa Fe? There’s a subculture of “healing” there. The idea is that there’s something therapeutic in the atmosphere. A safe place to go and get yourself together.
The concept in all these environments seems to be that one needs to complete his healing before he is ready to do his work.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got nothing against true healing. We all need it. But it has nothing to do with doing our work and it can be a colossal exercise in Resistance.
Resistance loves “healing.”
Resistance knows that the more psychic energy we expend dredging and re-dredging the tired, boring injustices of our personal lives, the less juice we have to do our work.
When those to whom we turn for guidance lead us to believe there’s some state we must achieve before we can begin to live out our possibilities and dreams, they are binding us to a false hope of an ideal, non existent self. It’s often the case that someone profits from our dependency on them for achieving this ideal state.
In an interview on the Pranamaya blog Sacred Cow, Yoga Tune Up founder Jill Miller recently explained the focus of her work:
You don’t want to have to always rely on other people to heal you. When you pay a doctor or other health professional, you’re relying on someone one else to fix you. If you’re doing self-care, you’re really committed to taking care of the issue yourself.
I want to get people out of the dependency cycle.
You have to be your own leader. You have to empower yourself.
The War of Art is a faithful account by a successful writer of exactly how to get to it, whether it’s writing or practice or anything else you want to do. It’s not a motivational book or a collection of inspiring sayings.
It’s someone who has escaped the cycle of making himself immobile and dependent, shouting encouragement over his shoulder.
You’re good enough to be yourself
When I was in my twenties, two of my friends were dating writers. One of them had written three novels, the other had written nothing. It wasn’t just that he hadn’t published anything. He thought about writing constantly, without ever doing any. He kept trying to find that perfect first sentence.
Though the published writer was easy going when we all got together, the non writing writer was openly contemptuous of him. He called the published writer’s novels cheap and mediocre.
“If that’s what I were going to write, I wouldn’t bother,” he said.
And that’s what happened. As Steven Pressfield says, his resistance gave him exactly what he asked for.
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.