My addiction to learning is fueled by those once-a-year books I pick up that literally change the way I perceive things and influence me to think and act differently. The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield, is that book for this year. I read the (short) book over the last few days, then re-read the first half of it again today (I guess I didn’t want it to end).
This is a book that slams you up ‘side the head with its blunt yet beautiful personification of Resistance (the malevolent force of nature that intentionally diverts the “artist” from sitting down and doing her work) and its description of the differences between a “professional” (someone who stomps on Resistance daily, in order to get work done) and an “amateur” (with whom Resistance has its own way). The final section discusses the “angels and muses” who use you and me as vessels for our art – if we’ll just get out of our own way, sit down, and begin.
The quality of the book that gives its ideas such power is its depiction of Resistance as an evil force that owns us – unless we become aware of its pernicious influence and take steps every day, every hour – whenever it creeps up on us – to actively combat Resistance. Here are some key excerpts from the first section that defines the enemy of Resistance:
“Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is.”
“Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work….It will reason with you like a lawyer or jam a nine-millimeter in your face like a stickup man.”
“Resistance’s goal is not to wound or disable. Resistance aims to kill. Its target is the epicenter of our being: our genius, our soul, the unique and priceless gift we were put on earth to give and that no one else has but us. Resistance means business. When we fight it, we are in a war to the death.”
“Resistance is directly proportional to love. If you’re feeling massive Resistance, the good news is, it means there’s tremendous love there too. If you didn’t love the project that is terrifying you, you wouldn’t feel anything.”
“Rationalization is Resistance’s right-hand man. It’s job is to keep us from feeling the shame we would feel if we truly faced what cowards we are for not doing our work.”
“Rationalization is Resistance’s spin doctor…. Resistance presents us with a series of plausible, rational justifications for why we shouldn’t do our work…. What Resistance leaves out, of course, is that none of this means diddly. Tolstoy had thirteen kids and wrote War and Peace. Lance Armstrong had cancer and won the Tour de France three years and counting.”
“Resistance seems to come from outside ourselves. We locate it in spouses, jobs, bosses, kids…. Resistance is not a peripheral opponent. Resistance arises from within. It is self-generated and self-perpetuated. Resistance is the enemy within.”
Already, since reading The War of Art, I have become much more tuned in to those moments when Resistance is trying to press its claws into me. And perhaps because I have learned to identify Resistance in all its chameleon, sneaky forms, I’m really enjoying kicking its butt. It’s been four straight days of running now, despite all the (true and real) rationalizations you could possibly imagine. Even writing this blog post is a victory over Resistance. Feels good to block the slam dunk of Resistance for one day. The war begins anew tomorrow morning, 5:00am. Bring it on.