Overcoming Resistance

Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”; Elizabeth Gilbert, “Big Magic”; Julia Cameron, “The Artist’s Way”; all talk about the same thing – your Muse. Or, at least, being still enough and disciplined enough that your Muse can work through you.

They write of the difficulty of finding your calling then acting upon it. They write of the liberation of finally being able to do so.

Pressfield in his book, “Turning Pro” goes further and talks about Resistance. And how you need to constantly overcome it in order to answer the artist’s call.

Now, “artist” in this sense is anyone who works alone, out of their rich background and expertise, putting things out into the world regardless the reaction. They have an inner certainty and an outer armour.

Their work may be traditional works of art, they may be opinion pieces, they may be pieces of music, chairs, tables, anything from the Crafts. They may be engineering or architectural drawings. Crucially, and this is borne out by the resurgence of interest in the traditional crafts, they must be useful. Their beauty comes through their usefulness. Because people buy usefulness but not utilitarian-ness. The distinction is important. The latter is a commodity, you are not that.

But what of this resistance? And how do we take what is largely a physical manifestation (a pot, something forged, a very fine single malt) and imbue our intellectual work with the same depth.

Let’s start with resistance, the second will resolve itself in the process.

We talk about having the right mindset, surrounding ourselves with the right people or finding the right mentor. Pressfield simplifies it right down to, “all you have to do is change your mind”. Which is true, changing your mind will set you on the path of Resistance.

But what I want to talk to you about today is the resistance you may be facing to changing your mind. It is the resistance that comes before a new mindset. And it is deeply hidden. And subtle. And, sometimes, completely overpowering. Stay in bed with the covers pulled up overpowering…

To do that, we need to have a look at resistance to change. Not the organisational, somewhat simplistic dismissal of those who seem not to want to be changed for no apparent good reason. No, the resistance to change we all face. The resistance to learning our life’s lesson. Because in making an attempt to learn our life’s lesson, we open the possibility to changing our mindset. Which then opens us to Pressfield’s path of Resistance. There are two steps here and to get at the first, we need to talk about emotions.

Now, the curious thing is that we all know that people buy on emotion and pay on reason. All marketing plays on this. People buy (the emotional decision) long before they pay (the rationalised decision to plunk down the cash).

But when it comes to selling something to ourselves (such as “Turning Pro” or “The Right to Write”, by Cameron) we try to do it using reason alone – change your mind, adopt a different mindset – without acknowledging the resistance to doing so (or uptake) is an emotional reaction and the changed mindset comes after. We don’t see ourselves as we see others, in short.

To get to this we need to step beyond the prosaic and look to the great teachers of the world: the philosophers, the rebels, the intellectuals, the religious leaders, the “unreasonable men” to quote George Bernard Shaw. And we need to get beyond the sense-perceptible, too. So, let’s just call it super-sensible. Feelings, thoughts, ideas – they are all super-sensible, some hurt, some don’t. We all have experience with them so there’s nothing new here, we just can’t see, touch, hear, smell or taste them.

For the purposes of this, I’m going to draw on the work of Dr Edward Bach, he of the flower remedies. Only because he made things elegant and really simple. More importantly, he proposed a solution, his remedies. We can talk about those another time.

Through keen observation of people in large settings, he identified twelve groups – he called them soul-types but the name doesn’t really matter – and the “failings” or life lessons he identified for each group are these:

  • Restraint
  • Fear
  • Restlessness
  • Indecision
  • Indifference
  • Weakness
  • Doubt
  • Over-enthusiasm
  • Ignorance
  • Impatience
  • Terror
  • Grief

They, and their corresponding virtues, are well-known through the ages.

  • Restraint – Love
  • Fear – Sympathy
  • Restlessness – Peace
  • Indecision – Steadfastness
  • Indifference – Gentleness
  • Weakness – Strength
  • Doubt – Understanding
  • Over-enthusiasm – Tolerance
  • Ignorance – Wisdom
  • Impatience – Forgiveness
  • Terror – Courage
  • Grief – Joy

With a little introspection you should be able to identify which of these you identify with more strongly than the others. That one is your life lesson, the emotional imbalance that is preventing the change in mindset you seek.

If you work on shifting from the lesson to be learned (the first form of emotional resistance) to its corresponding virtue a whole new world of possibility opens up. And the change in mindset follows, quite quickly.

Then you are ready to face the Resistance of Pressfield’s work.

I wish you the best in this.

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