Resistance, Yoga and Steven Pressfield

My partner T and I are, coincidently, both reading Stephen Pressfield at the moment. He is reading Do the Work and I am reading The War of Art. Our little brown packages from Book Depository arrived just days apart, and we laughed when we realized we had both stumbled upon the same author in our quest for a good motivational arse-kicking.

Ultimately, Pressfield is waging a war against Resistance (procrastination, self-sabotage and indecision, among other things). In both books, he urges his readers to knock down the walls between them and their most productive, awesome, creative self. His language is strong; he uses battle metaphors and talks of Resistance’s MO to crush, conquer and kill us. I love it. It gets me fired up to fight back against my own sabotaging demons.

A couple of weeks back I talked of yoga as a battleground- a place where we wrestle between self-improvement and self-acceptance, so in the spirit of Pressfield I want go a little deeper and look at how we use the yoga lens to battle Resistance; the relationship we have to our ‘work’ (paid or not) and to our creative self.

Yoga’s greatest text the Bhagavad Gita is about a war. It’s an extraordinary intricate and profound metaphor for human’s relationship to self, and the Divine. In the book, when protagonist Arjuna is struggling with attachment to the fruits of his labour Krishna advises him that he has a right to labour, but the outcomes don’t belong to him. And so we learn we must do the work for its own sake not for recognition, riches or success because when we are un-swayed by outcome, we can be more invested in the process and in yoga the goal is the process.

Then, Krishna proposes a whole other level-- what if we offered our labour up as well, in service of the Divine/God/ the Universe. What if all our actions here on earth were in service of something bigger than ourselves? This is the ultimate liberation of ego; non-attachment to outcomes and process. If we are a creation of the Universe, shouldn’t then our creative output also belong to that which made us? I’m using God and Universe interchangeably here as I respect people have different beliefs and words they feel more or less comfortable using when talking about their spirituality.

Artists have often seen their creative talent sparked by a muse or a genius, which gives mystical/ spiritual connotations to the work they produce. The artist shows up and starts creating; creating conditions for the muse to come, and when it does, there is divine flow. Like magic, time falls away and it’s as if the creative force of the universe or God is working through the them. Hours or days later the artist looks up, the sun has set, where did the time go? It’s as if they fell into a trance while the symphony wrote itself, maybe it just needed a human host in order to be born.

But the muse doesn’t come every day.

In fact, anyone who has tried to do anything off the beaten path will tell you more often than not we face… Resistance: writers block, lack of motivation, self- sabotage and awfully abusive self-criticism. Or maybe we just avoid doing the work because we don’t feel like it today… the muse hasn’t arrived, it’s sunny outside and how nice would it be to go to the beach?

So what do we do? 

- We keep showing up.

No muse? 

- Show up anyway.

But resistance is here. 

- It's time to battle.

Resistance is the only thing standing between us and greatness, so we must fight it by showing up and doing the work, no matter what. The muse may arrive, or not, but at least on opening night we can say with our hearts that we showed up to for our part of the deal, we beat resistance and gave it everything we had.

Now, what could possibly motivate us to show up? Especially if our old friend the muse, has not bothered. Well if we take the advice Krishna gave to Arjuna and forget about outcomes and simply work for the sake of the our dharma (our path/cosmic order/ the true way of things), offering all our efforts up to the divine creative force of the Universe/ God that made us, how could we possibly go wrong?

Whether we are showing up to create a great work of art or showing up on the yoga mat, showing up for the day by getting out of bed we are engaged in a battle against resistance. Resistance will never leave us, the battle is never over, so we might as well get used to it, and just keep showing up.