Fighting for our lives
As these words begin to appear on this blank sheet of paper that until now has been mocking me, it appears that the tide has turned and I am now starting to win this battle.
I have been embroiled in an epic struggle against a force, which until a few moments ago had proven to be almost stronger than me. Even though I have wrestled with this familiar foe countless times before, it is often extremely difficult to recognise, which is sometimes why it can be so dangerous. This foe of mine is not a person but rather a force. To be honest I don’t even think it has a name. Is it too far-fetched to imagine that there may be some sort of a force that acts upon a seed to make it decide to sprout, or is responsible for our moments of inspiration and creative genius? Lacking science, the ancients in their limited understanding of the physical universe often attributed forces of nature to their gods as a way to rationalise and explain things in an otherwise chaotic, confusing world.
Imagine the terror they must have felt when they encountered their gods’ wrath on a regular basis; rough seas meant the sea god was angry at them, and in a drought they probably believed the sky god was punishing them with a lack of rain, or imagine a tsunami or earthquake. I am digressing, but I hope you get my point.
The ancients explained this creative force in a similar way. Take for example the word genius, which in fact means guiding spirit in Latin, that comes from the verb genui which is to bring into being, to create or produce. Exceptional individuals were said to possess a particularly powerful genius. This guiding spirit that the Romans named genius may be the same force that the Greeks may have deified as the muses; the goddesses of the inspiration of arts, science and literature. If such a creative force exists, I have been in a spiritual battle with its opposite. My foe is the force that acts against us to prevent us from creating and doing that which we know is in our best interest to do. This force stifles and kills our creativity. It drives us to seek the easy way out, to procrastinate, to delay, to waste time, to do something else instead. I believe it to be responsible for writer’s block. This force is what holds some people back, those individuals who can’t seem to get out there and make things happen.
I am gaining momentum now, I can feel it. Ideas are beginning to flash and the words with which to express them are starting to flow. The creative force within me is overpowering its opposite. Perhaps these two forces are actually both polar opposite extremes of the same one thing, much in the same way that hot and cold are both varying degrees of temperature and that I am now warming up. Whatever it is, this battle lies at the threshold between potential and kinetic energy.
As I sit here, painfully regretting missed opportunities that arose from my inability to take decisive action in a timely manner, it becomes clear to me that we are fighting for our lives. We are fighting this force for our lives because literally this force often stands in the way of our hopes and dreams. It is the difference between the life we are living and the life we want to live.
I can think of no worse feeling than the guilt we feel for procrastinating, combined with the powerless and weak feeling brought on by knowing we should take action but instead choose to continue to procrastinate anyway. That is the feeling of defeat. I hate it. I hate to lose, especially in a fight for my future.
We are at war. The first step to winning this war is defining the enemy.
Steven Pressfield in his truly inspirational book that you should read entitled “The War of Art,” names this anti- creative, anti-action force “resistance”. According to Pressfield, “resistance can’t be seen, touched, heard or smelt, but it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field emanating from a working potential. It’s a repelling force. It is negative, it’s aim is to shove us away, to distract us and prevent us from doing our work.”
Resistance would have us think that it arises externally from circumstances and events beyond our control, when in fact it arises internally. We are the source of our resistance. Resistance is the enemy within.
In this war, rationalisation is one of resistance’s most dangerous weapons. It uses our own intellect against us. We are very good at making excuses and coming up with believable reasons to justify them. This often takes the form of procrastination. How often have we told ourselves “It’s going to be ok, I will still do it, just going to start tomorrow instead”.
If it was not for deadlines some of us would never beat resistance and get things done. Pressfield explains that the enemy, resistance, cannot be reasoned with, that it understands nothing but power.
As Paul Simon so eloquently expressed in his song “Slip Slidin’ Away,” the chorus of which goes as follows, “the nearer your destination the more you’re slip slidin’ away”, the last part of the fight against resistance can be the most dangerous.
The truth of that song is painfully evident to all of us. As we approach the attainment of our goal or completion of our task, it is as though the resistance within us senses from our confidence that it is about to be defeated and so makes one final desperate surging counter attack in the fight with all it has left to derail us just as we become complacent.
The very act of writing this encourages me to resist the temptation now to get up and take a break, but I continue to fight on. If we are not prepared and aware of resistance at this juncture it will have us up slip slidin’ away.
I believe resistance is as real of a force as gravity. I can feel it, I know this old familiar foe well and with each battle won and lost I gain insight into how better to vanquish it the next time. I get out of bed ready for war and don’t stop fighting resistance for progress until I go to sleep again.
Our greatest weapon in this war is awareness. By realising that we are being attacked and moved further away from the creative action-taking end of the spectrum, the better we can be at fighting back in this war for our lives. Right now, at the end of this sentence, you can turn the tide and strike a crippling blow to this foe and end the excuses, procrastination, delaying and start creating, doing and living.