Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance. It prevents us from achieving the life God intended when He endowed each of us with our own unique genius.
- Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
Everyone experiences Resistance. That negative, diabolical force of human nature which cannot be seen, touched, or heard—but it can be felt. It rises from within and aims to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work, to find out who we already are and become it.
We wake up with Resistance every morning. It has its own agenda and will do everything it can to keep us bound to it instead of actualizing our true Self. The clash is epic—between Resistance which inclines us to self-sabotage, and the Self which is trying to guide us from Divine ground—and the stakes are our lives.
Resistance is most commonly elicited in the pursuit of any calling in writing or creative arts, the launching of a new entrepreneurial venture, any diet or health regimen, spiritual advancement, any act of political or moral courage, breaking an unwholesome habit or changing ourselves for the better, and, of course, the undertaking of any enterprise or endeavor whose aim is to help others.
According to Pressfield, the more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it. “The pursuit of art, originality, selflessness or excellence in any ethical form is, beyond all its other aspects, a discipline of the soul. It’s a practice. A means to and method for self-transformation.”
Reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield at least a half dozen times, a few observations stand out on what it takes to recognize and overcome Resistance.
First, procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance. We don’t tell ourselves, “I’m never going to start my own business.” Instead we say, “I’m just going to start tomorrow.”
Second, rationalization is Resistance’s right-hand man. Its 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. Resistance gets a big kick out of that.
Third, resistance is experienced as fear. The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it. Fear can never be overcome. So being paralyzed with fear is a good indicator. It shows us what we have to do.
Fourth, self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. If we find ourselves asking, “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are that we are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.
And fifth, if we find ourselves criticizing other people, we’re probably doing it out of Resistance. Individuals who are realized in their own lives almost never criticize others. That is a sign more work needs to be done.
In the Quran, it states: “Not man as he is now, but man purified through obedience, self-dominion and detachment, can reach the highest station of Divine Viceregency,” when he recognizes the potential of his innate powers, through action, instinct, and reason. But we must undergo long and painful travels to bring to birth the perfect man or woman, which overtime helps to acquire modesty and humility.
In Islam’s Sufi tradition, the whole of their teaching is based on the crushing of the ego or Resistance, which they term nafs-kushi, for therein lies all magnetism and power. As Rumi said, “Anyone in whom the troublemaking self has died, sun and cloud obey.”
In the Jewish tradition, yetzer hara is what you would call Resistance. The great Kabbalistic teachers identified it as a self-contained and self-sustaining force whose sole aim is to block us from accessing the neshama, which is the source of all wisdom and goodness. That is why Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “Life is lived on a spiritual battlefield.” The war must be fought anew every day for as long we live. Resistance, which has its seat in the ego, cannot be reasoned with. It understands nothing but power.
Recently I came across a definition of Hell that I quite liked: “The last day you have on earth, the person you are will meet the person you could have become.” Let us strive to reduce the divide between that person and us. Work, struggle, endeavor.
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