Resistance Is the Enemy Within (Cosmic Creativity 1)
Your adversary lives inside you and has a name.
Dear Living Dark readers,
This is the first in a series of planned essays on the transpersonal, cosmic, and ontological roots of writing and creativity. I will share some very personal things in these essays, couched in highly philosophical-sounding terms, because many of these ideas and insights are drawn from entries in my private notebooks that I did not include in my two-volume Journals. To find the other entries in this series, do a search for “cosmic creativity” in the search box at the top of this page.
Over the past dozen years, my long-running focus on the demon muse, as exemplified by my A Course in Demonic Creativity, has evolved and extended itself to link up with my equally long-running focus on nonduality and final spiritual awakening. Both of these in turn have begun to interact with my core fascination with the idea of finding and fulfilling your individual “great work,” your authentic life purpose that is aligned with reality and that can serve as a “monastic option,” Morris Berman’s term for the choice to opt out of McWorld’s hustle culture and devote yourself to preserving some precious and humane form of knowledge and/or way of living in response to a rising dark age and the apocalyptic collapse of world systems all around. (For a microscopically brief précis on this very theme, see the March 28 blog post at my author website.) Also involved, and perhaps topping it all off, is a driving desire to understand the relationship between words and silence, activity and passivity, motivation and demotivation, writing and not writing, effort and rest, as exemplified in three recent posts.
I begin here on a nominally “negative” note by defining (see below) and then deeply interrogating (in the next essay in the series) the primordial enemy of creative work and life purpose. In subsequent entries, I will further develop this theme to explore the deep realms in which, as Jacob Needleman powerfully put it, we “open within ourselves to the great flow of fundamental forces that constitute the ultimate nature of the universe,” such that we come to exhibit “the quality of human action that allows the central, creative power of the universe to manifest through it.”1
When Steven Pressfield laid out the concept of Resistance two decades ago in his now-classic guide to creativity, The War of Art, he gave quintessential expression to a primordial negative and even demonic power in human experience. Half or more of the book is epitomized by the saying, “Know your enemy.” (The remainder is epitomized with equal pithiness by the complementary injunction to “know your ally,” as described further below.) The term “Resistance,” with its capital “R” indicating Pressfield’s savvy strategy of personifying it as an actual, living adversary, quickly entered the lexicon of many writers and artists, becoming a standard part of our working vocabulary and conceptual arsenal.
Pressfield says real writers, in contrast to wannabes, know that writing itself isn’t hard. Rather, the hard part is sitting down to actually do it. “What keeps us from sitting down,” says Pressfield, “is Resistance.”2 He devotes the first section of his book to defining, delineating, and exposing Resistance in its various guises and manifestations, and then the second section to describing his philosophy of “turning pro”—that is, taking a serious, practical, and even ruthlessly businesslike attitude toward your work—as a way to combat this enemy.
Resistance, Pressfield explains, is the factor within your own mind that keeps you from doing your work, following your calling, and fulfilling your purpose. He illustrates and elaborates with many cogent and pungent images and insights, such as the following:
We experience Resistance “as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force” whose “aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.”3
It is internal to us but feels as if it comes from outside. It is “the enemy within.”4
It is a cunning liar that “will tell you anything.” It will come up with any and every reason, rational or irrational, to keep you away from your work. “Resistance,” Pressfield says bluntly, “is always lying and always full of shit.”5
“Resistance is like the Alien or the Terminator or the shark in Jaws. It cannot be reasoned with. . . . It is an engine of destruction, programmed from the factory with one object: to prevent us from doing our work.”6
Its most insidious trick is to masquerade as your own thoughts. It undermines you by doing a psychic ventriloquist act with your inner voice.
When you just can’t get started on a project, or when you rationalize your way out of even trying, you’re dealing with Resistance. When you give in to discouragement, fear, or self-doubt, you’re giving in to Resistance. When you let your critical editor’s mind stifle the spontaneity of your primary creative mind, you’re agreeing with Resistance. When for any reason you fail to start or finish a work that you originally felt called to do with a sense of motivation or even inspiration, a work that you truly, deeply knew (and still know) that you are meant to do, you have come up against Resistance, and you have let it defeat you.
Its most insidious trick is to masquerade as your own thoughts. You think those reasons that keep coming to you for why you can’t or shouldn’t start/finish the work are all sound, sensible, and valid, but that’s actually Resistance undermining you by doing a psychic ventriloquist act with your inner voice.