Unraveling the Illusion of Resistance and Tapping the Flow of Creation (Cosmic Creativity 2)
Resistance is a con. Seeing through it puts you in touch with the source of all creativity.
Welcome to The Living Dark. I’m Matt Cardin, and this is my blog/newsletter on creativity for writers, situated at the intersection of religion, horror, nonduality, apocalypse, dystopia, consciousness, and the numinous unknown. You can subscribe by clicking this button:
Dear Living Dark readers,
First, some publication news: I’m pleased to announce that Volume 2 of my Journals is now a reality. Available editions include Kindle, paperback, and hardcover. Booklife by Publishers Weekly praised the first volume as “epic and intimate, a portrait of a mind and a milieu, with deep dives into the creative mind, the nature of the weird, and how to find one’s way in a world that’s sick.” You can read the introduction to the combined two-volume set right here. If you want to know the private background behind my books and this newsletter, here’s your guide.
Second, a proviso about today’s post: The angle of the essay below is idiosyncratic (even more than usual, I mean). It approaches the subject of creative Resistance and how to understand it—and how to see through it to the deep source of all creativity—from a perspective that is highly personal and, I think, unconventional. Rather than focusing on practical aspects of dealing with Resistance and creative block in daily work, it addresses the matter at the foundational level of the psyche, where these hindrances are attached to the very drive to write itself. (Amusingly and/or ironically, it took me nearly a month to write this thing, during which time I sometimes felt defeated by it and considered giving up. Apparently my personal Angel of Resistance has a snarky sense of humor.)
I note this up front simply to alert you to the fact that the progression of thought in this essay follows its own internal logic. I fashioned it from things that came to me in private journal writing two years ago. On the paradoxical principle that what is most personal and private is also that which will connect most deeply with other people when shared, I trust my thoughts here will speak to some things that are meaningful to you. But if what I describe about Resistance indicating a potential falseness in one’s base creative motive sounds foreign, I hope you’ll at least remain open to the argument and follow it to the end, where maybe we’ll come together again.
Also be aware that what I say in this post interacts in various ways with several recent posts about writing versus not writing and the tension between the desire to create and the desire for spiritual awakening or liberation:
NOTE: This is the second entry in a multi-part series. Read Part 1 first. To find all the entries in this series, search for “cosmic creativity” using the search box at the top of this page.
The hollowing out of the creative drive
The concept of Resistance struck me so deeply when I first encountered it around 2009—seven years after the initial publication of Pressfield’s The War of Art—because I had already been grappling with the firsthand experience of it for many years. As reflected intermittently throughout my journals, in the early aughts I began to encounter a pointed, piercing sense of block on my creative output, both authorial and musical. It took an exceptionally insidious form, because it was not just a matter of feeling sterile, incapable, bereft of ideas, or otherwise prevented in any of the usual forms from starting or finishing a given piece of work that I really wanted to pursue. Rather, it was an attack on my very sense of wanting to pursue any given work at all. It felt like a draining of my core motivation, a hollowing out of my creative drive. Simply put, I was hit by wave after wave of felt uselessness, the powerful, spontaneous feeling and accompanying notion that writing a story or essay, or composing a song, or sometimes even writing in my journal, was flatly, absolutely, wearyingly, gallingly pointless.
Being attuned as I am to the wavelength of philosophical reflection, I both inhabited this experience (even as it also inhabited me) and studied it. I strove to understand it without rejecting it out of hand, even as I suffered from it. And it was the suffering that kept me from simply accepting it. I could easily see that there were no reasons to consider it flatly wrong, disordered, or suspect out of hand, because the question of whether creative output was a necessary and automatic good had some intrinsic validity. The thought that nothing really, ultimately mattered about my creative ideas and projects, either the completion or the abandoning of them, seemed to have real merit, theoretically speaking. And yet the living fact that I suffered from a sense of inner suffocation and mounting despair at my growing roster of creative misfires, stillbirths, and wholesale failures to launch took a toll. The pain of it kept me digging for answers, for clarity, for some position of stable, defensible affirmation, whether of my creative drive’s authentic uselessness (in which case I was off the hook) or its authentic value and meaningfulness (in which case I was off-course and careening into personal disaster).
I was hit by wave after wave of felt uselessness, the powerful, spontaneous feeling and accompanying notion that writing was pointless.
To put some flesh on these bones, here are three representative excerpts from my journal, spanning eighteen years and thus demonstrating that this has been a chronic issue. I share them on the chance and assumption that aspects of them will resonate with things you have encountered in your own creative journey.
From Wednesday, April 4, 2004, around 1:30 p.m.:
What is this that’s going on inside me? I might equally well ask what it is that’s not going on inside me. This feeling of emptiness, of numbness (sometimes), of deadness, of spiritual lethargy, is about as profound as I think it can be. There is absolutely nothing coming up from the depths inside me, no creative impulse like the ones that have always been with me since childhood. Or rather, whenever an idea does spontaneously occur, when some idea or train of thought takes off on its own regarding a movie, song, or story that might be created, or whenever that generalized, nonspecific desire to “create something” comes over me, something inside dismisses it—simply, effortlessly, instantaneously, as if the idea had never really occurred. I could say that “I” dismiss it, except that it doesn’t feel like that anymore. It feels as if the dismissing happens on its own with just the tiniest bit of willful help from me, which exists merely in the form of acknowledging the uselessness of the idea, or rather of acknowledging the uselessness of trying to follow it, work it out, or manifest it in some completed, tangible form.
Next, an entry from exactly nine years later, on Tuesday, April 9, 2013, 6:22 a.m.:
The effort of writing has come to seem an insurmountable barrier that defies and repels me even before I begin. I experience a desperate lack of conviction about the entire act, process, result, and value of writing itself.
The merest thought of writing my own stories, and the thought of the blind-foraging mountain range of epic suffering and discouragement that it inevitably demands, complete with near-fatal disruptions to the stability and peace of my inner state, daily life, and personal relationships—all the wild-swinging moods of elation and depression, and the half-passionate, half-desperate moods of withdrawal and self-absorption—this all leads to a kind of instantly blossoming experience of acedia and anhedonia toward the whole thing, just as soon as the notion arises.
And finally, an entry from seven years later, recorded in my journal on Monday, February 24, 2020:
For many years, most of my life, I felt driven to communicate to other people what I was thinking, through the form of the written word. This was partly a matter of intrinsic pleasure and partly a matter of ego gratification. . . . This egoic motivation was always right there, running equal with the sheer innate desire to articulate, to myself and to others, the thoughts and feelings that burned within me.
So what has happened to change that, to demotivate me on both counts? On the matter of writing fiction, is my lack of productivity these past many years an extended sophomore slump, an interminable round of self-consciousness in which the editor has strangled the creator? Am I letting Resistance win? . . . Do I need to . . . keep writing, keep the flow going, let sheer quantity produce quality as Bradbury recommended, trusting that something good will come through eventually in its own way and on its own schedule? Do I need to trust the very act of writing? Just consider it endless, playful practice with no end result aimed at?
The thing that hamstrings this line of reasoning—which always sounds good whenever I reiterate it—is the sense that arises, after a few days or weeks of this practice, that it’s all pointless. Quite simply, I begin to wonder, “Why?” And this is devilishly persuasive, not just the question itself but the state of mind from which it arises. Because it doesn’t seem to be resistance as such. Or if it is, then it’s damned well camouflaged.
What comes over me is the sense, the thought, that even if I do end up producing a good story or whatever, so what? What would it even matter? I mean to me or to anyone else. How could it possibly have any significance? The finished product itself, the time and effort that went into creating it, my experience of writing it, the reactions of the people who would read it, my experience of knowing those responses, the impact the story might have on someone—is there anything really worthwhile in any of that? Isn’t there just as much reason not to do it as to do it?
This then bleeds out into the wider question of why to do anything at all.
As you can see, my personal experience of grappling with block, and thus with Resistance, has devolved down over time to the question of basic existential motivation—of why to do, or not do, literally anything. The entry above from 2020 is perhaps my quintessential expression of this phenomenon, stated only to myself until I agreed to publish my journals. I would be interested to hear whether the phenomenon I’m talking about speaks to any of your own experiences.
Seeing through Resistance
More recently, as my understanding of creativity has continued to deepen and evolve, I have begun to discover new levels of subtlety embedded in this negative/enemy pole of the inner creative battle. In a series of entries that I wrote in my journal over several days in the spring of 2021, when I was becalmed at home with my wife during the isolation of the COVID-19 lockdowns—having recently relocated from Texas to Arkansas during the societal shock waves of the pandemic, which left me feeling like I was ensconced in a liminal hyperspace—I rather suddenly realized that a deep understanding of Resistance, including not only how it works but what it actually is, down at the base level of the psyche, unravels the riddle of creativity at its ontological root. In the place where the apparently independent self emerges from and merges back into the One Self, the Ground of Being, the Absolute Consciousness, this is where Resistance takes form as an ultimately illusory enemy whose very unreality, when perceived, unlocks the door to creativity on a cosmic scale.
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