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What I Learned From the War of Art by Steven Pressfield

I’ve had this book on my shelf for about 5 years, and its made it through all my downsizing and taking books that no longer served me to sell at Half Price Books. (They don’t pay much, but I like the idea of them being re-homed.) I read it before when I was trying to make my jewelry business work, and I read it from the point of view that resistance is bad, and a thing we must overcome. The title says it all, its a war, and you must break through the blocks and win your inner creative battles.

I’ve had a lot of ease in creating since I read the book, where paintings just flowed effortlessly. Its not really a war to me anymore. I also no longer have the trauma and drama around resistance. I notice ok, I’m resisting, and ask a question like what is this? what’s going on right now? If I need a day off to walk in the park, or binge watch Netflix, I just do it. The more I allow myself to do these things without judging the absolute crap out of myself, the less resistance has power over me. I think we make it bigger and harder on ourselves by resisting resistance. Like fighting fire with fire, you just get more fire. That doesn’t help anything.

So when the War of Art called to me from the bookshelf two weeks ago, I was a bit confused. How can this help me now? Even though I didn’t know, I picked it up and devoured it over the next three nights.

Pressfield talks about the aspects of resistance and how it shows up for him along his journey of writing. Fear, doubt, depression, illness, rationalization, sex, procrastination, even relationship. Oops, I was doing that last one and didn’t even realize it. It helped me start to see the other places resistance was showing up that I hadn’t identified yet.

He also gets himself in a good feeling state before siting down to write. His name tag from a dream reminds him he is the creator, the one with the power. A prayer to the muses to ask for help and get into the flow. It led to questions for myself, how do I already do this and what else can I add to get in this good feeling state?

There are two things I already do that really help with the flow of creation. The first is to tell myself the goal is to finish the article or the painting. That’s the only goal, and cuts down on the amount of judgment along the way. I will create a hundred paintings or a thousand articles, and if this one doesn’t come out quite right or even bad, it doesn’t matter. I learned something, I did it, and I can keep going.

The second is related to the first, and that’s to not take myself too seriously. I am not writing this post at a desk, I am writing this in my comfy, oversized swivel chair with sumptuous pillows and my lap top on my lap. Sometimes I stick my fingers in the paint or when I get stuck ask, how can I really mess this up? It makes me laugh, and I can carry on.

A section near the beginning called “The Unlived Life” had me both enraptured and reeling. Pressfield describes the woman who gets cancer quits her job, does what she’s also wanted to do, and cancer goes into remission. Then he poses some questions: “Is that what it takes? Do we have to stare death in the face to make us stand up confront resistance?” I have another theory on that. Our body gives us clues and messages to guide us, and the body gets louder and louder until we listen. Note to self: listen before it becomes cancer.

This section ends with a story about how young Hitler went to school to become an artist. He took his inheritance and moved to Vienna to study, but never produced any paintings. Then this hit me: “Call it an overstatement but I’ll say it anyway: it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.” Whoa. That’s what resistance can do if you let it.

Ultimately I disagree with Pressfield on the nature of resistance, and don’t think its bad, the enemy, or out to get us. It’s something we use to dynamically avoid creating our lives, or as he calls it our unlived lives. He did, however, provide a space for me to ask some really great questions of myself, and start to look closer at where resistance is showing up that I didn’t see before. Not just with creating my art, but also with creating my life. What would I like to create now? Now that is an excellent question.

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