The War of Art – by Steven Pressfield

The War of Art is a tiny book – I think it’s less than 150 pages – with a message that will BLOW YOUR BRAINS OUT.

Yes, it will make you uncomfortable. It will make you hate yourself for reading it – because now you will be forced into action. The War of Art is about all the shit we do to get as far away from the life we are supposed to live – reach the goals we are meant to reach.

Pressfield wrote the book for artists and writers, but it’s really just applicable to all of us.

The main character in the book is Resistance. In short, Resistance is the thing we do when we try to rationalize the excuses we come up with. Excuses we make to stay away as far as possible from the life we were put on this world for.

It’s okay to chill out for a sec and take it slow, but when chilling out becomes your life and you lose all of your goals because of it – it becomes dangerous, it becomes HELL.

Someone once told me the definition of Hell: The last day you have on earth, the person you became will meet the person you could have become.

So the book’s about procrastinating, it’s about the Flinch. It’s something all of us do, but most of us fail to recognize. Here you find some of the passages that really resonated with me.

Most of us have two lifes. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands resistance.

Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.

If you find yourself criticizing other people, you’re probably doing it out of Resistance. When we see others beginning to live their authentic selves, it drives us crazy if we have not lived out our own.

Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are.

So you’re paralyzed with fear, it’s a good sign. It shows you what you have to do.

Have you ever been to a workshop? These boondoggles are colleges of Resistance. They ought to give out Ph.D.’s in Resistance. What better way of avoiding work than going to a workshop?

When your deeper Self delivers a dream like that, don’t talk about it. Don’t dilute its power. The dream is for you and your Muse. Shut up and use it.

The hill is one sonofabitch but what can you do? Set one foot in front of another and keep climbing.

The years have taught me one thing: how to be miserable. I know how to shut up and keep humping.

My friend Tony Keppelman snapped me out of it by asking if I was gonna quit. Hell, no! “You’re where you wanted to be, aren’t you? So you’re taking a few blows. That’s the price for being in the arena and not on the sidelines. Stop complaining and be grateful!”
That was when I realized I had become a pro. I had not yet had a success. But I had had a real failure.

The professional cannot live like that. He is on a mission. He will not tolerate disorder. He eliminates chaos from his world in order to banish it from his mind. He wants the carpet vacuumed and the threshold swept, so the Muse may enter and not soil her gown.

The Bhagavad-Gita tells us we have a right only to our labor, not to the fruits of our labor. All the warrior can give is his life; all the athlete can do is leave everything on the field.
The professional loves his work. He is invested in it wholeheartedly. But he does not forget that the work is not him.

The professional learns to recognize envy-driven criticism and to take it for what it is: the supreme compliment. The critic hates most that which he would have done himself if he had had the guts.

As artists we serve the Muse, and the Muse may have more than one job for us over our lifetime.
The professional does not permit oneself to become hidebound within one incarnation, however comfortable or successful. Like a transmigrating soul, he shucks his outworn body and dons a new one. He continues his journey.

Have you ever worked in an office? Then you know about Monday morning status meetings. The group assembles in the conference room and the boss goes over what assignments each team member is responsible for in the coming week. When the meeting breaks up, an assistant prepares a work sheet and distributes it. When this hits your desk an hour later, you know exactly what you have to do that week. I have one of those meetings with myself every Monday. I sit down and go over my assignments. Then I type it up and distribute it to myself.

If we think of ourselves as a corporation, it gives us a healthy distance on ourselves. We’re less subjective. We don’t take blows as personally. We’re more cold-blooded; we can price our wares more realistically. Sometimes, as Joe Blow himself, I’m too mild-mannered to go out and sell. But as JOE BLOW, Inc., I can pimp the hell out of myself. I’m not me anymore. I’m ME, Inc.
I’m a pro.

There’s no mystery to turning pro. It’s a decision brought about an act of will. We make up our mind to view ourselves as pros and we do it. Simple as that.

I remember rolling the last page out and adding it to the stack that was the finished manuscript. Nobody knew I was done. Nobody cared. But I knew. I felt like a dragon I’d been fighting all my life had just dropped dead at my feet and gasped out its last sulfuric breath.
Rest in peace, motherfucker.
Next morning I went over to Paul’s for coffee and told him I had finished. “Good for you,” he said without looking up.
“Start the next one today.”

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now.”
– J.W. Goethe

When I finish a day’s work, I head up into the hills for a hike. I take a pocket tape recorder because I know that as my surface mind empties with the walk, another part of me will chime in and start talking.

I understood. The eagle was telling me that dreams, visions, meditations such as this very one – things that I had till now disdained as fantasy and illusion – where as real and as solid as anything in my waking life.

Resistance feeds on fear. We experience Resistance as fear. But fear of what?

Fear That We Will Succeed.

We fear discovering that we are more than we think we are. More than our parents/children/teachers think we are. We fear that we actually possess the talent that our still, small voice tells us. That we actually have the guts, the perseverance, the capacity. We fear that we can truly steer our ship, plant our flag, reach our Promised Land. We fear this because, if it’s true, then we become estranged from all we know. We pass through a membrane. We become monsters and monstrous.
We know that if we embrace our ideals, we must prove worthy of them. And that scares the hell out of us. What will become of us? We will lose our friends and family, who will no longer recognize us. We will wind up alone, in the cold void of starry space, with nothing and no one to hold on to.
Of course this is exactly what happens. But there’s the trick. We wind up in space, but not alone. Instead we are tapped into an unquenchable, undepletable, inexhaustible source of wisdom, consciousness, companionship. Yeah, we lose friends. But we find friends too, in places we never thought to look. And they’re better friends, truer friends. And we’re better and truer to them.

We can’t be anything we want to be.
We come into this world with a specific, personal destiny. We have a job to do, a calling to enact, a self to become. We are who we are from the cradle, and we’re stuck with it.
Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.

For the artist to define himself hierarchically is fatal.

An individual who defines himself by his place in a pecking order will:
1) Compete against all others in the order, seeking to elevate his station by advancing against those above him, while defending his place against those beneath.
2) Evaluate his happiness/success/achievement by his rank within his hierarchy
3) Act toward others based on their rank
4) Evaluate his every move solely by the effect it produces on others. He will act for others, dress for others, speak for others, think for others.

But the artist cannot look to others to validate HIS efforts.
The artist must operate territorially. He must do his work for its own sake.
To labor in the arts for any reason other than love is prostitution.

In the hierarchy, the artist faces outward. Meeting someone new he asks himself, “What can this person do for me?” “How can this person advance my standing?”
In the hierarchy, the artist looks up and looks down. The one place he can’t look is that place he must: within.

I trusted what I wanted, not what I thought would work. I did what I myself thought was interesting, and left the reception to the gods.

What would Arnold Schwarzenegger do on a freaky day?
He wouldn’t phone his buddies; he’d head straight for the gym. He wouldn’t care if the place was empty, if he didn’t say a word to a soul. He knows that working out, all by itself, is enough to bring him back to his center.

Here’s another test. Of any activity you do, ask yourself: If I where the last person on earth, would I still do it?

We must do our work for its own sake, not for fortune or attention or applause.

The enemy of the artist is the small-time Ego, which begets Resistance, which is the dragon that guards the gold. That’s why an artist must be a warrior and, like all warriors, artists over time acquire modesty and humility. They may, some of them, conduct themselves flamboyantly in public. But alone with the work they are chaste and humble. They know they are not the source of the creations they bring into being. They only facilitate. They carry. They are the willing and skilled instruments of the gods and the godesses they serve.

Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Meditations « olivier goetgeluck - September 15, 2012

    […] of all overcome your own Resistance. Recognize that anxiety is internal, not external. It wasn’t forced on you, it was you that […]

  2. Meditations #1 « olivier goetgeluck - September 15, 2012

    […] of all overcome your own Resistance. Recognize that anxiety is internal, not external. It wasn’t forced on you, it was you that […]

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