“It’s time you realized that you have something in you more powerful and miraculous than the things that affect you and make you dance like a puppet.” – Marcus Aurelius
We tend to live a life dominated by many forces and freedom is very, very hard to come by. Freedom, as Epictetus famously claimed, is the only worthy goals in life.
There is a force, more pervasive and much more destructive than all others, however, that force is:
Steven Pressfield argues this concept in his book: The war of art. Highly recommended reading.
The resistance is a paramount concept in Stoic philosophy. It can be compared to the impediment to action” in Marcus Aurelius quote:
“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
― Marcus Aurelius
The resistance takes a lot of forms but the best description Steven uses is that of the “death drive” from Freud, which is basically self-sabotage.
We encounter the resistance every day, it is a daily battle that must be fought daily.
Everyone has a personal muse, his personal art. What’s yours? What is the unique gift you have to offer the world?
It can be writing, it can be entrepreneurship, anything. All those projects that we’d love to do but never start, everything we’d like to be. When we choose to not follow them. There, the resistance has won and as there is no action, and if there is no action, there is no advance.
One good example can be the article I’m writing right now. I’m pretty tired and have a hangover that hasn’t left me since the morning. It’s evening now, and my mind and body are telling me to just “relax”.
Had I not read in the evening this amazing book I would probably be doing just that, relaxing. But Steven seriously warns against doing so, he claims that the resistance is pure evil, the resistance is the reason why we are envious and the cause of most of our unhappiness (so here I am, fighting against that).
The resistance is disguised as many things, as fear, as rationalizations or as fixed mindsets.
Not everything about the resistance is evil though.
It can be used as a north star. Usually what we are the most scared of doing, is what we most need to do. It functions as a guide, impediment to action, advance action remember?
To cite Ryan Holiday, the obstacle is the way and in this case, the resistance becomes the way.
The resistance tells us what we need to do the most, the thing that we most dread or that scares us the most is usually what will make us the more fulfilled and happier. The business venture, the book, the marathon we’ve been saying we’re running for years.
The hard part is actually the start. The most difficult part about writing is not writing per se, but sitting to write.
It is not going to be nice.
Facing the resistance means confronting the fact that you are not so good at whatever venture you are setting yourself up to, some humility will be needed. Humility is the starting point. How can you know how to get better if you don’t even know you are not good? Starting gives you information of the areas that need improvement, from there, you just need to work.
Steven argues that you have to become good at being miserable if you want to win at life. Just like a soldier, you have to become good at being really uncomfortable. This reminded me the following passage from another of Steven’s books The gates of Fire.
“See how numb we are?” the man continued. “We glide about in a daze, disconnected from our reason. You’ll never see Spartans in such a state. This”—he gestured to the blackened landscape—“is their element. They move through these horrors with clear eyes and unshaken limbs.
Starting is hard, inner demons must be faced and overcome and all this requires us to be strong and willing to be extraordinary. It’s not comfortable, but this is what getting out of the comfort zone means, cheesy as it sounds, it’s actually really good advice.
Facing resistance is not for the faint-hearted. Most people don’t do it.
You have to be strong. The resistance is going to do absolutely anything it can to prevent you from greatness. It will use rationalization, maybe you’ll think that you are too tired to do anything in the evening or that it is too late, or you need someone else. There are a million reasons that can prevent you from doing what you should be doing.
The book is called the war of art for a reason. Just this morning I had a personal encounter with the resistance. The resistance can take many forms but it basically is everything that impedes you from doing your work and becoming who you know you want to become. The impediment to action advances action.
Here is a thing about resistance and life.
We are all scared.
Everyone. Every single person in the world is scared of something. And with good reason! no enterprise is assured to be successful, our loved ones will soon perish and ourselves as well and there is no ultimate answer to the hardest questions. It’s just logic to be scared. Failure is scary but what is even scarier is assured failure done by ourselves. Failure to face the resistance is definite and voluntarily failure. This is the ultimate evil. That is why the resistance is evil, it assures failure and it does it in ways that we don’t even realize it that we are voluntarily choosing to fail by not facing it.
The resistance must be faced daily.
There are no off days.
Having a diary is a superb way of facing resistance and understanding yourself and your resistance. It shows you the days you are unmotivated and most importantly it shows you your problems, your obstacles.
It’s funny because what you want lies on the other side of those problems. But here’s a secret, behind those problems, there will be bigger and “better problems”.
The obstacle and the resistance are never going to go away. There is never going to be a day where you wake up and encounter no more resistance. It’s just not going to happen. What does happen is that you’ll become a better problem solver, and that is the aim?
People complain about not knowing what they want to do with their lives. Trust me I was one of them until recently. So, if you don’t know what to do with your life, what is there to do?
You find out.
The answer is not going to come while you are seated. That is for sure. The answer is going to come when you are actually solving problems.
To give you an example. If you hate your job, that’s fine. Most Americans hate it. Most Americans go to work for the sole reason of paycheck. And that is perfectly fine. We’ve got to eat, don’t we?
What is wrong however is not facing the fact that you hate the job. That is the real evil, and that is resistance. This is not wanting to face the obstacle and the problem that needs to be solved. But then you may ask, well I don’t like my job but it is the only thing that I know how to do, what else can be done?
(usually, rationalizations start here: I’m too old, I don’t have a degree, I’m too poor, all the usual bullshit dear brain can come up with)
What can be done is facing the fact, and also facing the fact that you don’t know, and then put yourself on the line. Maybe it is writing, start writing and start freelancing. Even if you get paid $1, the goals here is to learn. If you want to dance, well start. You are not going to know what you like unless you experiment and experiment hard.
Face your problems, until you start to like your problems.
Also, Hurry up and live.
“You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire”
― Seneca, On the Shortness of Life
This is what is stupid, there isn’t going to be any time in our lives where everything we like is going to magically appear before us. It’s just not going to happen, we must make it happen. This is why the resistance must be fought every day.
The voice of the resistance will get weaker and weaker. And your voice will start to develop.
Remember, the resistance is pervasive, everybody has it. And it usually happens that when you start to beat your resistance, the resistance of others is going to begin to appear.
This is called envy, and envy happens because you are seeing someone doing something you are capable of doing (like facing the resistance) but you are really not doing it for fear or laziness.
This is what Emerson referred to when he said the envy is ignorance.
If you are facing your stuff and working in yourself, you are to busy and entertained to be thinking about other people’s problems. You have enough yourself!
The resistance attacks on all fronts.
The battle with the resistance starts right now. At first, it will be hard, maybe it has become really powerful in your life but there is infinitely more power within you than in everybody’s resistance combined. It is your duty to face the resistance because by doing so you are making your life and the world a better place. It’s unethical and certainly not stoic to no face the resistance.
Fortune, favors the bold.
Stoic answers aim is to provide answers to the deepest human questions, which sadly, are almost always never asked.
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