The War of Art

Jan 6, 2013
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Photo by Roger McKeever

The War of Art
 -Roger McKeever


I recently came across a posting on Facebook that read:
I want to open a business called Resolutions. The first month of the year it's a gym, and the rest of the year it's a bar.

It gave me a quick chuckle.  I think we all in some way have intentions or resolutions that we create at the beginning of the year to improve ourselves.  It's a good and healthy desire to want to grow and evolve and wake up.  This ritual can also leave us feeling disappointed and frustrated when the enthusiasm and motivation gets side-swiped by the embedded habits and patterns of our day-to-day lives.

I've been teaching yoga for many years and inevitably, the month of January brings many people back to their mat, as new or returning yogis.  The classes are packed and brimming over.  By March, the classes are usually back to normal size.

A while back I read the book, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.  It's a short, humorous and very powerful book about what happens when we set goals or resolutions for ourselves. In the chapter titled "Resistance's Greatest Hits" he writes:

The following is a list, in no particular order, of those activities that most commonly elicit Resistance:

1) The pursuit of any calling in writing, painting, music, film, dance, or any creative art, however marginal or unconventional.

2) The launching of any entrepreneurial venture or enterprise, for profit or otherwise.

3) Any diet or health regimen.

4) Any program or spiritual advancement.

5) Any activity whose aim is tighter abdomenals.

6) Any course or program designed to overcome an unwholesome habit or addiction.

7) Education of every kind.

8) Any act of political, moral, or ethical courage, including the decision to change for the better some unworthy pattern of thought or conduct in ourselves.

9) The undertaking of any enterprise or endeavor whose aim is to help others.

10) Any act that entails commitment of the heart.  The decision to get married, to have a child, to weather a rocky patch in a relationship.

11) The taking of any pricipled stand in the face of adversity.

Inevitably, upon engaging in one or more of these pursuits, you will meet a variety of resistances from yourself and others.  Period.  There's no way around that. Most likely you will fall down, forget, regress, or in someway sabotage yourself on the path to self-improvement.  Setting an intention is a courageous act that can leave you feeling vulnerable and out-of-place.  You have friends, family, and co-workers who count on you to be consistent with who you are.  When you change, you disrupt what some people have come to rely on.

I'm not here to give you advice on what to do about your resistances. You can read all about that in The War of Art, or in one of a thousand other books on this topic.

David Whyte says in his poem, Sweet Darkness, "You must learn one thing: the world was made to be free in.  Give up all other worlds except the one to which you belong. Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness to learn anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you."

Unequivocally, what I want to say most for myself and for you is to stay with it.  When you forget your intention, come back to it.  When you fail, get back up.  When you get lazy and slough off your commitment, re-commit.  It's easy to berate yourself or others and use failure or forgetfulness as a weapon to attack yourself and to give up.

Perhaps Rumi sums it up best:

Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. It doesn't matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again, come, come.

Here's to a year of inspiration, honesty, scuffed knees, bruised egos, vulnerability, excitement, growth, happiness and acceptance of life as if unfolds right before you.

Happy New Year.  Peace and love to you and all those who care for you.