A Modern Mystic

Musings on life, work and contemporary spirituality

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Resistance: Review of a Book Every Creative Should Read Now


With his book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield has done for us creative types, what the Buddha did for spiritual seekers 3000 years ago.

Upon awakening, the Buddha taught the first cycle of teachings, The First Noble Truth, long-misunderstood by legions of pundits to mean, “Life is suffering.” Actually the Buddha was identifying the problem, suffering, in order to set out the solution. Life is not suffering, suffering is not our nature, yet we must learn to identify suffering and its causes if we want to attain happiness. This reasoning is sound. Every successful military general knows that if he is to defeat the enemy, he must know as much as possible about it. Knowledge is power. Forewarned is forearmed.

Likewise, internationally successful author and screen writer Pressfield makes a brilliant study of what he calls Resistance, that particular quality of our thinking which keeps us grumpy, small, creatively frustrated and angry about it. He makes a masterful study, wonderfully pith and poetic, of the root negative thinking behind every type of procrastination known to sentient beings. Not just a manual for artists or writers, The War of Art is a must-read for anyone who has ever put off doing what they love or dilly-dallied their virtuous aspirations. I know I have done that. Have you?

With so many wonderful books, blogs, methods, systems, religions and TED Talks devoted to inspiring us to be our most creative and productive selves, why should we focus on the problem, rather than the solution? Because as the Buddha taught so long ago, and Pressfield proves, it is in knowing the problem that we understand the solution. By delving into the way thinking is hard-wired, we can short-circuit the habits that keep us from putting our butts in the seat and our feet on the path. Pressfield’s book is the place to start and for many years it has been my go-to manual whenever my own symptoms of resistance – sleeping in, skipping meditation practice, criticizing others, participating in family drama, etc. – kick-in and start to wreak havoc with my ambitions. I have read it countless times and I suspect I will read it countless more.

Read The War of Art. Locate your own favorite habit of resistance within its pages and then chop that repugnant enemy to bits. Or laugh it off and then go out and do what you have to do with a joyful heart. Today.

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Patience or Tolerance? What’s in a Word?

wireheartIn my work with coaching clients, seekers, beautiful and truly well intentioned people, I see sloppy language at the heart of many of our deeper dilemmas. We use words that we haven’t properly defined for ourselves and it’s so easy to hide behind them. Words such as “spiritual,” “angels,” “grace,” “compassion,” “positive thinking,” and “judgment” seem to be common places to store our misunderstandings about who we are and how things work. Yet as often as not, a few minutes of contemplation and research on our “spiritual” vocabulary can clear up a belief or habit of thinking that is keeping us stuck and unhappy.

Last night I attended a Buddhist teaching on patience. Along with generosity, discipline, diligence, mindfulness and knowledge, patience is one of the Transcendent Perfections or “Paramitas,” the heart of the bodhisattva’s practice.

After the teaching the group got into a discussion about tolerance. Wasn’t tolerance the same thing as patience? Shouldn’t I strive to always, under all circumstances, quietly put up with unacceptable behavior from others? Isn’t that the peaceful Buddhist way?

Well, no. This is a misunderstanding of the term patience. If we look closely we see that tolerance usually has an underlying flavor of anger. We don’t like something – a behavior, a person, or even an idea – and yet we refrain from acting, stewing about it all the while, presumably because we think that eventually some good will come of our forbearance. We should speak up when we see injustice or harm and try to muster the thought, “May this person be free from suffering and its causes!”

Unfortunately, a good result can never come from a negative intention. True patience means not reacting in anger, whether in thought, word or deed. At first this is a mighty challenging thing, and yet we improve with practice. Perhaps we first reach for tolerance, non-reaction, while understanding that we don’t like the anger that we’re feeling. Eventually, if we renounce our anger, true patience has a chance to take root.

It all starts with a word and the understanding of its true meaning.