Resistance is Your Soul’s Compass

by Susan Johnstone on August 28, 2009

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

A while ago I picked up the book ‘The War of Art’ by Steven Pressfield. He’s the guy who wrote the book ‘The Legend of Baggar Vance’ which became a movie of the same name, and one of my all time favorite life mission movies.

‘The War of Art’ had been highly recommended to me, but I avoided it for years because I made the big mistake of thinking that it was about the art world.

It’s not!

It’s the distilled essence of Steven’s immense experience battling his resistance to writing and being a writer over the course of many years… and it’s pure gold.

One of my favorite concepts in the whole book is his discovery that resistance always points to the true north of our heart’s longing and our soul’s greatest desire.

In fact we can actually measure the strength of our desire by the strength of our resistance to it!

In my experience that’s been true over and over again, but I could never see it at the time.

So the person who long’s to be a writer will resist writing more than anything else in her life. And she might even resist all the other things that would support her being a writer – taking a class, joining a writer’s group, getting a new computer, etc.

In my way of understanding resistance, what I’ve often found is that

…resistance often works to keep a new self from surfacing.

In Steven’s compass metaphor, resistance actually points toward our most authentic self as it’s seeking to emerge!

So for our writer, the question is not “Why isn’t she writing?” The question is “Who will she become in the writing and what part of her is defending her against becoming that?”

That brings us right back to remembering that all resistance is a wise messenger with a message that needs to be heard and fully addressed. In my own inner work, I find that once the message is fully acknowledged and received, my inner messenger can finally stop working so hard to get it through.

It might be that our resistance remembers a time long ago when expressing ourselves fully got us into big trouble, or in our family that quality was definitely “not welcomed”.

This is how we end up burying parts of ourselves and our gifts and these parts collectively become our “shadow” or our unexpressed self.

And our safety brain (fight or flight system) gets very engaged whenever we try to bring a shadow part of our authentic self out of the closet. It will do whatever it takes to get us AWAY from the dangerous possibility of our authentic self fully surfacing.

Now…are you ready to have some fun?

Take a look at where your resistance is strongest and try out these questions:

  1. What desire or longing is your strongest resistance pointing to?
  2. Who would you become if you fully followed that desire?
  3. Why does your resistance think that would be dangerous for you?

I have to thank my teacher Kimberly Herkert at The Way of the Heart for question number 3. Her body of work called “The Shadow of the Beloved” has taught me many of the incredibly insightful questions that get right to the root of this kind of resistance and claim back all of our beautiful qualities.

Remember to breathe and hold compassion for your resistance as your answer these questions. Softening our tug-of-war is always the first step.

I’d love to hear your insights as you work with your truest compass…your resistance. Thanks Steven!

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