Every time I come to write, even if I have some words on the page already, I am always met with Resistance (Pressfield talks about this in his extraordinary book "the War of Art"). This kind of Resistance to creativity and its seeds of doubt, anxiety, inadequacy, etc., are prevalent to all of us, but especially creatives. I believe this is because artists, more than most at least, tend to spend most of their time in a liminal space.
"Liminal" can be defined as:
1. relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process.
2. occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold.
Basically, liminal spaces are spaces of transition and openness, change, flux, new beginnings. Obviously, creatives spend a lot of their time with internal liminal spaces. Our creations don't simply fall into our heads, ready to be regurgitated at a moment's notice. Occupying that liminal space transforms us as we engage in the creative process, which in turn generates new material, perspectives, and inspiration as we (ideally) evolve.
However, it has always annoyed me that I feel so much Resistance whenever I try to write (music also, but writing is closer to home, and so it is more tied up in my ideas of self-worth, creative aspirations, etc.). Most of the advice I have seen in regards to Resistance I have seen is usually something adversarial:
"Facing Resistance is that constant struggle of the artist."
"You have to face your demons every day that you look at a blank page."
"Just push through."
I've tried that for a few years. It's exhausting. And it's not very fulfilling, in my opinion. I've always wondered if there was a way to sit down to write every day where I did NOT hate myself, where I didn't dread writing, and where I didn't have to rationalize pushing myself through Resistance.
So, I've been taking a more gradual, relaxed method, hoping that by approaching this more gently and compassionately, akin to approaching a wild animal, maybe some insights would arise. And I have come across three. Granted, these are still fledgling ideas that have yet to endure the test of time in my own life, but they also seem to be prevalent of other aspects in my life. Maybe they will be in yours, too. I'll give my thoughts on each one individually, and then try to integrate them together in the context of writing (but it should be applicable to art, and hopefully life, in general).
1. Letting Go -
I've always had difficult with the idea of letting go. Not just because I have difficulty letting go of attachments, but because, for a long time, I thought letting go was akin to pushing things away (or pushing through Resistance). Whenever I felt emotions, desires, or had thoughts that didn't line up with how I thought I should be, or how I wanted my experience to be, I thought "letting go" meant shoving those things away. I first did it very viciously, as I was determined to perfect myself and the creative process. When this led to exhaustion and frustration, I tried doing it more gently, then almost pleaded with these plagues to leave me alone.
However, I have been taking a Jungian Shadow Work course, and I have found that instead of "letting go" being a matter of pushing and cleansing yourself of all these sins and internal obstacles, letting go means surrendering control. I mean, duh, but what does that actually mean?
For one, it means not trying to force yourself to feel other than you do, or judging yourself for thinking the thoughts you do. Instead, hold space for them, and for yourself. In a garden, the plants you want to grow don't bear fruit by you pulling on them. And weeds will always come back no matter what, so be patient with them and yourself when dealing with them. Also, a lot of "weeds" actually have medicinal properties, when handled with awareness; a lot of the shadow material we have in our psyche has value as we interact with it consciously and compassionately and, this is important, without trying to make it what we think it should be.
Letting go is a crucial part of occupying the liminal space, both of creativity and self-transformation. It is the stepping into the doorway where our openness to possibility, potentiality, and manifestation meet.
2. Having Faith -
I think necessarily the flip side of letting go is having faith. If you manage to genuinely let go, then you are leaving space for something greater than yourself to occupy that liminal space within you. This means different things to different people, depending on beliefs and experience. But having faith does not mean abandoning reason or discarding everything you have brought with you to start off with a completely clean slate. I don't think such a thing is possible.
But, having faith can give you the openness to see things in a new light, to turn around and look face to face with your Shadow. This is something I struggle with personally, as every time I look at my flaws I have the urge to hammer them out, to constantly try and fix myself. But those are, ironically, a part of my Shadow, my desire for control, for perfection in a bid for certainty that I am on the right path, that what I'm doing matters, and that I am progressing in a meaningful way.
More than anything else, having faith means trusting the process. You maybe have a destination in mind (writing a book, getting a career, finding a partner, etc.), but having faith means allowing yourself to have those desires and to strive towards them without being fixated or attached to the outcome. I may strive all my life and never become a successful author. But engaging in this process is itself fulfilling and meaningful, even more so that it is frustrating and anxiety-inducing.
There is often a false dichotomy set up as to whether it is the journey or the destination that give meaning to life. I think it's both. We would not be on the journey we are on if we didn't have a destination in mind. But mistaking the map (our idea of where we want to be) with the terrain, with the lived experience of venturing forth into the unknown, blinds us. It keeps us from shifting course when we need to, stops us from responding to what is around us, and shuts down our awareness until all we have is a concept of life, love, and happiness. We miss all the scenery, the beauty, and the markers that can direct us to where we want to go, or that show us that we should actually have a different destination in mind (this doesn't have to be drastic; sometimes, it's just the next town over).
If we can marry the two, the process and the aspiration, the journey and the destination, we find fulfillment in both. The journey becomes meaningful because we are progressing toward a goal, but also because our awareness makes us aware of the intrinsic value and beauty of every step we take, every tree we see, and every person we come across. The destination becomes more profound and authentic because we are open to learning lessons as we go. Our resolve is tested, our strength grows as we meet challenges, and our orientation gives us insights as to what we value and what is meaningful to us. It also can be a guiding light in that liminal space as we simultaneously exist as who we are while we also see who we want to become.
3. Participating -
I think this third part is often overlooked. I know I didn't see it for a long time, partially because when you are engaged in a process, you don't notice yourself as a part of that process. You take yourself for granted or, if you are in a blessed flow state, you dissolve into the process itself.
But the two previous steps, letting go and having faith, cannot happen if you are not participating in them. If you let go without remaining engaged, nothing happens. If you have faith but don't put in the work, nothing happens. YOU are the focal point that allows these two forces to meet. They feel so much greater than us (because they are by definition), and yet they cannot flourish together without us.
Let's ground these concepts into the process of writing. When I was staring at the blank page that would eventually become this post, I was met with Resistance.
"Does this even matter?"
"Someone else probably put these exact same insights up already, and did so with more eloquence and is sharing them with greater number of readers than I could ever hope to."
Moreover, the sheer somatic experience of my body tensing, of anxiety coursing through me, felt like a literal wall. Oddly enough, writing the first word required all of the three aspects mentioned above.
I had to let go of trying to find the perfect word to start.
I had to have faith that this post had purpose.
I still had to write that first word.
I didn't push through Resistance. I sat with it. When I was ready, I started.
Once I started writing, momentum began. I kept my purpose in mind, for that drove me forward and guided me through the twists and turns as I tried to articulate my thoughts and make them relevant and hopefully helpful to readers. My faith that there was a point to all this allowed me to believe in this process as it unfolded and kept me aloft in the elation you feel as you create something and feel progress toward a meaningful goal. Even now, I feel vulnerable in writing these words that I genuinely mean, but don't know if anyone will read. But in that vulnerability, I know I am truly being my authentic self. How could it be otherwise? Vulnerability and authenticity go hand in hand.
Hopefully I'll build more strength and confidence in myself as I continue this journey. I won't lie and say I don't care about success. I do. I would love to be a full-time writer, and you can't do that without success. But, for the time being at least, I will not deny my desire for success, for that gives me aspiration. Instead, I will do my best to simply let that hope be as it is, as well as all the emotions that are bound to it. My faith is rewarded with the feeling of authenticity I feel as I write these words (whether they ring true for others or not). And I will continue to write for as long as it feels meaningful.
I hope these insights shed some light on how to make your creative processes easier, or maybe your search for authenticity. It feels almost arrogant to say that, as if I could somehow give you the keys to realizing your own sense of self. But I am doing my best to do that in my own life and want to share my reflections.
I wish you the best of luck in life. May you have the courage to let go and be yourself, warts and all. May you be blessed with the wisdom that faith awakens within us. And keep going. You can do this. The world needs your work, your love, and your authentic self. And you do too.
P.S. I have started working on Book II of the Affix Trilogy! And yes, I am terrified every time I sit down to write. I enjoy writing itself, but I think if I can let go of perfectionism, I can make the prospect of writing fun again.
Anyways, if you haven't picked up Book I, the link is below. Enjoy!