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Elan Vitae


  • Ann Wilkie Arens


Sitting with my palms together and wrists, tips of thumbs, and pinkie fingers pushing into each other, I slowly looked down as my remaining fingers blossomed outward. “This symbolizes the lotus flower,” exhaled the yoga instructor. “Envision your life much like the lotus flower,” she continued, “pushing through the mud and the sludge of places where you feel stuck or not feeling forward movement. Then, open to the strength of empowerment. Step into your ability to move forward during halting and apprehensive times.” I had to take a deep breath; I felt a surge of reality in her words. I know the story of the lotus flower but today it hit deeply. I have been struggling with more pronounced gridlock in my life lately--writer’s block, still feeling a bit anxious about going out in large settings a year after the pandemic and working through burdensome knee pain that has limited my physical activity. These types of struggles aren’t only personal, they are universal, even mirrored in nature, like the lotus flower’s arduous sprouting and growth. This is resistance and it is a force to befriend.

People have many names for the physical and mental struggles brought about by resistance: writers block, artistic jam, and the 19th century poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge coined it “infinite indescribable terror.” This shadow-side can appear as a halting of ideas, thoughts, or actions that seize you when you are trying to create, perform and just live life. Spaces where it shows up are plentiful: in writing, art, music, budgeting, athletics, a difficult conversation, and beyond. It may surface as we encounter new experiences, and it may highjack a thought or action when you are about to take the next step forward. For years I saw this defiance of advancing as a frustration and even a curse, at times I even abandoned what I was doing because of an angst-filled feeling. Now I see it as a positive and understand it is a gift of the innovative process. I have come to learn that it is a natural step in moving forward. In most instances, when this block hits it is because you are getting close to an original and ingenious idea or action. In fact, novelist Paulo Cuelo states, Any resistance is not only normal it is necessary, it is a part of the creative process.”

Author Steven Pressfield went years enduring these blocks in his creative process and wrote a book, The War of Art, overviewing what he has learned and gained from resistance. His interpretation is that resistance is an equal, universal, and natural principle. It is not just found in a creative endeavor but in all aspects of life, from trying to lose weight to falling in love. It is the negative force that we encounter when we move from a lower level to a higher level. His belief is that our lower level is ego and self-driven desires, and the higher level is our benevolent side opening to generosity, kindness, and love. He has also found that when an action you are undertaking is more important to your soul’s evolution the more resistance you will feel toward it. This natural process unfolds as a partnership with our dreams, when we dream the next step is always resistance. When panic sets in or the critical inner voice is rising, Pressfield says embrace it and recognize you are moving to the next level.

Go with the flow.

Knowing what resistance is and knowing that it is a universal and natural occurrence brings me comfort and relief. It is not just me and my overprocessing mind. However, it then brings the question, how do we push through the muck of life and get past resistance to the other side? Each person and situation are unique in how to break through. Trying out different ideas may bring understanding of what works best for you.

Pressfield believes you need to hit resistance head on. His motto is put your ass where your heart wants to be. Sit down and just do the work you really want to do. Use your willpower to propel through the resistance. Another idea he follows is to give resistance a name when you feel it begin to rise. This acknowledges when it is happening, and it can begin to release. A third solution is to ask yourself at the end of each day, ‘how did I overcome resistance today?’ Pressfield believes being able to recognize any part of life where a roadblock was conquered will bring confidence and understanding on how to deal with it when it pops up again. His final thought is that working in a state of flow will break through resistance.

What is flow?

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who spent much of his life researching the mental flow state, defines it as engaging in a challenging situation where one is completely absorbed in the activity while expanding their skills at the highest level. In flow, one uses minor exertion, heightened attention, and time stands still. Finding those practiced activities that push us and ignite our imagination can help to bring us into this zone. Think back to those times in life where you were completely absorbed in a project or activity and everything around you blurred as you were so focused yet completely relaxed. For me, writing, gardening, and playing a variety of sports have brought me the concentration, energy, and joy of being in the flow state. Once we can find these special interests, they can bring us into this groove, and can help crack open our resistance to move forward.

A final idea to find release is to step away from the resistance struggle and let your mind wander. For some people, movement, such as walking or another physical activity, can help to let the mind relax and new ideas can burst forth. Another practice is to write down the reason you are feeling uneasy and then walk away and mentally let it go. This can bring forth new creative ideas later and an answer to the situation may arise.

Shaking hands and making friends with the force of resistance can bring a harmony to life. Feeling resistance is a reminder that we are taking a leap and a new achievement is close at hand. Just as the lotus flower bursts from the sludge and out of the water to bloom, we must dream, feel the resistance, and step into the strength of our empowerment. We can then shine in all our brilliant splendor.

Pressfield, Steven. The War of Art: Winning the Creative Battle. [1st ed.]. Rugged Land, 2002.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Beyond boredom and anxiety: Experiencing flow with work and play. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


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