American author and screenplay writer, Steven Pressfield employs a spontaneous and freewheeling method of writing in his book “The War of Art”, whose quintessential objective is to facilitate overcoming internal blocks that impeded creativity. Terming such blocks as “Resistance”, Pressfield boldly proclaims that the difference between the life that remains unlived and the mundane life that is otherwise being led, is Resistance. This pernicious element of Resistance prevents one from channeling her true potential and consequently breaking through the mould of an existence mired in the prosaic. “The War of Art” is divided into three parts. The first part articulates the nature and force of the Resistance itself and the myriad ways in which it works to usurp optimism and confidence. Part two of the book titled “Going Pro”, deals with some ways using which the motives of Resistance may be trumped. Once the power of Resistance wanes, one is on her way to finally becoming a pro. The third and final part of the book meanders about invoking the Muse. Pressfield being a believer equates the Muse with a divine unseen energy that gives wings to hope and allows the artist to soar higher and higher. However, Pressfield acknowledges the fact that a non-believer or a skeptic need not think about the Muse as Providence, but as a latent albeit benevolent force that harnesses eager and sincere ambitions before putting them on the path to fruition.
Penned in the form of verses, “The War of Art” is thought provoking, intuitive and engaging. At times funny and at others, sombre, the book sure lends multiple points to ponder. But the book also gives the impression that enormous reliance and confidence needs to be placed on the Almighty even if one possesses an abundance of talent, for nothing can be more disastrous than disappointing one’s Muse. The moment that happens, you can be sure your goose is cooked. “Angels work for God. It’s their job to help us. Wake us up. Bump us along. Angels are agents of evolution. The Kabbalah describes angels as bundles of light, meaning intelligence, consciousness. Kabbalists believe that above every blade of grass is an angel crying “Grow! Grow!” I’ll go further. I believe that above the entire human race is one super-angel, crying “Evolve! Evolve!” Angels are like muses. They know stuff we don’t. They want to help us. They’re on the other side of a pane of glass, shouting to get our attention. But we can’t hear them. We’re too distracted by our own nonsense. Ah, but when we begin.”
So it comes as no surprise that there are repeated references to the Chapter on Karma Yoga from the immortal Hindu epic of The Bhagavad Gita. The exhortations of Lord Krishna to the confused and exasperated warrior prince, Arjuna, to just concentrate on his labour and duty and leave the rest to Providence is at the edifice of Pressfield’ s solution to smashing Resistance. Resistance, Pressfield argues is a toxic force, an enemy within. Not amenable to compromise or open to negotiations, Resistance is an implacable force that has a singular unwavering, unyielding and unchangeable objective – destroying success or even the very thought of success. Resistance never ever tires in this destructive objective and unless tackled through clever means, goes on its rampaging merry ways till its aims are fulfilled.
Pressfield argues that Resistance thrives on bad habits. A perennial favourite and a most trustworthy ally of Resistance is procrastination. Similarly, If we find ourselves unduly leveling criticism at others, this means that we are squarely in the grip of Resistance. “When we see others beginning to live their authentic selves, it drives us crazy if we have not lived out our own. Individuals who are realized in their own lives almost never criticize others. If they speak at all, it is to offer encouragement. Watch yourself. Of all the manifestations of Resistance, most only harm ourselves. Criticism and cruelty harm others as well.”
Pressfield also holds that dreams can have an optimistic and positive impact on an artist’s innermost self and can spur her on towards greater glories. “My friend Carol had the following dream, at a time when her life felt like it was careening out of control: She was a passenger on a bus. Bruce Springsteen was driving. Suddenly Springsteen pulled over, handed Carol the keys, and bolted. In the dream Carol was panicking. How could she drive this huge rolling Greyhound? By now all the passengers were staring. Clearly no one else was gonna step forward and take charge. Carol took the wheel. To her amazement, she found she could handle it. Later, analyzing the dream, she figured Bruce Springsteen was “The Boss.” The boss of her psyche. The bus was the vehicle of her life. The Boss was telling Carol it was time to take the wheel. More than that, the dream, by actually setting her down in the driver’s seat and letting her feel that she could control the vehicle on the road, was providing her with a simulator run, to prime her with the confidence that she could actually take command in her life. A dream like that is real support. It’s a check you can cash when you sit down, alone, to do your work.”
In order to over Resistance one needs to be a professional. By professional we mean not in the sense, which is attributable in the perspective of defining careers, but in a more contextual manner. Going pro means loving what one does to such an extent so as to transcend being an amateur and stay dedicated for the rest of one’s lives. This is the love which Tiger Woods possesses for golf, an untamed, unsatisfied and unquenchable thirst for the game and to be at it every single day of his life.
Pressfield also provides examples of his own life where he made the transition from nadir to zenith in a painstaking but persevering manner. With only a beat up Chevy, a cat (“Mo”) and his antique Smith-Corona, Pressfield progressed to being one of the most successful screenplay writers overcoming a plethora of relentless obstacles.
“The War of Art” – undoubtedly thought provoking.