by John Wolf
If you are a creative type, with aspirations for a productive creative life, you owe it to yourself to read Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. For us meditators the book is also a treasure. It’s a quick and entertaining read, but overflows with insight and practical sense that may just give you the kick-in-the-pants inspiration to turn the corner on a disciplined spiritual practice.
Pressfield is a writer, most well-known for his book and its film adaptations, The Legend of Bagger Vance. (Incidentally, that book is written as a modern take on the Bhagavad Gita, set on the golf course instead of the battlefield.) So the War of Art examines achievement from a writer’s perspective. But as you read it, simply substitute the word “meditator” for “writer” and you’ll see exactly what I mean. Because whenever we strive to better ourselves—whatever the endeavor—we all face a common enemy. Pressfield calls that enemy “Resistance.”
Who knows why, but anyone who has ever set upon a noble venture has faced that same intangible, opposing force of nature. Pressfield writes:
Have you ever brought home a treadmill and let it gather dust in the attic? Ever quit a diet, a course of yoga, a meditation practice? Have you ever bailed out on a call to embark upon a spiritual practice, dedicate yourself to a humanitarian calling, commit your life to the service of others? Have you ever wanted to be a mother, a doctor, and advocate for the weak and helpless; to run for office, crusade for the planet, campaign for world peace, or to preserve the environment? Late at night have you experienced a vision of the person you might become, the work you could accomplish, the realized being you were meant to be? Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is.
We in the Sant Mat tradition have a name for spiritual resistance. We call it “mind.” It’s that part of our nature whose mission it is to stand between us and God. No one is immune. Jesus faced it on the mountaintop and Buddha under the bodh tree. Resistance manifests in our daily meditation practice in so many way. First in the seemingly simple act of making time to sit. It subverts our own efforts to sit physically still, appearing as an itch, an ache, and in countless other forms. When we overcome those small obstacles, our inner gaze succumbs, hopelessly wandering and lapsing. And if we are blessed to surmount those barriers, mind lets loose a hurricane of thoughts to waylay our focus.
How we label spiritual resistance doesn’t really matter. Something inside us doesn’t want to see us grow. That same something has opposed the growth of seekers since Day One. The first step in overcoming that force is to accept its inevitability and formidability, face it squarely, and acknowledge the need for help. Although mind is no small thing, our soul and our spiritual Master are far more powerful. Spiritual awakening, all Masters tells us, is the vigorous process of gradually and more deeply allying ourselves with those superior powers.
Pressfield has some great practical suggestions for overcoming the many outer forms resistance takes on. I won’t reveal them here. But I do want to share one concept that particularly resonates with me. He dedicates an entire section of the book to it; he calls it “Turning Pro.”
Think about the difference between a professional and amateur in any field. Most of us have careers and hobbies, so we know the difference: Amateurs are dabblers; Pros fully commit. For amateurs it’s discretionary; for pros it can’t be optional. Amateurs are in it for fun; it’s a pro’s way of life. Amateurs give their weekends; for pro it’s 24/7. Amateurs settle for adequacy; for pros good is never enough.
Consider a professional athlete, for example: Sant Rajinder Singh Ji Maharaj writes:
Some people decide they want to make a sport their life or a career. They want to become professional. If we look at the lives of famous sports figures we find them eating, sleeping, and breathing their sport. They excel in their fields because they are disciplined. They do whatever is possible to be their best in their field. Their desire to excel is the wine they drink. They overcome all their desires for anything else in order to achieve their goal. They sacrifice many of the pastimes their friends may engage in so they can practice their sport. If certain lifestyles do not support their goal, they remove their desire for those things. Just as people in worldly pastimes can be fully committed to a goal, so can people who are devoted to finding God.
So the question is, are we amateur meditators, or are we pros? Are we dabblers or fully committed? The answer has nothing to do with success or failure. Pros experience both. It’s the attitude we bring to our practice, and the daily behaviors that attitude compels. There are no shortcuts to overcoming resistance: pro-level achievement requires pro-level effort.
What is required to shift our status from amateur to professional meditator? A valuable exercise is to take some time alone, sit quietly, and list behaviors that will help you take that step. Review the list carefully. A few actions will jump out as potentially high impact; the goodness in you will recognize them. Pick just one, commit to acting on it, and start enjoying the spiritual blessings of turning pro.