Dealing With Resistance To Creativity
I felt so much Resistance.
I was living in The Netherlands once more, and every time the day came around for my weekly painting class I didn’t want to go. I felt dread. I wanted to call in sick even though I wasn’t sick.
Although I’d been enthusiastic about signing up to the class beforehand, I couldn’t shake off my unease.
Yet something tugged at me, something kept leading me there. It took my hand and gently guided me. I was trembling and my pulse was racing. I felt a bit nauseated. Anxiety would sweep over me, and seep into my whole body causing me to feel light-headed and un-grounded.
But I kept on going. I kept trusting what I was doing despite the fear and the strong emotions I was feeling. From the outside you probably couldn’t tell that all of this was going on inside of me.
The funny thing was that every time I returned home from class I was buzzing. I felt more alive than I’d felt in a long time. My mum would notice. She’d try and remind me whenever I felt the Resistance before going to the art class how it’d make me feel afterwards.
It reminded me of times when I didn’t feel like going for a run, but knowing that once I’d done it, I’d feel amazing afterwards.
I can smile at all of that now. I feel such compassion for my younger self. All I want to do is embrace her and whisper in her ear that everything is okay. That she’s doing great even though it must not feel that way. This is going to help her, to heal her. I want to remind her to trust herself. She does know what is right. One day she’ll wake up and finally feel good about herself. Even her “dark” side, what she thinks of as her flaws. She’ll love it all.
Remembering and re-connecting with my creativity was like holding up a mirror and looking myself in the eye, facing some truths I’d not wanted to see. Some of it was breath-taking; some of it downright ugly. And I wonder whether this was why I’d abandoned my creativity for so long – why I’d abandoned my love for writing and drawing for example – because I was afraid of what I would discover in the process. The ugliness. The changes I’d have to make. The person I’d have to become.
It wasn’t just fear of failure, it was fear of success.
Resistance had flared up like an unwelcome rash causing me to stay put and not show up anywhere in case anyone would see this embarrassing skin problem. I’d imagine they’d point and laugh at it, laugh at me, just like a couple of girls at school had done about my hair. Painful memories, Creativity Scars as my writing mentor Julia calls them, triggered, and yet in their own twisted way just trying to protect me from danger, the danger of being an outcast, different, weird. Protecting me from being ridiculed.
But step by step, every time I showed up at this painting class was a little victory. I’d gone full of fear into the unknown where Resistance didn’t want me to go. I could be proud of that. Because little did I know what these little victories would mean in the long run.
What I found in the unknown was treasure.
What I found was a snippet of my true being, the person I’d forgotten I was.
It was enough for me to continue reaching into the depths of my being, uncovering her and bringing her forth again and again over time. Messily, sometimes with trepidation, often with fear. With glimmers of grace and quiet strength, too. There are moments that make it all worthwhile though: the pure joy and sheer delight beating in my heart, pumping through my body, infusing my cells when I am doing my creative work. It’s a reward in itself.
These days I know Resistance well, and I’ve made it my friend. I’ve stopped fighting it, trying to overcome it, ignoring it. It would only make Resistance stronger.
Instead, I acknowledge its presence whenever I sit down to write, draw or do any other creative act such as building and running a business. I say hello. I breathe deeply and I listen to what it wants me to know.
“What if no one likes it? What if it doesn’t work? What if you make mistakes, mess up and look like a fool? What if it never sells?” are some of the usual culprits Resistance throws at me to see what will stick and stop me from going any further.
Then I tenderly soothe Resistance that I hear its concerns, and that everything is okay, I’m not in danger. I remind it why I am doing what I am doing. That it’s about the work, the joy I get from doing it and mastering it. It’s not about the fame or fortune. Would I want to be doing my work if I knew I only had a week left to live?
Yes. I would.
So, let’s get to it.
I also give myself permission to do it “badly”. To make mistakes. To create “shitty first drafts” as Anne Lamott calls them in her book Bird By Bird: Some Instructions On Writing And Life (1995).
And Resistance calms down. Most of the time, anyway. I allow it to be with me, sitting in a chair next to me or behind me – where it is right now as I am writing – but that’s it. It’s not allowed to run the show. Strangely, sometimes it fuels me. It’s showing me that what I am about to do is something I care deeply about and is worth doing for its own sake.
I am therefore thankful for my Resistance, because it’s pointing me to my inner voice, my heart and soul.
It’s pointing to what really matters to me.
How do you deal with Resistance? Does it come up for you when you embark on a creative project?