Whose Mountain # 15
Letters of Resistance | Moods of mysticism compared to philosophy
Since I last wrote, I’ve been struck by the Resistance. If you’re not familiar, Steven Pressfield shared the Resistance in The War of Art. The Resistance’s only purpose is to keep things as they are. In my case, it means I am not finding things interesting as I used to. Rather than give in to the Resistance, I decided to write myself the letter I needed to work with it. I’ve also been doing copywork with The Screwtape Letters, so you’ll likely see the influences in the letter.
A Letter on the Resistance
My dear guide,
The power of my will is sabotaging me. I imagine you know the subtle sabotage I speak of. There are no flaming chariots or grand battles. Those I could parry easily. It’s not even the sabotaging self-talk of impossible expectations and constant doubt which in my past have plagued me. No, this sabotage is far subtler.
I simply feel numb. The ideas which seemed so entertaining and enjoyable only days ago are dull and uninteresting today. The clouds of my interest have filtered too much light. They leave a dull, flat grey blanketing everything I see. Oh, what I’d give for a bold, beautiful color right now. I don’t care whether it’s a sign of pure joy or a sign of battle and pain. Anything has to be better than the anesthetized world I inhabit today.
I’m praying for your counsel. Please hurry.
Would you consider helping?
I am heartened to receive your letter.
That may seem odd to you since you wrote of a desperate plea for help. I don’t mean to be rude, but I have to take a minute to celebrate your development. You were writing, drawing, walking, and building simply to see if you could. You’ve now proven to yourself that you can. You’ve reached the resistance phase.
Now you’re starting to compare your work to your taste, and you’re not liking what you see. Of course you don’t! You’ve only been doing this for a few months, after all. And yet your ego is desperately rebelling. Knowing that you’ve learned how to recognize self-doubt and self-criticism, it has chosen to bring the big guns. As you find the world dull, your ego celebrates. Maybe then you will reembrace the comfort of consumption, where your ego no longer needs to fears the pain of failure.
From what I know, there are two paths in front of you.
You can walk away. I don’t mean this to discourage you, far from it. The resistance takes a toll on the best of us. The worst thing you can do is push through it to feed the other part of your ego, the part that says you’re not a quitter. If you do that, Wormwood will succeed in convincing you of the ordinariness of things. You will despair worse as you continue, in a desperate cycle that ends in banality. I know you didn’t set out planning to end up banal.
If you walk away now, you may soon come back to it renewed and refreshed. These decisions are not irreversible. Or you may decide that you’re happier not returning. That’s great as well. You don’t owe the world anything. The most you can do is find joy in yourself and offer the same path to others. If creating is not doing it for you right now, don’t take on the burden of the world.
The other path is to explore the dull greyness. It’s true that the brilliant blue of a summer sky lights our imagination in ways filtered light never will. But that doesn’t make it more beautiful.
Beauty is everywhere…if you’re willing to explore it.
As Marcus Aurelius said, “Nothing has such power to broaden the mind as the ability to investigate systematically and truly all that comes under thy observation in life.” The dullness you’re feeling is nothing more than another moment of life. What would it mean to investigate it systematically and truly? How could you dig into it and see what it really is? Would you learn something more about yourself, or create something that could help others?
This second path is fraught with its own peril. You risk:
Hiding the experience of the greyness in the lessons learned afterward. This feels right in the moment, as you offer your friends the lessons you have learned in hopes of shining a path for them. Please don’t do this, though. You’ll have created something which lacks the integrity of your lived experience. You’ll end up banal yet again.
Getting stuck in the dullness. For a certain type of reader, your exploration of the grey will resonate. In fact, it will make them feel less alone, as they recognize their own struggle. And while their resonance feels encouraging, it rarely lasts. You run the risk of getting stuck in a suffering identity. Unless you are careful, you may inadvertently impede your path back to the radiance of your inner joy.
If you can simultaneously keep the end goal in mind and plumb the depths of your current moment, you will cultivate inner strength you didn’t know existed. You’ll create with integrity that which only you can create. It may be beautiful and haunting, and it will be truly you.
I hope you’ll let me know which path you choose. Remember, I and others, are here to help. You are not alone on this journey, regardless of where it takes you.
Emotional moods as an indicator of mystical experience
In reading The Varieties of Religious Experience, I was struck by James’ comparison of the Stoic and Christian writings.
When Marcus Aurelius reflects on the eternal reason that has ordered things, there is a frosty chill about his words which you rarely find in a Jewish, and never in a Christian piece of religious writing. The universe is ‘accepted’ by all these writers; but how devoid of passion or exultation the spirit of the Roman Emperor is! Compare his fine sentence: “If gods care not for me or my children, here is a reason for it,” with Job’s cry: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him!” and you immediately see the difference I mean. The anima mundi, to whose disposal of his own personal identity the Stoic consents, is there to be respected and submitted to, but the Christian God is there to be loved;
I was introduced to the Stoics at the Naval Academy. It was right after 9/11, and I had decidedly submitted to the nationalism filling the country. As I’ve written about before, I embraced the mythology of the Navy. When paired with the philosophy of the Stoics, I had a mission and a system to perfect myself in it.
Years later, that purpose has lost its grip. Without such a mission, the Stoic worldview holds on by convenience more than passion. The religious experience James describes calls to me, even though I can’t believe in the institution of religion. Faith may elude me, but love calls me to explore what I missed. This agapic love — the love that comes of creation — marks my desire as strongly as the nationalistic fervor did years ago.
An idea I’ve been thinking about
A friend recently told me, “You seem to have a lot of people who want to see you succeed. For what it’s worth, not everyone has that.”
I didn’t intend to cultivate that support, but I’m grateful that I’ve developed it. Finding friends who support you regardless of what endeavor you undertake is a real gift. I think it comes from living intentionally and choosing to share that with others vulnerable. If you believe you’re one of those people, thank you.
If you need someone who wants to see you succeed, call me. I promise I do.
Why not subscribe and send me a note so I can cheer you on or help you succeed?
Until next week, have an intentionally curious week.
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I read this when you shared it a few days ago, but I had so many thoughts and words swirling around I had to marinate in them a while before I knew how to respond. Well, a couple of days later, I still don't have the right words other than — I've seen those same gray clouds. That pesky Resistance is an old friend of mine, one that has been visiting for a few weeks now.
However, I've sat paralyzed, the fear of banality on one shoulder and the fear of getting stuck in the suffering identity on the other, their competing whispers filling my head and leaving me second-guessing everything. Only now do I realize the obvious — that *this* is where I'm supposed to be writing from. That's why I'm here.
And it's why you're there. Beauty is everywhere. Keep sharing, my friend. You're doing great things, for yourself and the world.
I could write an essay. Instead a sentence: may my resistance respond with such beauty and depth when I call. To echo Rick "Dang!"