When Work is Resistance

I’ve thought a lot about resistance over the past year.  Read Stephen Pressfield’s book, been inspired and shaken by the rallying cry to recognise the insidious forms resistance takes.  For me this meant getting on with my work; with writing; no matter what it took.  The results were powerful, and productive.  I realised I did have it in me to do this thing.  To finish the thesis I have been working on for years.  To move on.  To use other forms of writing to take the pressure off the dissertation, to allow it to be what it is (an academic training exercise) rather than the bearer of all my memories and experience.

I’m handing it in in two weeks.  And the pressure is on to keep working.  To keep up the momentum and get it done.  And I’ve been there at the coal face.  Everyday, writing, editing, crafting.  Releasing the need for it to be perfect (it isn’t).  Releasing the need to know everything (I don’t).

So what’s gone wrong?

I got an inkling of it when my daughter fractured her arm in the playground last week and the first thought that flashed into my head was , “But what about my work?”

Then a dear friend extended an invitation to come to a surprise birthday celebration for her husband.  First response?  “But what about my work?”

Well, what about my work?  In pursuing it so single mindedly I have begun to exclude other daily practices that give my work life and purpose.  In the aftermath of the resistance to engage with what is happening elsewhere in my life, my work has begun to congeal.  I find that though I turn up everyday, progress is slow, the creative spark that was transforming the text vanished.  Resistance came in by the back door.  Not because I wasn’t turning up for work, but because I wasn’t turning off the work.

I see that Resistance is also about not participating fully in my own life.  That the single minded pursuit of work, when it is at the cost of a balanced Wheel, drains the life blood of what sustains the work in the first place.

The Love that keeps you turning up.

The Love that lets you leave when it’s time to.

Untangling the threads of these final weeks, I see that my challenge is not to simply turn up for work.  It is also to blur the boundary of work and play, to make work a long term satisfying practice that I return to, restoring the meaningfulness of work as part of my Life, rather than a crash diet I go on every now and again.

Pause to keep going.  Funny that.

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The Bats of Tropical London AKA Reading the Natural Life of the City

There’s a mini heat-wave, and London becomes the tropical city of my dreams.  There are long sun filled days at the ReUnion.  My five year old splashes in the pool, golden, beads she made in the play project round her neck, performing songs with her friends while I have a cheeky half with their mum.  Icy cold London Lager from the micro brewery, sipped under the railway arches.  I follow my baby son, now toddling, as he pads along the deck, walking with Sara, a member of the collective of artists who made this space, interpreting her dreams.  These whisper of a steady,careful surrender to a great and transformative Unknown; and the tensions of how humans exist with, and make, built environments.

Lucky me, I think, brought to this place of freedom and Life: easy, joyful, gently/firmly disciplined, grounded, ephemeral.  Wide open.  Most of all, playful!  When I come to a place like the ReUnion, I am grateful for the sense of play; both internal and external.  There are other families here too from the local flats.  All of us benefit from the openness offered by the ReUnion.  The sharp edges our children develop in defense against crowded living conditions and the materialistic city, visibly melt as they begin to play.  Or make banana crumble.  Or sit wide eyed watching a group of feminist protest artists practice a topless intervention.  I love how afterwards these serious and focused women bend down to answer the questions from the children.  Only here.  In the gap between building sites, luxury apartments, council flats and the overhead trains.

In the sultry tropical evening, I go for a walk with my Beloved.  Rainbow Olympic lights on the River, the Tate changing colour.  When London gets hot, even the local parks gets a sweet and heady feeling in the golden pink hazy light of dusk.  Our meander takes us through our local park.  The grass has become lush and electric green.  A bat flies over our heads.  I am surprised and delighted.  It is so rare to see bats in the heart of a built up metropolis like ours.  But if my dreams and practice of the last year have shown me anything, it is that the city has a natural, wild-life all of its own, woven into the concrete and the high rises.  The pocket woods in-between.  Animal teachers do appear, and they bring messages and lessons.

On that day, Bat spoke to the tension and dance of what had come up for in my weekly Circle meeting with my writing partner, and in the dreams I had interpreted for Sara at the ReUnion.  What happens when we try to control and dominate what we create?  What happens when we are responsive to the environment we create in (both the inner and outer worlds), surrendering to the rhythm of what is and building  from that point?  It’s a dance because there is always the opportunity to take a step away from a stance that is too dominating; to be rescued from the plotting of our egos.  The soft landing of Hay Bales.

Dancing between domination and surrender in the West as I write the Life Story, I notice how when I try to force the story (I want it to be finished quickly….), it gets stuck.  When I write from a free and open point (within a gentle discipline), it flows.  It is almost like magic, the way it shifts and unburdens my mind set as I read it out loud.  The same goes for listening to the stories my writing and circle partner shares.   Bat brings me a live message about death and initiation:

“Shaman death is the symbolic death of the initiate to the old ways of life and personal identity.  The initiation that brings the rights to heal and be called a Shaman is necessarily preceded by ritual death”

The ritual death that I am being asked to undergo by my practice isn’t about being buried alive or placed in the woods alone.  It’s about releasing the hold of what has gone and being reborn without the ego that clings to the pain stories of the past as my primary identifier of Self – and all too frequently, my sub-concious saboteur.

I wondered today about what I would say, or what I could say, when my daughter asks why we aren’t rich or live in a big house.  What are the reasons?  My initial thought was how I could tell her about the hardships I went through as a youngster when we first moved to the UK, when our family lost all our money and our home, and fractured rather than pulling together through crisis.   How this set me back so I couldn’t recover economically as an adult – there was both the lack of financial help for getting started, and the pain of traumatic rupture I carried around too.  Then I remembered the story my father told me as a child: about how he gave up his place at University so his sister could study because his father couldn’t afford to educate them both.  And the subsequent loss of all of his family’s property and money when Mozambique became independent.  This is a pain story about sacrifice, martyrdom, holding onto regret and being self-made against the odds that has been passed down.  I listened in awe to it then, and now I’m ready to pass it down again as the primary answer to a question that actually deserves far more nuance and consideration in its reply.  Not least in questioning the very basis of what we consider wealth to be!  How dangerous.  That’s why I’m going through the Wheel.  To stop passing down the pain stories.  And it’s hard.  Sometimes I stagnate.  And it scares me.  The idea that I won’t make it.

“The basic idea of ancient initiations was to break down all the former notions of self that were held by the shaman-to-be”

That’s what telling the Life Story, and identifying the pain, does.  It breaks down all former notions of ‘self’ and ‘past’ as intact, absolute, inevitable.  Allowing the old self and beliefs to be broken down and die, is to allow it to be transposed into a newborn being.  Again, this is the message from the Bat in Mint St:

“Hanging upside down is a symbol for learning to transpose your former self into a newborn being”

I have to keep going.  Surrendering to the writing of the Life Story as it comes, and moving into the North of the Wheel.  This is what I learnt from giving birth too.  The more I resist what is, or try to impose my will on it,  the longer and harder the labour.  The labours for both my children were fast, easy and exhilirating because I practised surrender to the pain, the fear and the Power that was greater than ‘me’.* I joke that if I was as good at writing PhD’s as I am at giving birth I would have several by now!  And the same goes for the stuckness I get to in the Initiation practices of The Wheel.  It’s all about Resistance – letting it run things and dictate the pace.  The less resistance to what actually is, the easier the birth of whatever it is we are labouring to deliver.  Or the faster the death of whatever it is that no longer serves us.  Which is the final message from contrary Bat:

“Some people think themselves into a corner with obstacles that are illusionary.  By the time they decide what to do, the opportunities are gone and old age is upon them.  Use your mind, courage and strength to insure an easy labour and quick  delivery into your new state of understanding and growth.  Surrender to the new life you have created from thought.”

Tuning in to the natural life of the city on a hot summer’s night.  Now that’s how I like to live!

*Giving birth in this magnificent way also involved pooing on myself (both times) and making some very far out noises.   Just so there are no misconceptions about what ‘easy’ means in the context of birthing!

With thanks to the following sources:

http://the-reunion.org.uk/

http://www.medicinecards.com/

http://www.julietallardjohnson.com/wheel-of-initiation

Self-Sabotage and the Writer

So here I am in the Anthropology Department, attemoting to get these thesis revisions done in time for re-submission in April.  This work is so unwieldy and frankly out of control.  I really have no idea how any sane examiner will let it pass.  I’m in the process of getting some feedback on how I’m doing with communicating ideas and responding to the examiner’s reports, and the issue of self-sabotage has come up in a big way.

I need to send the examiner’s reports to my feedback person, and what I find is that I have deleted them from my inbox…  gone!  Of all the things I could’ve deleted, this really doesn’t make any sense.  I certainly don’t remember doing it.  But because I have, there is going to be a delay in getting the feedback I need as I have to hunt for printed copies, scan, email blah blah blah.  And I really don’t have time to waste at this stage!  In order to have any chance of passing by the skin of my teeth, this thing needs to keep moving.  A clear case of self-sabotage is at work here!  Why do we do it?

Steven Pressfield, whose book ‘The War of Art‘ I’m reading at the moment, would put it down to Resistance, that shadowy, disinterested force that prevents us from doing our real work. Self-sabotage, and especially this unconcious self-sabotage, where it’s almost like you can attribute it to some external factor over which you have no control, is a manifestation of Resistance.  And it’s resistance that comes up as a result of being afraid of success.  Yes!  Fear of actually doing well at something for the right reasons.  He puts it like this,

“We fear discovering that we are more than we think we are.  More than our parents/children/teachers think we are.  We fear that we actually possess the talent  that our still, small voice tells us.  That we actually have the guts, the perseverance, the capacity.  We fear that we truly can steer our ship, plant our flag, reach our Promised Land.  We fear this because if it’s true, then we become estranged form all we know.  We pass through a membrane.  We become monsters and monstrous.” (2002:143)

Thinking of it this way, I wonder how else Resistance is manifesting here?  In seeking feedback, and making a big old obstacle that will take most of the morning to clear, am I putting off doing the Work?  Which is carrying on with re-writing Chpater3.  Yes, this evening, once the kids are asleep, I can get those reports together and email them, and get the feedback which will help to clarify how I’m getting on.  Feedback is important; vital.  But right now, I need to accept the block, deal with it later, and not allow my act of unconcious self-sabotage keep me one minute longer from the work I want to do.  Whether the thesis passes or fails; is a success or a failure.  This is my work.  So get on with it.