Tag Archives: Writing

The Wisdom of Fear and Resistance

what-you-haven't-done

A “fortune” I got. (In an unusual six-degrees-of-separation note, the same fortune appears in Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs).

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about people’s interconnectedness and influence on one another, often in unknown ways, and also about the ways in which we do and do not align our everyday actions with our deepest goals and dreams. I think these things are intricately related, since it is so often other people, sometimes people we know only by their words, who help us find insight.

Into the category of illuminating words, I would put Simon Van Booy’s beautiful book The Illusion of Separateness, a story filled with characters who have had profound and unseen effects on one another. There have also been thought-provoking posts by people I’m connected to on creating the life you want, re-claiming your power of choice (the latter inspired by the former), and making sure you start a project by asking: How do I want to feel at the end? And then there was Nina Badzin’s post on the subject of resistance, which included her new mantra ‘do the work‘ and other takeaways from The War of Art: Break Through Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles.

I read Nina’s post not five minutes after I had finished two hours of writing what was essentially a treatise on why I once and for all had decided that writing fiction wasn’t for me. If it was, why had I spent so many years not doing it? Sure I flirted. I’ve taken creative writing classes, just recently in fact. At one point in my life, I even went so far as to get MFA applications to two very respected programs and collect the recommendations needed for each. So on the surface, there have been times when it would appear I do take my fiction writing seriously (and actually do the butt-in-the-chair work for it). But mostly I haven’t. I didn’t apply to an MFA program because, well, it’s not like it would lead to a paying job or anything. My practical side eventually wins out when I start to get those pesky artistic ideas. Plus, there are other reasons: Writing fiction is isolating, consuming, etc. etc. And quite frankly, it doesn’t make me happy. Not the way running does, going to yoga, writing on this blog, or even, doing the work and writing I get paid to do. Still, there’s this insistent, utterly nagging voice that says I need to sit down, delve deep, and make stuff up.

The problem is that the resistance to doing so, which used to be lowercase ‘r’ resistance has grown more powerful over time. If words could think, resistance would definitely think it’s been bumped up to a proper noun.

A look at resistance

In her post Nina tackled the subject of overcoming the everyday forms of resistance that so often block us, and she has found that waking early has been key. I completely relate. The time before anyone else wakes up—heck, even before I’m quite awake—has always been my most fruitful and creative time for writing. But for my recent fiction writing class, I actually worked on my stories at night, which is unusual for me, after my paid writing and editing, and still I managed to bypass the little ‘r’ resistance, largely because I had deadlines (which I love), and I could only scrap my efforts so many times before I had to just go with an idea. But my very big accomplishment—six stories in six weeks!!—was tainted with something, and it was this: I went into the class almost trying to prove to myself that I didn’t really want to write. I even wrote one story explicitly about that very subject, and it was the underlying theme of another. In other words, I was dealing with my resistance but not my Resistance.

It hit me today that without dealing with my big Resistance, nothing would be decided. The class has been over for awhile and I’ve been as conflicted as ever. I have lots of thoughts on all the ways I and others can engage in resistance (for example, procrastination) and will tackle that subject in another post, but the truth is that once I know I want to do something, I’m pretty driven about just moving forward. Also, though I am unconventional in certain ways, I love structure, rituals, and clear goals, and within those things I can really relax.

A few examples: Take on marathon training? No problem. (I’ve completed two. When I set my mind to it, I just did it.) Go through a year-long intensive yoga teacher-training program? (Happy times.) Take a singing class even though anyone would recommend I not torture others like that. (All over it.) But in all cases, I did a lot more doing and a lot less thinking about doing.

How I viewed those activities is vastly different than my idea of writing fiction. Although I absolutely love running, there’s not even the tiniest threat that I will ever be able to make it a career, much less an adequately paid one. With the yoga training, I doubted I would teach but I loved yoga, so why not delve deeper? With the voice classes, I was terrified actually, but only because I knew for sure I would embarrass myself. As predicted, I did, although there was a lot more to work with in my embarrassing vocal chords than I would’ve thought, and I got so much out of my classroom experiences.

Looking to Oprah for answers

Nina’s post really triggered something in me, and even though I had long ago heard of The War of Art and had mentally put it on my to-be-read list, suddenly and immediately I had to hear more. Someone in the comments mentioned that its author Steven Pressfield had been on Oprah so off I went to the Queen of Finding Your Calling.

My problem with the fiction thing wasn’t really an issue of procrastination or similar; it went much deeper: I just haven’t wanted to do it! Like, at all. But how can I have this little voice that tells me very clearly I need to be writing (I call it The Bully) but doesn’t also make me put my butt in the chair to do the work (or in my case, even want to). Oprah and Pressfield addressed just that question. For example, what keeps us from sitting down and writing when we say we want to be a writer, getting out there for a cycling session when we say we want to do a triathalon, or taking that chess class when we’ve said we always wanted to play (and secretly think we’d be really good at it)?

“I have a rule of thumb,” said Pressfield. “Which is that the more important an activity is to your soul’s evolution, the more resistance you will feel to it; the more fear you will feel. Like your speech at Harvard.”

Oprah, it turns out, can self-sabotage like the rest of us, and she found herself procrastinating the writing of her Harvard commencement speech. Why would this world-famous renowned speaker do such a thing? “It was the word Harvard and everything that that connotes,” she said.

In other words, writing that speech felt important. It’s a perfect example of how procrastination and other forms of resistance can be so revealing. (Of course, sometimes procrastination is simply wanting with every fiber of your being to avoid the boring task ahead of you, but that’s a post for another time.)

“Here’s my theory; this is the metaphysics of the whole thing,” said Pressfield. “The key thing about resistance is that it comes second. And what I mean by that is what happens first is the dream, and resistance is the shadow. Like this tree that we’re sitting under casts the shadow. So what comes first is the dream.”

“You can’t have the dream without the shadow?” said Oprah.

“In my experience you absolutely can’t,” said Pressfield. “Resistance to me is a force of nature.”

Quelling resistance

Writing fiction is my Harvard.

When I was a child, the works of fiction I consumed seemed to come from some heavenly plane of existence, somewhere apart from everyday life. And even though now I know plenty of people in real life and online who have published novels, I don’t know that I’ve ever quite let go of my reverence. Growing up, books gave me glimpses into things I felt but could not articulate, peeks into other ways of life I sensed existed but hadn’t yet seen evidence of, access to experiences I knew technically were make-believe but were emotionally oh-so-real. And most of all, reading gave me the ability to live so many lives and see into other people in ways that were far beyond what was possible with my one life; they made me feel connected at the most profound level. To me, the idea of one day being able to give others any of those things seemed like the highest form of creativity. The most intimate.

And by far the scariest.

“What are you more afraid of than anything else in the world?” Pressfield said during his time with Oprah, as he offered one powerful way to find one’s calling.

To take Pressfield’s tree/shadow metaphor further: To my mind if the dream is the tree, and the resistance is the naturally occurring shadow of that dream, then the energy of attending to that dream (i.e., working on it) provides bright light to the tree. The tree keeps growing, and the shadow it casts is short, just like at noon. Guess what happens, though, when your dream is pushed down and unattended in the wild dusk of your soul? The shadow—the resistance—is what continues to grow. The tree is still there, rooted even, and you probably catch faint glimpses of its outline occasionally. But, oh, the long, dark shadow it casts.

Oprah thought the idea that resistance is inextricably intertwined with having a dream (like the tree and the shadow, like yin and yang) was a comforting idea, which is funny (and just proves we’d be best buds), because I thought the same thing. It’s not as if I had never had a similar thought before, but somehow hearing Pressfield talk about the way fear and resistance are just part and parcel to the caring was like a pinprick to a balloon, and my capital R resistance immediately deflated into common noun status.

I still have all the same concerns. For example, most of the aforementioned novelists I know do not receive even close to enough financial compensation to actually live off the very consuming endeavor that is writing. (And I’ve even worked with someone whose book had been made into movie.) Still, as mentioned, nobody’s paying me for my other avocations, and I do them gladly (in fact, I pay other people to do them).

I count all this as a real “aha moment” (to put it in Oprah’s terms) along my path, and I feel like it’s a pretty big deal. And to circle back with the opening, I send gratitude to all the people who have helped me have it (many more than are even mentioned, of course)—it would not have happened otherwise.

***

What pursuits call to you but simultaneously provoke your resistance? How have you overcome fears about trying or keeping up with an important goal?

Advertisements

10 Comments

Filed under Inspiration, Writing/Books

Easing Up and Sailing Into New Waters

Safety_Goethe-quote

Push myself or ease up?

It’s a question we all must face in different areas of our life and at different points, and the answer you had yesterday isn’t necessarily the one you need now.

Ease up…

I was speaking to a friend about this the other day. My friend, let’s call her Deb, had planned to do another marathon this fall. She’s done quite a few of them, and qualified for Boston each time (which many people attempt numerous times before running 26.2 miles fast enough to BQ). Of course, Deb has a certain amount of natural talent and fast genes, but honestly, she owes most of that success to hard work and high standards. I’ve never asked Deb what her motto to life is, but if she were to tell me it’s “A job worth doing is one doing my absolute best,” I wouldn’t be surprised.

So anyway, Deb’s got too much on her plate right now, but her “fun” thing was supposed to be training for another marathon, only somehow these days, she says, running seems, ugh, just too much.

(See reference to aforementioned full plate.) “Have you ever thought of just running a marathon?” I asked. “Just to do it and not requiring that you train for such a fast time?” The difference between a training program to “just run” a marathon and to run a Boston-qualifying marathon in terms of time, physical energy, mental commitment—and well, pretty much in every way—is vast.

Deb sighed. “I’ve actually been thinking that. Or maybe even a half.” She then told me about a new friend who recently ran a marathon and is brimming with the enthusiasm of her newfound passion. This friend’s recent marathon time? “More than five hours!” Deb said. Her envy was palpable. “And it didn’t matter. She was happy just to finish it.” (Note: Shave off around two hours and you’ll be close to Deb’s finishing time.) She continued, “It’s not about the time per se, anyway, and I rarely tell people about that, and I know perfectly well that the number on the clock is something outside of you, it’s the experience of it all that you own—that’s what fills you up.”

“Hmm,” I said, “Do you hear what you’re saying? Maybe, just this once, you can relax a little and just let yourself have the experience of something without pushing yourself so hard.” I could hear the hesitancy in Deb’s voice as we continued to discuss it, because not demanding perfection from herself is definitely outside her comfort zone.

…or push yourself?

Speaking of comfort zones. As a mostly work-from-home writer and editor, barricaded behind my trusty computer, I could write a book on comfort zones. But maybe I’d like to write a book about something else. So recently, I signed up for a writing class “Six Weeks, Six Stories” at the Grub Street writing center.

Like my friend, I can also be guilty of an all-or-nothing attitude. The “I have to have this very high standard with X area, or why bother doing it at all” approach. So along those lines, I was dreading the class. It’s been a while since I’ve taken an creative writing workshop or had a writing group where I have to show my writing to other people, and when I’ve had them I was more in that mode (i.e., that was more of a comfort zone). Plus, lately I’m not even close to sure I want to write fiction (anymore). But I signed up because I felt like I needed to explore that question (and what it means for other areas) in a setting that pushed me to do so and where I couldn’t be stalled by my own perfectionistic tendencies. Well, mission accomplished already, and I’ve only had one class. Whether I write the most terrible stories in the world for this class, the necessary experience of stepping outside what’s become my comfie little bubble will spill over into many areas of my life, I suspect.

Setting sail for new waters

So last night was the first class. It began with the instructor telling us how the next few weeks would be structured. Then he told us about himself, and said, “You’ve heard of two truths and a lie?” We all nodded. It’s the “game” where you come up with two interesting things about yourself on-the-spot, and one interesting thing that sounds true, but isn’t. My stomach clenched. Not my favorite “game.”

“Well, we’re not going to do that,” he said. “This is a fiction class…”

I felt relieved for like a millisecond.

“…So after we say what we do, where we live, and what workshops we’ve had, we’ll tell just one outrageous lie and pass it off as the truth.”

I can talk with anybody one-on-one—my favorite part about journalism is talking with sources and asking them questions (I love asking questions)—but somehow put a few more people in that situation and give it a “public speaking” feel, aka, around-the-room elevator pitch, and suddenly my face flushes and my nerves began their revolt. And I haven’t been pushed to do it for a while.

“You can go next,” the instructor said, turning to me. As I was one of the people on either side of him, it shouldn’t have been that surprising, but somehow I was thinking (hoping?) I’d be last.

So that was the first five minutes. The class then continued with multiple on-the-spot writing assignments that we then had to share with a partner in all their messy, unpolished glory, and yeah, I was outside my comfort zone the whole three hours.

After the class, as I walked outside into the warm fall night, I realized I was completely wired, my nerves jangling from all that stretching they had to do. Was that comfortable? No, definitely not.

And that was a good thing.

###

Do you ever refrain from doing something because you won’t measure up to the yardstick of last class/race/year/etc. or because you don’t want to risk being bad?

###

Related links:

10 Comments

Filed under Running, Writing/Books

Jennifer Aniston’s Yoga Teacher Mandy Ingber on Yogalosophy, Self-Acceptance, and Writing

Mandy Ingber in ...

Mandy Ingber in Dancer’s Pose.

With Jennifer Aniston’s body making a feature appearance in the trailer for We Are the Millers and summer clothing now officially on our minds, the publication of Yogalosophy: 28 Days to the Ultimate Mind-Body Makeover by Aniston’s yoga teacher and trainer Mandy Ingber, is well-timed. Yet this new wellness book by the celebrity trainer—who also works with the likes of Kate Beckinsale, Brooke Shields, and others—targets much more than simply looking good in a bikini.

Ingber approaches wellness from a holistic mindset and posits that health should start from a place of deep self-acceptance. To that end, Yogalosophy is structured as a day-by-day journey into mind-body health and features yoga poses, exercises, recipes, tips on creating a healthy mindset, breathing exercises, and tips on meditation.

In this special Where Books+Body Meet, Ingber discusses her approach to wellness—and to writing her first book.

On writing and short-term goals

Books+Body: What made you decide that now was the right time to write a book?
Mandy Ingber: I’ve always been a reader—and a closet writer. Over the years, my story and my motivations would drive my classes. When I first began teaching spinning in 1996, my students insisted that I write a book. Of course, I had fantasized about it, but did not know how it would crystallize. As the teacher, I feel it’s my responsibility to keep expanding myself. Not only in my field, but to expand beyond the boundaries that I have placed upon myself. That’s my spiritual work, in a way. A book was very aspirational, but attainable.

Short-term goals—you talk about them as important to health and fitness. Why are they important and how did you apply them to your writing?
Short-term goals allow us to feel we are doing well. I feel that when I accomplish what I set out to do, that makes me feel like a winner. Oftentimes, when people set a very lofty goal, it is difficult to measure exactly where you are along the way, but with short-term, manageable goals, we can mark them off.

I very much applied this principle to writing Yogalosophy. I set aside two hours each day to write. I had the outline, so I could use the template of the 28 days, and knew the basic structure of the book. I had a deadline, per my publishers, Seal Press. I then focused on the two hours per day. If I skipped a day, I simply started fresh the next day with two hours. If I had extra steam, I would still stop after two hours. At the end of four months, I had a manuscript. That’s pretty much a one-day-at-a-time process. The book then had the photographs. Then the layout and visual components. The structure. Each of these parts was its own little milestone.

What was the process of writing like for you?
I was very stream of consciousness. I did not try to be a yoga encyclopedia. There is plenty of great stuff out there. Iyengar’s Light On Yoga (the yoga bible), and many more. My book is an expression of my own journey. The yoga of self-love and self-care. That’s what I wanted to share with the world. Part of my personal experience is having been incredibly tortured about my body image, perfectionism and the yo-yoing that happens during a punishment/reward cycle of strict living and complete abandon. I have spent many years refining my own mental state about my body. So, it was not difficult. It’s a little challenging to trust that my journey is relevant to others whom I have never met; however, I learned long ago, as a teacher, that the students who were attracted to the class needed what I was offering. So I will assume the same here.

On yoga, fitness, and balance

You wrote Yogalosophy in part to bridge a gap between yoga and fitness. Can you talk a bit about what that gap is and also why it might need a bridge?
I get so much interest from people who want to bring yoga into their life for health purposes, to improve performance, to lower stress levels, and to get limber. Many of them find yoga intimidating, boring, or feel that they’ve somehow missed the boat. Or that yoga can seem lofty and exclusive. Or that yoga can seem slow. Having grown up in a home where yoga was practiced as a staple, alongside cycling, dance, cardio…etcetera, I understand what it can be like to feel like the odd man out. My dad made yoga look downright intimidating.

Many people want to explore the physical practice without the asana (or postures), while others want only the meditative aspects. My book brings together multiple modalities, because it’s completely irrelevant which one you connect with. You may bring the yogic mentality of mindfulness, intention-setting, self-observation, and wholeness into any fitness regime.

As a person who runs and who does yoga, I love both but do find their energy to be quite different and sometimes (for example) find it difficult to not bring inappropriate (and injury-producing) striving to yoga. Or conversely, I get into more of a yoga mode and feel like I’m more about just letting go, and then running seems hard (too “effortful”). For others like myself, any thoughts on how to balance those two sides?
I feel that within everything is the dance of polarities. Without the softening into, we would not have the emptiness required to excel; without the drive, we would not accomplish. We each have a balance from within. Yoga is such a great modality, because it is strength-building and energizing if needed, and calming if needed. My two main modalities are spinning and yoga. I learned more about yoga from my spinning than elsewhere. Finding the stillness in the center of all that movement. That’s a true stillness at the core. In order for the yoga practice to have clean lines, the energy must be dynamic, opposing forces creating active lines of energy. Both/and.

On a specific note, what are a couple tips you recommend to help protect your lower back and knees—two places that can be particularly vulnerable—during yoga?
Each person is unique. So, the best teacher is experience. If your knee joints are bothering you, that is not a pain to push through. Sometimes Reclining Pigeon can be helpful by stretching out the IT band. Sometimes a lesser bend in that knee for a Crescent or Warrior Pose. Regarding the lower back, many times when the lower back is in pain, it’s because the front of the body needs a stretch. A simple lunge may do. If all else fails, massage. And if that doesn’t work…physical therapy. Do not give up on your search to feel comfortable and good in your body.

On self-acceptance

One principle you support in Yogalosophy is to love your body now—as is. Why is accepting yourself as is so important?
I always do better when I get positive reinforcement. When I know I am doing well, I do better! I say, with this one, why don’t you try it as an experiment. Try speaking only lovingly and nicely about your body. The only power we have over anything is the power we have over our own actions and attitudes. This muscle must be strengthened as much as any.

Acceptance is the key to all of my problems, as when I do that, my world of choices opens up. As for being motivated, have you ever had a lover who didn’t appreciate you? This body of yours is the love of your life. If you start treating it that way, it will lovingly respond. If you need punishment and threats to keep you motivated, what is going to happen when you start doing really well and being accomplished? I want to live an enriched and exciting life that comes from joy. Anyone with me?

You also talk about moving towards health “from a place of love.” How would you describe that?
Total acceptance of self and others as is. When I am coming from a conscious place of love, I choose better foods, I am happier, and I feel awesomeness.

You work with a lot of celebrities and on the whole I would expect that they have a lot more time to devote to working out. I thought it was interesting you actually mentioned time as a constraint for at least some celebrities (one was Kate Beckinsale). So with that in mind, the average non-celebrity woman is definitely hard-pressed to find time to work out: How should she prioritize that precious hour—or less?
Make this a date. Put it in your calendar. Have a dedicated workspace or class. There are plenty of online groups where you can get support as well. This is also your time to develop a relationship with you. You are the priority. A great way to work it in as well is to make a workout date with a friend and have a meet up there. Lastly, think of it like brushing your teeth and washing your face. Would you start your day without cleaning yourself that way?

You end up close to the people you train. How important is friendship to health and why might pairing up for workouts be good?
We can’t do it alone. We all need support. It’s one of the greatest pleasures, treasures and gifts of being a human. Having someone hear you, witnessing others go through and intense process and coming out the other side. These are absolute miracles. Working out really can be very deep and very fun. Putting your head in the right space is a must.

On books

What are your favorite or most influential books—yoga or otherwise?

  • Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman
  • Seth Speaks by Jane Roberts
  • The poetry of Dylan Thomas
  • The Castle of the Pearl (a workbook) by Christopher Biffle
  • Astrology for the Soul by Jan Spiller
  • Strangers Among Us by Ruth Montgomery
  • Earth-A Living Library by Barbara Marciniak
  • Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymous Bosch by Henry Miller
  • Sexus/Nexus/Plexus by Henry Miller
  • The Diary of Anaïs Nin
  • Mastery of Love by Don Miguel Ruiz
  • The Brothers Karamozov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You by Dorothy Bryant
  • The Story of B by Daniel Quinn

…so many books….

***

YOGALOS-CoverFinalMandy Ingber will be promoting her book in California, New York City, Chicago, and a handful of other places. Check the Events section on her website to see she’ll be coming to your area. Yogalosophy: 28-days to the Ultimate Mind-Body Makeover is available online at her website and elsewhere. You can also find her wellness blog on People.com and for E! and on Twitter at @msmandyingber or Facebook Mandy Ingber’s Yogalosophy.

Related

12 Comments

Filed under Health/Wellness, Inspiration, Writing/Books, Yoga