”Because when we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen. A process is set into motion by which, inevitably and infallibly, heaven comes to our aid. Unforeseen forces enlist in our cause; serendipity reinforces our purpose.” - Steven Pressfield
My immediate family went on vacation this past summer to the beaches of North Carolina. Seventeen people shared one house — my parents, four older brothers, sisters-in-law, nieces, and nephews. And twin toddlers who survived 12 hours in a car, were out of their routine, and took advantage of round-the-clock access to sugar.
I took my opportunities to get away. The beach house had an outdoor shower, and since I can shower indoors any time, I showered outside every night. After my shower, I’d walk out near the ocean to listen to the waves and look up at a blanket of stars. It was the most peaceful experience of my life.
Despite 12 years of Catholic schooling, I’m not particularly religious. But I believe something out there connects us, whether it’s God, some other lowercase-g god, the Universe, Energy, or simply sharing DNA with thousands of years of humanity. The feeling you get when listening to the ocean waves and looking at a sky full of stars proves there’s Something Bigger.
And Steven Pressfield leans heavily on the spiritual-but-not-religious in beating Resistance. Books one and two of The War of Art (which I discuss here) define Resistance and differentiate between amateurs and pros, respectively.
Book three is the most powerful part and the hardest to write about. It dives into how a pro can get the muses and angels on her side to defeat Resistance.
Resistance harms us. Muses and angels help us... if we earn it.
The Higher Sphere
The poet William Blake believed there is a higher sphere of being where all great art already exists. The muses communicate with us mortals to see who is capable of bringing this art from the higher sphere into our world. A muse may have whispered “Call me Ishmael” into a million other ears, but Moby Dick didn’t exist until Herman Melville heard it. (As an aside: I love that this idea is similar to Stephen King’s notion that a story is a fossil, and a writer’s job is to extract the fossil as intact as possible, which I discuss here.)
We cannot pierce the barrier between the higher sphere and our world until we commit and get started.
Although Pressfield discusses the higher sphere from the perspective of creating, it applies to other domains in life. Parenting, friendships, that report at work we don’t want to write. There is an elevated and closer-to-ideal version that already exists, and it’s our job to put the work in to bring that version into our world.
The Ego versus The Self
Pressfield relays Carl Jung’s belief in two parts of our identity — the Ego and the Self. The Ego is what we consider “I”. It runs our daily lives. It’s concerned with what we wear, what we eat, our jobs, our friends, our to-do list, our daily schedule.
Jung believed the Self is where the soul resides. It’s where we feel our dreams and intuitions, and it incorporates humanity’s collective unconscious. When we have a health scare or come close to losing a loved one — when we re-evaluate What Really Matters — we view the world through the Self.
Pressfield believes Resistance lives in the Ego. Angels and muses live in the Self. And the two are in constant struggle. The Ego likes the status quo, doesn’t like a challenge, and wants us to be comfortable. The Self knows that comfort doesn’t help us grow, and growth doesn’t happen without failure. All great works of creativity, all social progress, all significant accomplishments of history came about because of expressions of the Self.
Many of us know deep down that we want to do something different — a project, new hobby, new career — that would push us. It would force us out of our comfort zone. The thought is both exciting and scary, and it may make others question what we’re thinking.
THAT is the Self challenging the Ego, and if we want the muses on our side, we need to run into the fight.
Viewing the world through hierarchies is inborn in us. Companies, schools, governments, sports teams, families, and schoolyards are all hierarchical. Phrases like “the top dog” and “the bottom of the totem pole” show how pervasive hierarchical thinking is. Once you notice it, you see it everywhere. It leads the writer to write what the audience wants rather than what she wants to write, the politician to poll voters before taking a stand on an issue, and the songwriter to make a song that sounds like everything else on the radio.
With a territorial orientation, however, we do the thing for the sake of doing the thing. The writer writes the story she wants to tell, the politician takes an ethical stand on an issue, and the songwriter creates something unique. The creator realizes she is not responsible for her creation. It didn’t come from her — it came through her from the angels and muses. She is the vehicle through which we get to see a sliver of the higher sphere.
We often seek external validation. We tend to seek the validation of others rather than look inside for what we want. We seek spouses that our parents will like or friends will find attractive. We seek jobs for the status, title, and paycheck. We drive the new car and buy the new iPhone even though our old ones work just fine.
All of these are attempts to improve our place in the hierarchy, which is why we’re never satisfied. There’s always new status to pursue and new things to buy. Until we think territorially, until we do what satisfies our souls, we will not be able to access the higher sphere.
While Pressfield doesn’t discuss Stoicism or Marcus Aurelius, their perspectives converge. In Meditations, Marcus Aurelius writes:
At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”
We are here to do the doing, and in doing so, we please the angels and muses who reward our efforts.
The concepts of the muses and angels, the Something Bigger, Self versus Ego, and a territorial orientation are powerful in the fight against Resistance. Whether we’re writing, painting, building a business, or looking to be a better spouse or parent, it’s empowering to realize that our work may already exist in a higher sphere. That thing we’re after may already be there.
Our job is to put our heads down, get to work, and usher it from the higher sphere into our world. As Pressfield believes, heaven will come to our aid.