Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Resisting What We Want

I’m not writing. Well, clearly I am writing- but I’m not doing the writing I want to do. I’m not writing the novel I want to write, the novel that may or may not be half written (depending on whether or not the pile of pages I set down two years ago is still the story that wants to be told.) I’m feeling well physically, my year-end financial books are done, the filing cabinets have been cleaned out, and the website’s been revamped. I’ve had my dental check up and teeth cleaning, my bills have been paid and the oil in my car has been change.

And still, I am not doing the writing I want to do. I write my dreams, I write the blogs, I write in my journal and I post on FB. I answer emails, send out correspondence, write lists and post-it note reminders. But I am not writing fiction. So, what’s the problem?

I’m not sure, but when I’m not worried about it, I am curious. Procrastination has rarely been my problem. More often, when in doubt I take action, and only in hindsight can I see that at least some of the time it might have been wise to pause, to wait, to take my time before acting. This isn’t procrastination, a putting off of something unpleasant, or a pause. It’s resistance to something I want to do. It’s a feeling of inner conflict, of having one foot on the brake and one on the gas. Of course, that can’t go on forever without burning out either the engine or the brakes or both.

This of course is not an uncommon problem. A talented artist I know tells me every time I see him how he must get back to his painting, but clearly he is finding it hard to do so. A friend who can do what seems impossible to me (compose music) finds it hard to get her work into a form she can share with the world- something she knows is important to her if her music is going to develop.

Sometimes we don’t act because the timing is off, we lack the necessary energy or clarity. But sometimes, we just need to acknowledge the resistance and keep walking into the thing that calls our name. Resistance is the ego sensing danger. Engaging in creative work involves taking new risks, entering uncharted territory that mayl change us in unpredictable ways. Change threatens our carefully crafted identity and strategies for preserving the ego’s illusion of control. So, with an inner ear unavoidably hearing the anxiety ("what if it’s awful, what if you fail, why not stick to what you know, what about paying the bills. . . . ?) I put one foot, or in this case one finger, in front of the other and begin.

She blinked and turned away from the computer screen, suddenly drawn to the cloudless blue sky visible through the high windows. For a moment she sat still, and something inside her shifted. Without really knowing it, she had crossed a line.

There was no hesitation in her movement, nor was there any hurry. Even before she had moved forward it was already too late to turn back. She opened the bottom right hand drawer of her desk and took out her brown leather purse. She pushed back her chair and stood up, turning away from her desk. Later, no one could remember seeing her leave. It was all done so quietly, which in itself was unusual. She was not known for being particularly quiet. Anyone who may have looked up from their work station as she passed would have thought she was simply on her way to the restroom. If they’d noticed the absence of her usual greeting or offhand remark they would have simply assumed that she was, as they were, in the midst of a busy work day, preoccupied with impending deadlines. They could not have guessed that she was moving away from deadlines, leaving them dangling with a breath-taking and uncharacteristic lack of concern for consequences or explanations.

Later, when her co-workers passed her desk on their way home, they assumed she was elsewhere in the building. Her computer was on, the screen saver hurtling stars from infinite space toward the viewer. A pad of paper on the desk was covered with a list of tasks to be finished by the end of the day. The pen that had been used to write the list, an elegant old-fashioned fountain pen- a gift from a friend the previous Christmas- lay uncapped across the words written in indigo ink. Her sweater, a practical acrylic-wool blend in dark grey kept on hand to ward off the chill when the building’s air conditioning got over-enthused, hung on the back of her chair. A half cup of cold earl grey tea in a pale blue china cup sat next to her phone.

And it was all there the next morning- the pen, the pad, the cup of tea, and the sweater on the chair. When one of her co-workers clicked the mouse resting next to her keyboard, hoping for clues as to where she was, the movement through star-studded space gave way to a flashing cursor waiting in the middle of an unfinished word. What had, the night before, held the sense of an expected return now looked abandoned. It made others uneasy even as they asked each other, trying to sound casually curious, if anyone knew where she was.


  1. Procrastination seems pervasive right now - I'm hearing many speak of their struggles with it. While sometimes it could be the Ego resisting danger - I think it may also sometimes be the Self resisting stagnation, like the fascinating cloud see-er I'd love to know more about. Amazing how connected to her I feel even though her Absence was a larger character than she was in this excerpt. I wonder if others felt this too?

  2. This is me too..I can blog, but when it comes too what I have been working on, and want to finish..the computer curser blinks..awaiting the words to be typed..and nothing happens..and the cusrser laughs and taunts me. Then.. if I am inspired..it wants to be at 2 am..my muses are not nice sometimes :)

  3. More of the story, please! :)

  4. I just wanted to thank you for coming into my life 3 years ago. Your writing helped me gain clarity during a very difficult time in my life. I am very happy to have discovered your blog- it is truly a gift each week!

  5. I wonder if sometimes it might not be about resisting what you want as much as accepting what is needed of you.
    For example, we found a dog on Saturday and have exhausted all efforts to find her family or have a rescue take her. She is not a desirable dog because she is old and a pit bull - very unadoptable! Our humane society would have put her down almost immediately. Early on we decided we were going to make the decisions our consciences could live with no matter how difficult or inconvenient they may be. We have 3 of our own and quite frankly do not have the time, money or energy to add another living being to our pack. Clearly I would rather have that time to read, write or create but just as clearly I feel like I have been asked to be responsible for this lost soul. This is not resistence to what I want but acceptance of what is needed.

    I see you as a messenger, Oriah. A very special being who is able to receive and share life-changing insight with others. Perhaps the list of what you "are doing" is simply what needs to be done for now.

  6. Dear Oriah, Well then... i too have been procrastinating. I have wanted to ask you 2 things for weeks now. First, may I put a link to your blog on my blog? And secondly, would you share your agents email address with me so that I can send a query letter to them about my manuscript that I want to have published? My email address is laurelhollandh@gmail.com. My blog address is laurelhh.wordpress.com. I hope you you will look at my blog and consider these questions.
    Regardless of those questions, I was so excited to read what you wrote... part of your novel? I love it and am hoping you will continue. It totally hooked me! Laurel

  7. phew. thank God for your post. haven't even read it yet. just happy there is one. will read just now.

  8. Dear Oriah,
    Ok...now that I have had a chance to actually read this....
    1) yes, must just write it out.

    2) you are...how shall i put this...um, i like the 'difference' of the weight of your words in your 'fiction' as compared to your other writings (including previous posts). i don't know. i just like how the voice is different. Not most of us can easily pull that off. For example, a challenge in my personal writing is that I don't want my personal voice to seep into another character's, especially if the topic is close to my heart.

    3)i like this image--i got stuck here (in a good way)--"Her computer was on, the screen saver hurtling stars from infinite space toward the viewer." That is such a lonely image to me, always has been, especially in an office setting. And your describing this really nails the rest of the scene for me.

    4) of course we are on the same frequency as I have mentioned previously. I just shared this with my list yesterday. When you have a chance: http://annieqsyed.com/2010/01/the-end/
    It is about 'endings' and why we can't finish a story sometimes--oral or written.

    So inspired and so grateful.

  9. sorry for multiple posts Oriah et. al.
    kind of all over the place this evening.
    just wanted to say thank you to robin--your response really resonated with me.

  10. I just found your blog through J.Ruth Kelly's blog, a person whose writing is dear to me. I am SO thankful I came upon you, because I don't think I've read a more resonant post, to me, in a very long time. The woman in your story, who abandoned her post, was me a year ago. I can't wait to read more. Thank you. - Kristy


  11. Oriah, I found your blog because of the singing bird. I, too, have been procrastinating but with regard to blogging. My son-in-law set me up two years ago. Why I continue to resist I cannot tell you or me. At any rate, thanks for sharing. Pattie

  12. Pattie - and everyone else- the thing I find interesting is how, each time I hear about someone else procrastinating I want to shout (in an encouraging way of course) JUST DO IT! - even though I know this is NOT helpful when we feel stuck. One thing I have done that has sometimes worked is to break the process down into tiny steps and then, one at a time, say- what's next- and do that step and then proceed to the next step. Sometimes it works! And sometimes it doesn't.

  13. I've had some very good things come into my life as a direct result of procrastination. I'm not saying it's always a good thing, but with the right perspective, it can be liberating. Some of my very best ideas, some of the work of which I am now most proud, came to me while I was actively procrastinating, putting off writing something else, something I wasn't nearly as passionate about. Sometimes, procrastination is simply a step back, a deep breath, a re-set.

    Just a thought.

  14. Bejewell, not to quibble here but I was not writing about procrastination, but resistance, and in my experience there is a difference. I don't often procrastinate but when I do, I too have had some good come of it (probably in part because I am an over-doer.) But what I was experiencing when I wrote the piece was internal conflict- a sense of both really wanting to write the fiction and of stopping myself. Happily since I have written the piece the flow has opened- perhaps, in part because I so explicitly acknowledged the inner conflict.

  15. I understand the inner conflict- I have a deep desire to have a horse facility where I get up each day and spend time caring for the horses and then facilitate these wonderful creatures sharing their magic and teaching with people who want and need this. But I too want to have a secure job where I know I have money coming in to feed the horses I have and care for my husband and I. So I am not doing things to get this dream I am stuck unsure if I would truly be happy if I succeeded. I feel a pasion that brings me almost to tears when I think about what horses have done for me and my personal growth and what I know they can do for others who really need it and when I think of being able to be a part in allowing this to happen for people .I really want to facilitate this somehow but fear and doubt that I can keep me from doing things to try to make it happen.

  16. As I have been reading the comments this week regarding Resisting What We Want I find it interesting that each of us seem to focus on one word or the other. Perhaps it is because we each always bring ourselves to everything we read, everything we do.
    I focused on the word "wanting" and not "procratinating", when Oriah was focusing on "resisting".
    I have found that circumstances have led me to lose some of my desire to want to participant in many things. Some of this has been as Robin said, I had to turn my attention to what needed to be done.
    I suppose what is important is that we are each moved to engage in something creative and sometimes we do resist any new endeavor because of uncertainty in the outcome.
    As I sit with my own confusion about what that endeavor may be, I am certain of one thing, each of us must find a way to begin and continue what is our passion, our calling, and focus on that process, however slowly we may go, and it is the process that can be rewarding, as much as reaching the goal.
    As the new year has begun may we each find a way to do this. My gratitude to all of you for your participation in this blog. I have very little contact with others due to the circumstances I am in and your comments mean so much to me.
    And thank you Oriah for your committment to this project. It is truly a blessing.

  17. thank u ~ the timing of your post and me finding it is amazing. Today i was struggling with the same problem - i need to send a sculpture to a gallery in chicago and i am really excited about it but could not get it done today!!! there is a time line here - it needs to be ther Fri!! And i was trying to figure out why i was 'procastinating'. thank you for your thoughts & insights!!! peace

  18. I remember attending a book talk by Edie White, author of "Wogenopi: A Child's Inner Fire (http://wogenopi.com/), in which the person introducing her - whose name, unfortunately, I cannot remember - spoke of three essential elements to achieving what you want:

    1. Figuring out what you want
    2. Accepting that you want it
    3. Going for it

    I have found that step 2 is an important, and often overlooked, part of achieving what I want (not that #1 or #3 are cake walks). While there are times I don't know what I want, or am unwilling to do what it takes to achieve it, there are also times I'm just not willing to admit - to myself or to others - what I really want.

    As for procrastination, I highly recommend this highly enlightening - and lightening - treatise on "structured procrastination": http://www.structuredprocrastination.com/

    And, FWIW, I enjoyed the short work of fiction you ended with ... and if that's what you want to do, I hope you will accept that (and do it) :)

  19. Joe- ah, step two is very helpful! Thank you. And yes, I have accepted that this is the novel I want to write and have been working on it since I posted this blog last week. Such relief!

  20. In just a few words you have eluded to what I have experienced as "crossed a line" (and even described my similar experience). There is a line, I have discovered, between the world we created and the world that is. I had found this world that is, moved back into the illusional one of computers, deadlines, and meaningless actions, and am now using every ounce of my intention to live in the world that is... again. Blessings to you as being a reminder to stay on that path.

  21. I not only am not motivated to work on my book right now but I don't even want to post on my blog. It's not that I don't want to write - it's that I don't want to 'work'. I don't care about my 'on-line presence'. I want to be better present with myself. It all shifts and changes and we learn to ride the waves without harshly judging ourselves and each other. Let's have faith that this too shall pass and that we will eventually complete and publish our fabulous books!

  22. @ Brenda..."As I sit with my own confusion..., I am certain of one thing, each of us must find a way to begin and continue what is our passion, our calling, and focus on that process, however slowly we may go, and it is the process that can be rewarding, as much as reaching the goal".

    Oh how much that resonates with me...Knowing my passion, hearing my calling, staying focused , enduring interruptions or just flowing effortlessly but through it all, just regognizing that every moment is part of the recipe for something really great that I am merely a part of in the much bigger scheme of things. This process thing is about...Letting Go and being ok with that, to feel what is like to ride the wave not knowing where it will take us but to be resolved that the desire to know will bring us all home to our center to re-connect. Thank-you Oriah for helping us toward that re-connection by questioning.

    We all have to just get up and walk out sometimes to be reminded what it is all about...but we will be back when it is refreshed in our minds and hearts why we are here or someone else will pick up where we left off...we all are connected like that:-)

  23. Hello Oriah I am so glad to feel you happy and doing yet another part of what you love. (At least it feels this way from here .. smile)
    There is a legend about the eagle .. which flies away to a mountain top .. in isolation .. snaps it's beak off.. (ouch) and claws, plucks out it's feathers.. for months it survives relying mostly on others to feed it to live. Afterwords the feathers grown back larger, healthier, and then taking it's place in the sky it soars to great heights unencumbered by big and small.. Be well and Many Blessings Oriah .. Marsha/Heart

  24. Oriah;
    Thank you for being here.....I love your writing. I love the new book excerpt!

    I thought I would share an observation I have on your writers block.....
    In the past...and now with blogs,FB...you write from your heart/your truth. Your expression to the world has been what is real. In writing fiction..you are creating from your imagination, and some part of you is in conflict, as not sure how to proceed. One of the hallmark signs of conflict is resistance.....at the crossroad of any conflict we decide to move forward regardless of our discomfort or fall back. We all are waiting for more story!
    This is a call from all of us to go for the gold...write from your imagination...it is okay to do that...it is not selling yourself out...it is embracing ALL parts of your creative self...kind of like when we were children and loved to play dress up..we could pretend and some how that released some old fears about what our truth should be...We try to stay in our truth or what we think that truth should be..but often fail to embrace all parts of ourselves.

    Just dress up for a while....it does not betray who Oriah is "suppose to be" Even change your clothes to change your non-fiction face, room, etc. Change your music when you write this story to help move out of "Oriah Mountain Dreamer ....to even a Ghost writer....it is okay to embrace it all! Love it all...LynnC

  25. I'm new to this blog--and very grateful it found me! (Thank you, Oriah, for your newsletters.)
    I agree with Robin. I'm an artist and an exciting drawing of a friend's three running horses (huge, detailed, coming to live ever so slowly in colored pencil) that I'm doing in exchange for riding lessons has been on my drawing board for over a year. I pick at it from time-to-time, always in heaven in that upstairs room overlooking the pastures, and always aware of my inner clock calling me downstairs "to do". Many animals to care for--most rescues--demand my attention. And I give it gladly--most of the time. But sometimes, lost in a drawing, knowing this is the only place I want to be now, and later, the call to go downstairs again is too abrupt, too painful....and so I hesitate before I climb the stairs again. (Will there ever be "all the time in the world", or do I just need to make it happen--clear the path?)

  26. I read this and I keep thinking of Marianne Williamson's quote...
    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
    if you break life down to love and fear, then resisting what we want is from fear i would think... and therefore perhaps not thinking we DESERVE to have what we want... oh how our childhood stamps our souls....
    J Rose

  27. Thank you Oriah.. you have inspired me to pick up my journal & pen and begin writing again. I have also finally got back into posting on my own blog.

    may we all join forcing in resisting the resistance!!