Buddhism and the Internal Creative Battle

Have you wanted to be a creative person? Have you found to your surprise that you are resistant to beginning your work? Have you faced your computer or your easel and drawn a blank, not knowing what to put on the page or the paper? Have you found yourself avoiding working? You are not alone. This happens to all creative people.


Why do we have such powerful resistance?

A creative project is an expression of our Self, our Buddha Nature.  As Steven Pressfield says in The War of Art, When something is important for our spiritual growth, we will find resistance to doing it.

Resistance is the fundamental darkness in our lives. This is the inability to see the true nature of our own lives, that we have an enlightened Buddha Nature, that we can create anything. That illusion, which is very difficult to surmount, hides the truth that we have that universal mind within us. Resistance is determined and persistent. Fighting the daily battle with resistance is something that will always be with us. We must learn to face it and do the work anyway.

How Does Resistance Feel?

When you avoid doing your work, you probably feel restless and guilty. You know you are letting yourself down. Guilt, when experienced repeatedly, leads to a negative self-image. We begin to define ourselves as what we are not doing, rather than what we are doing. This leads to a vicious cycle where one feeds the other. Resistance is working. The work is on hold.

Ways Resistance Shows Up – Self Sabotage

  • Procrastination – I have to handle xyz first, then I’ll sit down and work.
  • Rationalization – I can’t work when I have all these responsibilities. There wi’ll be time tomorrow, or when the kids go to school, or when I retire, when I have the time. Anytime but now.
  • Addictions: Alcohol, drugs, shopping, sex, food, housework, obsessive behaviors

Why Do We Resist in these Ways?

If you’re a real innovator, you’re probably scared to death. Do you have anything to say? Are you being presumptuous? Will others will see you for the fraud you secretly believe you are? Are you good enough to present this subject you love the most?

We feel as though we are revealing ourselves, and it is dangerous and terrifying. We are revealing ourselves. Creative work plugs into the deepest part of ourselves, where we are dealing with personal dilemmas, life questions, or conflicts. We’ll have to come to terms with personal revelation and what people will think as they read the book or look at the picture.

Maybe we want very much to communicate something we’ve learned. We feel we are jumping off a cliff.

Sometimes it is easier to just blot out those uncomfortable feelings by distracting ourselves through time wasting pastimes. Or, in the case of drugs, alcohol and food, blotting out those feelings entirely.

Sabotage by Others

Sometimes when you sit down to do the work, your significant other might make negative comments. “You’re being selfish; you’ve changed. I want you to spend more time with me. You aren’t contributing to the household.”

What if other people bring up things they want you to do? Are you compelled by their needs and wants? Will they cause you to give up the work for that day? The net result of all these comments and requests, they keep you from your work.

A working artist doesn’t have the time to immerse themselves in relationship dramas. These are a very effective way of procrastinating.

How Can Buddhism Help?

Chant First

Chanting is a very effective way to deal with fear. As you chant you will feel your internal feelings rise out of those negative, fearful levels so you can sit and work. You will probably have to chant longer, until you feel courageous.

Then Act

  • Sit down and do the thing you fear the most. Do it first. After that, the rest of the day is easy and light. As long as you resist taking the action your fear flourishes and takes over the day.
  • Look at what is important. Ask yourself. What is my highest priority? Then do it first.
  • Set limits with other people. Your focus must always be your work. Everything else can be fitted around it. If your friends cannot respect this, they are not really your friends.
  • Cultivate an attitude of detachment. You know the fear well and have stepped through it many times. Feel the fear and do it anyway.
  • Don’t let your work overwhelm you. The work will never be completed in the time frame you want. It always takes longer than you expect. But it will get accomplished, one step at a time.

Turn Poison into Medicine

Remember, when you chant you can take any negative thing and turn it into something of value. Take those feelings of isolation, self-doubt, despair, humiliation and deadlock and chant about them. When you do this, you will discover courage and confidence welling up. If deadlocked, the way around the obstacle will appear. If you give in to those feelings and stop, you have lost the battle. When you learn to overcome them you will have taken another step in your personal growth and will be a stronger person.

The Rewards

  • Living the creative life commits you to an internal battle to overcome your weaknesses. The rewards are great. Your pleasure and pride in your creative project
  • The thrill of those creative moments
  • Great feelings about yourself. You have conquered your demons.
  • The respect of other people
  • A sense of identity as a creative person.
  • The pleasure of inspiring others

So take up your project and the internal battles that will come with it. Use your Buddhist practice as your ally.

Join the Conversation

Does this sound familiar to you? How do you keep working?