Wilderness = Resistance
What are we running from when we find ourselves in the Wilderness?
We’re running from ourselves.
What’s really going on in any Wilderness Passage is that, at the level of the soul, some primal change has initiated itself. Our true identity/calling/vocation/gift has begun to stir within us.
This immediately evokes Resistance.
The more profound the change stirring inside us, the more monumental (and the more diabolical) will be the Resistance we feel.
Resistance’s sole intent is to STOP that positive evolution.
Resistance will try to blow up that evolution. It will distract, undermine, incite terror, passivity, confusion. When such measures fail, Resistance will seek to make us “act out” in the sense that psychologists use this term, i.e. to self-destruct by taking some extravagant material action—infidelity, drug or alcohol drama, quitting a job, even getting ourselves arrested and thrown in jail.
In my case, when I was driving trucks, working in the oilfields, serving as an attendant in a mental hospital, etc., what was really happening was I was running away from writing. What was really happening was my own Resistance was kicking my ass.
At the time, of course, I had no idea there even was such a thing as Resistance. I was at the mercy of my own compulsion to self-sabotage.
In the story of Jonah in the Bible, God commands Jonah to travel to Nineveh, a city of wickedness, and there preach against that evil. But Jonah is afraid. He doesn’t want to go. So he catches a ship bound in the opposite direction, to Tarshish.
We all know how that worked out.
Jonah carries such bad juju from his decision to flee from heaven’s call that this force conjures a great storm. The ship he’s on is soon at the point of foundering. In desperation, the sailors chuck Jonah overboard (which immediately calms the storm), whereupon Jonah, bobbing around in the ocean, gets swallowed by a whale. Jonah spends three days in the whale’s belly, calling out to God to forgive him and save him. Sure enough, the whale coughs Jonah up onto dry land, ready to carry on.
God’s word is our soul calling to us to its true identity. Resistance is the fear that makes us flee this call. The wilderness is our time in the belly of the whale.
In other words, the purpose of our sojourn in the wilderness is to scare the crap out of us and make us face the fear that up till then had been kicking our butt.
The Jonah who is vomited up by the whale is not the same Jonah who originally fled from his calling. He has been chastened by his ordeal. The problem, Jonah realizes, is not the assignment from heaven. It’s not the obstacles he must face if he accepts his mission.
The problem is our own fear, i.e. Resistance … our own tendency to self-doubt, self-sabotage, self-destruction. Before we can do anything—anything at all—we must become aware of this reality and formulate some kind of program or plan to face it and overcome it.
My new memoir, Govt Cheese (pub date 12/30, available for pre-order now), is about my time in the belly of the whale. The beats of my story might not match those of yours, but they will for sure parallel them metaphorically. Why? Because the Jonah Story is universal. Male or female, rich or poor, young or old, we’re all at some point going to catch that ship for Tarshish … and we’re all going to wind up you-know-where.
Beautifully put, Steve.
A simple email post hit right at my heart as I was reading this.
All I can say is Steven Pressfield… I greatly appreciate your writing!
Good stuff Steve. You’re the only one who I don’t mind getting weekly newsletter mainly because I can see you are putting in the work along with other things you’re juggling. Quite inspiring to be honest. As a therapist myself, would you be interested looking into narrative therapy around how it works and the transferable knowledge it has with your work. They name and externalise the problem (resistance) and looks to retell the clients problem stories in a more preferred way.
Quite random I know. Anyway. Good work Steven
Another in a fascinating series, and I can’t wait to read ‘Govt Cheese’.
It seems to me that these periods in the wilderness are multiple and even fractal. I experience these lasting days, months, and years. I even wonder if I’m in an ongoing one right now that began at age 21 after college. Perhaps that is just a kind of background level of Wilderness/Resistance?
I’m probably pre-empting Steve here, but it occurs to me that there’s only a few ways a period of Wilderness can end. I’d welcome other’s thoughts, but it seems to me that obviously it can end by breaking through to a realisation that results in growth, as for Jonah. It can end with a capitulation where you essentially give in to Resistance and continue failing to self-actualize. Or surely it can continue, without a resolution, as living a half-life, a sort of zombie existence? And, depressingly, isn’t that often our usual state, where we know we should be doing more in accord with our true selves, but can’t put our butts in the seat.
What does everybody else think? I hope that Steve will shed some light on the end states. Or perhaps I’m overthinking this…
Great to hear from you! Multiple & fractal. Agreed. How many iterations of ‘running’ and ‘the Wilderness’ am I going to experience? In my experience I have found that I’m usually running from the same fear/responsibility/dream/idea.
Not knowing who I was, or what I was supposed to do is a reoccurring experience. This might be part of the ‘shadow career’, developing a personality/role while still running from the Big Truth. Also necessary–we need to know that we’re malleable enough to become ‘something’–even if that isn’t our destiny. It is evidence we can metamorpihize into something.
Your three outcomes of the Wilderness are spot to me. I wrote something about potential in a stream of consciousness a couple of months ago. Potential is an energy that will fuel or kill us. Potential is an unstable element, turns into art or cancer. Beauty or death.
I’m hoping we get as many chances as we need to reach it, Peter! Your comment is exactly what I was overthinking myself. 2nd, 3rd, 4th chances to get it right?
Here’s how I look at the word “multiple” when it comes to the wilderness, Peter. I look at it as going deeper and deeper INTO the wilderness.
I wandered off the path the first time the way so many of us do, by pursuing careers that were legitimate in the eyes of people I loved. Then I married someone who checked every box except (my) most important one. Before my wedding (and this was the starter marriage) I told my best friend if I wanted someone to make me laugh it was going to have to be at work.
Then I coped with a “perfect on the surface” life that left me empty (and ashamed of that, because from the outside looking in, it WAS perfect) by spending hours a day making sure our condo looked perfect, too — too perfect to be lived in, but whatever.
Then I took a prescription drug I thought would help (which it did) but was afraid would cause so many other problems (also true). My life imploded. I found my way back to my “little kid” (joyful) self in work, some shadow work and some the real thing, but kept making many of the same mistakes in my personal life.
Steve’s series on the wilderness has helped me make sense of my life to this point. And like you, Peter, getting into and out of the wilderness appears to be a process. At least I can see more things clearly now. Though you know how it goes. Clean glasses make it easier to see a dirty screen. As more things come into focus, I realize how much more work there is to do.
Which is great. I’m having more fun, suddenly, and spending more time on the kinds of problems I like to solve.
I came to this site to learn how to be a better writer. I stay because it’s a class on how to live. Thanks to all of you, all year long, who make me glad I snagged this particular section with such a great professor.
And Steve, your most recent interview with Tim Ferriss was quite the appetizer for your new book! Having that book to look forward to after the holidays will make it the best Christmas ever — no kidding.
If we were in person, all gathered around a table enjoying each others’ conversations, I would raise a glass to you Maureen!! Looking forward to Govt Cheese as well! Steve has been there and lives to tell the tale…I can’t think of a better mission than to help others with what you’ve experienced!? Gives life more meaning to know all the pain isn’t in vain!!
Thanks, Kate! And I would raise a glass to you, as well, for (among so many other things) your reply to Brian about the latest post op report.
I see the outcomes you suggest all around me.
Do the work.
Runaway blindly, continually bashing into trees.
Deathbed of regrets.
We must realize that if we choose to do the work, tools to help us on our journey will appear. Unfortunately, fear is a trickster that feeds us the illusion that it’s easier to bob around in a vast ocean until a whale comes along and swallows us. We then trick ourselves to believe life in a whale’s belly is more acceptable than confronting fear. We die never to have truly lived. Two words I keep in my head: lazy, coward. Two words I never want to be called.
Jackie, agreed. Regret is hell!
Regret is hell. I watch my mom regret the one chance she had to have a poem published. She will repeatedly say, “I should have pursued publication, but didn’t. The chance passed me by. Everyone says I should try to get my poems published now.” She still waits for someone else to do the work. Encouragement from family, friends, and offered guidance does nothing if you are content to live with resistance. I love Mom and thank her for the lessons. I chose a different path though: dirty hands and broken fingernails to excuses and regrets.
I have thoroughly loved reading Steves ‘In the Wilderness’ experiences. Being present and fully in the now, leaning into
yourself, I find annihilates resistance.
Oh ouch! Time in the belly of a whale. Yep.
I’m at the point of pitching/asking influencers/ministries/people for feedback on my The Great Escapee Series, and Resistance is standing in my way. It’s fear: what will they say, what will they think?
It’s Time to kick that aside. Time to make a ruckus inside the belly of fear and resistance, to be free. All they can do is say no, right? Next!
Looking forward to reading. Thank you for your willingness to be transparent! Blessings on your Christmas holidays and 2023!
one of the phrases that comes to mind is a saying I heard from a guy that I attribute a lot of wisdom to:
‘everything you resist, persists.’ It refers to the psychological habit of not allowing emotional states that are threatening to our ego, our self-image. Often they’re emotions we experience as being painful or fearful…I guess part of being in the wilderness (and getting out of there) is to be really honest about what is going on in ourselves, not engaging in all kinds of subtle (or less subtle) escape routes, such as addictions (small or big), distractions (socializing on or offline, gaming, binge-watching), etc, etc…I’m not saying it’s easy but once you allow to see the perceived ‘threat’ as projected by your ego, you can see it’s only a mirage, only an image of the mind. that is my lesson from the wilderness….
You words are medicine for me coming at the perfect time. Thank you for being yourself as loudly as you are. Your newsletter has made a difference for me in my journey over the years. I wanted you to know that I appreciate you so much.
Yup, I’m 6 years in the wilderness now, both physically and metaphorically. Quit/“retired” from my job. Mostly under a self imposed house arrest, trying to figure it and myself out. Living on a remittance man’s pension and existence as I’m finding my way back. (I’ll be back.)
Thanks for continuing to keep the inspiration coming, Steven.
Yes, you will be back Gregory! It’s refreshing to read that no matter the age, background, gender, or career–we are all experiencing very similar things.
What am I running away from?
Do I know?
I guess I know, but…
Thank you for the reminder!
As always, thanks, Steve, for your continuing wisdom.
Thank you so much for this very helpful and eye-opening article, Steven Pressfield. I needed to read this right now. I really love and appreciate all of your writing so much. Thank you Steven!
This is so funny, because no matter how many times I press “unsubscribe” I somehow end up getting something from “you” months later. Good story Steve with a driving prescient energy. I guess I’ll read this after all because your book The War of Art had great beauty in it.
Truth! My years of “committing” to other jobs rather than creating visual art and writing were definitely me resisting my calling! But the sadness that came with running from myself finally caught up / felt bad enough that i realized i had been doing the wrong things the whole time under the guises of they did hold some interest. Now i create att and write pretty much daily and have never felt better or more energized as a being. Love this! Thank you for all your words and insights!
Great. I always saw the Jonah story in that way. Thanks for making it clear about facing our fears and developing a plan to overcome them.
“The more profound the change stirring inside us, the more monumental (and the more diabolical) will be the Resistance we feel.”
Steve, I have a reccuring dream about a beached humpback whale. It’s a peaceful one, but I still find myself latching onto every whale reference I read or see. I have an silver origami whale necklace I wear close to my heart. My sister text me a pic of a beached gray whale off the coast of San Juan islands a few months ago and I just “knew” what it meant because of where I was at the time I received her text. Long story, but I long to be seen and heard for who I am and not what I had to become. Like you said–there are 2 selves. I’m working on a collection of songs and poetry called “The Inivisible Girl” because I want to use my real voice for once. If I learned anything from having a tumor in my head it is this: I deserve my spot and time on this planet. I fought for it just as we all do. If someone has a problem with me, too bad. I’m going to tell my story. I’m not responsible for their reaction to the ugly parts. The happy parts. Truths. I think it could help a young girl find her voice.
I sprint so far from having to deal with my past so I can enjoy my future. I saw Avatar 2 over the weekend; there is a scene where one deeply connects with an outcast whale creature on their planet. I just cried. Now the Jonah reference in my favorite blog? My heart is overwhelmed with gratitude–for the pain of growing. Thanks for some direction dear Steve!!
“I deserve my spot and time on this planet.”
Well said. Had an experience using some ‘ancient plant medicine’ almost 2 years ago. Ritualistic ceremonies for three nights in a row. Quite an experience, I must say. Called one of our Writing Wednesday compatriots on my way home after my last ceremony.
The second night was nothing less than an exorcism. Pleasant is not a word that leaps to mind when describing the ordeal.
It was exhausting, scary, and totally unfamiliar to me. I felt like I was in a knife fight for my very soul.
The ‘medicine’ lasts about 3-6 hours. My exorcism began about 90 minutes (maybe) into the night, and seemed to last for a very long time. Something alive, malevolent, and barbed had lodged itself into the very core of my being.
I was fighting and fighting, and thinking about some of the less rosy aspects of myself as well as some of my insecurities and failings were circling my mind.
At one point I felt like I’d removed most of this beast and was exhausted. A notion of ‘you can live with this remainder inside…rest. Take it easy.’
Then, clear as day, I had the thought, “I’m worth the fight. Get it out. Get it all out.”
I redoubled my efforts. I killed it. Some other thoughts also arrived–but they were all along the theme of worthiness. I was worth fighting for. My unique gifts have value to the world and to others.
Long story to say my heart leapt when I read that sentence of yours. I’m both happy for and proud of you.
A virtual hug to you dear friend as I let what you wrote above sink in. During my last post op, my doctor told me that he thinks I am incredibly strong. He knows what I’ve fought and been through silently. He said he will witness me pulling out the metaphorical infection from inside and watching it heal the right way–a beautiful scar will remind me I am here and I have survived it. PTSD forced me into isolation during my 20s. I feel like I am safe now and coming out of a decades-long hiding place 🙂 I needed to drop the victim mindset and develop my warrior woman muscles–even if it hurts. I wish I had more of a Marine mindset!!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours Brian.
Wow! I stand accused! So profound and powerful. Bulls-eye for my journey! Thanks for your clarity and “keeping it real!”
Resistance to the greatest memoir ever written. Yes, I have that. I will lay dormant and flaccid until I climb out that whale’s blowhole! I am running from my destiny scared to look back and about to fall flat. Am I scared, or am I pursued by the Unholy Resistance Demon? Combat, sword and shield in hand is my only hope. [Insert battle cry} Blood of Resistance streaming down my face, spittle on my lips, I rise from the torn and ruptured gore of the demon’s corpse, book in hand, roaring, ‘I am Triumphant!’
Thank you for another wonderful year.
Loved the analogy to Jonah and the whale. Fear is the enemy, so true. And as President Roosevelt said, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” The choice lies with us–choose truth, love and life or fear.
Thought I would share that I found another marine-nevelist that I like. Rip Rawlings. TEN deployemtns. Make me feel like a slacker – once in Kabul and once in Baghdad. But I was a Battalion Surgeon. Merry Christmas sir. Doc ENZ, Robert W. Enzenauer, MD, BG Retired
I just read the book of Jonah the other day. I read “The One Year Bible”, and this passage came up in mid December.
As a child, this story only added to the trauma Steven Spielberg delivered to my psyche with Jaws.
When I read it last week, I finally saw the Hero’s Journey.
All of our meanderings in the Wilderness are solo, but I do find solace knowing Jonah ran from his destiny, as well as Steve and all the others here trying to create something beautiful. We are alone and yet remain quantumly entangled…
Merry Christmas everyone.
Thanks for sharing your spiritual journey, Steve. I am hesitant to be so honest on the page, so I hide inside the dialogue of my fictional characters.
Who am I kidding? The readers, actors, and audiences probably see right through the fog.
From my reading of your last several books, I know that “the best is yet to come.” I look forward to ‘Govt Cheese.’
Greetings. I have always shared with my friends about AA meetings that I attended. The value for me came by listening to the stories of others and knowing that in essence it was my story. It might look different, yet at it’s heart it was the same. So when someone talks about a relapse I can easily guess how that could happen to me.
I am sure your new book Steven, will be quite interesting and I appreciate how you have shared yourself and encouraged others. Cheers.
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Damn good writing Steve. I’ve been in the wilderness. This is spot on. Just sent a signed copy of your book to a friends who is in the wilderness. Thanks for slinging in a life line my friend.
In how profound a silence is needed to hear the call? Is it a voice so distinct that it’s unmistakable?
How does one know their calling when they hear it?
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Thanks Steve! I seem to find my way out of the wilderness for very brief periods and then find myself lost again. This has to be the year I change this. I cannot wait for your new book. I’m in Ontario, Canada and crossing my fingers you might do a tour with your new book??
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