By Steven Pressfield | Published: May 18, 2011
The artist and the addict are not very far apart, are they? Often they’re one and the same. A blues musician or a painter can be an addict one minute and an artist the next. He can be an artist and an addict at the same time. On Tuesday you’re rocking the casbah; on Wednesday you’re checking in to Betty Ford. Why is that?
“It may be the devil or it may be the Lord,
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”
If Bob Dylan is right in Gotta Serve Somebody (and I think he is), we all do have to pick our masters. The question is whom.
The artist and the addict (or the artist/addict) both face the same dilemma each morning. Will they serve their higher nature or their lower? Between the two stands Resistance. Like gravity, Resistance exerts a pull back to earth. Its object is inertia. Resistance doesn’t want you to do something evil. It wants you to do nothing.
Resistance wants you to go back to sleep, meaning remain unconscious. Resistance is always selling the easy way, the shortcut, the cheap shot. Resistance urges the artist/addict to slack off from, to sidestep, to avoid, to run away from, to not do. It wants you and me to stay shallow, to remain superficial, to continue unfocussed and uncommitted; to accept mediocrity, to avoid pain, to back away from the fight.
The addictive substance is Resistance’s ally. The addictive substance wants the same thing Resistance does. The addictive substance is the free ride to unconsciousness and to surcease from pain.
We’re all human, and the human condition hurts. How do we make that pain go away? How do we get to that place where we can set down our burden, close our eyes, draw an easy breath?
I’m no expert; I could be wrong. But it seems to me that the road turns two ways. If you serve the devil, the ride is free. Serve the Lord and you have to work.
The thing about the Muse is, when she gifts you with inspiration—the idea for a new album, a ballet, the impetus for an act of love or commitment—she dumps the job in your lap and says, “Jane, take over.” The Muse doesn’t do the work for you. She can’t; she’s not here in this material dimension.
You and I are the only ones here. We have to work. That’s the sign. That’s how we know the inspiration is real.
But to say we have to work is only half of it. Not only do we have to work, but we have to perform that work in the teeth of fear, isolation, self-doubt and self-sabotage. Often we have to labor in the face of opposition—fierce opposition—from the people closest to us, who love us the most and whom we love and whose approval we seek. We have to fight our bosses, our mentors, our religions, our pasts and our beliefs about ourselves and what we’re capable of.
The addictive substance is different. When we take that airline, we fly for free. Not only is no work required (other than the labor of acquiring the addictive substance itself), but there’s no imperative to wake up or to elevate our consciousness. On the contrary, the payoff is lack of consciousness. Oblivion is quick, visceral and gratifying. The pain goes away.
We’ve all done it. We can be addicted to crack cocaine or Haagen-Dazs, to love or hate, to our husband, our cause, ourselves. It all works. It’s all easy.
The addict and the artist are both struggling to emancipate themselves from the tyranny of the ego. The petty, piss-ant ego that devalues and undercuts and holds us earthbound. The addict gets off one way, the artist another. The addict/artist yo-yo’s back and forth. When she’s an artist (or reaching by any means toward her higher self) she somehow finds the courage to take the slow, hard, unglamorous path. When she’s an addict she grabs the EZ-Pass.
We all bounce from one form of service to the other, don’t we? I know I do. And none of us is really fooling himself. It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but we all know which master we’re in servitude to—and we can’t hide from the knowledge that no one has made the choice but us.