Writing is a gift that pretty much all of us have available to give to the world. We can write something and immediately make it available to every single human on the planet. Think about that for a second.
Sometimes I think to myself, “I love to write”. But that is just not true most of the time. What I do feel though, is that if I don’t write I will die. Not a literal death of course, unless I have some sort of bizarre mishap with a pen or bleed out profusely from an unintended paper cut.
What I mean is, that if I don’t express myself through my writing then I will only partly be alive. I won’t be fully human. I have something to say. We all do. But regardless of how relevant or important what we want to say is, we need to put it out there.
It doesn’t even matter how good it is, I need to write. Do I love it? Sometimes. The rest of the time? Like I said, I need to write. But “enjoying it” is more often than not a stretch.
Like everyone, I have a hard time motivating myself to do anything I feel most passionately about. You would think that something that if I don’t do it would “kill” me, would be motivation enough but you would be wrong. Writing can be fun. But it’s also very painful.
House of Pain
So why on Earth would anyone want to engage with something that is painful? Because ultimately, pain is where life is found.
For most of us, we hold back from doing many things, because of pain. Sometimes, that pain is physical, sometimes it is emotional, sometimes it’s spiritual. Heck, sometimes it’s all three.
I remember when I was a kid and I started playing soccer, I was terrified of heading the ball. Or tackling. Or running with the ball. Or looking at a ball. I was afraid of getting hurt. It was a physical pain but it was also emotional. I felt horrible after I held back from doing any of those things. Sure, people don’t told me that it wouldn’t hurt but it didn’t matter one bit how true that was.
“Knowing” was irrelevant. But over time, I ended up heading the ball more. Sometimes, it was an accident and the ball just hit me on the head, sometimes I’d get whacked in the face. But the pain decreased because I would mess up over and over. Failure is something that we try and avoid in life. But the one thing you learn from failing is how to get up and dust yourself down. It may still hurt, but you know it won’t kill you.
The next thing you know, a pig’s bladder is hurtling towards you at a million miles per hour you from the sky and you’re actively jumping to meet it with your head.
The Reversal of Desire
I wish I had known it back when I was a kid first getting into football but there is a tool that you can use in any situation where you are seeking to avoid pain. Public speaking, starting an essay, rugby tackling the largest player.
The first tool in the book “The Tools” that I learned was called “ The Reversal of Desire”
Even as I write this I am constantly using the Tool. I really want to stop writing. I tell myself that it is late and I should get an early night. A responsible thing to do, right? Well sure, if getting good rest for the day ahead was my main motivation. Or, maybe I should clean the mess in the kitchen from making dinner? Again, wonderful if my motivation was to have a clean house that didn’t smell horrible and I know that when Brittany returns home, she will be excited by a clean kitchen.
But typically the motivation for these things are not the good and pure ones I would like you to think they were. No, I persuade myself to do these things to avoid the pain of having to write.
What pain exactly? Well, there is the obvious pain of not having anything to write. That this one thing that I think I have a morsel of ability for is just going to flat our refuse to co operate. Or worse still, I have something to say but it’s just the worst formation of words and sentences that anyone has ever written. And we live in a time when Donald Trump is President and tweets all the time.
Then sometimes, there is just the pain of thinking I’m wasting my time. No one will read this, no one will care, what’s the point?
So how do I keep going? Do I tell myself that every time I write, I am getting better and when I write my first book I will look back at all those times and be thankful I forced myself to do the work? Well maybe but has that ever really worked for me?
Or do I convince myself that I am a good writer and the world needs, actually, demands that I share my wonderful gift and wisdom with the world? Probably not.
But the reason I continue to write, hasn’t anything to do with what I believe to be true factually, It has everything to do do with what I feel in my heart.
Now feel, is an ugly word to many. Feelings are for weak people or for people who don’t have a grasp on reality, But knowing I have some talent for writing doesn’t motivate me to write. Knowing that if I don’t write, I will never accomplish any of the hopes I have for writing in my life, does not motivate me to write.
Knowing in my head, doesn’t work. But feeling in my heart, does.
This is essentially at the core of all the Tools that I will share about in this series. Think about addiction. Something I will talk about later in another post. It’s not enough to “know” that continuing with this habit will hurt your life. All addicts know that. But what changes these habits is to experience something profound. Something completely antithetical with the way we think we are supposed to deal with pain and struggles.
And for many things in our life, that thing is by facing our pain fully, emerging to become one with it. Think about the things that you are most afraid of. For example, I hate making phone calls. I know that if I just make the call I need to, it will be completely fine. I may stumble over my words, I may not get out of it what I need or want, but I’ll still be alive after.
Put yourself in those situations on a daily basis and they can be extremely painful. It may suck, you may look stupid, you may be a laughing stock, but overtime, the pain of these moments loses power.
The death you fear, never comes.
This is why “The Reversal of Desire” has been life changing for me. Here is the tool in short and how I’ve used it with writing.
1. I see the pain of writing in front of me as a cloud. I like to visualize it as cold and stormy and pretty miserable. If I struggle to do this, I just think of being back at home in Northern Ireland on a typical day in October. Then I silently scream, “BRING IT ON!!!”
2. I walk straight into the cloud/pain. I scream to myself “I LOVE PAIN”. I immerse myself as one with the cloud and pain. I’ll imagine being cold and wet and shivery. Sometimes, I’ll allow myself to be in the cloud and visualize the pain as not having anything to write, or someone openly criticizing the words I am putting down. Maybe even a bunch of people I know laughing at the sheer thought of me calling myself a writer.
3. Then as I continue deep in the cloud the pain takes on a different form. One that I actually invite. I then imagine the cloud spitting me out. It’s not been able to get what it wants from me i.e. to quit. Silently and calmly, I repeat “The pain sets me free” as I see myself propelled into a calm sea of light. Sometimes, this light will represent itself as simply having sat down and written a shitty paragraph or figuring out the structure of a sentence that has been bugging me for days. I don’t try and force these images, I just allow the tool to do it’s work.
And that’s the tool. Like all these tools, it looks slightly different dependent on where and how I am applying it. Now I know this sounds crazy. Clouds of pain? Screaming inwardly, “I LOVE PAIN?!”
What kind of weird spiritual act have you got yourself into Paul?
Simply, one that works. One that comes so naturally to me now that I don’t even have to think about it. And that’s the trick. Thinking logically about all these things has some purpose, but it is extremely limited. Like Spirituality or faith, sooner or later, thinking and “understanding” is not going to cut it.
Action will be required and when that happens a higher power will be evoked. There is a famous quote which is attributed to several people but for me, this version of it sums up perfectly, the way “The Reversal of Desire” works.
I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.
As a sort of disclaimer, I’m sure if you read this you have a bunch of questions. What on earth is this weird Spiritual, Psychological, self help “tool” you’re trying to get me to use? Is it really as simple as you are making it sound? As a Christian, how does this od, “New Agey” thing line up with your faith? What’s for dinner?
Ultimately, I’ll answer some of these questions from my own experiences with the Tools as I continue this series. But at the end of the day, I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything. I’m simply laying out what has worked and hasn’t worked for me. The best way to understand all this, isn’t to take my word or even Phil and Barry’s words for it. It’s to try it yourself.
I hope you’ll join me as we continue using the Tools because next time I’m going to look at how a tool saved me from Twitter.