I fought the Resistance for 10 days in Japan, for a photography project between HardwareZone and Canon.

I lumbered through the Nakasendo trail for hours with a weighty backpack, soaked in rain, to get one photo I loved. I marched with sore feet through the streets of Kyoto, until the one perfect image showed itself at the end of the evening light.

Magome, Japan

The journey wasn’t the enemy—I woke up everyday feeling like the luckiest person on Earth. It was pushing beyond my creative comfort zone that summoned the demons of Resistance for a brawl: self-doubt, fear, despondency.

What is the Resistance? In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield introduces the Resistance this way:

Most of us have two lives: the life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.

Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Resistance is the voice inside your head that whispers: “You’re not good enough. Who do you think you are? Don’t even try, you’ll only fail.”

(Or worse: “You can always start tomorrow.”)

Kyoto, Japan

I learned three things about the Resistance.

The first is it never goes away. Resistance has been with me for as long as I can remember. No matter how many rounds we go, Resistance returns. You are never out of this fight.

The second thing I’ve learned is that I’m not alone in this battle.

Even Joe McNally, a National Geographic photographer, struggles:

Know there will be days out there that feel like you’re trying to walk in heavy clothes through a raging surf. The waves knock you about like a tenpin, you have the agility of the Michelin Man, and you take five steps just to make the progress of one. The muck you are walking in feels like concrete about to set. Even the cameras feel heavier than normal as you lift them to your (on this day) unseeing eyes.

Joe McNally, Sketching Light

The third lesson is the Resistance can be beaten. Fear comes…and you can do the work anyway.

In Japan, I performed the same ritual at the end of each day. I ate dinner, reviewed the day’s photos, and flagged my spirits by watching videos of photographers at work.

Hearing them speak about their difficulties, and knowing I was not the only wrestling with problems, inspired me to face Resistance again the next day—to reach for the unlived life beyond it.

2 replies on “Fear and Creativity on the Nakasendo”

  1. I know this creature which you and Pressfield called Resistance only too well. And as much as I tried to practice Buddhism and Zen, Resistance remains strong in me as it does in those around me. And yet no one talks about it. We had no name for it. And because we have no name for it, we have not managed to tame it. Thank you for writing this blog. It was quite an eye opener. And now perhaps me and my friends can tame this creature within us. Thanks again, Alvin. I miss Japan. I miss Kyoto. I really hope you enjoyed it and tamed the same Resistance within.

    1. Thanks Mike, I’m glad to hear my post was of use. Reading Pressfield’s book and naming the Resistance has been one of the most helpful things in my life, and yes, naming it does help to tame it.

      All the best in your own fight against the Resistance. I hope you get to go to Japan again!

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