I didn’t have a clue what to write about this week. That bothered me. I made a resolution this year to produce a post every week, no exceptions. But resolutions can become seriously challenging sometimes!
Fortunately, as always, Universe is here to support me.
Yesterday, a dear friend visited for lunch and a walk outside in the chilly but bracing Canadian air. She presented me with a book. Just a slim volume, but every page is packed with wisdom born of experience: Do The Work by Steven Pressfield. He’s the bestselling author of The War of Art, which I’ve heard about but never read. Yet.
Do The Work addresses the life-sapping devil we call Resistance. After my friend left yesterday I began to read, and loved it. So, naturally, Resistance reared its ugly head in me today, aided and abetted by a bad dream in the morning hours. Where there is resolution, there will also be resistance.
Use the difficulty
Another book that inspires me no end is Blowing The Bloody Doors Off – the wonderful and iconic English film actor Michael Caine’s autobiography. Michael attended the school of hard knocks for many years and nevertheless rose from abject poverty and seemingly impossible obstacles to a seven-decades-long movie career in which he has brought in billions at the box office. Yes, that’s a “b.”
Michael Caine’s book, like his life, is full of invaluable lessons. He has a credo he calls use the difficulty, which is strikingly close to the Buddhist principle of “turning poison into medicine.”
His working-class status in a rigidly class-conscious England was one of his difficulties. Back then, and for centuries before, the way a person spoke in Britain consigned them to either lower-, middle- or upper-class status. And if you were judged to be lower-class, you had no choice but to accept the bottom of the heap as your only possible lot in life.
Fortunately, in the early 1960s, along came The Beatles, with their Liverpudlian accents, zany sense of humour and working-class backgrounds. Suddenly the plum-in-the-mouth exaggeratedly posh English accent of the upper classes started to seem very dated. (Although I personally believe that their manager Brian Epstein’s polished “Queen’s English,” the product, no doubt, of many elocution lessons, opened doors for them in London that would otherwise have remained very firmly shut, if not barricaded. But I digress!)
Michael Caine was a young Londoner coming from a similarly disadvantaged background who just kept plugging away. He didn’t ever expect to become a star, he just wanted to be the best actor he could possibly be. He kept doing the work, however little there was of it in the long early years, learning from his mistakes and using the difficulties.
One difficulty was that he needed eyeglasses to see, but actors weren’t supposed to wear glasses. (There were no contact lenses back then, and anyway he couldn’t even afford to have a landline telephone in his tiny flat.) So he wore big heavy frames and made them part of his “look.” The so-called “actor’s diet” of near-starvation his penniless state forced him into gave him a beautifully slim physique. And he drew on the frightening, sad and miserable experiences of his young life to bring a visceral quality of realness to his acting that separated him from other actors.
Did he have some lucky career-changing breaks? Absolutely. Anyone who keeps doing the work with a good attitude gets lucky breaks.
Michael’s working-class background, just like The Beatles’, programmed him to work and work and work. He has starred or appeared in more than 130 films. Some of them flopped, some of his performances were ignored or criticised. He just kept going, regardless, building confidence and trust within the industry in his reliability to always show up prepared and on time, treat people with respect, and deliver the goods without any pretenses of greatness. Nowadays we’d call this his brand.
The Cockney kid with rickets (a bone weakness caused by malnutrition) and no indoor toilet became a trailblazer for other actors to break down the class barrier. Along the way he made a fortune and won two Oscars as well as countless other awards and accolades. His life exemplifies the truth of Arianna Huffington’s statement:
“We need to accept that we won’t always make the right decisions, that we’ll screw up royally sometimes – understanding that failure is not the opposite of success, it’s part of success.“
Blowing resistance away
Back to me and my resistance. I used this difficulty to teach myself what Do The Work espouses. Which can be summed up in these three simple words:
Reminds me what I was taught many years ago by a wise Japanese Buddhist leader: Chant first. Think later.
So I decided to draw on my British roots and banish the sleepy torpor I felt by having a cup of tea (Earl Grey with walnut milk and raw honey – delicious!) and listening to Paul McCartney’s Ram album. Thus fortified, I sat down to write, putting my trust in Steven Pressfield’s words:
We can always revise and revisit once we’ve acted. But we can accomplish nothing until we act.