The Artist’s Way: Week 4- Recovering A Sense of Integrity
This is an ongoing series about my experiences with Julia Cameron’s program, The Artist’s Way: A spiritual path to higher creativity. It’s a 12 week program designed to help reboot your creative process and after hearing about it from several friends over the past few years, I gathered a group of like minded creatives and we are embarking on this journey together! You can find the other related entries here.
It won’t happen to me…
This week was all about facing our own changing sense of self-definition. It’s been four weeks since I’ve started this program and I’ve noticed an interesting pattern that emerges each week: I do the reading, I am skeptical the the reading applies to me, I’m convinced that it doesn’t, then the week unfolds and things happen exactly in the way that the chapter said they would. This was no different. At the end of last week, I was feeling pretty confident. I had fully embraced my love of the frivolous, and was getting into the groove of morning pages and artist’s dates. So when the chapter called for some highs and lows, I scoffed and brushed it off. Surely, not I, this anchor of self confidence and capability, I thought, could ever emotionally waver. Oh, how wrong I was.
I spent the week in a bizarre mix of highs and lows. I was elated at finishing the first rough draft at my novel, and then the following day dejected with the dread of sending it out for anyone to see. And so it went, a rollercoaster of emotions as I used the morning pages to really ask, who am I? What do I want to create?
“Remember, the more you feel yourself to be terra incognita, the more certain you can be that the recovery process is working. You are your own promised land, your own new frontier.”
Sometimes we accumulate self-identifiers unknowingly. We do or say something and it just sticks, dragging along behind us as we move from place to place. It felt refreshing to stop and take a look at this accumulated creative baggage and to examine it carefully and discard the pieces that aren’t serving your purpose. One of the week’s tasks was to get rid of an old piece of clothing that Cameron calls, low value. You know the one, that sweater that doesn’t fit right, those pants that you haven’t worn in two years – the stuff we all accidentally accumulate but seem unable to let go of. This exercise became a perfect metaphor for the accompanying mental exercises. I found an old sweater that I don’t ever wear, I’d brought it over from Toronto nearly five years ago. And yet, I hesitated, not sure if I wanted to throw it away. It had no sentimental value and no utility to me, and so why was I still letting it take up space in my closet? I threw it away and felt so much better! Decluttering has always been one of my favorite responses to times of stress – make things cleaner, simpler, calmer. Mentally, I guess the process went the same way: once I overcame the resistance, it was liberating to be free, to realize that I had the power to decide what I chose to keep and to discard.
Once of the big tasks this week was a form of media deprivation. To shut out all external sources of input to give myself time to listento my own voice. This was one of the hardest things I’ve done. I’m always reading something, watching something, consuming content and to completely stop cold turkey was stressful. I definitely cheated a few times, though sometimes it happened to naturally that I would catch myself halfway into an article. I never realized how much I was using other people’s content to block the quiet space I needed to create my own work. I found this to be such a helpful experiment, and I would encourage all of you to try it, even for just a few days to become aware of how much noise you’re bringing into your life. The funny thing was, that all of a sudden my time doubled. I was no longer dealing with a scarcity of time (an ongoing theme I’ve struggled with during this program) but the opposite: I had loads of free time to think about and tackle all the projects and ideas that finally had the peace and quiet to sprout and be tended to.
Now that the week is over, and I am back reading my beloved novel. I have started to heavily limit the amount of time I spend reading random articles during the day. Instead, I use Instapaper to capture and collect those things that I want to read and keep them in a safe place until a better time. This means I can focus on being productive, on producing my own creative work, without being distracted.
A Letter from the Future:
Finally, my favorite task this week was to write a letter to myself from my future 80 year old self. What would I say? My 80 year old self thought that being so worried about the future was just ridiculous. And writing that letter made me realize how important it is to really just take a deep breath and be in the present moment. To focus on capturing each experience as fully as possible. And so I spent the past few days really narrowing my scope of focus so that it only encompasses the task that I am doing. In that spirit, I completed another fun task: I transformed a little corner of my apartment into private space for myself, a place where I could, as Cameron writes, “Help center on the fact that creativity is a spiritual, not an ego issue.”
This is my newly transformed bedside table, now also serving as a point of focus during meditation. Peaceful, right?
Now I’ve completed the first month, and the past four weeks have been dedicated to excavating old belief systems and thought patterns. Clearing the way for something else, something better, to take root. I’m making progress in small halting steps, unsure at some points, yet always willing to take the chance.