Monday, December 5, 2011

The Way of the Artist

For the past few months, I have been working through The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, by Julia Cameron.  Going through the book has helped me to identify what I believe and what I want to do, to work toward a better balance in my life, and to improve my relationships.

For Ms. Cameron, being creative and making art are spiritual practices.  The creation of the universe was a creative act of a creative being.  In being creative ourselves, we share in that Creator's nature; that is why we were created.  Every person can be creative in some way, and find meaning and satisfaction in their lives.

But The Artist's Way is about more than just helping people create.  Ms. Cameron suggested ways to fix dysfunctional relationships because, for her, those dysfunctional relationships get in the way of being able to create.  One lengthy passage pulled me up short:
Often in troubled relationships, we settle into an avoidance pattern with our significant others.  We don't want to hear what they are thinking because it just might hurt.  So we avoid them, knowing that, once they get the chance, our significant others will probably blurt out something we do not want to hear.  It is possible they will want an answer we do not have and can't give them.  It is equally possible we might do the same to them and that then the two of us will stare at each other in astonishment, saying, "But I never knew you felt like that!"
I recognized myself in that description.  So, one of the things that I am working on is making myself not avoid difficult issues.  I believe that working on this issue has improved my relationship with clients as well as friends.  Addressing the conflict is never as bad as avoiding it.

In another place, Ms. Cameron wrote:
Many of us find that we have squandered our own creative energies by investing disproportionately in the lives, hopes, dreams, and plans of others.
It is good to be invested in other people's lives; the key word here is "disproportionately."  When we don't leave anything over for ourselves, our own creativity is frustrated, literally:  We feel frustrated all of the time.  The remedy to this situation is to take stock and draw appropriate boundaries with other people.

Ms. Cameron suggested several exercises to help stimulate these changes.  First, she developed a special type of journaling that she called "morning pages."  The morning pages are three pages of longhand stream-of-consciousness to be done first thing each day.  Her idea is to clear your mind of your anxieties by getting them out of your head and onto paper, so that you can do what you need to do during the day unencumbered.  "Brain drain," she called it, but in a good way.  In one way, the morning pages are a kind of active meditation.

The second practice that Ms. Cameron encouraged is what she called "artist dates," dates with your inner artist.  These dates are solitary, frivolous activities that you use to stimulate your imagination and attention to detail.  You may go to a museum, for instance, or hike to the top of a mountain.  Whether you consider yourself an artist or not, this unstructured time to yourself is precious to everybody's spiritual and mental health.

Another useful practice is to take up some repetitive activity.  Ms. Cameron used quilting, gardening, and swimming as examples.  Engaging in repetitive activities free up the artistic side of our brain to work out problems imaginitively without being stifled by the right brain.  Buddhists and Catholics know how soothing it can be to finger prayer beads while meditating.

Do I subscribe to Julia Cameron's diffuse spirituality?  Not entirely.  But I do know that these exercises have helped me identify and address problems with my life.  Instead of feeling a generalized and incapacitating sense of frustration, I am doing something about what is frustrating me.  As Ms. Cameron wrote, "the theory doesn't matter as much as the practice."  Right now, that's good enough for me.

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