Welcome to Tuesdays with Chel.
Each of us has an inner dream that we can unfold if we will just have the courage to admit what it is. And the faith to trust our own admission.
– Julia Cameron
Welcome to the Bliss Habits Book Club! For the next several weeks, we’ll be discussing and working our way through The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron.
This chapter, Week 12, is entitled Recovering a Sense of Faith. Cameron covers what she calls “the inherently mysterious spiritual heart of creativity.” And in order to engage that heart of creativity, we must learn ways of TRUSTING it.
“Creativity requires faith. Faith requires that we relinquish control. This is frightening, and we resist it. Our resistance to our creativity is a form of self-destruction. We throw up roadblocks on our own path. This manifests itself as sluggishness, confusion, ‘I don’t know …’ “ – Julia Cameron
I hear about this all the time- creative people who get into these little periods of hand-wringing and restlessness and lack of focus. I’ve blamed my own on my health, actually- feeling spaced out, agitated, unable to focus, I assumed it was my anemia (and it might well be…) But could it also be lack of trust? It makes sense, doesn’t it?
“The truth is, we do know, and we know that we know. Each of us has an inner dream that we can unfold if we will just have the courage to admit what it is. And the faith to trust our own admission. The admitting is often very difficult. A clearing affirmation can often open the channel. It is the inner commitment to be true to ourselves and follow our dreams that triggers the support of the universe. Once we trigger an internal yes by affirming our truest goals and desires, the universe mirrors that yes and expands it.” – Julia Cameron
This is interesting. How many of us respond to our “creative roadblocks” by charging straight into them?
I mean, when we get around a creative block by sitting at our tables and literally working through them, we are basically doing that- charging headfirst into the fog. I just don’t know if we *know* that that is what we are doing, if that makes any sense. We believe that we are just trying to inspire ourselves, make ourselves realize that creativity is okay, it’s not scary or difficult. But maybe if we do the same thing, but approach with an air of “I trust that I’m on the exact right path at this exact moment with this exact project even though it feels completely difficult”, things might unfold.
“Creativity—like human life itself—begins in darkness. We need to trust the darkness. We need to learn to gently mull instead of churning away like a little engine on a straight-ahead path. Bright ideas are preceded by a gestation period that is interior, murky, and completely necessary. They form in drips and drops, not by squared-off building blocks. We must learn to wait for an idea to hatch. Or, to use a gardening image, we must learn to not pull our ideas up by the roots to see if they are growing. All too often, we try to push, pull, outline, and control our ideas instead of letting them grow organically. The creative process is a process of surrender, not control.”
I love the idea of “surrender”- in fact, it’s come up repeatedly this week so when I read it in the The Artist’s Way, I paid close attention.
How many of us surrender to the work? I’m betting not many. At least, not until we’re in that “flow” when things are coming together almost by themselves and we feel like we’re being taken along on a terrific ride. What happens if we allow the surrender to happen a little bit *earlier*? What I mean is, suppose we just open up our sketchbooks, our journals, etc. and just surrender from the first moment we interact with the page?
That IS scary, isn’t it? Just put brush to paint, pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, and let go. I wonder if that’s even possible. It’s definitely worth exploring. I think we come to our creative spaces with such a set of expectations and ideas that have been imposed on us.
What would happen if we approach from a sense of complete surrender? Suppose we just grab whatever color appeals to us and smash it on the canvas? Suppose we just write a string of words that make no sense but sound lovely to our own minds? Suppose we start from that surrender, that splotch of paint, that surreal nonsense sentence, and form our process around those things that so appeal to us? It kind of intrigues me (and scares the hell out of me!)
“The truth is that this is how to raise the best ideas. Let them grow in dark and mystery. Let them form on the roof of our consciousness. Let them hit the page in droplets. Trusting this slow and seemingly random drip, we will be startled one day by the flash of “Oh! That’s it!” All too often, when we say we want to be creative, we mean that we want to be able to be productive. Now, to be creative is to be productive—but by cooperating with the creative process, not forcing it. Creativity requires a respectful reticence.”
I, for one, need to continue working very hard on the process vs. product approach to my work. I’m actually making some progress, but it’s very slow and I almost don’t know it’s happening until I look back on what I’ve created and I can see the letting go. But this unconditioning of 35+ years of being formed by other people’s opinions is not going to be undone in the span of one afternoon or play, or a week or loose sketching, or even a year. It will take a long time, and I think that we need to open ourselves up to that and just dedicate ourselves to the unraveling as it comes.
“The truth is that we are meant to be bountiful and live. The universe will always support affirmative action. There is a path for each of us. When we are on our right path, we have a surefootedness. We know the next right action—although not necessarily what is just around the bend. By trusting, we learn to trust.” – Julia Cameron
And Cameron believes an important part of the “unraveling” is THE IMAGINATION AT PLAY. She writes:
“Recovery urges our reexamining definitions of creativity and expanding them to include what in the past we called hobbies. The experience of creative living argues that hobbies are in fact essential to the joyful life.”
I love this idea. I mean, I get more creative ideas when I’m gardening and swimming than I do when I’m at my desk working. But the question that came up for me is” what happens when your hobby is your work? I think this is a case for a lot of us who are employed in creative fields, or those of us who use our creativity as a source of revenue.
I think we all need to find ways to use our creativity for our own pleasure. It can be anything from small haiku to a sketchbook filled with drawings in just one color ink that no one else gets to see or something similar. I think we all need to claim some part of our creative process as JUST FOR US. Something we do purely for fun, for us, four our own benefit. Cameron writes:
“We are an ambitious society, and it is often difficult for us to cultivate forms of creativity that do not directly serve us and our career goals. We want to do something but we think it needs to be the right something, by which we mean something important. We are what’s important.”
I think this “we are what’s important” philosophy is SO key. Not just to creatives, but to everyone who is stuck on the idea that life should be about making something of ourselves. We already *are* something. There’s nothing more to make. There’s only stuff to *do*. Does that make sense? The things we create, the things we think about and work towards, they won’t ever be whole or human. They can make an impact, and can do so on a huge scale, but at the end of the day, there’s just us. We have to learn to live, not just move forward. We have to inhabit our own lives, and then let our life inhabit the work we do.
“Many hobbies involve a form of artist-brain mulling that leads to enormous creative breakthroughs…. Spiritual benefits accompany the practice of a hobby. There is a release into humility that comes from doing something by rote. As we serve our hobby, we are freed from our ego’s demands and allowed the experience of merging with a greater source. This conscious contact frequently affords us the perspectives needed to solve vexing personal or creative conundrums.”- Julia Cameron
The one thing that has taught me more about life and creativity and my place in the world has been gardening. That has translated into my work tremendously. I don’t regret the time I spend out there, puttering around, because I’ve seen the impact it’s had on me. And other’s have, too. So I know firsthand the power of “hobby” and taking joy in that hobby. Even though the practical “work first! Play later!” part of me crunches down on me every time I choose to go outside and pick up the trowel instead of staying in and working on something “useful”, after a few years of gardening, I’m able to answer back “too bad, it’s essential.” And it is. So Cameron is right when she says:
“It is a paradox of creative recovery that we must get serious about taking ourselves lightly. We must work at learning to play. Creativity must be freed from the narrow parameters of capital A art and recognized as having much broader play (that word again). You’re either losing your mind—or gaining your soul. Life is meant to be an artist date. That’s why we were created.”
Finally, Cameron tackles what she calls ESCAPE VELOCITY. It’s that little push we need to get out of negativity in any form. She writes:
“In order to achieve escape velocity, we must learn to keep our own counsel, to move silently among doubters, to voice our plans only among our allies, and to name our allies accurately.”
She encourages creative to keep some things close to the heart, hold them as precious, and not allow anyone to rain on the parade. This seems simple enough, but it’s actually trickier than you might think. The problem is, even our most well meaning friends and family can often be “Wet Blankets”. It’s not that they mean to dampen your spirits, it’s just that they are unable to behave any differently.
For instance, two of my extended family members are tremendous supporters of my creativity. But when I show them something I’m working on, or share an idea, the response is usually “Huh. That’s cool.” And that’s pretty much it. I’d like them to take a closer look at what I’ve created, or give me some positive feedback, or comment on the colors or technique or whatever, but after many many years, I am starting to realize it’s just not coming. Now I know that both these people love me unconditionally, and they really are proud of me. But the feedback I need doesn’t come from them, so I’ve learned that it’s better for me to not show them individual pieces of my work but a whole body of work, because for some reason that’s when there’s a bigger response and more interaction.
I wouldn’t call these people “Wet Blankets” by a long shot. I just know that they aren’t going to be able to give me the support I need at certain times. I think we all need to really take a close look at our support systems in detail, and then figure out where the holes are, and make it a priority to reconstruct a network of friends and peers and family so that we all have the encouragement we need to keep going. Cameron writes:
“Name your W.B.’s for what they are—Wet Blankets. Wrap yourself in something else— dry ones. Fluffy heated towels. Do not indulge or tolerate anyone who throws cold water in your direction. Forget good intentions. Forget they didn’t mean it. Remember to count your blessings and your toes. Escape velocity requires the sword of steely intention and the shield of self-determination.”
Creativity also requires “the sword of steely intention and the shield of self-determination.” We have to dedicate our heart and souls to the pursuit of JOYFUL, meaningful creativity in every aspect of our lives. It sounds frivolous, but for creative people this is what our lives are all about. This is who we are, who we were made to be.
And until we make our creativity more of a priority, more of a defining part of who we are and what we need to be happy, we’ll never be satisfied. It’s hard to come to terms with this approach to life because it feels indulgent. But we each have a perspective and insight that no one else has, and for some reason, we’ve been given the opportunity to share that with others And the best way to show gratitude for a good opportunity is to embrace it head on and really take full advantage of all that comes our way to support our success, both in the outer world and in the inner world.
The discussion is continued on Facebook, as well. Please join us.
Chel Micheline is a mixed-media artist, curator, writer, and avid gardener/reader/swimmer who lives in Southwest Florida with her husband and daughter. When Chel’s not making art or pondering the Bliss Habits, she’s blogging at gingerblue.com (come say hi!) or posting new things in the gingerblue etsy shop.