The Artist’s Way – Week 4: Recovering a Sense of Integrity

The Artist’s Way: A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self The Artist’s Way is a 12-week program designed by writer/director, Julia Cameron, to help develop creativity. The program is for creatives of all types, and has weekly exercises based on free writing, affirmations and regular excursions. Come with me as I take this 12-week course and see what I discover along the way.

This Week is the Catalyst for Subtle and Seismic Changes 

Week 4 is the week where a lot of people stop doing their morning pages. Cameron says that the uncomfortable feelings that can emerge at this stage of the course often have people running for cover. As our free writing brings our true feelings to the surface, we can no longer ignore what we have been hiding from both ourselves and others.

Perhaps we have been plodding along in a job that does not fulfill us or putting up with aspects of our relationships with others that compromise us too far. Perhaps we have been telling ourselves that it’s all ok, that we can put up with it to keep the peace and to keep the money coming in. But the morning pages tell us that it’s not ok to accept conditions that are detrimental to our physical and mental wellbeing and they challenge us to do something about it.

The consequence of not listening to our truth and pushing ourselves beyond our limits may result in a breakdown in our physical or mental health. Cameron describes this breakdown as a “spiritual emergency,” which stops us in our tracks and prevents us from going further.

I have had the experience of working in places that were so toxic, people were always physically ill. Long hours, lack of recognition and a culture of bullying, led to high rates of absenteeism, or worse, presenteeism. Afraid of losing their jobs, my colleagues would turn up to work coughing and sneezing and spreading their germs to everyone else. These red flags should have been a wake-up call to both management and employees alike. However, management ignored what was right in front of them, insinuating that employees were malingering and expecting the walking wounded to solider on.  This situation carried on for several months, until finally, there was a mass exodus of staff who left the company to go and work for the opposition.

In the same way, we ignore the signals from our minds and bodies at our own peril. If we do not listen to ourselves, if we continue to push ourselves beyond our spiritual and physical limits, we will suffer a major mutiny in the form of a physical or mental breakdown.

We need to honour the call to action we are sending out to ourselves, and Cameron says that the best way to do that is to direct these feelings into our creative work. We can take our feelings of unhappiness, betrayal and anger and we can turn them into something beautiful.

We can create a work of art.

Writing has always been a great release for me. When I am upset and confused, I have always confided my feelings in the page. I write down the things that are concerning me and try to make sense of them; to corral the disarray into a shape that pleases me.

Another thing I have noticed over the past couple of weeks is that I have been doing a miniature stocktake. I have been putting aside clothes I no longer wear, cleaning out my desk drawer while I listen to podcasts and throwing out pantry items that have past their use by date. Indeed, Cameron says that many aspects of our lives will “stop fitting” and that we will begin to clear them away to make room for the better changes to come.

The biggest challenge I have in Week 4 has been the reading deprivation. As a writer, I know how important reading is to develop my craft, but this week, Cameron says you need to keep yourself empty from the input of others to allow output from yourself. Rather than fill yourself up with “junk food for the soul” in the form of TV, newspapers and social media, Cameron encourages you to tune into your environment, and to get up and do things, like rearrange the furniture or dance around the room.

While I didn’t follow the reading deprivation challenge to the letter, I certainly cut back on consumption of other people’s input and concentrated on my own work. I had to rearrange my schedule and reassess my deadlines and responded only to emails that required my immediate attention.

As I cleared my reading slate for the week, I was forced to confront a task I had been putting off for some time: querying my novel. Sending my novel to a traditional publisher has always been the endgame for me.  But having arrived at my self-appointed milestone, I sit at my computer with a sickening feeling of dread. I know that rejection is part of the game and that publishing is a business, not an art and that I can’t be everybody’s cup of tea but all the same, I feel like I’m leaving my baby with a sitter for the first time.

And so, with as much courage as I could summon, I polished up my query letter and prepared my list of prospective agents and publishers. I concentrated on this task to the exclusion of all others, and by the end of the week, I had sent out my first batch of queries.

For my artist’s date, I cashed in the gift voucher I had been saving since Christmas and bought a new quilt cover. It’s midnight blue and velvety and adorned with bright tropical flowers.

I bought it home, washed it gently in fragrant eucalyptus soap and hung it in the sunshine to dry. Then I went to my bedroom and removed the yellowing, faded doona cover that has been on my bed for the past twenty years.

It simply would not do anymore.

Posted by naomilisashippen

2 comments

Wonderful post Naomi. I have never been much of a one for self-help/improvement/spiritual books but this sounds quite remarkable.

naomilisashippen

Thanks Lisa, I don’t go in for them either and at thought I was a bit resistant to The Artist’s Way. But it’s surprising how the exercises and daily writing frees you up. Some people limit themselves to 15 minutes a day of free writing and they say even that helps.

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