Artist’s Way Week One: Recovering a Sense of Safety

Week one of the Artist's Way program is about recovering your sense of safety so that you might explore your creativity with less fear.

As young artists, we do not receive support and encouragement; instead we are given cautionary advice, and pushed towards sensible careers that offer security and status.

As a result, many of us become shadow artists, and surround ourselves with declared artists, who are different from us not necessarily because they are more talented, but primarily because they are more audacious.

We admire artists, seek them out as romantic partners, and live a second-hand artist's life through them, but we deny the artists within ourselves.

We create shadow careers that involve supporting or managing artists — blocked filmmakers become film critics, blocked painters design software products, blocked writers run media or advertising businesses — but we continue to judge ourselves harshly for not becoming creators ourselves.

As a result, our lives often become a disconnected experience, with a sense of missed purpose and unfulfilled promise.

I wanted to become a writer when I was young, but my parents wouldn't hear of it, so I got an IIM MBA degree instead, and created a career in marketing, then advertising, then media, moving closer to artists with each step, even becoming a talking head/ public intellectual for a while, but never quite allowing the artist within myself to emerge.

The question then is: how might we shadow artists take ourselves more seriously, recover from our creative blocks, and nurture the creative child within?

Perhaps, the key is to cultivate a beginner's mind and look at creation not as a grand act but as a daily practice, like yoga, or meditation, or training for a marathon.

Remember that in order to recover as an artist, you must be willing to be a bad artist. Give yourself permission to be a beginner. By being willing to be a bad artist, you have a chance to be an artist, and perhaps, over time a very good one.

Writing with a beginner's mind might take away the burden of perfection, the expectation that everything we create will be profound, or professionally produced, or (in the age of a million social media micro-influencers) perform.

If the desire for success is not the driver for writing, the fear of success might also recede into the background.

If writing (or healing/ learning via writing) is it's own reward, our writer's block — if it doesn't disappear entirely — might at least become more like porous sand, and less like hard stone.

But, a beginner's mind is not enough; we shadow artists also need to deal with our internalized, limiting, negative beliefs.

All of us have a long list of reasons why we can't be successful, prolific, brilliant, creative artists.

Stripped to their essence, our multiple negative beliefs reveal a central negative belief: that we must trade one good, beloved dream for another. In other words, if being an artist seems too good to be true to you, you will devise a price tag that strikes you as unpayable. Hence, you remain blocked.

To become unblocked, we need to acknowledge these either/ or beliefs, identify the cultural or personal sources of these beliefs, let them go, one by one, and replace them with positive affirmations.

Today morning, I wrote my first three morning pages, a 2000-word, 21-item list of all my fears and worries that keep me awake late into the night, and send shivers down my spine in the early hours of the morning.

My primary limiting belief is that writing (or meditating, or running, or painting, or playing the piano) is essentially an escape from these real problems into an imaginary world; that the only way to reclaim my self-worth is to first fix these problems, before I indulge the artist within.

But I never seem to have the physical/ mental/ spiritual energy to work on this long list of to-dos, so, instead, I end up binge-watching season 1-6 of Game of Thrones or playing Clash of Clans.

Here, then, is my first affirmation:

Work, money, body, love: everything is a little broken, but everything is exactly as it ought to be.

Let's begin again.

I’m Re-learning How to Create a Daily Writing Habit by Doing Julia Cameron’s Twelve-Week Artist’s Way Program

Starting today, I’m re-learning how to create a daily writing habit by doing Julia Cameron‘s twelve-week Artist’s Way program.

The program is based on the belief that “creative recovery (or discovery) is a teachable, trackable spiritual process.” It promises to link creativity to spirituality by “undertaking spiritual exercises to achieve alignment with the creative energies of the universe.”

The program seeks to guide you through the process of recovering your creative self from a variety of blocks. Over twelve weeks, through a series of creative exercises, it aims to help you recover, in sequence, your sense of: safety, identity, power, integrity, possibility, abundance, connection, strength, compassion, self-protection, autonomy and faith.

Even Elizabeth Gilbert swears by it:

The first time I did the program, I had decided by end of it that I wanted to 1) travel to Italy and learn Italian, 2) Go to an Ashram in India, and 3) Return to Indonesia to study with the old medicine man I’d once met there. We all know what THAT decision led to. . . Without The Artist’s Way, there would have been no ‘Eat, Pray, Love’.

In essence, the programs promises to be a combination of a writing workshop, detox and therapy. I don’t really expect to trigger cosmic synchronicity — “we change and the universe furthers and expands that change” — but I am intrigued enough to try.

At the core of the Artist’s Way program are two practices: a daily practice called morning pages and a weekly practice called artist dates.

Morning pages are three pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning, and not shared with anyone else. They are designed to serve as both brain drain and creative meditation, teach you that mood doesn’t matter, silence your inner censor’s criticism, move beyond your logic brain to access your artist brain, and find your own quiet centre, connect with the source of wisdom within.

Artist dates are weekly two-hour blocks of time, committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist. They are solo excursions or play dates with your creative child to explore something that interests you, inspires you, ignites your imagination. They are designed to fill your inner well of images and inspiration, replenish the creative reserves with mystery, magic, whimsey and delight, so that you might later draw upon them.

The morning pages acquaint us with what we think and what we think we need. This is step one, analogous to prayer. In the course of the release engendered by our artist date, step two, we begin to hear solutions.

The first step of the Artist’s Way program is to make a creativity contract with yourself; here’s mine:

I understand that I am undertaking an intense, guided encounter with my own creativity. I commit myself to the twelve-week duration of the course. I commit to weekly reading, daily morning pages, a weekly artist date, and the fulfilment of each week’s tasks. I further understand that this course will raise issues and emotions for me to deal with. I commit myself to excellent self-care — adequate sleep, diet, exercise, and pampering — for the duration of the course.

Let’s begin.