(360) The Artist’s Way

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Twenty-one years ago to this day, I began a journey that would be something that would have a profound impact on me. It was the WAY — The Artist’s Way — a book by Julia Cameron that started me on a path of understanding the true nature of creativity.  This is my “W” in the Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.

What It Is

The Artist’s Way is a twelve week program that helped me discover my creative self. It consists of some basic tools and then twelve weeks of exercises that help us, what Cameron calls, recover a “sense” of something lost — Safety, Identity, Power, Integrity, Possibility, Abundance, Connection, Strength, Compassion, Self-Protection, Autonomy, and Faith. It is based on her belief that there is a Great Creator who works through us, and our job is just to put the footwork in and the rest will follow.

I have found this to be true.

My Experience

Throughout the winter of 94-95, I found myself deeply involved in doing the exercises as precisely as I could to get the maximum benefit. I remember going out of my way to find different kinds of workshops to take — like maskmaking — and buying things I ordinarily wouldn’t buy and using, such as watercolor pencils. As I worked through the process, I discovered so much about myself that had been hidden.  This included acknowledging harm to my inner artist as well as uncovering the blocks that I put up to her.

I have a notebook just dedicated to what I wrote during that first time through. I subsequently put myself through the program again, I think two different times. But nothing has ever had the impact as that first year. There were many things going on in my life at the time, and this work grounded me and brought me a sense of myself I did not have before. That sense has never left me.

Relationships

A couple of years after I completed TAW (as it is called by veterans of the program), the internet came into vogue. I was on America Online, and found an online community for TAW. From that message board I became friends with two people locally — Carol in Akron and LuAnn in Bainbridge. I am still friends with these ladies today. There were others as well, and I recall in September 1997 we all got together for lunch.

TAW
Carol next to me, LuAnn across. Love my Artist’s Way friends!

The TAW group from all around the country supported me throughout my surgery, sending me messages which I printed out and had in a book in the hospital, as well as painting their toenails purple as a show of solidarity for me through the cancer scare.  I felt their love and support and prayers from afar. It was miraculous.

Where It Led Me

What I learned was that once you remove the blocks to your creativity, anything is possible. In the Introduction to the book, Cameron says the main things to learn are: Get out of the way. Let it work through you. Accumulate pages, not judgments. This put into practice consistently in the many years since has made me a believer. Cameron believes creativity is a spiritual experience. Given what I have witnessed in my own life, I would say it is mighty fine religion. I am grateful that this book exists. It always makes a list of the top books that changed me and changed my life.

In her Basic Principles on page 3, Cameron says “As we open our creative channel to the creator, many gentle and powerful changes are to be expected.” Rereading that just now helped me see that putting myself through this program twenty-one years ago was opening up a channel. I cannot describe any direct, earth-shattering event that happened as a result. What I can say is that once the channel opened, it has never closed. And that has been the best gift of all.

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