The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path To Higher Creativity is a self-help book by American author Julia Cameron. The book was written to help people with artistic creative recovery, which teaches techniques and exercises to assist people in gaining self-confidence in harnessing their creative talents and skills. Correlation and emphasis is used by the author to show a connection between artistic creativity and a spiritual connection with God.
The ideas in creative personal development outlined in the book, which were felt to be new at the time of the publication, are said to have become a phenomenon and spawned into many meetups and support groups throughout the world. The group meetings are based on a 12-week creativity course designed for people to work through and gain artistic inspiration, as outlined in the book. (Source: Wikipedia.)
It’s very likely that, had I not lived in San Miguel de Allende, I would have never heard about The Artist’s Way. I would sometimes see these posters or ads around town that advertised courses imparted by locals (who may or may not have been artists/teachers/guides because so many people there posed as either, although I guess some might have been the real deal) that mentioned it. However, San Miguel being San Miguel, I met people who talked about it, raved about it, and couldn’t get enough of it.
This trend intensified once I started working at that wellness center I’ve referred to in previous posts. It seemed everyone in San Miguel had read and done TAW, attended a course, etc. By then I had already done my own research online about TAW and indeed, it seemed intriguing. For a while I didn’t have the means to acquire the book and it never really crossed my mind to ask around in case any of the locals had a spare copy. And, to tell you the truth, I tend to stay away from the hype because I’m always a little suspicious when everyone praises something or someone. I love to wait until the buzz dies down a bit and then I read, watch, or experience whatever it is everyone was crazy about a year before. With TAW it was a bit different, though: I had come close to it, found out what it was about, and years went by without me doing anything about it. The information stayed in my mind’s backburner, where so many of my ideas and inspirations remain until I’m ready to do something with them.
Flash forward to June this year, a good year after I moved out of San Miguel. I was in town for business and also to attend a Leonora Carrington exhibit. In my spare hours during my short stay, I visited one of my favorite places in town: the Biblioteca Pública. As I was leaving the premises I decided to wander around their used books section, and lo and behold, I found a copy of TAW for around 2 USD. After some hesitation I decided to buy it. The book lingered, as if in hibernation, for a couple of months after I bought it. One hot August day, I finally cracked it open and I haven’t looked back.
The time had come. I wouldn’t have been ready before. Now, I was.
I suspect Julia Cameron was fully aware of what she was putting out to the world when she created TAW. Maybe the whole journey and plan wasn’t completely mapped out in her head the way it was in, say, J.K. Rowling’s head when she wrote the Harry Potter books. But I do think that TAW came from a central source beyond Cameron’s own experience and knowledge (even though there is information and references to both throughout TAW). It’s one of those things that you begin creating and then it ends up creating you. I’ve read about Cameron’s many professional and personal accomplishments and while they are impressive, I barely remember them. The only things that stay with me about her are the lessons she teaches her readers and students throughout TAW. Her life’s work and purpose is condensed in this 12 week method, and it’s what she’s going to be remembered for. TAW is, in some ways, the practical/methodical and contemporary version of Thoreau’s Walden.
TAW owes a great deal to AA’s 12 step method. It’s not a coincidence that TAW course takes twelve weeks to complete. It also forces – there is no verb more adecquate – the reader/student, The Artist, to hand over the reins of their life to a higher power. Cameron refers to this power as God and yes, my friends, this is perhaps the aspect that initially repelled me from trying TAW. Even if you believe in something/someone before you begin doing TAW, the appeal to practice faith is downright scary. It can even make you angry. If you’re completely averse to organized religion, especially if you’re an atheist, let me put it this way: faith is not an exclusive practice of those who adhere to a religion or set of beliefs. Regardless of your lack of belief in Satan, God, Allah, Yehova, The Goddess, astrology, crystals, and many other deities or systems or practices, I assume that if you’re reading this you still wake up everyday. You get out of bed, shower, have breakfast, and begin your day hoping for the best.
The fuel that gets us through the day is called faith. It’s the kind of faith no religion teaches you about. If we’re lucky, our families instill that faith. Maybe we have a teacher who does this. If we’re not fortunate, sometimes life itself teaches it to us, and it can be hard. Sometimes we go by unaware that we even have it. And yet, here we are. Being alive takes faith. Living goes beyond mere existing: it is a decision that requires belief in the self. Now, as I read the first pages of TAW, this is the type of faith that sprung out of Julia Cameron’s instructions.
In order to create art (and art is everything we do), we need to have faith. This is the decision you have to make if you want to defeat any creative blockage. In the same way as an alcoholic or drug addict reaches rock bottom and acknowledges they have nobody else to appeal to but a higher power, so must artists (and we all have an artist within us) acknowlege that the only way to get out of that pit of void and self-defeat is to have faith in the higher power that dwells within themselves: their own divinity.
So, can you be a satanist (whether you’re an atheist or not) and do TAW? Can you be pagan and do TAW? Can you do TAW even if you ‘don’t do anything creative’ for a living? Of course you fucking can. The book is a gentle disciplinarian that takes us, The Artists, by the hand and provides space to purge our ghosts from the past, make ammends with ourselves, and gives us license to play again.
Do you have to stick to every single inch of the instructions Cameron provides? That depends. If you happen to be creatively blocked and you’re also battling with addiction and/or other mental health issues, I would definitely recommend to follow it to the letter; and to pair it with the proper therapeutic assistance. But if you’re someone who is strictly struggling creatively, if you find you lack self-accountability, or that you tend to get easily distracted or procrastinate, you will also find a great deal of support and effective tools in TAW: the weekly check-ins, the weekly reading, the tasks, and most importantly the daily pages and the weekly artist date.
I am not a morning person at all, and I’m sure many of you aren’t either. Or maybe you are but your mornings are just too scheduled already and there’s little or no room for anything else. As a satanist I make my pleasure and my individuality the priority in everything I take on: therefore I decided after 2-3 days that morning pages didn’t work for me in that specific timeframe. What did I do? I made them into night pages. I do my 3 pages every night, and I have stuck to that since the day I decided that would be my personal twist on it. I find that worked much better for me and it’s provided with a much needed ‘break’, it’s a safe space where I can pour my unconscious (or conscious) mind and where I have literally been able to manifest events and make magick happen. The written word has POWER. It’s no wonder that Cameron herself says that, if your life gets crazy, you must make sure you at least stick to the daily pages. She knows what this does to your spirit and to your mind and to your creativity. (And you don’t have to buy special branded journals to do your pages: any notebook you love will do.)
The artist dates have taken many shapes for me. Some days I will actually go out by myself to places I like around town, and I will take a walk, take photos, people-watch, etc. Other days I’ve been to the film club. In my circumstance (not married, no kids, and no other commitments besides my witchcraft practice and my mundane work) I can also have artist dates while in the comfort and privacy of my own home, or my own room. The artist date doesn’t have to be an outing per se, as long as it means you get some alone time doing something that feeds your creativity. For many of you it will definitely require getting out of the house, and that’s fine (it’s what Julia Cameron herself recommends); but I’m just stating all the above so you know that artist dates dont’ necessarily involve picturesque, ideal scenarios. Our creativity just needs alone time, and permission to play, and that’s the point of artist dates.
I won’t finish my journey through TAW until mid-November and I’ve already noticed a very meaningful and positive change in the way I approach my witchcraft practice, my mundane work, and in how I view myself. The most important realization involves the role of creativity in my daily and seemingly boring life.
A couple of paragraphs earlier I asked the question: can you benefit from TAW even if you ‘don’t do anything creative’ for a living? You probably noticed the quotation marks and indeed, I use them because thanks to TAW I discovered something else: all of us are creators, and all of us live through what we create on a daily basis. We’ve been trained to believe that only painters, musicians, writers, photographers, sculptors, film directors, performers, etc do creative stuff for a living. That might be true to the extent of financial remuneration, but it’s mostly bullshit.
Putting together an outfit for work or for an event? That’s creative work. Cooking? That’s creative work. Writing a letter, or a text, or an e-mail to a friend or work colleague? That’s creative work. Decorating a room in your home or workspace? That’s creative work. Bullet journaling? Creative work. Scheduling your day? Creative work. Shopping for groceries? Creative work. Coming up with a better filing system at the office? That’s creative work. Knitting, crocheting, embroidering? Creative work. Doing your makeup? Creative work. Cleaning your home? Creative work. Educating a child? Creative work…
And so on.
Perhaps the most vile and pernicious lie we are taught throughout our lives, from a very early age, is that ‘only the talented ones’ or ‘the chosen ones’ or ‘the artistic ones’ can be creative. That only artists or people in advertising can call themselves creative, or that they’re the only ones that are allowed to worry about their creativity because ‘it pays the bills’.
That’s a lie.
Living is a constant act of (self)creation. That is the main lesson that, as a satanist, I have learned from doing Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. It’s one that will stay with me for as long as I live: Start creating your reality. The time is always now.