Thursday, July 21, 2016

Daring to Dream Along The Artist's Way

A Modern Australian Aboriginal Perspective on Dreaming*
So already, for the last eight weeks, I've been doing The Artist's Way creativity course. Having started the course once before and dropped it, I was determined to complete it this time. Looking back, I realize I began it "carefully but hopelessly," just as the bird in one of the poems in Louise Glück's Vita Nova** seemed to be building its nest (37). I "carefully" executed each week's tasks--the word "execute" speaks clinical volumes--as I worked toward expectations I kept "hopelessly" low: small insights and changes, I told myself, would be a good enough result of my efforts. How like me to dream self-protectively small; I suspect I've paid a high price in my life for that tendency.

The problem is that even though it couldn't be more supportive, The Artist's Way is all about high, joyful expectations--one's own for oneself. It's about personal transformation that comes from recovering one's buried creative self--the self that long ago rolled itself into a self-protective ball and hid itself away for any number of reasons. It's about embracing that authentic inner self, replete with all the sparks of divinity that make it shine and yearn to reveal itself--and then caring for it, protecting it, challenging it, encouraging it, asking of it, giving to it, bringing it along so that it actually can and will express itself in the world. It's about reclaiming and nurturing old dreams--the dreams of that authentic inner self--that died and shouldn't have. It's about crafting new dreams that reflect that inner self as it comes to recognize itself, exert itself, and trust in its relationship with its divine source. And then it's about pursuing those dreams that bless and reveal us and even sometimes shine on the world.

At the moment when it finally dawns on us how lofty yet grounded the course's goals are for each of us, we also understand that we can't expect a long, smooth ride toward self-discovery and creativity. But we trust that we'll eventually get there: Cameron's always there to tell us that there are moves we can make, tools we can use, and attitudes we can take when we're under siege. We're urged to have compassion for ourselves, to treat ourselves and our creativity gently, to try to believe that our efforts will garner a supportive response from the universe, but also to keep moving and keep doing: the smallest moves count!

My personal challenge for the first six weeks of the course was imagining what wasn't--a serious challenge, since fantasy is an important tool for making contact with one's inner self. I might have been able to invent a future or envision an inviting, supporting work space for someone else, but I couldn't do that for myself at all. When Week #1 asked me to imagine several different lives I might have had, I finally managed to list them, though I hated doing it. But when Week #2 asked me to consider if if I "could be doing bits and piece of these lives in the one you are living now" (57),*** I couldn't move mentally or physically. I was too used to thinking and not doing, too perilously used to defining myself by what I had always done and what people often expected me to do and respected me for doing. As the narrator in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" said it, "In short, I was afraid."

During Week #4--a real breakthrough week for me in some ways because of my experience of the reading deprivation requirement--I struggled when I was asked to describe my ideal environment. I was accustomed to making my actual environment as ideal as possible, but it wasn't my way to imagine ideal environments to which I believed I'd never have any kind of access, that I believed I'd never have the means or opportunity to create. But then I wondered for the first time, was I wrong to think that creating or experiencing those environments was totally out of the question? Cameron seemed to be advising us to rule nothing out.

Slowly things began to shift for me, and I began to be able to imagine. When I had to envision an ideal day during Week #8, I could imagine more than one. I suspect that both Week #6's focus abundance and extravagance  and the experience of visiting Algonquin Provincial Park after having imagined what it would be like contributed importantly to this change. I took great pleasure in envisioning the park and myself in it, and then the experience of it more than met my expectations for pleasure and meaning. Imagining suddenly was becoming less about what couldn't be--and much more about what already was and could be.

A few nights back, my imagination seemed ready to roll. Right after I read the tasks for Week #9, one of which requires us to describe ourselves engaged in some creative goal "at the height of your powers" (161), my mind was immediately flooded with images of myself actively being creative in a space conducive to that creativity. So I grabbed my journal and began writing everything I could see, hear, feel, even though I wasn't exactly sure what I was creating. Three days later, I still don't know.

But another major Week #9 task may be just the thing for helping me get clear--or clearer--about what I am and should be making and doing. This week, we're assigned to read our last eight weeks' worth of morning pages (the three pages of handwritten stream-of-consciousness writing we're directed to do each morning). This is something we had been expressly forbidden to do until this point in the course. I'm excited and scared by the prospect of doing this, but more excited than scared because I'm so curious. Though my pages will probably suggest actions and reveal insights, as the course says we're intended to do--and plenty of moments of revealing discomfort and disappointment, too--I expect they'll offer potent images and motifs, and new insights as well. And yes, it's possible that they will answer, in some way, the question of what I am and should be creating--you never know. I will definitely blog about how it goes!

* Personal photo of a painting in the "Everywhen" exhibit at the Fogg Art Museum. I believe--but I'm not sure--the painter is Naata Nungurrayi. 
** Quotation from "Nest":  Glück, L. (1999). Nest. In Vita nova (pp. 37-39). Hopewell, NJ: Ecco Press. 
*** Cameron, Julia. The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. Los Angeles, CA: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Perigee, 2002. Print. 

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