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The undisputed Queen of delightful growth exercises is Julia Cameron.  We are in Week 2 of the classic, “The Artist’s Way – a Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity.”  Anyone who does creative activities (or would like to) should read this book and follow the exercises at least once.  It is a 12-week recovery program.  Each week is jam-packed with interesting, thought-provoking and varied activities.  Going through the entire program is an amazing and eye-opening experience.  Ask anyone who’s done it.

Week Two is called “Recovering a Sense of Identity.”  Julia explains it, “This week addresses self-definition as a major component of creative recovery.”  She starts out talking about “Going Sane.”  As you start to change you might feel strange.  “At first flush,” Julia says, “going sane feels just like going crazy.”  Most reassuring to know!  The chapter goes on to talk about the people in your life who may be hurting your growth. Julia warns us, “Be particularly alert to any suggestion that you have become selfish or different.”  We need to keep reminding ourselves, even in the face of resistance from inside or out, that: “The Great Creator has gifted us with creativity.  Our gift back is our use of it.”  Along the way there are wonderful quotes from some very inspirational people like Brenda Ueland, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Shakti Gawain, Henry Miller and Eddie Cantor.

The next section talks about the “Crazymakers.”  People who can take over your life, Julia describes them, “They do things like break deals and destroy schedules, expect special treatment, spend your time and/or your money.”  We all know these kinds of people.  The kind that suck you up and very often spit you out.

Next we have to deal with Skepticism.  Those doubts that creep up inside of us.  About a Creator helping us or even about our own dear selves. Julia explains it so well, “. . .  our reluctance to take seriously the possibility that the universe just might be cooperating with our new and expanded plans. . . .   We still feel too much like frauds to handle some success. When it comes, we want to go.”  We need to just keep opening our minds to it.  Over and over again, as a practice.

Attention is such a beautiful and powerful thing. Where we put attention is where things grow.  “The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention.”  We pay attention to the things we care about, the things we choose to put our attention on.  When that comes from a clear place in us, it is truly delightful!  “The reward for attention,” Julia goes on to say is “is always healing.”

She ends the chapter with box of “Rules for the Road.”  In it she finishes the statement, “In order to be an artist, I must:” and adds 10 tactics, like “Set small and gentle goals and meet them.”  She ends with a suggestion to make a sign for yourself which reads, “Great Creator, I will take care of the quantity.  You take care of the quality.”  A freeing statement that allows you to let go of the outcome and focus your attention, give your care to what’s important, what you have the most control over.

As for the exercises, I can only offer a sampling. Many of the exercises are linked or built on previous ones. Or tied with the regular routine she asks of you.  Every day you are to write Morning Pages.  And once a week go on what she calls an Artist’s Date – where you make plans and take your artist somewhere fun.  A place where your artist can come out and play. Like a museum.  Or even something different like bowling.  Just for fun, for a different perspective.

Here are a few of the fun things she asks of you:

*  Where does your time go? List your five major activities this week.  How much time did you give to each one? Which were what you wanted to do and which were shoulds? How much of your time is spent helping others and ignoring your own desires?  Have any of your well-meaning friends triggered doubts in you?

I’ve been playing with this lately. I do a diary every day. Some days I can pull it right from my agenda for the day, but on others, everything gets changed.  It’s important for me to see the things I’ve accomplished.  I had this idea, working with The Coach By the Lake, to go over my diary and color code to find out where I’m spending most of my time. Noting what did I really want to do – my highest priority items and how much time I spent on lower priorities.  I think it’s most helpful to get a picture of how you’re spending your time.

*  Another exercise is to list 20 things you enjoy doing.  Barbara Sher has a similar exercise.  It’s so much fun to do!  The reality lies in the next step where you are to put down next to the item when the last time was you did it.  That can be sobering! But you end up with a good list for Artist’s Dates and an awareness of some enjoyable activities you can start to add back in your life.

*  Julia goes on to suggest that from this list you might find two things that you could put on your weekly schedule and do.  She reminds us that it can be done in a small time frames, instead of giving up because you don’t have a big enough space for it.

*  I like the Life Pie.  It’s almost like the Wheel of Life.  Check out CoachByTheLake.com where you can link to a Wheel of Life you can create.  The by hand version looks like this: Draw a circle.  Divide it into six pieces and label the pieces: Spiritual, Exercises, Play, Work, Friends, Romance, Adventure (or whatever you please).  Place a dot in each slice indicating what degree you feel fulfilled in this area.  Outer rim indicates great fulfilment, inner is not so great.  Connect the dots.  This will show you where you are lopsided.  Again we’re gaining insight into which areas need more attention.

*  Finally, we’re going to list 10 changes we’d like to make.  It’s called “Ten Tiny Changes,” but she says they can go from “the significant to the small.”  I like the idea of listing the tiny things you could do that would have an effect.  Like a Game Changer Goal that you could accomplish quickly and easily and see results.  Julia asks us to pick one of those items and get it done in a week.

Some of my favorite spiritual teachers also happen to be writers who write about writing.

Brenda Ueland, who wrote, “If You Want to Write” in 1938, taught me that we are all creative and that it is not only acceptable to express your creativity, it is an act of faith and gratitude for God’s gift to all of us. Brenda, I believe, lived a dashing life. In her 30’s being a wild- haired, bold girl and remaining so well into her 80’s. She lived a good life, I believe, like Dan Fogelberg said of Georgia O’Keefe’s life – “a life lived so well.” Brenda was a teacher of young people in Minnesota who came from various social economic cultures. She had a way of seeing, acknowledging and drawing out their creativity.

Natalie Goldberg (in many books, but especially) in “Writing Down the Bones,” showed me that writing is a sacred act and needs to be practiced regularly, as one would do a spiritual practice, or training for a sport. Natalie taught me to put in the hours, get the words on paper and see how good it feels. She inspired me to create the daily habit of journalling. If I miss a day, I can feel it. If I miss two, I become out of sorts. By the third day, it behooves me to take the time I need to put pen to paper. (I’m too far gone at that point to just type.) With her loving use of Buddhist concepts to explain the art of writing, her teaching has become ingrained in me and infused with my spiritual growth.

Julia Cameron (in her works “The Artist’s Way” and “Finding Water”) has been in cahoots with Natalie Goldberg. I cannot say for sure who first came up with the “Morning Pages” as Julia calls them. I thank them both for helping me establish that essential in my life. Julia has done much to help me see that my writer is sensitive and needs lots of care and coaxing. The more of her I can acknowledge, the broader and finer my art will be.

Anne Lamott taught me what it means to be a writer, with all my wants and warts. That it’s not an easy road, but one well worth traveling, step by step. Her incredible book, “Bird By Bird,” brings writing down to its essence.

From all of them, I’ve found that the more I learn about myself, the deeper I quest into my own spiritual growth, the more connection I feel to the Divine, the better my life and my writing will be.

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