Author Archives: Alicia Altair

About Alicia Altair

Week Four of The Artist’s Way: Reading Deprivation

The center that I cannot find
Is known to my unconscious mind
-W.H. Auden

I was both interested and dismayed when chapter four brought up the possibility of spending a week reading absolutely nothing. Dismayed because, well obviously as a chronic reader I feel a lot of internal resistance at not reading anything for an entire week. Interested because it’s something I started thinking about weeks ago, before I began working through the Artist’s Way.

When I first arrived in Oregon I had been traveling for four months, living out of my truck and on the couches of friends. My four months of travel were preceded by a year and a half of leaving a dance company I loved being in, moving from California to Illinois, spending three months traveling with a band in Costa Rica, losing my closest animal companion, having my marriage nearly implode, moving deeper into Chicago, trying to find work and some semblance of community, then switching gears much sooner than expected and moving back to the other side of the country to a place I had never been. I am sure that someone out there is a pro at maintaining a routine and moving forward with their creative endeavors in that sort of constant upheaval, but I am not one of them. Never underestimate the power of stability.

I’ve heard it takes around three weeks to build a good habit, though no one really talks about how long it takes to destroy one. I can’t contribute much to such a study, if there is one, as my good habits quietly slipped away during the chaos of the last couple years, their absence unnoticed in the commotion. When the commotion finally quieted, I resolved to rebuild good habits from the beginning, habits that supported my creative goals and helped keep me in a positive emotional state (which in turn keeps me moving forward in my creative process which in turn keeps me in a positive emotional state…). Habits like my yoga and dance practice, writing every day, meditating, and keeping up with my OBOD and BOTA studies.

Which brings me back to the topic of reading deprivation.

Having tossed all my practices out the window for quite a long time I was in a good position to be aware of the process of building them back up, particularly after I started paying close attention to my creative recovery. Without a doubt, input from social media, news, and other people’s opinions form the biggest obstacle to my momentum, second only to my own inner critic, which not surprisingly gets louder the more energy I give to the other things.

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron compares words to tiny tranquilizers for artists, clogging us up and numbing us out to our inner voice, our artist’s inspiration. Your inner voice doesn’t stand much of a chance if you are constantly immersed in the noise of internet memes and media hype, turning to another’s voice every time you might have an idea of your own, or “escaping” through novels and movies.

“It is a paradox that by emptying our lives of distractions we are actually filling the well. “

-Julia Cameron

Not all reading and other forms of input has the effect of numbing us out to our inner voice. Much of it can be inspiring, educational, life-affirming. I think there’s an element of defensiveness, though, that comes up when faced with the idea that we may be sabotaging ourselves by keeping our minds constantly busy on relatively unimportant things, and in that defensiveness is potentially denial and an inability to be objective. We immediately justify our habit by labeling it educational, or important, when it might not actually be when considered alongside whatever it is we say we truly want to create in our lives.

And ultimately, it’s all a distraction. I think the key is in discrimination. Pulling the weeds.

I’ve pulled some weeds and made some changes, in regards to what input I allow in and how much.

I now limit myself to ten minutes a day total on social media sites and other time-waster sites, like you tube. If you think ten minutes a day is more than enough to check your Facebook, I challenge you to try it! You will be amazed how quickly that time disappears. I’m using an extension for chrome called Stay Focused which blocks the sites you specify after the time you set elapses. Very useful tool. That ten minutes is mainly spent answering messages, so I don’t get much static from the news feed anymore. And yes, it has made a difference.

I’ve also learned to set clear boundaries around the space I set aside for things like writing. For me, this is the first thing in the morning. I don’t even turn on the computer or make coffee until I’ve written three pages. Well…. sometimes I make coffee.

I haven’t gone a full week yet with absolutely no input. I am going to do it at some point in the remaining eight weeks of this Artist’s Way series. Is anyone up for doing it with me?


Week Three of The Artist’s Way: Synchronicity

“Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, grace, and power in it.”

Life’s been quite a whirlwind for me since Samhain and I’ve let my writing slip to the side as a consequence, but I’m back now and filled with a sense of wonder at how the creative process continues to unfold in my life.

There are times when I am in the flow, and other times when I am out of it. The distinguishing characteristic I’ve found that tells me whether I am in or out of the flow is synchronicity. When I am in the flow the synchronicities come at me like a deluge, and every day I wake up with an expectation that doors will open, opportunities will unfold, and good things will happen. I stray out of the flow and the synchronicities begin to dry up; life takes on a hollow pallor and the days pass in a thick, timeless fog.

The latter has been my reality for the past couple years, until I realized I had to do something, had to recover a sense of my own power if I ever hoped to find the flow again. In the last three months and especially the last few weeks synchronicity has returned to my life, and in that return I know I am on the right path.

To illustrate what I mean, here are just a few of the more significant synchronicities I’ve experienced since Samhain:

I dream I am an old woman who is impoverished and alone after a life spent futilely chasing my passions. The older me tells the younger me that it’s not too late to do something sensible and avoid ending up like her. Cue fuzzy dream montage in which I’m working in an office and accumulating possessions. The montage ends abruptly and I am standing next to a copy of myself observing a large city on fire surrounded by a blasted landscape, which my subconscious has gleefully populated with zombies (thanks, Walking Dead). My copy turns from the burning city, looks directly at me and says: “You could, but that’s not what is needed”. The next morning I turn on my computer to check social media and email, and this is the first thing I see:


I notice that although there is no definitive sign that my worst fears illustrated in the dream won’t come true anyway, I feel a loosening of that fear I hadn’t known I was holding onto. I see that I had been falling into a poverty mentality recently without conscious realization, allowing doubt and fear of not having enough to creep in and dictate my mood and actions.

Two days later I am thinking about the upcoming visit from my husband, who I hadn’t seen in four months. We would have a week together before he had to return to Chicago and wrap up his job there, before finally coming back to Portland for good about a month after that. I find myself thinking how it would be great if we could get away from the busyness of my house share for a couple of days to reconnect. I decide on two nights in Seattle, as there is a big event happening during that time I know we would both enjoy. I am met by all manner of obstructions trying to make these arrangements, the foremost of which is cost. All the hotels which are both nice and in our budget are booked, leaving me with a choice between a crappy hotel, a hotel way out of our budget, or imposing on friends. The whole situation starts to feel forced and out of the flow, so I let it go. Later that same day I am chatting with friends who tell me they have timeshare points they will lose if they don’t use by the end of the year, and would I like to get away for a couple of days with my husband? Within an hour I find myself booked into a luxury suite at no cost to me, with a hot tub on a private deck overlooking the ocean at a Washington shoreline resort.

Several days later we arrive at the resort having made the intention to relax, play, and generally have fun reconnecting. We’re wondering aloud what we’ll do for dinner as we walk into the suite, and there on the foyer table is a vase of pink roses, a mug that says “Believe” and contains a bouquet of candy of all things (probably should have been more specific with the ‘play’ part), and a gift certificate for $100 to a nearby restaurant. The restaurant turns out to be incredible and we have one of the loveliest dinners in memory. The next morning I’m slicing up a watermelon I had spontaneously brought with us thinking we might not want to go out for breakfast, and as I do this the center of the watermelon separates and falls away from the rest into a perfect heart-shaped medallion. This is repeated with every slice I make. On the way home I contemplate how inappropriate a party in Seattle would have been to the quality alone time we actually needed.

A week later my husband has gone back Chicago and I am searching online for a house to rent. We hoped to have something for December 1st, but suspected it may be as long as January 1st. I steel myself for the usual stressful process of finding the right place to live. I spend several fruitless days looking at the same boring suburban houses with no yard privacy, and then realize that I am expecting difficulty rather than ease, and I hadn’t placed on paper what we actually wanted. I take a breath and adjust my mindset. I make a list of what we want and place the paper on my altar with a lit candle and a home-finding talisman I had dedicated to Hekate and been carrying with me for months. I then bring up Craig’s List and immediately get an intuitive hit that I should increase my max price search parameter just a bit. The right house appears at the top of my search results. At only five miles from where my husband would be working the slight increase in price is offset by gas savings.

Three days later, the day before the showing, I get another intuitive hit that I should use the realtor’s online application to apply before I actually see the inside of the house in person. I know I will be out the $100 application fee if it turns out to be the wrong place but I feel certain if I don’t apply now I will lose it, and confident that this is the place I am supposed to rent. As expected, on viewing the house it is perfect. There are several other people at the showing, one of whom announces to the realtor that she wanted to apply on the spot. The realtor hands her the application but informs her that I already have an application in, and so have first pick, assuming the application is approved. Our move-in date is December first.

Some would say I am ascribing meaning where there is none, finding comfort and seeing signs in random occurrences and calling blind luck an intuitive hit. Objectively, they would be right. I am interpreting events based on my own subjective experience. I am choosing to believe – and my life is better for it. Should it matter that not everyone will see the significance that I do?

I think that disbelief in synchronicity is synonymous with disbelief in the gods, or a conscious and responsive universal force. I think that beyond all the eye-rolling and sometimes condescending statements as to why such things cannot be, is a subconscious fear that such things might actually be.  To believe, Cameron tells us, is to truly accept  responsibility for the manifestation of our dreams:

If we do, in fact, have to believe in a force beyond ourselves that involves itself in our lives, then we may have to move into action on those previously impossible dreams. . . . Is it any wonder we discount answered prayers? We call it coincidence. We call it luck. We call it anything but what it is- the hand of God, or good, activated by our own hand when we act in behalf of our truest dreams, when we commit to our own soul.

To believe in an all-powerful force responsive to our actions as individuals is to contemplate a level of freedom and responsibility outside the comfort level of most. Apathy and cynicism are easier and less threatening than action and faith.

So I’m back in the flow with a renewed certainty that if I want to stay there, I have to be an active participant in this process. I have to know what I want, ask for it, recognize it when it appears, take action, then start the cycle all over again. This is a partnership, not a genie in a bottle, and the possibilities go far beyond a miserly three wishes.


Samhain, Halloween, and The Wild Hunt

The host is riding from Knocknarea
And over the grave of Clooth-na-Bare;
Caoilte tossing his burning hair,
And Niamh calling Away, come away:
Empty your heart of its mortal dream.
The winds awaken, the leaves whirl round,
Our cheeks are pale, our hair is unbound,
Our breasts are heaving our eyes are agleam,
Our arms are waving our lips are apart;
And if any gaze on our rushing band,
We come between him and the deed of his hand,
We come between him and the hope of his heart.
The host is rushing ‘twixt night and day,
And where is there hope or deed as fair?
Caoilte tossing his burning hair,
And Niamh calling Away, come away.

-William Butler Yeats

Reading the various engaging Samhain articles around the blogosphere today, I find it curious that almost nowhere do I see mention of The Wild Hunt. In fact the only place I find it mentioned is in John Halstead’s article, “What in Sam Hain.

I share Halstead’s sentiment in that October 31st has never been a day in which I’ve felt inclined to engage in somber ancestor worship. This night has always felt like frenetic chaos to me, with the secular world caught up in a whirlwind of loosened boundaries and intoxication rivaled only by New Year’s Eve. I view this night akin to a rip current in the ocean: if I decide I want to take a swim I had better be prepared to go wherever the current takes me, because fighting against it will likely lead to drowning.

And I think that’s wholly appropriate for a night that marks the beginning of a cycle where, whether real or due to our own shift in perception, the boundary between this world and the otherworld thins, allowing for the possibility of communion between the denizens of each. In my own belief of this time it’s the wild hunt which blows through that boundary at the first, marking the path for those who follow, creating a rip current with its passing.

The hunt leaves in its wake flotsam and jetsam that is quite manifest, as anyone who works in an emergency room can likely attest. While we can assume that any holiday where drinking factors heavily will result in increased violence and accidents, Halloween night seems to be a particular catalyst, above and beyond even New Year’s Eve. The statistics in the article linked above are for Boston only; I’d be interested to see how they compare to the national average. If the Halloween riots in Madison, Wisconsin are any indicator, there does seem to be a pattern.

The wild hunt is a force of nature. It’s beautiful, frightening, dangerous. It reminds us of how vast, unfathomable and utterly magnificent the scope of the universe is. Deny it or treat it lightly and the hunt may decide you are the game – and leave you at the bottom of the ocean. Acknowledge and give it your due respect, approach it with your eyes open, and maybe, just maybe, you can ride along with it.

Happy hunting.


Quite a current they have going there

Not safe, but possibly glorious

Week Two of the Artist’s Way: Setting Boundaries

The most ubiquitous form of psychic attack comes from the people closest to you.

Does that thought make you uncomfortable? Do you find yourself wanting to reflexively deny it?

It’s not comfortable to think of your family and friends as potential sources of creative sabotage, as invested in keeping you stuck and using guilt and fear-based manipulation to do it. It’s perhaps less comfortable to think of yourself as both willing victim and perpetrator of the same, but that is exactly what week two asks you to do.

Week two asks you to look at the people with whom you surround yourself with a discerning eye, and then turn that same eye on yourself.

I recently had a friend announce on Facebook that she was no longer going to be using that particular social media outlet, as too much of the information posted by her friends was a source of negative input to her. This is exactly the kind of examination Julia Cameron says we should be making in our lives, particularly those of us who are actively pursuing creative recovery.

Stepping away from Facebook is one thing, but that still leaves all the input from the rest of the world, a world most of us don’t have the option to cloister ourselves away from. I doubt many of us would want to, anyway, considering that in doing so we would also be blocking much of the positive.

So how do we discern what and who is causing us to stay blocked and stuck, and what do we do about it?

Cameron likens our blocked friends to fellow alcoholics; none of them are going to applaud our attempts at sobriety when they are still invested in their own drinking habit.

Notice who applauds, and who is disturbed by your recovery. Who expresses well-meaning doubts? Who suggests with underlying disapproval that you are acting different or being selfish? Guilt is a readily available source of manipulative energy and, feeling abandoned, blocked friends will use it to try to leverage us back into habits that are more comfortable for them.

Being everything to everyone all the time does not make you a good person or a better friend. It makes you a frustrated person and breeds bitterness and resentment.

I found that as I worked through this chapter I began to notice all the subtle influences I allow others to exert on my mood, my views, my process – even my goals and dreams.

I’m working toward getting my massage license current after a hiatus of several years. A recent casual conversation that began innocently enough about massage therapy in Portland turned into a litany of complaints by the person I was talking to, based on his own negative experiences.  Halfway through the conversation I had a very clear vision of myself listening to the diatribe, shoulders gradually slumping with a weighty sigh as I absorbed what was being said with a clear feeling of hopelessness in pursuing that goal.

Not long ago I probably would have joined him in cynical camaraderie, possibly not even noticing the sudden loss of hope. I’m understanding now that cynical camaraderie does the other person no good whatsoever and actively does me harm.

Realizing that this person was expressing a belief system designed to support himself in staying exactly where he is, it suddenly became much easier to slough off the doubts that arose from the onslaught of negativity. I also realized that if I want to be a good friend to him, the best thing I can possibly do is be successful in my goal.

These are concepts that are probably familiar to most of us. There are enough books and blogs and handy one-liners on this subject that we should all be pro’s at spotting the pattern and not feeding the negativity and doubt trolls. Still, we often are blind to the pattern and feed them anyway. We alternate between being the troll and feeding the troll regardless of what we think we know. Why?

This is the part where you turn the eye of discernment onto yourself.

You cannot simply play the blame game and divorce yourself from any friend or situation where feelings of self-doubt are brought up, without accepting responsibility for the part you play in perpetuating the dynamic.

“As blocked creatives, we are willing to go to almost any lengths to remain blocked”

– Julia Cameron

If my tendency is to engage in cynical camaraderie and drop my dreams by the wayside as a result, I have to ask myself, what is the payoff?

Life is simpler and far less threatening when you stay stuck. Pursuing your dream is not as easy as posting a bunch of pretty pictures on a vision board. It requires action, and continuous effort. It requires introspection, figuring out where your deepest fears lie and then going there to confront them. You will probably have to do this again and again on your journey;  you are fighting a war, not slaying a dragon.

Up against so much, no wonder many choose to stay stuck.

It’s helping me to move forward by thinking about it in terms of skirmishes rather than an ongoing war. Each time I have a conversation with someone, I’m engaged in a skirmish. Not a skirmish with them, but with myself.

My job in this skirmish is simply to pay attention.

I’m looking for any signs of creative sabotage. I’m sorting what is real from what is fear. I’m setting boundaries with them and myself, choosing what to engage with, and what needs to be ejected onto the other side of those boundaries. I’m finding satisfaction in small victories, and I believe this is how I’ll make big gains.



On Being Rejected by a Coven

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
-William Butler Yeats

As I was preparing to move to Oregon, I decided that upon my arrival I would seek out and potentially join a coven of an established witchcraft tradition. I wanted to do this for three reasons:

1. I’m interested in doing non-public ritual and magickal work with a small and connected group of people I see on a somewhat regular basis. Having moved around so much, this has not been previously possible. Now it is.

2. I’m interested in learning – or at least learning if I want to learn – a witchcraft tradition. I’ve had numerous teachers of various traditions and practices, witchcraft and otherwise, but I’ve never studied face to face with an elder of one particular tradition, start to finish. My own practices are based on what feels right in the moment combined with whatever I might pull from my grab bag full of collected techniques, rituals, meditations, invocations, etc. You never know what you might get, and that’s never been an issue considering it’s generally just me and the gods. I’m interested to see how what I know might work and be of service within a tradition, and how a tradition might dovetail with what I already do.

3. I would like to put closure on and heal a wound received when I was fifteen and joined a coven that was really more of a cult. Looking back on things as an adult, I know it’s illogical to carry a bias based on one isolated experience, but I do sometimes feel its subtle influence.

Now, back to the rejection.

I found a group I was interested in, did some research and exchanged a few emails with the High Priestess. I was hoping to just meet for coffee and vibe each other out, but first she wanted me to fill out a questionnaire. Alright, I could respect that. I thoughtfully and honestly gave my answers and actually found the questions to be thought-provoking and a good exercise all on their own.

Here are the highlights of the response (rejection) I received:

Between your letters to us and your application, it appears you are quite advanced in your studies, and have accomplished much on your own.

We are a training tradition.
When people have advanced to our satisfaction and have met certain requirements, we shoo them out of the nest.
Seeing how you have studied with so many others, as well as on your own, we feel you already have the skills we could share with you.

So basically, I’m overqualified. This is very strange to me in this context.

I assume that when you wish to learn a tradition, you start from wherever their starting point is. If you can’t put your ego aside and do that, well… I would think that would be your first test.

I once had a dance teacher who told her students: “The hardest thing I ever did was take a beginner’s class”. She was speaking of coming in as someone new to a particular method, as was the position of many of her students. Despite many years of dance training, she had to start from the very basics, alongside people with little to no dance experience at all. It’s an excellent lesson in patience, humility, and how badly you really want something.

Their statement that I already had the skills they could share led me to another question: what is the role of a teacher?

Is a teacher a purveyor of information, a person whose role is to fill up the student with the knowledge required to advance to the next grade? Or is a teacher the person who helps the student to make new connections, ask questions, explore theories, consider known information from fresh perspectives, to perceive the limitless potential of all things?

Is a teacher a filler of pails, or a lighter of fires?

Frankly, I can fill my own pail.

We live in a time when things once hidden are easily revealed with a few clicks of the mouse – perhaps to our overall detriment. What is needed is not more information, but teachers who can breathe life into what can often be a heady uphill pursuit, teachers who help their students to see old information with fresh eyes.

I’ve found moments of this in my practice as a yogi. There have been times as a student where I am in a posture for what must be the thousandth time. I am relaxed in the posture and I start thinking, “I have this”.

And in that moment the teacher will give a cue I’ve never heard before, or intuitively give a reminder to breathe right at a certain moment – and suddenly the posture is new again, my body is shifting into a heightened awareness and my mind engages in a level of focus I thought I had already attained. It’s enlightening, and exciting.

I try to remember those moments when I am teaching my own classes, remembering that my job is not to read off a script of postures for my students to perform, but to find ways to bring them to a deeper mind-body connection, to fully engage them in the familiar as if it were new – because it is.

That said, we can’t put all the burden for lighting fires on external teachers.

We are all our own teachers, and I sometimes think accepting that responsibility is far more daunting a task than finding a teacher outside ourselves could ever be.

Om Guru Om Guru Deva Deva
Aja Ki Jai Ananda Ki Jai

(Roughly: I honor the teacher (guru) within me, the divine bliss shines through me)
(listen to it here)




Week One of the Artist’s Way: Marathon Training

Three pages, longhand, every morning, half asleep. Morning pages. Did I mention in my previous post that this is one of two core practices of the Artist’s Way?

Despite being an avid collector of journals, I’ve never been very good at the actual journaling part. I can’t resist their decorated covers, their scent of new paper and possibilities… but a quick flip through the accusatory drawer full of them reveals little beyond that. Maybe a poem here or a page of an experience there, disjointed and quickly set aside.

I do have a few journals that are filled with dance notes, choreographies, yoga sequences and ritual and magickal notations, but my personal thoughts and feelings are conspicuously absent.

And now I have another journal, literally The Morning Pages Journal
I originally purchased with the book, and in it are two-hundred and sixty-four 8.5 x 11 pages, thirty-six of which are filled margin to margin with mental and emotional download in my chicken scratch penmanship. Twelve consecutive days of longhand journaling is a first for me. Why is this apparently working now, when it never has before?

Two reasons:

1. Because they’re Morning Pages, not afternoon pages, evening pages, or whenever-something-happens pages.

2. Because I stopped trying to journal a best-selling autobiography.

I saw the first reason quickly, though admitted to it reluctantly. I am not a morning person. I get up in a haze, take the dog out in a haze, mechanically stumble to the coffee, which I make in a haze. Three hours later, it may be safe to talk to me.

Even so, however incongruous it seems, I make my most intuitive, insightful, creative leaps when I’m still trying to clear the haze from my mind. And worse, when I am forced to make a habit out of getting up very early – such as at yoga teacher training when I was up every day before dawn – I notice my intuitive potential climb to even greater heights.

As you might imagine, being a night owl I have assiduously repressed this knowledge. After all, it made no sense.

Synchronistically, within days of starting to write the morning pages I discovered this article, which essentially states that we are at our most creative during our least optimal time of the day.  I’m finding it impossible to maintain my denial with so much sense-making in my face.

Should morning people then write their morning pages late at night? As morning people are essentially aliens to me, I can’t speak for them. I do, however, think that another reason morning pages work is theoretically you are doing them at a time of day when there are minimal distractions, before the world has swept you up and wrung you out. There is a difference between being in a liminal, hazy state and being exhausted from your day.

The second reason – because I stopped trying to journal a best-selling autobiography – arrives in correlation to one of the main themes of chapter one: protecting the child artist within.

No one would expect to pick up a violin for the first time and immediately play beautifully. And yet it is that inability to be perfect right from the beginning that keeps so many of us from even trying, or causes us to quit after the first few lessons, when faced with the screeching sounds of our initial attempts.

And if we survive those initial attempts, we may then be sunk by the realization of how much time and work it will likely take to get to the point where we feel we have “arrived”.

There is no quick solution to this, as Julia Cameron points out in chapter one:

“In recovering from our creative blocks, it is necessary to go gently and slowly. . . . Progress, not perfection, is what we should be asking of ourselves. Too far, too fast and we can undo ourselves. Creative recovery is like marathon training. We want to log ten slow miles for every one fast mile.”

Instead of trying to journal a best-selling autobiography, I am simply focusing on filling the pages. It’s not unlike meditation, where stray thoughts appear and are observed from a place of detachment, only in this case the thoughts are netted as they flow by and channeled onto the pages. Trite, whiny, angry, childish, bad grammar, disconnected themes – doesn’t matter! And occasionally, within the download, something insightful and inspired appears.

I think the morning pages are the warm-up for the ten slow and one fast mile, a way to learn how to be kind and patient with ourselves. These are skills we will certainly need as we face the next hurdle Cameron describes in our recovery: time.

“It is impossible to get better and look good at the same time. . . . By being willing to be a bad artist, you have a chance to be an artist, and perhaps, over time, a very good one. When I make this point in teaching, I am met by instant, defensive hostility:

‘But do you know how old I will be by the time I learn to really play the piano/act/paint/write a decent play?’

Yes . . . the same age you will be if you don’t.”

I find this a deceptively obvious yet profound statement to contemplate. The Truth I feel in it  helped me to take a breath, slow down and stop worrying about the “arrival”.

We have no time machine. If we did, we might go back and make sure our five year-old self gets to every piano lesson, or our ten year-old self sticks with ballet, or our fifteen year-old self continues writing short stories despite parental discouragement in the form of “sensible” advice.

Because we cannot go back and relive our lives with no diversions from our creative calling, we have to ask ourselves if we can be content never having tried at all. We have to ask ourselves, will this yearning to create be any less in another ten years, twenty years, fifty years?

Time rolls inexorably onward, uncaring how we make use of it. Personally, a life spent training for the marathon feels a great deal more fulfilling than one spent standing on the sidelines, looking back.

12 Weeks of The Artist’s Way

I first heard of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron several years ago when I learned it was required reading for my dance school. I got the book, read it, and worked through it…sort of. Right around that time in my life I was going through some major transitions and never really gave it the attention it probably deserved. Then I moved out-of-state and, well, the book went in a box.

Now at a place in my life where I will hopefully be in one location for longer than it takes me to memorize the way to the grocery store, I’ve taken the book out of the box and I’m giving it another go.

Starting from the premise that art is a spiritual pursuit, Cameron guides the participant through a twelve week journey of self-exploration, in which, supposedly, you remove artistic blocks and recover your creative self.

I can’t imagine there exists a single person who hasn’t at some point felt compelled to create, while simultaneously telling themselves they lacked the innate talent to do so, that it’s a luxury, that it’s too late to begin, they don’t have time, or that it’s not sensible and will leave them in financial ruin. This book is for anyone who has ever put their creativity on the shelf, and addresses the core blocks of why we do that and how we can heal it.

Interested? Me too.

After finishing week one of the course I find myself keenly interested in sharing my progress as I go. Maybe by doing so, someone else will be inspired to dig deep and go on a creative journey. For now, check out the following principles which Cameron says can be the foundation for our creative recovery and discovery:

1. Creativity is the natural order of life. Life is energy: pure creative energy.

2. There is an underlying, in-dwelling creative force infusing all of life — including ourselves.

3. When we open ourselves to our creativity, we open ourselves to the creator’s creativity within us and our lives.

4. We are, ourselves, creations. And we, in turn, are meant to continue creativity by being creative ourselves.

5. Creativity is God’s gift to us. Using our creativity is our gift back to God.

6. The refusal to be creative is self-will and is counter to our true nature.

7. When we open ourselves to exploring our creativity, we open ourselves to God: good orderly direction.

8. As we open our creative channel to the creator, many gentle but powerful changes are to be expected.

9. It is safe to open ourselves up to greater and greater creativity.

10. Our creative dreams and yearnings come from a divine source. As we move toward our dreams, we move toward our divinity.

The Link Between Spirituality and Creativity

All lovely tales that we have heard or read:
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.

– From Endymion by John Keats

When I decided to create this blog, I wrote a list of all the potential topics I could think of in the moment on which I would like to write. I didn’t want to start a blog only to find I have nothing to say! From this list I discovered I do have plenty to say (surprise), and I also noticed a disproportionate number of ideas had to do not with exploring spirituality, but creativity.

Initially this made perfect sense, as my immediate assumption is that spirituality (to include a belief in some form of divinity, higher power, spirit allies, conscious universal energy, etc.) and creativity are obviously linked. I like to challenge my assumptions though, considering you never really know if they are true for you, or just an echo of someone else’s beliefs, until you question and explore them.

There are plenty of incredibly creative individuals who are atheists, and that fact alone gives me reason to question my assumption. Pablo Picasso, Robert Louis Stevenson, Vincent van Gogh, Frank Lloyd Wright, Gore Vidal, Terry Pratchett, Ursula K. Le Guin… all atheists. If we assume creativity is linked to and possibly even informed by spirituality, how do we explain these brilliant creatives?

On the most basic level, atheism is defined as lack of belief in deities or the supernatural. Atheists are not unbelievers; to an atheist there are no gods in which to believe in the first place. From that initial point of agreement spring as many different kinds of atheists as there are pagans, with at least some who acknowledge a natural, immanent power at work in every thing. This sounds to me quite like what many pagans believe.

In “Atheism and the Sacred: Natural Creative Power” Eric Steinhart explains that because it is universal, natural creative power is abstract, and because it is an abstraction and not a thing, it’s fair game for atheists to affirm. Later, he goes on to explain the function of natural creative power:

“Natural creative power participates in explanatory relations: Why is there something rather than nothing?  Because the natural creative power of being must be; it cannot fail to create; it necessarily generates.”

A ubiquitous, mysterious force impelled and impelling to create, to bring into being? Hmm, sounds familiar.

Of course, this is not to say that any of the aforementioned creatives supported or support any such philosophy, but it does speak to the idea of creativity coming from somewhere other than our own determination as a more inclusive concept than not.

I think if I were an atheist I would have a difficult time accepting a natural creative power without answering the why of it. Why would such a force, lacking conscious will such as we would attribute to deity, create? This is probably one of the reasons I am not an atheist, as my opinion on this is that without conscious will, there would be no reason to create. And if we attach conscious will to natural creative power, we have deity, or something quite like it.

Call it an abstraction, or relate to it as a being or beings with conscious will, it is clear to me that a spiritual force exists – independent of our belief. That decided, I find that instead of asking:

“Is there a link between spirituality and creativity?”

A more meaningful question is:

What is the link between spirituality and creativity?”

Exploring some comparisons of definition helps to provide an answer:

Spirituality is a search for meaning in life; creativity is a process of experiencing meaning.

Spirituality is a means for recognizing and relating to The Mystery – the dimension to the world that is beyond surface appearances or the ability to fully describe using language; creativity provides a method for deepening this relationship, often finding ways to express it circuitously, as in metaphor, music, and movement.

Spirituality is concerned with growth and transformation through observation, intention and practice; creativity facilitates this process, demanding our awareness, will and prolonged attention, pushing us to move beyond ourselves.

My understanding, then, is quite simply that creativity comes from and is an agent of spirituality, which is constantly seeking to move through us, expressing itself in symbol and form.

I think this is an important idea to keep in mind for anyone who has ever felt a desire to create but squashed it, telling themselves they would never be very good at it, aren’t talented enough, don’t have any original ideas, are too old to start, wouldn’t know where to start, or aren’t an artist, therefore cannot create. Despite modern western culture practically eliminating everyday access to the creative arts by placing the emphasis on art as commodity, valuing only art that sells, the process of making art is a path of discovery, a journey that has no true end. As such, it is not the exclusive domain of professional artists.

The process is what matters, not the outcome. The journey, not the destination.

As with a spiritual practice, we never arrive, but rather are always discovering, absorbing, unfolding, deepening.

It follows that the exploration and development of our spiritual path and practices is also a development of ourselves as channels for spirit to flow and express through. And in turn, by engaging in the creative process we deepen our ability to understand and live our spirituality.

Hopefully my burgeoning readership is as interested in this process as I am, as apparently I will be writing a great deal about it!

As Without, So Within: The Autumn Equinox and our Shadow Selves

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Robert Frost

Can you feel it? That touch of crispness to the air, the sense of settling in mind and body, a quieting. At Autumn Equinox we stand on a balance point, our faces turned toward the inevitable transition to come, even as we celebrate the fullness of what is soon to pass. This is the soft, liminal time when day comes to stand in balance with night, for just a moment, then tips and gently surrenders to night’s embrace for the next cycle.

In the outer world, we are reaping the second harvest, celebrating the fruits of our labor and giving thanks – the Witch’s Thanksgiving. This is the time to get our homes and gardens in order, preparing for long winter months. A last good cleaning while it’s still warm enough for open windows, finishing up projects begun with the energy of summer, and preparing to mulch the garden and plant bulbs with the first frost, anticipating next year’s bounty come again.

On the other side of the mirror, the inner world, we see our activities of the outer world in reflection. The feast of the second harvest becomes a memory to cherish, a sensory promise that though we may wander through dark places on our inward journey through winter, light and warmth and bounty will come again; the wheel turns. So too our outward efforts to cleanse and prepare our homes and gardens for winter’s bite may find their reflection in mental and emotional preparation, as we clear our minds of thought patterns which no longer serve us, and our hearts of things left unsaid, mending any tears in our relationships as best we can rather than leaving them for a day that never comes.

As with outer world preparation, this inner world preparation serves the ultimate goal of ensuring that next year’s harvest will be more bountiful, or at least as bountiful, as this. It prepares the way for our deep work of winter, our shadow work. The harvest of this is our personal continued evolution, a stronger, brighter, more deeply connected soul.

Like Persephone, we are about to step through a door to dark places, a journey to the underworld, our inner world. This is the place our fears and prejudices reside, our self criticisms, deepest doubts and all that does not fit with the way we wish to see ourselves. In repressing these qualities from conscious awareness we create shadow selves, and it is these shadows we intentionally seek out as we turn to the dark time of the year.

Shadows are tricksters, they evade and hide and disguise themselves as rationally acceptable thoughts and actions, justifications and rationalizations- anything to ensure they are not seen and exposed. Very often if we see them we’d rather not acknowledge their existence. Very often much of our lives are dictated by our shadows without us ever knowing it. After all, how does one recognize a shadow in the dark?

To see many of your shadows you need look no further than the people around you and your reactions to the things they say and do. This requires cultivating a still awareness, a willingness to observe yourself. A quality you’ve denied in yourself is often a quality you are very aware of in others. Observe in your interactions with others when you have a strong, reactionary impulse to something they say or do. Reactionary, emotional responses often herald your own shadow.

As an example, I had begun to notice that whenever my partner would speak of his art and how he could make it viable as more than a hobby, I would have an immediate emotional reaction where a number of criticisms would pop into my head, all seemingly very rational. My impulse was to knock him down, for his own good. This is not easy to see, or admit to once seen, but having admitted it to myself I was able to drag it into the light and examine it. What I saw was my own shadow. My reaction had nothing to do with him, and everything to do with what I had been telling myself for years about my own art. I’ve spent half my life knocking myself down, “for my own good”.

Projection doesn’t only encompass negative qualities, and a shadow isn’t necessarily dark. Look to those you admire most, those who you may have placed on a pedestal. What is it about them you admire, what qualities are they reflecting back to you? In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron describes those who gravitate to and surround themselves with artists but deny being artists themselves as “shadow artists”. What qualities are you gravitating toward that you have denied in yourself? Why have you denied that quality? That denial is also a shadow, and its discovery can lead you toward greater personal fulfillment.

Once seen and named, the shadow loses power and you can begin to work with it, to transform and use it as an impetus for healing and growth.

One way to work this transformation is to give each shadow you expose a name. This is beautifully and hilariously portrayed in Harry Potter, when Professor Lupin teaches how to defend against a Boggart. I’m uncertain whether shouting, “Riddikulus!” on spotting one of your shadows will be very effective, but naming it is. Give it a ridiculous name, something that identifies its effect on you and simultaneously dis-empowers it. When it comes up in the future you’ll be more aware of it, and less directed by its effect on you. I’ve named my shadow from the previous example Statler.

Another effective method of dealing with your shadow is to mentally travel back in time and identify exactly when it made its first appearance. It may have arisen from a personal experience with a parent or teacher, some figure of authority. Perhaps it is less easily identifiable and more of a cultural construct. Since childhood we have been inundated with invisible scripts that we may have unknowingly allowed to direct the course of our lives, lurking in the backs of our minds, a growing shadow. Identifying the source helps you to put things in perspective and take back control of your life, write your own scripts.

Finally, own it. Wallowing in blame only creates another shadow. Ask yourself how you contributed to the growth of this shadow self, and decide what you want to do about it.

In doing this work we learn that what we believe to be our reality is entirely malleable. In doing this work together, as a seasonal ritual, we create a compound effect that has the power to affect the consensus reality.

Bring in your harvest, give thanks for what you already have, prepare your garden and clear out your house – within as well as without.

May the blessings of your harvest increase, year by year.

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