Tag Archives: Boundaries

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 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.



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