Seven years ago, I was introduced to a book called ‘The Artist’s Way’ written by Julia Cameron. A friend, who is a creative soul, had lent me her copy of the book with these cautionary words, “Either you will love this book or it will not work for you at all. No middle grounds.” I read the first few chapters that very day and was hooked.
The book is a guide to unleash the creativity in artists. Although Cameron is a writer, her book and book-based workshops have been known to bring painters, sculptors, writers, dancers, actors and many more creative souls out from the dry, arid phases of their lives. And here I was…a complete novice to the world of creative arts who was not on the look out for a mojo to discover. Having been immersed in a rational, data-driven, logical world all my life I was surely not the target audience. But something in me was attracted to that book.
The primary tool in Cameron’s toolbox is called ‘morning pages’. To awaken creativity, as a first step, she recommends throwing out a lot of mental garbage that restricts our natural flow. All the reasons why we cannot be creative need to be first acknowledged and then must be let go. To do this, she recommends writing three pages mindlessly every morning.
As a next step, and only after the garbage has been cleared, she implores us to go on ‘artist date’. In this step, she wants us to spend time in solitude, complete solitude. No friends, no kids, no spouses, no lovers, nobody but ourselves. No newspapers, no books, no technology, no music. Nobody and nothing to accompany us…nothing to do…to just be with our minds and souls. This is the time to feed our inner artist with some quality food, she says.
A combination of these two steps when practiced for a few weeks has allegedly released the creative juices of people with varied backgrounds.
For me, Cameron’s process captures so much more than unleashing creativity of an artist. To me, it encapsulates a healthy way of living to unleash complete human potential.
The human brain, source of all human progress and prowess, has an unfortunate habit of producing non-stop thoughts without any executive control. If you think you can control your thoughts, try the experiment of stopping your thoughts for a minute… just one minute. For an average human being, that is an impossible task. To top it off, our brains get stuck to certain kinds of thoughts based on our societal conditioning, our upbringing, our proclivities, our circumstances and so much more. Unfortunately, we land up expending most of our brain energy dealing with thoughts on which we have no control and, most of the time, make us go in circles of fears, worries and other unwanted emotions. Add to this the constant buzz of modern life where we are over-scheduled, over-stimulated and over-connected. As a result, our mammalian brains, products of evolution, go into fight-or-flight mode for extended periods of time. The chances of us being in control in this state are dismal. So what should we do? Can we control our brains?
Although Cameron’s book was written before our world was hyper-connected, her tools do provide a perfect path for a modern day adult to be more creatively productive. To me, her ‘morning pages’ tool is akin to taking a brain-shower every morning. It seems to let the dust of all random thoughts in our heads wash away. Our thoughts have never been under the executive control of our conscious mind but in today’s fast-paced life, it is even more important to take conscious control of our thoughts. We need to monitor and filter what goes on in our heads and what lingers around. Her follow-up tool – ‘artist date’ – is the perfect antidote to the continuous and constant buzz of activity and happenings of our world. First and foremost, this tool disciplines us to find time to quiet down. By quieting down, we begin to listen to our own body, we pay attention to our own emotions, and we tune into our surroundings and our reality. This process opens up our sensory organs to perceive more fully, it makes us pick up various subtle but accurate signals that our physical body is sending to our brain about its stresses. We are able to better tune into our own emotions as well as the emotions of people we interact and work with. Paradoxically, solitude of this process primes us to absorb the signals of our world with heightened awareness.
I think this is the state Cameron is trying for us to get to – where we are free of our limiting thoughts and our sensory awareness is at its peak – leading us to unblocked creativity. But I would go further than Cameron. I think in this state, it is not just our aesthetic creativity that is unleashed but our logical thinking, rational problem-solving capabilities as well as our emotional intelligence are also at their best. Life seems to brighten up. We are able to face challenges and setbacks with equanimity. We achieve and succeed without constant struggle. Mind seems clearer and more lucid. Decisions and life’s events fall in place. We find fulfillment in our daily activities. It seems to me that this is the stage we all yearn to sustain – where all our inherent human capabilities and talents are completely unrestricted and they manifest naturally and gracefully.
I fully understand that there is nothing new about Cameron’s toolbox. Albert Einstein, amongst many others, was a believer. He said, “The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.” From times immemorial, Eastern and Western traditions have prescribed different tools to clear the clutter of our thoughts and use solitude as the catalyst for unlocking human potential. I am just using Cameron’s suggestions to remind us that we must learn to be aware of our cluttered brains and play with tools of solitude that fit in with our modern lives to awaken our full potential.
To get to a sustained state of this ‘blissful wellbeing’, nothing more is needed and nothing less will suffice!