|Last Saturday, I was supposed to go whale watching off the coast of Virginia, but the trip was canceled due to high winds.|
Our whale-watching adventure was one-part do over for a COVID Christmas and one-part Valentine’s Day celebration, making the cancellation a major bummer. But rather than wallow in our disappointment, we drove to Richmond, home of the Edgar Allen Poe Museum.
I’ve always loved Poe’s creepy short stories. Spending time with the faded journals where he crafted classics like “The Telltale Heart,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” and “The Cask of Amontillado,” was a rare treat and keen reminder that all great stories humbly begin in our notebooks.
But my favorite part of the day occurred just before our visit to the Poe Museum. As an editor and coach, I live by deadlines. On days off, I like to embrace happenstance, which can be challenging with dietary restrictions. I’d always wanted to try Les Crepes, but dismissed it as a gluten haven with nothing for me. When we walked by, we discovered they now have gluten-free options, which were also corn free. So, yay for freaking me!
I left Richmond with hella gratitude for a day well spent, which is the perfect segue into the next chapter of Julia Cameron’s Seeking Wisdom. Last week, the focus was on asking for what you need.
This week, it’s about celebrating what Creativity gives you.
Julia says, “gratitude naturally follows the prayer of petition,” because in this form of prayer, we thank Creativity for our answered prayers. “The practice of gratitude fills us with a sense of prosperity and abundance. In counting our many blessings, we can appreciate the gifts around us,” which is essential in a field rife with doubts and rejections.
Julia breaks her prayers of gratitude into five forms:
Gratitude for others
Gratitude for our moods (or the ability to change them)
Gratitude for the process
Gratitude for our pain
Gratitude for the abundance of Creativity
Each form cracks our creativity open in different ways.
When we’re grateful for those who support us, we realize we’re not alone. That’s essential, because so much of our creative lives are spent staring at blank notebooks or screens that at times seem to taunt us. In expressing our gratitudes, we also connect with the Creativity beside us that whispers in our ears.
Yet support isn’t enough. Let’s face it, some days royally suck. When we’re down and slip on our dirt-colored glasses, it can feel like nothing has gone right and nothing ever will. A glum outlook shrinks our perspective, making us more likely to say I can’t, I’ll never, they’ll never, and it’s no use. But if something inside you is begging to be created, there’s always a use.
When Julia falls into a funk, she offers the following prayer of petition to Creativity: “Please help my mood.” Then she reminds herself that “moods float in like clouds…” which means they’ll also float away. She says, “Asking for divine help makes [her] feel less like a victim.”
After praying, she focuses on what she’s accomplished despite her mood. Her list reminds her that life conspires on her behalf even when she can’t see it.
From a place of possibility, what she calls “the path to grace,” she uses walking as a form of prayer. “Walking,” Julia writes, “brings us, step by step, closer to [Creativity] and clarity.” That clarity can be about our projects or our identity. The writer and actor George Bamford walks four miles per day. “George’s father raised him to hate himself.” During his walks, he says the following mantra: “I’m a very good person and I deserve God’s good.” In doing so, he uses each step “to brainwash [himself] the other way.”
There’s a ton of neuroscience to back up what George does. Walking as part of the path toward grace helps the hemispheres of the brain communicate, and when combined with a mantra, can actually create new neural networks in the brain, which can not only change our outlook but nervous system.
With a calmer nervous system, we’re more likely to pay attention to what’s around us and to engage with others from a place of compassion.
It took years of practice for me to see the benefits of changing my mood. Early childhood trauma rewired my brain toward the negative. For a long time, I saw this as a major deficiency. But that contrarian part of me that questions, fears, and is likely to say “yes, but” is trying to protect me.
As a result, I’ve learned to have gratitude for it too. That’s important because this life, which has been amazing, has also been a study in pain—a trauma-filled upbringing, my brother’s tragic death, a divorce, a life-changing illness, and writing’s many rejections.
I used to label these experiences as bad, but each one has healed and expanded—rather than contracted—who I am, largely because I’ve learned to see unwanted experiences as difficult blessings with the power to radically transform who I am. Does that mean I always welcome life’s detours? Nope. But once I get over my boohooing, I embrace Julia’s words: “In our darkest hour, we are closest to the light.”
Pain forces us reorder our lives so we can see that light. While that sometimes looks like setbacks, these experiences can help us become our biggest selves—if we’re willing to do the work required to heal and grow from them.
Some of our greatest stories come from our deepest pain. This is especially true for memoirists.
Julia has a fantastic exercise that can help you see the gratitude in your pain. Because it’s so good, I’ll let you read the entire exercise in her book.
For now, make a list of the blessings that have resulted from your dark times as well as a list of the five people you’re grateful for.
Until next week, may gratitude strengthen your relationship with Creativity, and from that place of expansion and connection may you always write on.
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