Paperclips to denote the relationship between creativity and spirituality

Study of Julia Cameron’s Seeking Wisdom: The relationship between creativity and spirituality

Last Tuesday, I hosted our monthly Charlottesville Women’s Authors Guild meeting. After a little noshing and chitchat, we watched Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TEDx Talk “The Danger of a Single Story,” then explored the single stories we each carry and how they’ve impacted our creativity.

Through studying Julia Cameron’s book Seeking Wisdom, we’ve explored one of the stories we carry–our relationship to Creativity. Prayer has been the medium we’ve used to engage in this process, including prayers of petitionprayers of gratitude, and prayers of praise. Chapter five of Julia’s book pulls it all together by answering the question many of you might have: how are creativity and spirituality related?

Because spirituality can be a loaded term, especially if you’ve been wounded at the hands of organized religion, I’m defining spirituality as how you make meaning and where you find hope.

We all have a framework for meaning making, whether it’s based on a specific religion, a compilation of many different religions or philosophies, the scientific method, or a belief that we’re swimming in a pool of random chaos.

It’s not my job (or Julia’s) to guide you toward a specific framework. Instead, we want to let you know frameworks exist, you have one, and it’s helpful to examine yours from time to time, so you can make sure it still aligns with who you are. The more you know about your framework, the more you’ll understand how creativity works through you.

For Julia Cameron, writing is spirituality. She developed this belief as she worked the twelve steps of AA. Prior to sobriety, she’d spent years “trying to be brilliant” and was a total skeptic on this whole spirituality business. During early recovery, the best she could do was post a sign by her workstation that read, “Okay, God, you take care of the quality, and I’ll take care of the quantity.”

As the relationship between spirituality and creativity grew inside her, she worked to write more from a spirit of service and to “take something down” from the higher plane rather than “thinking something up.” While speaking to a writer friend over the weekend, I said that the highest service you can offer is to use your stories to settle the questions living in your bones—they are the heart of who you are.

This isn’t an invitation to go navel gazing. Rather, I’m suggesting you let yourself be vulnerable enough to uncover what really matters to you and to write with an open heart, because that’s where the essence of your story lies. But maintaining an open heart throughout the writing process is no small feat.

Julia compares our lives to that of the flower. “As artists, we, too, are delicate and sturdy. Sometimes, we feel our delicacy to be a liability. And yet, as poet Julianna McCarthy says, ‘if we rid ourselves of our vulnerability, we rid ourselves of our capacity to create.’ And so, we must be open to the pain that comes with life. Our openness moves us to create.”

It’s because of the pain that prayer, which she defines in this chapter as “focused good will,” is a focal part of her process. Depending on your framework and relationship with Creativity, you can view these prayers on the page as conversations with your writer self, a wise self, energy, or a benevolent being. If you learn nothing else from this process, you will have practiced having a kinder, gentler conversation with the tender part of you that creates.

Prayers have helped Julia deal with the inevitable doubts that come from living with an open heart, the times when she can’t trust Creativity’s timeline, or the fear that her ideas will run out. She prays for patience, for her mood to lift, and for people to serve as “Godsends.”

When we allow Godsends and prayers in, and we pay attention to the messages all around us, she says we achieve enlightenment. “In the most literal sense, it’s a time when we brighten, our steps liven, and our spirits lift.”

When enlightenment seems impossible, we can ask others to pray for us—and our creativity. The prayers we ask for need not be overly involved or time consuming. For example, Julia’s friend, Scotty, simply lights a stick of incense. That’s all.

The concept of prayer has played a big role in my life over the past three months, which is one reason why I chose this book. A dear friend is currently undergoing treatment for cancer. I send her daily prayers as I also work through Julia’s program, each day listening for what’s next so I can take down my stories rather than trying to think them all up. Even though my friend is going through radiation, she prays for me, and my book too. As we’ve worked our prayer process, my creativity has blossomed. New ideas and essays are emerging. There has been a playfulness to my writing practice, which is delightful after a year spent on heavy revisions. From this place of prayer and practice, I allow the delicate flower of my creativity to unfurl.

As I do this, I complete some of the exercises from this chapter:
If I let the Great Creator create through me, I’d…
If it didn’t feel so risky, I’d…
I know I’m pushing my creativity away when I…

I hope you’ll complete these exercises too.

Until next week, may you connect with all that you are and all the assistance available to you, including the wisdom within, the Godsends in your life, and the ineffable force of creativity that helps you always write on.

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