In “The Artist’s Way: Creativity as a Spiritual Practice,” Julia Cameron offers a wide slate of encouragement, exercises, prodding, tasks, tools, proven advice and hard-learned lessons which, when applied, can move writers and others from stuck to stellar, from blocked to blossoming. I'm going through the book in a 12-week class.
It’s one reason I’ve not had the urge to blog. And why I’ve not felt a need to see my therapist. And one of the contributing reasons as to why I’m happier than I’ve been for about as long as I can remember. Well, besides the fact that I’m a very happy newlywed, married to an astonishingly perceptive, funny, loving, gifted man.
I also must tip my proverbial hat to the course facilitator, Caroline Russell-King, a successful playwright and dramaturg who has run the class numerous times through Alexandra Writers Centre Society. She has guided the participants of the course with gentleness and stewardship.
It’s not a walk in the park, though. week four and week nine are typically the weeks participants quit, according to Caroline. And I am procrastinating on the week nine assignment quite a bit. Self-discovery is not always about mining the good stuff. Sometimes there’s a lifetime of sludge, negativity and denial, even outright lies we have believed about who we are.
Yet, it’s worth the excavation, moving the rubble out of the way to get to the buried gifts. One of the most significant discoveries has come through an increased self-awareness: what’s going on in my body, mind, heart, soul. I’ve come to finally recognize how I have had a negative narrative running incessantly for most of my life: accusing me, name-calling, cultivating doubt, pointing out past missteps and all sorts of imagined failures; raising up the spectre of past wounds and offenses, stirring fear. It is the sum total of all the unkind voices of my past, plus my own, at times, when I’ve chosen to agree with the dark whispers regarding my perceived limitations.
“You’re a loser.
“You’re fat, lazy, rude, unlovable, unworthy.”
“You will never succeed.”
“You will never be enough.”
“You don’t deserve anything.”
“You are nothing.”
Now I speak the truth against it. Speak affirming words, kind words, filled with self-care and truth. I re-read the cards of thanks for those who were touched or changed by my care or prayer. I sing songs and repeat scripture passages that tell me who I am and what God thinks of me. Loved. Treasured. Worth dying for. Daughter of the king. Gifted. Called. Chosen. Blessed. Shepherded. Fathered. Cherished.
Self-care is part of the assignment. Making that a habit. Eating right, setting up routines that help me get to sleep, learning how to process thoughts and dump them onto the page each day so they don’t get stuck in an infinite loop. Solving problems, setting goals, having fun, taking play dates with my inner artist.
The past ten weeks have been full. I write daily, complete class assignments, poems, articles, projects; I was acting in the dinner theatre, prepping for my son’s wedding, doing a weekly Bible study, camping and hiking, directing and singing at the choir year-end concert, speaking three times to different groups, working on a script for a grief recovery video, finding a new medical doctor, making medical and dental visits, preliminary appointments with specialists before impending surgery, doing home maintenance.
Everything needs maintenance.
Not only do I need to do maintenance on my heart, soul, mind and body, I need to do it on my physical environment. Even as I write, there is an HVAC specialist here replacing the air conditioner. He replaced my furnace three years ago. The year before that, I had the roof redone. I replaced two-thirds of my windows two years ago. I have a fireplace that needs repair or replacing. These are the major items and not unexpected in a home nearly thirty years old. Yet the details of getting all this done can take up enormous time.
Then there are smaller chores and minor maintenance. Replacing plastic parts in the dishwasher - twice. Installing a fire pit in the back yard. Five large trees and multiple shrubs require regular pruning and fertilizing. I maintain a flower garden, several bird feeders and have nine large potted plants to water and dead-head each week. The deck chairs need new cushions. Then there’s the challenging load of trying to help the grass grow in the midst of shade and spruce needles without helping the weeds flourish. And regular chores like cooking, cleaning, laundry, and so on.
I know none of this is unusual. I love many of the activities I’ve listed, but they all simply take time. So writing sometimes gets the back seat, the lower priority on the to-do list. So this blog is the first to languish without my attention. So, I thought I'd throw out this little crumb of a summary.
But, truly, no news is good news. I’m finally at a point in my life where it seems I am living out the reality of those quiet verses in Psalm 23: “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside the still waters, he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name sake.”
I refuse to cave in to foreboding joy. The next verse says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” I know the cycle of life well. I know death comes, and I have had more than the average share of lives cut short among those I love. So, I choose to focus on the last part of the verse: “I will fear no evil, for You, Lord, are with me… your (guiding) rod and your (disciplining) staff comfort me… you anoint my head with oil, my cup runs over. Goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.”
Thank you, God, for this life. For this joy. For the capacity to see it, soften into it, relish it and love the life you have given me for as long as it lasts without worrying about when it's going to end.
And when life IS over on this earth, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” What could be better than that? "In your presence is fullness of joy, at your right hand there are pleasures forever!"
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