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Here’s what to do next time you experience ‘intense spiritual hunger’

April 1, 2019


Don’t do it. Don’t roll over in the morning and pick up your phone.

Shut off the alarm, sure. But then put it down and pick up a notepad and do your Morning Pages.

The practice of filling three blank pages, by hand, in a stream-of-consciousness style, is the key to not only opening up your own creativity, it could be a relief from whatever ails you.

Julia Cameron first introduced the practice in her book, “The Artist’s Way.” And 25 years after its 1992 debut, with an anniversary edition of the book out, she is continuing to lead classes to help people nurture their art — and their souls. It’s Cameron’s own form of spirituality, practiced through paper and pen, rather than prayer.

And she is finding a new following in these days of screens and swipes.

“I think that people have a pretty intense spiritual hunger,” Cameron said the other day on the phone from her home in Santa Fe, N.M. “And I like teaching. It’s always sort of an adventure. Every audience is different and you feel like, ‘Oh, I wonder how this one is going to go?’”

When “The Artist’s Way” first came out, people used it to jump-start their work in a certain art form. Four million copies have been sold since publication. Now, Cameron said, they are coming to the book and her classes for “creative living.”

“It’s having an openness to adventure,” Cameron explained. “I think people want their lives to have greater risks in them, but they are afraid, and so they come to class hoping for courage, and I think they leave class with renewed courage.”

The key to it all, in Cameron’s view, are The Morning Pages: the practice of rising in the morning and, before coffee or anything else, writing whatever comes to mind on three pieces of paper. No pausing to think. Just write.

“The Jungians tell us that we have a 45-minute window from the time we wake up before we get our ego defenses in place,” she said. “So I say to people, ‘Do Morning Pages first thing’ and people say, ‘Julia, what about my coffee?’

“So I make cold coffee the night before.”

There is no right or wrong way to do Morning Pages, but Cameron recommends an 8-1/2-by-11-inch notepad. The size gives one room to think, she said. (“Anything smaller and you tend to miniaturize your thoughts.”)

Cameron sees the practice as a way to “ventilate negativity” that becomes more of a relief than a task, and pointed to research that shows that writing by hand opens neuropathways in the brain. People become more positive over time.

It’s also a way to offset the negativity that lurks on social media every time we scroll through our feeds.

“I think that what has happened to us with social media is that it has sort of backfired and taken up a lot of time in our day,” Cameron said.

Morning Pages allow us to be personally authentic and honest.

“I still do them,” she said. “Something will come up that I didn’t know was bothering me. … I find myself exploring in Morning Pages how I actually feel about a thing. I find them to be a potent form of meditation for Westerners, who have a hard time sitting and doing nothing for 20 minutes.”

Where conventional meditation allows you to remove an issue from your mind, Morning Pages do just the opposite: “They move you into action,” she said. “You think, I goddamn better do something.”

Cameron, now 71, lives in an adobe house up a mountain from downtown Santa Fe with a Westie named Lily. They live on a dirt road that they walk every day, and see lizards and coyotes and deer. (“All those things bring me a lot of joy.”)

She was a writer for The Washington Post and Rolling Stone when she met director Martin Scorsese during an interview. They were married for two years in the ’70s and have a daughter, Dominica Cameron-Scorsese, now 42 and an actress. Cameron has written for TV and film (one episode of “Miami Vice” and an independent feature called “God’s Will”), but more for the stage. She has recently completed two plays: “Love in the DMZ,” about a soldier in Vietnam and his wife, waiting for him in Kansas; and “The Animal in the Trees,” another love story, but with a tragic ending.

But she has spun a large spool of work from “The Artist’s Way”: Her 32 books include updated editions and books on how to raise creative children, or remain creative later in life.

“I think it’s important for people to know that the tools come out of my own creative practices,” she said. “I’ll do something and teach what I have learned.”

So where does “The Artist’s Way” actually lead?

“I think it leads to people falling in love with themselves,” she said. “And it’s a fair expectation to feel that you are more marvelous than you realized.”

 


McClatchy-Tribune Information Services