For many years I have been a student and teacher of Julia Cameron’s life-changing book, The Artist’s Way. If you are not already familiar with The Artist’s Way please read on because you are in for a major treat. If you already know of it and even if you have worked through the 12 chapters, you might not know that Julia is now offering something new and very special.
It is called Julia Cameron Live, and includes access to hours of videos, where she shares exclusive insights and anecdotes fuelled by more than two decades of teaching her creativity tools. Julia does this in a relaxed and easy way from the comfort of her living room in Santa Fe, New Mexico, creating a very intimate and inspiring experience.
By joining Julia Cameron Live you also get access to the Active Artist community, a social network where artists can form groups and engage in conversations. Julia takes part in the community by answering artists’ questions, hosting live chats and blogging about the things that inspire her.
I am extremely excited to tell you about this because Julia Cameron and The Artist’s Way have profoundly changed my life.
Let me share with you my personal experience.
I quickly learned it is not a book to “read”. It is a book to “do”. It’s a 12-week program that deals with deep core issues as to why people get creatively stuck and disheartened and why they are not doing what they would really love to do in their life. Somewhere along the way they let go of their creative dreams and settle for less.
Some of them become what Julia describes as “shadow artists”. Although highly creative themselves, they live “in the proximity of people who have been crowned creative” instead of pursuing their own creativity.
I learned early in the book that I was one of those people. Many of my friends were artists, and I both admired them and envied them at the same time.
I worked my way through about five chapters of The Artist’s Way and then stopped. I had hit a vulnerable place and didn’t want to continue. The book sat on my bedside table for months with other books stacked on top of it. I didn’t even want to look at it because, every time it caught my eye, it reinforced the fact that I had missed the mark. I had let my dreams of becoming a writer, singer and actor die on the vine many years before and thought it was too late to change this. I was already in my 40’s. (As if that were old!) Yet, I also knew deep down that the wisdom in The Artist’s Way was exactly what I needed to move me past my negative beliefs about myself. Still, it was a huge leap.
At the time I was working as a psychotherapist and facilitating writing workshops. I was suggesting to many of my students, who were creatively stuck, to work through the processes in The Artist’s Way. I figured it was time to take my own advice as well and, as I did, I also began to facilitate The Artist’s Way support groups, which Julia generously encourages people to do.
And so began a 15-year journey! Over the years, I watched students who were blocked, sad, angry, hopeless or apathetic transform their lives. They would show up at the first class not even able to stutter the word “artist” as it may apply to them and 12 weeks later were acknowledging their bravery, new found creative spirit and could authentically say, “Yes, I am an artist.” Whether they intended to put their work “out in the world” or do it as a healthy, self affirming process, they were transformed and knew it. It was exhilarating to witness. As well, several became published authors, poets, singer-songwriters and acclaimed painters.
Years went by and while I watched my students and therapy clients move forward in their creative lives, I remained a shadow artist enjoying the successes of others but not believing I could share the stage.
One day in 1999, only 9 months after moving to Vancouver from Toronto and following another unanticipated visit a mental health facility, I knew I had to do things differently. I couldn’t race back on the treadmill pretending nothing had happened as I had done many times before.
I chose not to go back to work. I had no idea what to do but continually asked the Universe for guidance. It didn’t take long before a message came through loud and clear. “You must tell your story in a play or a book or a one woman show,” the voice insisted. I refused. I argued with The Universe. I shouted, “No, not me! That’s what other people do.” The voice was relentless. Eventually I felt I had no choice but to follow what my deeper guidance was telling me.
Julia Cameron’s encouraging words, “baby steps”, would enter my mind. Or, “Just show up. Put one foot in front of the other. You don’t need to know what it will look like. You are responsible for the quantity. God will handle the quality.”
This was the moment that I began re-reading The Artist’s Way. I re-committed to the morning pages—three pages of longhand writing of whatever showed up. It wasn’t about great writing, it was about allowing. After a few months of this, what showed up was a play with original music called, “Madness, Masks and Miracles”. It was about the madness or the dark night of the soul that most of us go through at some time in our life, about the masks we wear to hide it so we’re not ostracized and marginalized and finally… it’s about the miracles that let us take off our masks and be real. It is a play to help dispel myths and stigmas about mental illness.
Throughout the process, I kept returning to The Artist’s Way for courage and support. I began to stop judging myself so harshly and the terror I felt in exposing myself as someone with bi-polar illness started to dissipate. In time it was replaced with enthusiasm and drive as ideas kept leaping into my head. As well, people I would never have expected to meet serendipitously showed up wanting to get involved.
Some also lived with bi-polar illness and we co-wrote the play together. One year later it was staged at the World Assembly for Mental Health at the Vancouver Conference Centre to an audience of hundreds of psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health workers as well as the general public including people living with a mental illness and their care givers.
The feedback was outstanding. In fact, Dr. Michael Myers, the then president of the Canadian Psychiatric Association had this to say, “This play is a winner. June Swadron and her writing team and actors engage the audience immediately and throughout with what it’s like to have a mental illness in contemporary society. We feel the anguish and confusion, we witness the denial in co-workers and family, we experience the shame of the sufferer and the multiple losses and we learn painfully about the limitations of our treatments. Yet this production is not cynical or depressing. It is moving, inspiring and intensely evocative. A gift. A call-to-arms. A must-see for every Canadian citizen.”
I attribute my ability to go the distance to Julia Cameron and The Artist’s Way. Without the brilliant processes, the encouragement that comes with every page, the exercises and the artist’s dates (which I resisted the most, yet found to be the most valuable). I may not have succeeded. I may never have had the courage to move past my many fears. Yet I did. Not only did I co-write the play, I co-produced it, wrote the lyrics to all the songs and played the leading role. WOW!
Two years ago I published my first book called Re-Write Your Life, A Transformational Guide to Writing and Healing the Stories of Our Lives.
I certainly learned to re-write my story. I reframed my story of shame about living with bi-polar illness and came to realize that by sharing my truth, I would be set free. I stopped identifying myself as my illness. I have an illness, but I am not my illness. I am so much more. Not only did I free myself, I inadvertently inspired countless others to have a voice and let go of their shame.
My next project is creating a centre of creativity for people with mental health challenges to participate in every art form available. I can honestly say that by doing our art, we become alive, restored, and have a renewed sense of self-worth.
The centre is called The Academy for Creative and Healing Arts for People with Mental Health Challenges. The first centre will be located in Victoria, British Columbia.
Watch for more information on my website. It is, to-date, the most exciting vision I’ve ever had. And I couldn’t do it alone. Once again, people are coming out of the woodwork to support me.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Esther Hart. Esther is my dear friend and now business partner who has been there for me both personally and professionally since we met in 2003. Esther lovingly holds my hand when I get ill, and in my well times (which gratefully are many) we play together and most of all, she dreams my dreams with me, knowing their viability, and is my champion in bringing them to fruition. I wish everyone had an Esther in their life.
My life continues to be abundantly blessed by the people who have come to love and support me on my path. We all need teachers, friends and mentors.