This week we have the pleasure of hearing from Julia Cameron. In her own words:
“Julia Cameron has had a remarkable career, which in turn has given remarkable help to others. Herself an award-winning poet, playwright, and filmmaker, she has written thirty books, ranging from her widely-praised, hard-hitting crime novel The Dark Room to her volumes of children’s poems and prayers. Despite her extensive film and theater credits, which include such diverse work as Miami Vice and the prize-winning romantic comedy God’s Will, which she both wrote and directed, Cameron is best known for her hugely successful works on creativity. The Artist’s Way has sold more than two million copies worldwide, and her followup bestsellers The Vein of Gold, Walking in this World and The Right to Write are likewise flagship books which are taught in universities, churches, human potential centers and even in tiny clusters deep in the jungles of Panama. Credited with founding a new human potential movement that has enabled millions to realize their creative dreams, Cameron eschews the title creativity expert, preferring instead to describe herself simply as an artist. “Artists have always mentored, I just do it on a wider scale.” “My books are not creative theory,” she explains. “They spring straight out of my own creative practice. In a sense, I am the floor sample of my own tool kit. When we are unblocked we can have remarkable and diverse adventures.” She knows of what she speaks. A writer since the age of eighteen, Cameron has published highly praised short stories, award-winning essays and hard-hitting political journalism. Her credits range from Rolling Stone to The New York Times. As a teacher, she has taught everywhere from The Smithsonian to Esalen, The New York Times to Northwestern University where she served as writer in residence in film.
Most of us have no idea of our real creative height. We are much more gifted than we know. My tools help to nurture those gifts.
As a filmmaker, she collaborated with former husband Martin Scorsese on “three films and one daughter, Domenica.” As a playwright, her work has graced such prestigious stages as Princeton’s McCarter Theater, The Denver Center of the Performing Arts and the tiny Taos Community Auditorium in her hometown. It was there that she first workshopped her musical “Avalon,” under the guidance of legendary director John Newland. On her musicals, Cameron serves as composer as well as libretto-writer and lyricist. This musical aspect of her career began in her mid-forties and she laughs, “I have only myself to blame for suddenly sprouting a new career. If you teach unblocking, you do get unblocked!” Championed by such people as Washington Post music critic Joseph McClellan who cites her “enormous gift for melody,” Cameron explains, “Most of us have no idea of our real creative height. We are much more gifted than we know. My tools help to nurture those gifts.” Citing creativity as an authentic spiritual path, Cameron’s work has been embraced by such diverse spiritual groups as Buddhists, Sufis, Roman Catholics, Church of Religious Science, and Unity with “quite a few British Wiccans thrown in.” Her three affirmative prayer books, Heartsteps, Blessings, and Transitions, are widely used, beloved for both their optimism and their pragmatism. Her most recent prayer book is both soothing and inspirational. Titled Answered Prayers, it helps to lift our perspective to a “God’s-eye view.” For those who desire it, all four prayer books are gathered under one cover in the collection Prayers to the Great Creator. Hoping to inspire others to “simply start,” Cameron has penned two “into-the-water” books: The Right to Write and The Sound of Paper. Gentle, but powerfully catalytic, these works serve both as introduction and reminder of the power of creative living. To those familiar with the range of Cameron’s work, which is frequently taught in theological degree programs as well as in the arts, her book God Is No Laughing Matter will seem a welcome and refreshing dose of often hilarious straight talk about America’s wildly conflicted and confusing spiritual landscape. Partnered with a book of “wicked” spirituality cartoons,God Is Dog Spelled Backwards, illustrated by noted artist Elizabeth Cameron, a younger sister and frequent creative collaborator, these new works showcase Cameron’s trademark wit and piercing “emperor’s new clothes” clarity. As a chaser,Supplies is a book that allows those in the trenches to actually win the war. Having formulated this trio of books bent on helping others, the mischievous Cameron turns her naughty storyteller’s eye to Hollywood and her years in “the business” in her story collection Popcorn: Hollywood Stories, which led Erica Jong to call her “The Real Animal.” Cameron recently published the long-awaited sequel to The Artist’s Way. Entitled The Complete Artist’s Way, it is a trilogy containing “further adventures along the trail” with Walking in This World: The Practical Art of Creativity and Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance serving as extensions to Cameron’s original work. Cameron also recently published her memoir, Floor Sample. “I wanted to step out from the role as teacher and mentor, and give a detailed picture of my creative life as it has unfolded.” That creative life has included many adventures. Most recently, Cameron has enjoyed the production of a musical, “The Medium at Large,” on which she collaborated with colleague Emma Lively. Cameron’s play in letters, “Love in the DMZ, a Vietnam love story,” was awarded “Best Original Drama” last year in Los Angeles. Cameron recently published a romantic novel entitled Mozart’s Ghost. In it, creative ideas are the stuff of everyday magic. Julia Cameron lives in Santa Fe with two dogs.”
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Jonathan Bailor: Hey everyone, Jonathan Baylor back with another bonus Smarter Science of Slim Podcast. As you know, we are about eating smarter and exercising smarter and living better. That “living better” is really going to be the focus of today’s show because we have a very wonderful guest with us. Someone who has been enabling people to live better through unlocking their creativity most effectively for more than three decades. She is the author of 37 books including a book called The Artist’s Way which has sold more than 2 million copies. Her work has been translated into over 35 languages and has totaled more than 4 million sales worldwide. She has been helping folks to be as creative as they can – unlocking their creativity and living better for a really long time. Julia Cameron, welcome to the show and thank you so much for joining us.
Julia Cameron: Thank you, good to be here, Jonathan.
Jonathan Bailor: Julia, just to get started, let’s take a step back. You have a wonderful quote which I have written down here which is “most of us have no idea of our real creative height. We are much more gifted than we know. My tools help to nurture those gifts.” What do you mean by that? And can you elucidate on what you mean by assisting those to unlock their creativity?
Julia Cameron: Well, I believe that all of us are innately creative. Some of us have an easier time accessing our creativity. I wrote The Artist Way in order to help the people who are struggling to move forward. I have three basic tools that if people use, they will unblock their creativity and move into a fuller life.
Jonathan Bailor: I would love if you would share at least some of those with us.
Julia Cameron: The first tool, and this is the one that I am sort of known for is a tool called “morning pages”. It is three pages of morning writing about absolutely anything. Whatever comes to your mind. It is a little bit like having ADD, because you might write down “I didn’t like what Jim said to me at the office yesterday, I forgot to buy kitty litter.”. It looks like it has nothing to do with creativity, but in fact, it clears the path for creativity. What we are writing down on the page are the things that usually float through our day. It’s like building a spiritual radio kit. When you do your pages you are sort of telling the universe or the higher power or God — whatever you care to call it — this is what I like. This is what I don’t like. This is what I want more of. This is what I want less of. When you are specific with your morning pages, the universe is able to respond to you in a very specific way.
Jonathan Bailor: If I understand correctly, we are not censoring ourselves. We are meditating on the page with the written word. We are focusing our thoughts and just doing that via writing to clear out our minds and to focus our mind. Am I understanding correctly?
Julia Cameron: You are understanding perfectly.
Jonathan Bailor: Wonderful. I love what you said about it allowing us to get out of our heads some of the things that would otherwise block us from having nobler or a more productive or more useful or creative thoughts throughout the day.
Julia Cameron: Yes. It is a very useful form of meditation for Westerners. Sometimes Westerners have a hard time sitting for 20 minutes doing nothing. I say “sit for 20 minutes and do something”.
Jonathan Bailor: I love that, Julia. It reminds me of one of the exercises – I have a new book coming out called The Calorie Myth — that is very similar to this. It is sentence completion. It is another form of “when I do x, I am excited because I will feel y”. Getting those words out and putting them on paper – it seems like you have seen – bears fruit for many decades now.
Julia Cameron: Yes. And what happens when you write morning pages is that your censor – your negative voice – will say things like “you are so petty. You are so negative”. You will hear that voice, but there is no wrong way to do morning pages. So just say to your censor “thank you for sharing” and just keep right on going. This is a portable skill. You learn to hear your censor’s voice as sort of a cartoon character who is always negative. A little bit like how Pigpen had the negative flies buzzing around him.
Jonathan Bailor: I love it.
Julia Cameron: I have a second tool, which is once a week taking yourself out and doing something festive by yourself. It is a play date, if you will. Many times, people report that when they are doing these play dates which are called “artist dates” that they feel a sense of connection to a benevolent something. It is as though you are building a radio kit, you have done this sending with the morning pages, and then you flip it over to receive for the artist date. You start to get what I would call a constant contact with the benevolent something. You begin to feel optimism.
Jonathan Bailor: What types of activities do you often see people engaging in during this time?
Julia Cameron: One of the things that we have here in Santa Fe is a place called 10,000 Ways, which is a spa. A lot of times people will go up and get a massage or go sit in the hot tub. It can be anything. A lot of times I tell people to go to a children’s bookstore or I’ll say “go to a flower shop”. I tell them to try to spend an hour. Stay in soak in the atmosphere. Really observe.
Jonathan Bailor: Correct me if I am wrong, but it seems like watching a very violent movie or playing a very violent videogame is not the type of activity that we would want to be doing here. It seems like we would want to be doing something a little more centering.
Julia Cameron: Yes. I don’t think you want to go watch people being blown to death.
Jonathan Bailor: It is a little bit more nature oriented, relaxation oriented – don’t think of it necessarily as doing something spiritual – but it seems difficult to walk through a beautiful landscape and not feel some kind of spiritual serenity.
Julia Cameron: Yes. I think that is true. It is expanding our awareness. What happens is, many of us have lives where we do the same things all the time. We get into a rut and then we furnish it. The artist date is a way to get yourself out of the rut of daily living and into an adventure.
Jonathan Bailor: It is almost that changing your physical environment will help you change your internal environment.
Julia Cameron: It definitely does help you change your internal environment.
Jonathan Bailor: That is a wonderful tool. I like that. So we have the morning pages and the play date, what is the third tool?
Julia Cameron: The third tool is very simple. It is walking. One of the things that I find is that when people walk, they integrate the insights that came to them from the other two tools.
Jonathan Bailor: I love that. It reminds me, Julia, I think it was Blaise Pascal who I’m going to paraphrase here. I believe he said something like “all of humanity’s problems come from our inability to sit in a room alone quietly”. I feel like this has to do with what we are talking about here in the sense that while traditional forms of meditation and alone time are very difficult in modern Western society, you have given us some tools here that may enable us to unlock some of the benefits of more traditional meditative practices that have been used in efficacy for literally thousands of years in the modern culture. Is that fair?
Julia Cameron: Yes, it is fair. I think it is an interesting thing. When I wrote The Artist’s Way, which was back in 1992, I put the first two tools at the front of the book. At the beginning of the book you read about morning pages and how to do them an artist dates and how to take them. Then you go through 12 weeks of the course. It is in week 12 where I say that you need to walk. In the years that I’ve been teaching, I have found walking to be a much more potent tool than I had initially realized.
Jonathan Bailor: Walking – just to bring this back to something that I know our listeners are fans of – is just on so many levels spiritually beneficial and physically beneficial. It is something that you can do your whole life. Literally, folks, I would put walking right up there with reading. It seems like the more that you walk in the more good stuff that you read, that is just goodness for your body and your spirit altogether.
Julia Cameron: Yes, I think so.
Jonathan Bailor: Some people may look you up online – which is juliacameronlive.com – and they see that you have sold more than 2 million copies of the book The Artist’s Way and think to themselves “I am not an artist. This does not apply to me.”. But it actually seems like we all are artists on some level. Even navigating through the modern world and not going crazy seems like you almost need to be artful in your everyday living to accomplish that. What do you think?
Julia Cameron: I think that we have many choice points during the day where we can decide whether to do X or Y. These choice points are the things that become more vivid as you work with morning pages. You start to see “I have 15 minutes at lunch. I can either sit at my desk, or I can quickly go outside for a minute or two”. As you work with morning pages, you begin to make more and more positive choices at the choice points. You don’t overturn your whole life. You overturn a small part of it each day.
Jonathan Bailor: Some of the things you mentioned there reminded me of something that is foundational in the teachings of the most influential teacher in my life, Dr. Stephen Covey. He talks about the gap between stimulus and response. I hear he you calling that choice points. You mentioned almost taking a step back and deciding before you are in the moment of choice what you’re going to do with that time at lunch. I can also imagine that these morning pages and this more artistically conscious form of living – let’s say someone cuts us off in traffic. That just happened. That stimulus just happened. There is a gap in between stimulus and the response. I would imagine that that gap starts to grow the more that we engage in these exercises.
Julia Cameron: I’m not certain that the gap grows. I think that our spontaneity grows.
Jonathan Bailor: The other thing, Julie, that really resonated with me is the old quote of “the unexamined life is not worth living”. This is an amazingly powerful way to start living a more examined life.
Julia Cameron: Yes. But I want to put a cautionary note in here. I tell people to do three pages of morning writing. That is one side, another side, and another side. Sometimes people say to me “can I write six pages?” And I say “no, you really do not want to”. What happens with three pages is that you have enough space to examine whatever you are going through. It takes about a page and a half to clear the decks. The next page and a half is more difficult to get to. If you keep going at the end of three pages, you are in danger of narcissism. You become too involved in your own process, and you stop taking action. The Artist’s Way toolkit is all about taking action. I say “three pages and then stop”.
Jonathan Bailor: I love that. What I love about your work, Julia, is that you make it explicit that we don’t want to do too much of this. We are doing this to free ourselves, and if we overdo it, then we end up in this narcissistic world where our efforts to become more spiritually whole become counterproductive. It is almost like we just spend all of our time finding things that we want to approve and do better in and no time actually doing them.
Julia Cameron: Exactly.
Jonathan Bailor: We are talking more about the mental world here, but also in the physical world where people who want to — for example — exercise. If you do too much exercise, it is bad for you. It is the same thing here. It is about staying focused on our goal which is – let’s call it just for the sake of our podcast here – mental and spiritual fitness is about engaging in that intentional activity, but not too much of that activity.
Julia Cameron: Exactly.
Jonathan Bailor: Also, that thing you mentioned about finding these little things daily. That is such a powerful distinction that it is a constant, never-ending, gradual improvement rather than just thinking that I have to change everything tomorrow. How can we help focus ourselves on these small, incremental improvements?
Julia Cameron: Well, I think that one way we do it is through the morning pages. They make a suggestion. If you ignore it, a day later they may make the same suggestion. They sort of tap you on the shoulder and say “(clears throat intentionally) you haven’t gotten to this yet.” When you go for your walks, you begin to appreciate the environment that you are in.
Jonathan Bailor: I love it. Well, Julia, obviously we have just scratched the surface. Your work has literally touched the lives of millions and millions of people. Thank you for all that you have done to help so many people live so much better. If folks like what they are hearing, which I certainly do, they can go check out juliacameronlive.com and you have 30+ books that they can check out. Is there anything else that they can check out to learn more about you and about living a more artistic life?
Julia Cameron: Juliacameronlive.com has access to an online course. I taught in my living room in Santa Fe, so it is very intimate. If people want to do The Artist’s Way and they want a 12 week course and some company, they can find it there.
Jonathan Bailor: I think you also have an online support group and other ways where people don’t have to travel this road alone. Correct?
Julia Cameron: That is exactly right.
Jonathan Bailor: Wonderful. Julia, thank you so much for a lifetime of helping people to think smarter and live better. Listeners, I hope you enjoyed today’s show as much as I did. I’m going to have to start my morning pages tomorrow. I can’t imagine that not helping. Julia, thank you so much for joining us today.
Julia Cameron: You are welcome, Jonathan.
Jonathan Bailor: Listeners, remember: this week and every week after; eat smarter, exercise smarter, given this podcast – think and write smarter, and live better. Talk with you soon.