Week 4: Recovering a Sense of Integrity

“If you want to work on your art, work on your life.”


Today marks the start of Week 4 in The Artist’s Way, and this chapter is full of goodness. There are ways to sort of mark your progress in this first month and some wedges to push the door open just a hair wider. If you’ve followed my blog, you know that integrity is something I have spent a lot of time and energy, understanding, learning and then living (or at least trying my best to). 

Many of us learned about integrity in some sort of religious setting and in those settings, integrity is often taught as a word pointing to specific behaviors or values. We are taught that integrity means returning extra change to the cashier when we are given the wrong amount, or putting something in the lost and found rather than keeping it for ourselves when we know it doesn’t belong to us. While these examples might point to integrity, the word itself has little to do with a specific set of action or values.  

Brené Brown defines it this way: “Integrity is choosing courage over comfort; choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy; and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.” I like her definition but, because we have all been socialized to picture our values in a certain way, I think, in practice, this definition could also sort of load us into a specific set of behaviors. 

My favorite way of thinking about integrity comes from the latin root word integer which means to be intact, whole or complete (i.e. remember in math, integer means a whole number?). When I looked up integer as a word root I also found these associated words: untouched, unhurt, unchanged, sound, fresh, whole, entire, pure, and honest. This is what Julia Cameron is pointing to in Week 4 (and really in the whole book). 

My favorite way of thinking about integrity comes from the latin root word integer which means to be intact, whole or complete.

She points out that in order to make original work, we have to have a point of origin from which it originates. In other words, we must first have a self in order to self-actualize. The entirety of this book endeavors to reveal the self to the reader, which is why the exercises it contains are timeless and worth repeating.

But there are barriers to the process—of course there are, otherwise why aren’t we all just walking around knowing and being ourselves all the time. For nearly all of us, we have a representative self which we face to the world. When it’s time to go to work, have a conversation with a friend, or spend a night with a lover, we have a representative self we send out to do our bidding. The representative self is heavily influenced by our socialization, our shoulds.  We know what people expect from us, we know how we want to be perceived by said people, and we know how we want to be perceived by ourselves even (!), so we send out the representative to handle our affairs. 

I say we, but what I really mean is me (but it may be you too). I operated this way completely unconsciously for years. One of the most common reactions I have received since people have learned about my divorce, is that I seemed happy in the marriage. My friends and family recognized that there were things about the way we lived or things they observed in our relationship that would have put them off, “but overall you seemed happy,” they say, so they trusted that. 

Here’s the thing—I knew I wasn’t in bliss, but I didn’t know how unhappy I was because I kept that information even from myself. I only realize now, since I have been working to come into integrity, how beautiful life can be with my eyes wide open to my own experience.

Morning pages are one of the places where you might first see resistance to this process. Strong emotions, either pleasant or terrible, may cause you to skip morning pages. When we are in strong emotion, we don’t like to be reminded that we are not attached to the events that caused the feelings or the feelings themselves, but morning pages have a way of pointing this out. 

The pages point out problems as well. We may find we are frequently bored or lonely or angry. Given the chance, the pages also point out solutions, but we frequently buck against those too! “As we notice which friends bore us, which situations leave us stifled we are often rocked by waves of sorrow. We want our illusions back!,” Cameron writes. “We want to pretend the friendship works. We don’t want the trauma of searching for another job.”

There may be stark moments, which Cameron calls kriyas, a Sanskrit word for spiritual emergency or surrender, “…they are the cries of the soul as it is wrung through changes.” And she explains that they are frequently psychosomatic. I’ve had some of my most grueling and humbling nights in this state, physically sick, vomiting, and unable to sleep over the past few years, as I have attempted to become more integrated. Kriyas have arrived for me as I’ve attempted to take a job that wasn’t right, entered a dating relationship that wasn’t right, and stayed in a friendship that was keeping me stuck.

The point of a kriya is to get your attention—now! And even though they are painful they can be beautiful because they connect us to self. They remind us that we have a body and a spirit that are participating in this life along with our mind. In our culture we are so mind-dominated, it’s easy to forget the body and the spirit and forge ahead with plans that make great sense to our mind, but are completely out of integrity. 

The morning pages keep us in conversation with ourselves, increasing the chance that we might pick up the signal when something is awry. They show you—this is how you’re feeling, and they ask—what do you make of that? “Art lies in the moment of encounter: we meet our truth and we meet ourselves; we meet ourselves and we meet our self-expression. We become original because we become something specific: an origin from which work flows.” (Cameron, p.82)

As I was considering what to write about this chapter, it occurred to me that most of what is on my blog is pertinent to this, because coming into integrity, coming to know myself, coming to be myself, has been at the top of my mind for the past four years, since I began writing here. So you can page through the blog and find a multitude of examples where I have tried to explain my process or, at least, my experience.

We contain the divine spark, and the journey inward is the journey to the divine. 

If I could impress anything into the depths of your heart, it would be this: This work, becoming integrated, becoming known to yourself, is now the most beautiful and important work I can think of. I believe much of the evil in the world comes from the shame we experience when we tuck parts of ourselves from our view, when we attempt to hide them from ourselves and others. At our core, I believe we are all god. We contain the divine spark, and the journey inward is the journey to the divine. 

The practice of morning pages and the learned ability to treat oneself with kindness (practiced on the artist date) have made a safe space for me to do this work, to find and connect and keep connecting with that divine spark. Surely there are many paths to this place. Kundalini yoga has been incredibly helpful too because it incorporates my body into the process. Surfing, especially during that first year when it was so punishing, and I was in so much emotional pain, grounded me because it took me out of my head and put me into my flesh, which was a much safer place to be. There are many roads to this destination, but the discipline to pick one and stick with it is essential. 

The last thing Julia Cameron throws out there for us is a “reading deprivation” challenge. She writes, “For most artists, words are like tiny tranquilizers. We have a daily quota of media chat that we swallow up. Like greasy food, it clogs our system. Too much of it and we feel, yes, fried.” This book was first published in 1992. Since it was conceived and written, we now have to contend with the 24-hour news cycle and social media, with all it’s accompanying spin and fake news and fake-fake news. The amount of information we are exposed to just via the six-inch screen in our hands would be dizzying to someone who time traveled from the 1970s, just 50 years ago. 

So for this week, I am going to do a social media deprivation challenge. Once I post this, I will be deleting Instagram and Facebook from my phone. I will check in on Sunday evening just in case there are any questions or comments to address. But otherwise I’m going dark. And I’m hoping for what Cameron promises: “With no novel to sink into (and no television to numb us out) an evening becomes a vast savannah in which furniture—and other assumptions—get rearranged.” 

I’m not telling you to do this but maybe consider what, once eliminated, might help you to find some inner silence, to hear your inner voice. 

And because Julia Cameron is nothing but compassionate, and I would like to be too, I will leave you with her list of suggestions that people do when they are not reading (or watching TV or browsing social media): 

  • Listen to music.
  • Make curtains.
  • Wash the dog.
  • Sort closets.
  • Pay bills.
  • Write old friends.
  • Repot some plants.
  • Mend.
  • Knit.
  • Cook.
  • Fix the bike.
  • Watercolor.
  • Rewire the lamp.
  • Paint the bedroom.
  • Rearrange the kitchen.
  • Work out.
  • Meditate.
  • Have friends to dinner.
  • Get the stereo working.
  • Sort the bookshelves (a dangerous one).
  • Go dancing.