Welcome to Week 5! By this point, the novelty of the book and process has worn off. You may have hit a rhythm with the morning pages. You may still be struggling to make the artist date happen. You may have learned somethings about your internal narrative around life and your desires. But by this point, the process can feel sort of heavy and mundane. If you are feeling this, please don’t take it as evidence that it is not working.
This week is about recovering a sense of possibility. I have spoken about skepticism and cynicism at least twice now in this process, and I am bringing it up here again too because that force is strong with me and continues to be strong. I have a component to my psyche that is an exhausting skeptic. She knows how everything is going to go. It’s not that she’s a depressive, she just sees herself as really smart and her thought process as infallible, and she believes this protects us (me and all the others who live in me) from danger, or worse, looking and feeling stupid. I deal with her every day.
Her response to this whole “sense of possibility” thing is to roll her eyes and get back to writing How-To-Never-Feel-Foolish: A Stupidities and Blunders Prevention Course. (Of course, I’ll post here once it’s complete—it’s gonna be incredible, once I figure out how to be right about everything!)
So she and I have been occupying the same space for quite some time. I know her. I see her. She is still sneaky though. Sometimes I don’t know that she is the one talking. I mistake her for “good common sense.” The phrase common sense, incidentally, is one that I hate, as it was used to condemn anything I did that was not the way some guy would do it for many years. So fuck common sense. Or rather, let’s assign it to things like wiping after you use the restroom or not running out into oncoming traffic, not the nuances of life.
Cameron gets kind of real with us in this chapter regarding our internal skeptic. “If this still sounds airy fairy to you, ask yourself what next step you are evading. What dream are you discounting as impossible given your resources? What payoff are you getting for remaining stuck at this point in your expansion?” (Cameron, 94)
When I was very little, probably three or four, I learned what a Pez dispenser was. We visited the home of some family friends, the Polsons, and the kids had Pez dispensers. I am not sure why my brain did this, but I simultaneously loved them AND told myself I would never have one. We’re not the kind of family who buys Pez dispensers, I told myself. This is my earliest memory of self-deprivation.
This memory resurfaced shortly after my marriage split. I was exploring all of my tiny unanswered desires, as I no longer had someone constantly telling me no. I told my parents about the Pez dispenser and my dad bought me one as a Christmas present a few weeks later. They were sort of exasperated but also sad, Why did you think you couldn’t have one? I don’t know, but I did.
At this point in the process, we may have begun to hope—and hope can be terrifying. Hope is a vulnerability. It’s wanting the Pez dispenser, knowing that it may never come. The internal skeptic seems to protect us by keeping hope small. If I know how this ends, I don’t need to risk anything now. But that is effectively telling ourselves, No before we even ask the question. I love the Pez dispenser example because it is something so simple. If I would have asked, I would have received, maybe not on a Tuesday in the grocery store check out, but definitely for Christmas, or birthday or Easter.
Removing the skeptic from power, places our dependence on the spiritual self, our intuition, our knowing. It is a shift from the left brain to the right brain. It’s not that we need to kill the skeptic, we just can’t have her driving the car and choosing the snacks. At first this feels kind of scary. It’s hard to start trusting, but tiny, one-degree turns in that direction are all that is required.
Cameron writes, “Dependence on the creator within is really freedom from all other dependencies. Paradoxically, it is also the only route to real intimacy with other human beings. Freed from our terrible fears of abandonment, we are able to live with more spontaneity. Freed from our constant demands for more and more reassurance, our fellows are able to love us back without feeling so burdened.” (Cameron, 95) She’s talking about reparenting ourselves. She is talking about self trust.
“As we come to trust and love our internal guide, we lose our fear of intimacy because we no longer confuse our intimate others with the higher power we are coming to know. In short, we are learning to give up idolatry—the worshipful dependency on any person, place or thing. Instead, we place our dependency on the source itself. The source meets our needs through people, places and things.” (Cameron, 96)
I am trying to think of a neat, little story I can share about why these last two quotes so deeply resonate with me. But my stories are all long and complex because they are intimate. When I started blogging, it was because I listened to Glennon Doyle interviewed by Elizabeth Gilbert on her podcast called, Magic Lessons, an extension of her book on creativity (I’ve linked to it here.) Glennon Doyle, at that time (setting aside all the things she has grown into since), was a recovering alcoholic, drug addict and bulimic, and a new mother. She said she started writing a blog because she discovered her interpersonal relationships could not tolerate the level of honesty she was used to in the recovery rooms of AA. How are you doing? a friend would ask, and she would answer honestly, met by complete awkwardness. Ohh, we’re not doing that here! she joked.
I also see myself in a sort of recovery, not from substance use or eating disorders (though I completely acknowledge I live on the spectrum of those things), but from a life out of integrity. My relationship with myself was so damaged at the end of my marriage, I felt like a shell of a human. I wanted the freedom Glennon modeled in the recovery room and on her blog. I wanted my inside to match my outside. So I started writing.
In the four years since I started blogging, I have reconnected with so many people from my past, people I hadn’t spoken with for more than twenty years. And, with the people I’m speaking of, it hasn’t been a superficial, Hey, how’s it going? It’s been deep, meaningful contact. When I attended my high school reunion last summer, I really felt part of why I had such beautiful connections with my former classmates, is because I had already been practicing being myself with them on the page. I was not dependent on them for my experience, so I was free to be intimate.
But these relationships aside, the ones that get me through my day-to-day, the most important relationships in my life—those with my son, sisters, parents and close friends—are the ones that are most impacted. “Dependence on the creator within,” does not mean complete independence from people, places and things. It means taking responsibility for and trusting that you will find ways to meet your needs through those people, places and things. It’s knowing you have your own back, not in a street-fighter kind of way—in a friend kind of way. As I’ve been able to trust and depend on myself more, it becomes less important how individual people show up in my life.
Glennon Doyle wrote, “We must do what we need to do. Those who disapprove will come around or stop coming around. Either way, lovely.” This idea embodies dependence on the creator within. But it takes courage! We can easily fall into what Cameron calls “the virtue trap.” The virtue trap is a box we choose to live in because we believe it is the way a virtuous person acts. Anytime I hear myself saying “should” I ask if this is the virtue trap, because living in the virtue trap creates feelings of resentment, irritability, shortness, and impatience.
The virtue trap is rampant in people with a religious upbringing. After all, one of the main purposes of religion is to bestow virtue by giving you a long list of do’s and don’t’s. But our society does the same thing. We have legion criteria for what makes a good woman, man, mother, father, sister, brother, employee, housekeeper, grocery shopper, student, neighbor, on and on and on. But don’t be mistaken, we get something out of excelling in all of these roles and shutting down the part of ourselves that wants to be free of these expectations. Superiority.
“Nobody objects to a woman being a good writer or sculptor or geneticist if at the same time she manages to be a good wife, good mother, good-looking, good-tempered, well-groomed, and unaggressive.”Leslie M. McIntyre
This is what makes it a seductive, faux spirituality. “This spiritual superiority is really only one more form of denial. For an artist, virtue can be deadly. The urge toward respectability and maturity can be stultifying, even fatal.” (Cameron, 98) And what’s left is the shell of a self, just what I described feeling at the end of my marriage, “Like a listless circus animal prodded into performing….” Eww.
She asks the question, “Are you destructive of your self? Are you destructive of your true nature?” (Cameron, 99) Many that are, do not appear to be on the surface. I didn’t! I appeared to have it all together—a good job, husband, beautiful baby, health, intelligence, community, etc., etc. The question is not, “‘Do you appear self-destructive?’ And most definitely not, ‘Are you nice to other people?’” Have you ever been treated “nice” by someone who clearly was not nice??? There is nothing grosser. Be genuine! Not nice. Eww.
At the end of the chapter there are a bunch of prompts for exploring your self outside of the virtue trap. She wants you explore your crazy notions and forbidden joys. The questions are excellent and they will show you your blind spots, the ways you tuck those desires into alternate timelines or places or lifetimes to protect yourself from being disappointed or because someone told you they aren’t virtuous.
Find a way to be a little more you this week. Let the circus animal out of the cage. Like Glennon wrote, “You are not crazy. You are a goddamn cheetah.” (Read her essay here.)
Sat nam, cheetahs! And please send me your questions and comments, either here or via social media links!
Hi Michelle. been a follower and a reader for some time, but I have to sheepishly admit that I do not know who “Cameron” is and backtracking to find out is frustrating me. You quoter him or her and give page numbers which adds to my confusion
So sorry! I’ll do a better job of including that in each post. It’s from Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. That’s what all the essays that start with week 1, etc are related to. Thanks for asking and thanks for reading! 💛