Week 9: Recovering a Sense of Compassion

[If you are just joining in, this is a book by Julia Cameron “a spiritual path to higher creativity”….Feel free to jump in or start back at the beginning. There are posts for each week (chapter)!]

Today marks the start of the last month of Summer of Creativity. I hope you are seeing some changes in the way you think about and interact with yourself, your life and your creativity. I took some time with the exercises at the end of Week 7 and wanted to report on those before I jump into the next chapter.  

Task 1 at the end of the chapter is about naming your dream and then identifying specific steps to get there. First, a concrete goal that signals to you that your dream has been accomplished. My dream is to be a published writer. And the goal that would signal success is having my book picked up by a publisher, published and distributed. 

Next question: In a perfect world, where would you like to be in five years in relation to your dream? I would like to have a literary agent representing me and have already sold at least one book for publication. 

Next question: In the world we inhabit now, what action can you take, this year, to move you closer? I can work on applying the manuscript edits to my first book and start trying to get a literary agent to represent it. I can keep working on my second book.

Next question: What action can you take this month? Schedule the phone consultation with my editor and apply her feedback to the manuscript. What action can you take this week? Schedule the phone call with the editor. What action can you take today? Send the email requesting the phone call. 

This line of questioning is about taking an idea that we’ve imagined and forming it into something in the physical world. I’ve had some time to work through what the process might be for having a book published. It took a lot of effort just to get to the point of writing the damn thing! I can remember when all of the steps in this process felt much more illusive and overwhelming, but I made it to this point by taking little steps toward my dream. I can now look back and see how far I’ve come, which gives me some confidence that I can make it over the long, long stretch of ground I still have to cover. 

The key here is to take it slowly. If you think of a list of 20 things that need to be done, only do one today. Only one—even if you can do more! Sustainable growth and change is measured.


Sustainable growth and change requires compassion. Week 9 is about recovering a sense of compassion. Many artists are blocked because they have mislabeled themselves in some way. “I’m lazy!” This is one I’ve heard from many people I know. We tend to call our inability to create, “laziness,” because when we are avoiding creativity, we might be watching TV or drinking or napping or staring into space. But being lazy and being blocked are two different things.  

“The blocked artist typically expends a great deal of energy—just not visibly. The blocked artist spends energy on self-hatred, on regret, on grief, and on jealously. The blocked artist spends energy on doubt.”

Julia Cameron, p. 152

This is often because we don’t know how to begin with baby steps. We want to make something big and amazing, but we don’t have the time/energy/stamina/know-how to do an enormous project, so we call it laziness when we do nothing.

Cameron believes it is fear that ails the blocked artist. When I first started writing, I wanted to write a book. That was the original dream. But I had no idea how to write a book. And my writing voice still didn’t really sound like my own. I had a lot of self discovery left to do. For a while I was pinned to my journal pages because I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a blogger, but I also didn’t know how to write a book. It would have been easy to stay in that space, writing only for myself. Thankfully, I got several nudges to start blogging and I listened. I bought the domain name, built the WordPress site from a template and started publishing. I didn’t tell anyone about it. I didn’t share even share it with people close to me at first. It was too scary, and my internal critic was really loud. 

A few months passed. I continued to post and slowly started sharing it with close friends and family. They were supportive which gave me the confidence to share my blog on social media. I remember when I first shared it, I watched the stats climb exponentially. It felt like every one of my social media contacts was clicking and reading. I was terrified! I didn’t know if any of it was any good. And I had my own negative opinions about my writing, which have pretty much stayed consistent and I will list them here for your benefit. 

I think I’m preachy. There’s a loud voice in my head that says, “You keep telling people what to do, but you have no idea yourself!” She shows up almost anytime I write anything. 

I think I’m indignant. Kind of the opposite of the first one, she thinks she is right about everything. Any difference of opinion represents a threat. 

I think I don’t make sense. I’ve been writing about some abstract shit since the beginning and there is a voice in me that thinks my posts sound too woo-woo or ethereal. My brain is good at coming up with evidence for this, like, if I made more sense, then more people would comment.

I think I’m insane for posting the personal content I post. This can branch out into worries that my patients will read what I write and I will lose professional rapport. Or that I will damage my son by having been this honest with the internet. Or that someone, someday will sue me for libel. Or that my family will disown me. Real thoughts. Real fears. 

I think people will think I’m a pretentious asshole for having big goals and speaking about them openly. Or, they will think that I’m being falsely modest or pretending I’m humble because I’m doctoring up my goals to make them sound less big. Between these two fears is the edge of a knife, on which I rarely find my balance. 

Is that enough? There’s probably more fears inside this brain and body, but that’s enough to get you started thinking about your own reasons for saying blocked. 

In response to these fears, my brain often throws out the judgmental-older-sister voice to talk some sense into me. She’ll be like, “Listen, you’ve gotta be brave to get anything done and you sound like a flimsy pansy right now, so just hit Post.” Or maybe she’ll say, “You know what? If people have a problem with your writing, that’s their problem and they need to just get over it!” Or she might say, “Geez, Michelle! Who do you think you are telling people you know how to [fill in blog post topic]?”

Judgemental-older-sister voice sounds really smart. (I always have to clarify, this is just an expression because, though I have two older sisters, neither of them sound like the voice in my head). It’s easy for me to be body checked into submission by her authoritative sass. Instagram is full of these kinds of meme’s posing as positive psychology. I have learned to be cautious around those posts because that voice is born from insecurity, which is born from fear. This is not the love-child I want to raise, this is the fear-child. 

Love! Love! Love! Love! Love is the antidote to fear. And the first step to show love is to call your blockedness what it really is—it’s not laziness, it’s not poor time management, it’s not that your baseboards need to be dusted before you can begin—it’s fear. It’s okay. We’re all scared! 

Discipline v. Enthusiasm

She points out another word that can be a trap for blocked artists and it might surprise you! It’s discipline. Discipline can fuel a lot of action, but it’s sure to burn out after a while because, discipline requires us to white-knuckle to get through. I love her insight here: “By its very nature, discipline is rooted in self-admiration. (Think of discipline as a battery, useful but short-lived.) We admire ourselves for being so wonderful. The discipline itself, not the creative outflow, becomes the point.” (Cameron, p. 153)

A more powerful fuel than discipline, the rocket fuel that can get you to the end of a project you care deeply about, is actually enthusiasm. “Enthusiasm is not an emotional state. It’s a spiritual commitment, a loving surrender to our creative process, a loving recognition of all the creativity around us.” (p.153)

Surrender has become such an important word for me, because it is the antidote to discipline and white-knuckling, which was (is) my normal way of being in the world. Of course we may benefit from discipline some days, and maybe some artists need to buckle down on that a little more, but that’s never been my problem. My main problem has been that I get a vision in my head of how something will go, and I fall deeply in love with that story. Then I spend days/weeks/months/years trying to make the world turn the way I imagined it would however long ago. I love my stories. I’m deeply committed to them. 

So when I speak of surrender, I’m really speaking about the skill of holding my imagined stories more loosely. I mean letting go of what my brain sees as the obvious best outcome and allowing a space for magic to come in and make what I couldn’t even imagine. Do you see how enthusiasm would ultimately be better suited to work with the imagination of the universe than discipline? I still have to show up here at the computer to write, that takes some discipline. But if I’m in a state of surrender, I can be of service to the idea itself, rather than my own projection of what the idea should become. There’s ease and a looseness there that soothes fear in all of its outfits (i.e. laziness, perfectionism, etc.)

Creative U-Turns

The next thing Julia Cameron calls to our attention is something she calls “creative U-turns.” Creative U-turns happen once we are on the road to living a creative life. They happen because the road is scary. “We begin to be distracted by roadside attractions or detoured by the bumps,” (Cameron , p.155). Creative U-turns are the natural resistance we face to achieving our dreams. We lose interest in the project, we avoid making needed changes, we let one annoying step in the process hold us back from completing it, we pick fights with the people involved, we push harder than we know we should ensuring a failure of energy, we walk away from people who make us feel inspired and encouraged. 

Can you think of any examples of this in your life? Times when you had something going, that you thought was good, and you let it fizzle or walked away from it or broke it on purpose? We’ve all done it, and it’s because U-turns are the natural course for growth. Sometimes we need time to recycle or compost material before we are ready to grow the next great idea or go onto the next phase. U-turns are nothing to feel ashamed of, but, of course, we feel ashamed first, for the fear that caused the U-turn and second, for our reaction to it. 

The first step to getting in motion after a U-turn happens, is to recognize that it exists. Yes! I do react negatively to fear and pain. (Btw, who doesn’t?).

“Think of your talent as a young and skittish horse that you are bringing along. The horse is very talented but it is also young, nervous and inexperienced. It will make mistakes, be frightened by obstacles it hasn’t seen before. It may even bolt, try to throw you off, feign lameness. Your job, as the creative jockey, is to keep your horse moving forward and to coax it into finishing the course.”

Julia Cameron, p.157

One of my biggest sources of U-turns is having to ask for help. I really like working alone. I like being independent and I don’t like people for things. When I get to a spot where I need help, I tend to stop. I’ve gotta make some big changes in this area if I’m going to actually be published some day. I hate to say it, but I think I’m going to have to make writer friends, maybe join a writer group and start talking to people who might have connections in publishing. Did you hear how I started that sentence? I HATE to say it. Okay. I’m gonna go work on that.

She asks us to write out all of our resentments and fear around a given project. I’m going to do that this week. This’ll be good for me. 

Review Your Morning Pages

AND!!! The day has finally arrived when we are permitted to read our morning pages! This is something I have never done, even though I’ve been through this book twice before. Each time, when I got to this chapter, the idea of going back over my stream of consciousness scribblings felt so excruciating I tapped out. So, because I have some accountability here, I’m going to commit to actually doing it this time. I feel a little more confident that I can be compassionate to my June 2022 self this time around. 

When reading the pages, we are supposed to take stock of the things that keep showing up. What do you keep complaining about? What have you procrastinated? What have you allowed to change? What have you accepted?

We are also supposed to remember that we all tend toward black and white thinking. We rant that things are either terrible or fantastic. She says, “Don’t be thrown by this,” so I’ll do my best not to be thrown.

We are supposed to acknowledge, “The pages have allowed us vent without self-destruction, to plan without interference, to complain without an audience, to dream without restriction, to know our own minds.” TO KNOW OUR OWN MINDS—this is the real beauty of the morning pages. 

Have you ever heard that saying, that it’s hard to hate anyone close up? I agree with this whole-heartedly. I work with some of the most difficult customers in psychiatry. I’ve cared for pedophiles, murderers, drug addicts. I’ve attended to the clinically pissed-off, anxious, terrified, and repetitive. This work can be exhausting, and I can’t say I’ve loved every patient I’ve provided care to, but I can say this—over time, the more you get to know a person, the more you see yourself in them. The more you understand their actual motivations, what they fear and what they love, it becomes very difficult to hate them.

Now that says something about compassion for others, but it also says something about compassion for self. We tend to keep the self distant from us, unconsciously even. The morning pages are rough because you might have to sit and listen to your annoying self. Maybe you complain too much. Maybe you complain about the same things over and over and you aren’t willing to do anything to change them. If you’re writing about it every day, you have to find some reconciliation with yourself. Like, Yeah, I see that and I don’t like it and I’m not willing to do anything about it. And maybe for a while you hate that guy, because he complains about stuff he is never willing to change. But if you stay with him, if you stay on the page, if you commit to a 20-minute conversation each day, you might get curious about what would actually help this person. 

Like the patient that keeps showing up in my office each month complaining of the same problems, sometimes she just needs someone to listen. Sometimes she needs someone to show her how her own thoughts are keeping her trapped, sometimes she needs meds! (Thank goodness for that, because prescribing is my actual job!) But I know she will keep showing up and showing me another clue for how to best help her, if I keep showing up with my time and attention. You can do this for you in the morning pages.

And I really do believe you can’t hate anybody up close. Even yourself.

Sat nam, brave ones!