Julia Cameron’s resourceful book, an oldie but goodie, The Artist’s Way, holds many divine mysteries for those of us in recovery, especially those of us with a growing yearning to create and express. Using a format inspired by 12 Step, she explores themes related to coming into a more reliant relationship with our God Source, whom she names as inherently creative, to the point where we allow that God Source to be opulently expressive in our lives.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of our most loved and cherished cultural icons, artists, and specially-gifted people struggle with addiction at some point in their lives. The same qualities which make a person’s veil a bit too thin, her doors a bit too open, and her soul a bit too transparently bright, make her susceptible to turning to a substance to help her modulate what’s coming through her exquisite, sensitive channels when they get overloaded.
Artists are often ultra fine-tuned, with ears, eyes, noses, mouths, senses, emotions, and minds that perceive our intersecting realities in more specialized ways than others might. Artists may receive the vibrations of their emotions at a more amplified and intense volume than other personality types. More often than not, they are thin-skinned, permeable, vulnerable, mercurial.
Artists function like barometers of the collective field, expressing what’s going on in our group soul, whether that is rapturous joy or devastating pain. Artists are like scientific instruments tuned to register subtle oscillations not all of us perceive, and therefore get to experience things that not everyone is so naturally privy to. (But all people can develop the artist within them).
At the same time, that sensitivity, since it can’t be turned off, makes the painful challenges of life – the rejections, the slights, the brokenhearted empathy with all of the world’s aches, the misunderstandings, the isolation – more loud and all-encompassing. Of course such a person might find her way to the modulating effects of drugs and alcohol.
I think it is also no accident that whether or not they identify as artists, many people who end up with addiction problems share the same genetic trait to begin with – the gift-curse of being especially, unusually sensitive. Artists and highly sensitive people both are more likely to get enmeshed in addiction matrices than others.
Recovery affects our artistic sensibilities and our sensitivities as well. Typically, our creativity and uniqueness is resurrected once we achieve some measure of stability in our recovery. Our own perspective and take on the world is one of the gifts that recovery gives back to us. Sensitive perception, creative responses to what we perceive, and the ability to rest naturally in authentic, spontaneous streams of Being are gifts that get corroded and corrupted by addiction, but which then return in purified, integrated, and balanced forms once the inner spiritual alchemy of recovery has been borne to a certain degree.
Authenticity and creativity are specifically about having the inspiration and nerve to proceed in an unauthorized direction in spite of the countless social controls. The worry lives in all of us that if we do anything unscripted, anything that hasn’t been done before, anything truly revelatory (in the sense that it reveals something previously hidden, about us or about our world), we will get social consequences.
In fact, many people close to us do worry about us (aka project their deep-seated anxieties onto us) and counsel us (aka try to get us to do what makes themfeel better) when we get into our mysteries and therefore become a bit unknown to them. We will likely be encouraged to go back into the domain of what’s safe and socially pre-approved, where they think we can’t be hurt, and where they aren’t unsettled by us anymore because we are perfectly pre-defined. But living only what’s been scripted deprives of the deep joy of improvisation.
At its core, a sincere opening to creativity is radical and spiritual. Ego – the often quite inauthentic, conditioned personality that we present to the world in lieu of our true face – and superego (the one that tries to shame and criticize us into being “good” people, where good is mainly defined by what others will praise and accept, and “bad” is nothing more than a collection of ideas about what will cause other people to reject, blame, criticize, ridicule, or attack us) run counter to God Source surrender. When we choose to ignore ego to strengthen the stream of creativity within us, we strengthen our dedication to God Source.
In recovery, we learn how to tune out the noise of ego and superego, to tune into the still, small voice within, the voice of our own, personal Higher Power. This power, the one that retrieved us from the clutches of addiction, the one who has the power that is greater than ourselves, is full of its own ideas about life, that don’t necessarily match what others want from us. This power is a true, deep rebel, a magnetic and beautiful presence with a natural authority that answers to no one but that which is at one with all life.
Higher Power is creative – you could even call her an artist. People who come to know their Higher Power as a palpable presence in their lives, like people who stick around recovery rooms usually do, eventually see that God Source likes to create things, and will do so with harmony, balance, and beauty. If we ask to be, we can be God Source’s living creation in action, the effervescence of what flows out from the spiritual realms. As Eckhart Tolle phrases it, “Life is the dancer, and [we] are the dance.”
When I think about how many people have been shamed out of their natural right to experience and express creativity I feel very sad. That’s akin to shaming people out of their right to know and experience God Source flow directly into them, and to enjoy whatever form-play that Source flow wants to do through them. This is one of the ways in which our world is spiritually bankrupt.
Instead, we could be spiritually luxuriant – filled with supply and support from within. What magnificent benefit might come to our beautiful, broken planet, if more of us could surrender to Source and let it flow its creativity into the outer world? What brilliant philosophies, funny jokes, beautiful buildings, harmonious communities, ecological solutions, spontaneous healings, inspiring art works, and cures for ill could spring forth from that power? Wouldn’t it be nice to find out?