I tell people often that The Artist’s Way might be the most important book in my life so far. I'm currently reading it for the fourth time. Author Julia Cameron’s words, tools, and exercises have helped me deal with things that can block my creative life....things like perfectionism, fear, anger, jealousy, and shame. They have helped me develop healthier self-care, relationships, confidence, and time management. This stuff has been a part of my life for almost ten years now, and its power invites me back every couple of years to seek a new level of authenticity and artistic output.
In the past, this process has been very private for me, but this time around, I decided I wanted to try sharing it with a group. Cameron actually gives guidelines for something like this, which she calls “Sacred Circle” or the “Creative Cluster.” In January, I put out an open invite to join me on Thursday nights for a Creative Cluster at our house to discuss thoughts while working through the book. Twelve people responded.
That first Thursday after my last music lesson, I brewed a pot of coffee, opened a bottle of wine, put on the kettle for tea, lit some candles at the dining room table, and put some music on the stereo. I continue to do those same things every week. Those little rituals help me center after a long day of focusing on my students. The artists start trickling in one by one, sometimes with a treat or a favorite beer to share, and always with a week of experiences in their hearts to bring to our table. We check in a bit over a drink of choice, then settle into seats around the dining room or living room. We talk about the chapter, the tasks, the basic tools, our work, our triumphs, our struggles, and a mish mash of other interesting stuff.
Our first few weeks were a bit awkward in terms of conversation. Since we weren't really there for small talk, we were all learning to navigate different conversational styles in the midst of diving into nitty-gritty ideas and issues. It took us a few weeks to adjust to each other. Also, people struggled with Cameron's word usage (the word "God" in particular carries a lot of baggage), and it was easy to veer off into theology rather than talking about our own work with the tools and the tasks that week. Once we got through that group block, we were able to talk more and more about our actual work. We each respond to the chapters differently, and one week's tasks will be extremely exciting for one person while they may be neutral or even scary for another. Needless to say, conversation is always interesting.
I think I can safely say that everyone is seeing small, important changes with the use of the tools and tasks, and hearing about their changes always makes me want to try new things. Serendipitous situations are happening that are helping people take new steps with their art, and those steps give me hope. Having a weekly meeting is forces me to reflect and acknowledge those changes I'm making each week...changes that may have gone unnoticed otherwise. I see that everyone has weeks where they don’t get as much done as they’d have liked, and yet progress is still happening. Hearing about someone else’s failure can dissipate the paralyzing shame surrounding my own. Hearing about someone else’s success can fan a dwindling flame of enthusiasm. If I do nothing that week but come to the meeting, that in itself is an action that usually leads to something else.
As of last night, we're 2/3 of the way through the book. Hard to believe we only have one month to go. Each artist who sits at the table each week is shaping me, challenging me, and encouraging me just by sharing their own process. It is indeed sacred time. I'm already thinking about the next books I'd like to work through with others.
Have you been part of an artist group of some kind? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.