Morning pages, artist's dates and weekly walks - the three tools of Julia Cameron's recovery
'I had been feeling low all week, but after the weekly walk my spirits lifted.'
Sunderland Recovery College course member
Julie Cameron was a journalist working for OUI magazine when she interviewed Martin Scorsese in 1976. The interview led to marriage, a daughter ( Domenica) and divorce, all within a year! You can find out more about Julia here https://juliacameronlive.com/
Alone, with an infant, Julia tumbled into drink and drug addiction, both of which affected her ability to write. In a drastic step to pull herself out of her despair, Julia travelled in New Mexico with Domenica. It was whilst in New Mexico that Julia began to write what she would later call her 'morning pages.' These were three sides of handwritten stream of consciousness writing which are completed before anything else every morning. Julia has stated that the morning pages were the key tool that turned her life around.
Eventually, Julia would write about her experiences in the best selling The Artist's Way (1993), where she described her morning pages as helping her to clear the clutter from her mind and free her up to pursue her day in the same way as a morning shower clears sleep away from your body and sets you up for the day. For further discussion about morning pages visit http://agilelifestyle.net/morning-pages
In her book Walking in this World (2002) Julia points out that ‘there’s no pretending in morning pages … as I write, the light dawns – just as the sun comes up over the mountains – and more is revealed.’ Through this process Julia gets her ‘moments of insight, her glimpses into the why behind the what that I am living… they keep my consciousness scrubbed clean’ (p3). In talking about Julia's idea of morning pages with course members the thought of completing three sides of free form writing was deemed very daunting. Even so, one course member confirmed that 'I am not a morning person, but I have started writing in the mornings and when I'm having a bad time I write more. It is helping me.'
Julia goes on to confirm that when she wakes in the morning she reaches for her pen and morning pages journal. By doing this she 'dips her soul into her current life, noting what makes her agitated, what makes her irritable, what finds her excited, what feels like drudgery … it is a ritual, a way to start the day and a way to come clean before myself and God’ (p3). Julia sometimes describes the process of writing her morning pages as a form of meditation.
Morning pages, however, were only one tool in Julia's recovery box. She also advocates what she termed artist's dates by which she means a once a week hour slot where she explored the world in any way she felt. In the Artist's Way (1993) Julia commented that, ‘grounded in a sense of adventure and autonomy, the artist’s date is a once weekly, hour-long solo expedition to explore something festive or interesting to your creative consciousness’ (p9). Julia concludes by stating that if ‘morning pages are assigned work, then the artist’s date is assigned play.’
Ultimately, the artist's date is a process through which we can re-connect with ourselves and rediscover our creative inspiration. In my journaling courses over the years course members have found the idea of an artist's date very self-indigent and feel hesitant about scheduling them. Julia would argue that they are essential. One course member confirmed that 'journaling was helping her to put herself first, that she had now had more than three positive experiences for the first time ... it is something by me, for me.'' Equally, however, this course member does not like being on her own, so any artist's date she puts in her diary she will need to be accompanied. I don't think that being accompanied would diminish the benefits of an artist's date, what is important is that this course member does something inspirational and motivating that she chooses.
The third tool Julia identified is her weekly walk which she advises should be for 20 minutes. Julia credited walking with assisting her recovery. 'A day at a time, a walk at a time, even a simple step at a time, my sad and tangled life began to sort itself out. I say sort itself because all I did was walk through it. I have been walking ever since’ (p11).
In her book The Vein of Gold (1996) Julia developed her idea of a weekly walk by advocating walking more and dividing the weekly walks into three types (pp50-51). First of all she advocates a daily walk of around 20 minutes as a means to encourage flow in your life, flow derived from movement. Secondly, she advises making one of the daily walks longer for around an hour so that you give yourself more time to process the challenges of the week and seek clarity. A third approach to walking each week Julia suggests should be prayerful and that during this walk we express gratitude for everything in our lives that brings us joy.
In talking about these three tools with my Sunderland Recovery College course members they expressed understandable concern about going out walking alone. On their own initiative they decided that they wanted to try the walks, but arranged to meet each other and go out together. They chose a coastal walk between Roker and Seaburn on Sunderland sea front (see photograph above of the location) and found themselves caught up in a beach rescue only to discover it was a drill!
The course members, who have only just got to know each other, found that they shared a mutual understanding and offered support whilst out on their walk. The walk was relaxed, not rushed or completed to a timetable, and where they all felt at ease with each other and gelled well together. They have arranged to meet again for a second walk.
Julia's three tools for recovery are designed to help recover the creative spirit. Do not let this emphasis on 'artists' and 'creativity' put you off, the process is important in itself. Equally, Julia was brought up a Christian and in her writing she talks about her spiritual path, but this does not need to be restricted to any one form of spirituality, but instead to be part of a human being's wider experience of the wonder of the world and our place in it.
Megan Rutell was a self-confessed morning page sceptic, but once she had tried them out, her views changed. You can find out what she discovered by following this link
'Journaling with Steve has helped me gain more than three consecutive positive experiences for the very first time.'
Sunderland Recovery College course member