Category Archives: Morning Pages

Be Open. Don’t Try So Hard.

On Ardnave Beach, Islay, which I am yearning for dreadfully at the moment.

On Ardnave Beach, Islay, which I am yearning for dreadfully at the moment.

Lately, I keep coming back to the same thought:

Be present.  Turn Up.  Be still and open.  Don’t try so hard.

I was watching Jamie Ridler’s morning vlog, in which she talked about how people strive so hard to find their Life Purpose.  We make such a BIG DEAL out of it.

What if we just let it happen?

I’m not saying you can just expect your art to pop up out of nowhere.  You have to be present, make yourself ready.

You do your core practises.  Your morning pages.  Your writing exercises. Your artist dates.  Your scales or your practise sketches.  Your barre exercises.  You make sure that you are ready when the inspiration comes.

When I used to read about writers who sat down at their desks in the morning and stayed there for an alotted number of hours, regardless of whether the work came or not, I used to think they were mad.  It seems like working too hard. It seems like self-punishment.

Maybe you don’t just have to sit at your desk.

Maybe you can cultivate a mindset of being open.  Where ever you are, and whatever you are doing.

Maybe we are all trying too hard.

Forcing it just doesn’t work.  Every writer who has ever been blocked knows that.  But if you keep up the practises, the ideas come.  They come because your mind is constantly in a place where it is curious and open, and like a lamp in the darkness, it attracts the fluttering moths of inspiration.

So keep her steady as she goes.  Turn up for your daily creative habits.  Relax into them, and don’t panic.

The work will come.

Happy Creating,

EF

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Journal Friday: Core Practices

Diary Pile 2I’ve been experiencing something of a ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ lately, a deep, dark journey into the Underworld.  Being creative has been a distant dream.  The only space or energy available has just been for survival.  That said, I’ve realised that there are three core practices that have helped, and continue to help me keep (relatively) sane.

Core practices are those habits you keep going, no matter what.  Activities that keep your engine running even when there is no energy, space or time for anything else.  You keep up these habits through the times of joy and abundance, and those of despair, desolation and drought.  They help sustain you, and keep you in a state of awakened readiness for when the next shower of inspiration comes.  They are part of the minimum requirements that you need to function as a happy, healthy human being.  They are different for everybody, so yours might vary from mine, but they will give you the same comforting, nurturing continuity in your life.

I started thinking about this idea the other day, when I heard Jamie Ridler talking about them in her recent podcast.  The core practices she sites are Movement, Meditation and Morning Pages.  Morning Pages are a practice popularised by Julia Cameron in her book, The Artist’s Way, and I’ve written a little about them here.  Cameron herself would probably site Morning Pages, Walking and the Artist Date as her core practices.

If I had to name mine, the three things that have kept me going in recent days against the tide of despair, I would say they are yoga, meditation and journalling.

Yoga helps me to keep grounded inside my body.  Even when I am very ill and have little energy, a single pose can help.  Yoga eases the chronic pain I live with, and gives me a sense of achievement.  I like doing it outside in the garden in the summer, but usually my yoga mat gets spread out on my study floor.  I light a candle, ask for a blessing on my practice, and do a few asanas.  I also enjoy doing a few poses before bed at night, as this helps calm me from the day’s stresses, but also helps counteract the tension my body builds up during the night.  If you fancy having a go, you might find this website helpful.

Meditation is something I am trying to do.  I’ve been trying to do it for years.  It occurs to me now that maybe thats the whole point.  Even when you get good at it, you are still battling the butterfly nature of your mind as it dances about between the shopping list and the peerless beauty of Benedict Cumberbatch’s mouth, or something similar!  Lately, I’ve had quite a bit of success with the Insight Timer app on my smartphone, and I also like Susan Piver’s free meditation instruction sessions – ten minutes out of your day for such huge benefits has to be worth a try.  When I get it right, when I manage to concentrate on my breath even for just a tiny bit, I experience a sense of peace, achievement and oneness.  I’ve tried Vipassana body awareness meditations by Jon Kabat-Zinn too, and they are really good.

Journalling.  Do I really need to add much about this?  I’ve been writing continually on this blog about journalling practise since I started a year ago, explaining the benefits and the pleasures of keeping a diary.  I’ve been doing it for 40 years this year (erch!  Is it really that long?), and I can tell you that it has saved my life more than once.  Check out my other Journal Friday posts to find out more.

Journal Exercise:

Get out your journal and take a little time to ground yourself.  Take a few breaths and be present within your body.  Then think about your life.  What are some of the things you do regularly that sustain you emotionally, physically, spiritually.  Spend some time writing about them, about why they help you, why you do them, how they nourish you.

If you have trouble zeroing in on one, two or three things you do in this way, try thinking about your minimum requirements for a happy life.  What do you go nuts without?  When your life gets a bit haywire and you find you feel out of control, what are the things that have slipped?  It might be anything from drinking enough water and eating fruit daily to spending time with friends and family, walking the dog or reading a good book.  Make a list of the things that you know you need in your life to sustain your wellbeing.

As always, don’t get too draconian about either of these exercises.  Remember these are not the things you think you OUGHT to be doing, or what your friends are doing, although they may be things you might like to try, but haven’t yet.  Take time to explore.  Be gentle and compassionate with yourself.  And if you can’t identify anything yet, allow the answers to evolve over time.  Gently ask them to come to you.  Ask yourself what you need in your life right now, and enjoy your discoveries.

Happy Creating,

EF

 

Journal Friday: Check In and Kick Start

So how are you doing?  Have you been writing your Morning Pages?  Did you buy yourself a journal and scribble your thoughts?

I started my Artist’s Way ‘Redux’ on Monday, and so far I have only missed one day on the Morning Pages (MPs).  I’m feeling pretty proud of myself.  I keep my MP notebook by my bed, along with my fountain pen, and write when I wake up.  It seems to be clearing the sleepy fluff out of my head, and helping me to work out what I want to do for the day.  What’s important.  (Need to be careful not to get ink on my nice white sheets, though!)

How about you?

Did you have a go with the journal exercise last week, as Puggle did?  Did you find out more about your life, and where you are?  Maybe even where you want to be?

Why not share with us how you are doing by leaving a message in the replies/comments?

Sometimes, its hard to think of what to write, or how to start.  I have to admit, there are times when I sit down with my journal or MPs and stare into space and think ‘what now?’  My MPs especially are punctuated by the sentence:  ‘I don’t know what to write next, my mind has gone blank.’

If you are suffering from this, and need a little kick start to get you going, here are some ideas that might just prime your pump.

Kick-Start Exercise # 1:  What Happened today?

Yes, I know that sounds boring and traditional, but maybe its not if you go about it the right way.  What was the most important thing that happened to you today, the event or feeling that sticks out in your mind above all others as important?

It might be the moment the doctor told you that your child didn’t have meningitis.  (Or did, in which case I am sorry.)   It might be that your boss complimented you on your work for the first time ever.  It might just be a moment when you were sitting at the traffic lights and looked up, and the clouds making were breathtakingly beautiful shapes, and it felt good to be alive.   Maybe nothing happened, and that in itself is a relief, an achievement or a significant red flag for you.

We go through our lives in a state of dazed distraction most of the time.  We barely notice the things that are important, let alone the things that are not, no matter how beautiful or poignant they may be.  Take a moment to stop and record what was most important today, the lasting memory of the waking hours you have just experienced that you want to take forward with you into the future.

Kick Start Exercise #2:  Have a Rant

If you are still stuck, how about writing about somethiing that makes you angry.  Everybody has something.  If you don’t, maybe you want to consider that in and of itself – are you repressing feelings, and if so, why?  Maybe your rant has to do with the neighbour allowing their dog to bark at all hours of the night, or potholes in the road that the council doesn’t fix.   What would you say to them if you could?  Maybe you want to yell at the government for some policy you don’t like, or you hate that your washing machine seems to eat socks and you can never find a complete pair.  Perhaps there are things you need to shout at your parents, partner or children, but don’t feel able to.  Your diary or journal is a safe place for all this.  Let it out.

Good luck with your journalling and MPs this week, and please share how you are getting on with us here.

Journal Friday: Morning Pages

The Artists Way 2

If you read creative blogs of any kind, you are bound to come across Julia Cameron’s ‘The Artist’s Way’ eventually.  It’s cover bills it as ‘A Course in Discovering and Recovering your Creative Self’, and yes, it does exactly what it says on the tin.  I first completed the whole 12 week course in 2004, and now I am about to embark on a refresher.  I’ve pulled my much loved, somewhat dog-eared copy off the shelf and on Monday 6th May 2013 I shall launch into the unknown once more.

Cameron proposes two tools for this course, Morning Pages and Artist Dates.  No doubt we will talk about Artist Dates at some point soon, but today, let us think about morning pages, because they are enormously beneficial, whether you are a creative or not.

“What are morning pages?  Put simply, the morning pages are three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream-of-consciousness…”

Julia Cameron, ‘The Artist’s Way‘ Pan Boo 1995  pp9-10

Basically, what we are talking about here is three pages of brain dump.  You write them by hand because it enables your subconscious to express itself.  You don’t judge them, you don’t ty to be neat, you don’t reread them.  Cameron suggests doing them on loose sheets of A4/letter size paper, but I prefer to keep them in a notebook, the same kind I use for my writing notebook.

You can whine, complain, rave, drool, scream, laugh, giggle, rant, enthuse, or just repeat ‘I don’t know what to write, I don’t know what to write’ over and over again until something presents itself to be set down. Three pages.  Inane babble or heartfelt planning.  As scribbly as you like. (I realised after I had taken the photo above that this particular example of my pages is considerably neater than my usual.  Believe me, most of it is a real mess!)

Whatever comes out.  Three pages every day, no matter what.  Three pages to ground yourself in the very core of your psyche, to drain out the poison and find the shimmering gold doubloons resting on the sea bed beneath.

I have kept morning pages on and off for 9 years.  I have never reread any of them.  But when I do them, I find myself making sense of the world and my feelings, finding a way to my dreams and interests, naming new ideas and enthusiasms, letting out the bile that is getting in the way of health and healing.

I profoundly believe in the healing power of these pages in draining the poison and pain from life.  I have recommended it to several friends and acquaintences who were struggling with clinical depression.  They have found them enormously beneficial, as do I.  I now recommend them to you, not because I think you need help, but because they will help you find yourself, because they will help you become more of who you really are under all the OUGHTS and SHOULDS.

Journal Exercise:

Set your alarm half an hour earlier this week.  Get yourself a decent large notebook and a pen you like to write with (I do mine with a lovely old Parker fountain pen).  Write your three pages every day.  Do not judge yourself.  Do not censor yourself.  Get the dross and the sparkles alike down on paper.

If you would like to join me on the Artists Way, you are more than welcome.  I shall be writing more about my progress on this blog, and I would love to hear from you in the comments if you are game.