The Artist’s Way – week three

This chapter has been a nightmare.
Not through the exercises it’s asked me to do, but for multitude of reasons, including the death of a friend, which meant that a lot of things got deprioritised.

Thinking through who I admire and why, some (most) of my choices felt superficial. I know that they were based on the public persona of famous people, but I look up to the persona, not the person. I still love Ray Bradbury’s prose, even though I disagree with some of his personal opinions, and I’m pretty sure Carrie Fisher and I would have very little in common, but – based on what I know of her – she seemed amazing.

In the last few days, I’ve also started dreaming again. Nothing that makes any sense, and nothing that I can recall in the cold light of day, but I did recall having a dream for the first time in years.

The biggest issues I’ve faced this week have been:

  • I’m pretty sure Quirk and Robbie are on their way out. It’s sad, but I tried my best. Apparently potting trees from the wild has a very low success rate. They might come back, once they’ve had time to recover. Only time will tell.
  • Real life taking priority. Everything in its own time, but it’s still a little frustrating.

Morning pages:

I feel better for writing them, but I’m not sure they’re reaching as deeply as they need to. I definitely felt better about my bereavement after writing about it, but I think there’s more deep-seated stuff that I need to excavate and the pages aren’t touching it yet.

Artist’s date:

I honestly can’t remember what I did for this. At one point, I said I was going to learn a magic trick, but I haven’t yet. I baked, maybe? Had a lie-in?

Verdict:

This week dragged on so long and it’s been such a mental and emotional rollercoaster, I can’t remember most of it. I know I said working through this in my own time was fine, but I think I’ll try to pick up the pace!

The Artist’s Way – week two

This one got off to a tricky start. I didn’t re-read the chapter, and so missed out on some of the instructions, and took two weeks to complete this one. It’s okay, I’m doing this on my own and I can go at my own pace.

This chapter, Cameron talks a lot about “crazymakers” (her word, not mine). People who turn up at inopportune times and wreck your plans with utter disregard for your feelings or wellbeing. I don’t seem to have any in my life – they sound like the sort of ‘friends’ I’ve avoided or excised – so, instead of trying to disentangle myself from them, I examined my own behaviour. After all, Cameron said that such people are often blocked creative. I don’t thrive on attention – quite the opposite – and the idea of upsetting my friends genuinely concerns me. I could stand to do better (everyone could, probably), but the person I sabotage the most is myself.

The biggest issues I’ve faced this week have been:

  • Morning pages

Morning pages:

I had a chat with my therapist about them and he thinks they’re probably useful. He also suggested only writing two of them if time was an issue. I was hesitant – I’d noticed that I start to uncover some significant thought processes around the one-and-a-half-pages mark and didn’t want to jeopardise that, but he reckons that the brain – when confronted with a finite amount of time/space – will put off doing the important work until it absolutely has to and that, by shaving a page off my writing, I’ll come to the same conclusions half a page earlier. I’ve been trying that for a few days, and it seems to be working out.

Artist’s date
I planned to go somewhere new this week, but life intervened and I ended up gardening instead (making hay while the sun shines). It’s been a while since I gardened and, in one of those fantastic coincidences, a chance conversation has reignited my old interest in bonsai at the same time that my weeding uncovered some oak saplings that had planted themselves way too close to the house, so I’m now the caretaker of two bonsai oak trees.

Quirk and Robbie
Quirk and Robbie

Because I’m a shameless nerd, I’ve dubbed them Quirk and Robbie. Quirk (in the foremost pot in the photo), and is a single root ball with with four trunks; pragmatic and fmily-orientated. Robbie (in the hindmost pot) may have become detatched from Quirk while I was digging them up, but is now an independant young thing looking to establish his own identity  (having given them name and personalities, their inevitable deaths as a result of my incompetence will crush me, but that’s future me’s problem).

Verdict:

All things considered, this was a pretty chill week. The topics of my morning pages are still varying wildly – ideas for The Story With No Name one day, musings on mortality and grief the next, and whinging about how tired I am the day after. It’s a process and I am finding it useful; the switch to two pages doesn’t seem to have affected that too much.
I rated adventure and spirituality as the weakest points of my life this week, and I’ve been trying to think of ways to fill them up. Meditation has, ironically, been pushed out of my morning routine more often than not because the morning pages ran long. That said, the weather’s nice so I’m in the garden more and been trying to pay more attention to my environment during my my lunchtime walks, and I’m feeling more grounded in reality than I used to.

The Artist’s Way – week one

Having started this week with an attitude of “get it done and get to the good stuff”, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how cathartic some of the exercises have been. The artist’s date – a page from a ‘mindfulness’ colouring book – was particularly refreshing, and the exercise to write a letter to a champion led me to look up my old art teacher and find he’s still exhibiting.

The biggest issues I’ve faced this week have been:

  • writing the letters – short tasks are easier to fit into a busy schedule and, psychologically, ‘writing a letter’ is not a short task. When I actually got on with it, each letter was 20 minutes, tops.
  •  actually finding all the tasks – the Core Beliefs exercise, referenced in later weeks, is hidden in the middle of the chapter and I had to go dig for it. Lesson learned for the future – re-read the chapter before diving in.
  • finding time to do the morning pages. Cameron says leave 30 minutes, but I’m clocking in about 50. My regular morning routine is suffering because, despite getting up earlier, I only have time to do my pages before rushing off to work. That said, they’ve led to some noticeable mood shifts, so they’re clearly unjamming something in there.

Morning pages:
My fight with the morning pages led me to look up other people who have struggled with them and found that there might be some contraindications for neuroatypical folk: Morning pages might not be the artist’s way

I don’t know that my pages have led me to dwell on negative thoughts – beyond how blasted tired I am – but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Artist’s date

As far as the artist’s date activity goes, I also haven’t done anything resembling play for a very long time – a dearth of time and a surfeit of stress means all that went out of the window years ago – so I’m cribbing date ideas from Ellen Bard’s list 101 ideas to boost your creativity.

This week’s date was a page from a colouring book. I’m sure the spooky ghooosts and creepy castles were seasonally-appropriate when I bought the magazine (back in 2015) – like I said: it’s been a while since I just let myself play around. It was really quite pleasant.

And then I immediately regretted wasting an afternoon on such frivolity. Baby steps.

Verdict:
I’ve got a long way to go, but I’m feeling generally positive. This week wasn’t too rough, except for the damage to my morning schedule. I’m looking forward to next week.

Stoicism

After picking up Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations at a bookshop clearance sale, I’ve been reading up on Stoicism, and the more I read, the more I like the sound of it.

The stated aim of Stoics is to achieve tranquillity of mind, which, for a chronic worrier, sounds wonderful but utterly unachievable. But I’ll try most things once, so I’ve read a collection of Stoic texts and the lessons do seem to be of the ‘easy to practice, hard to master’ variety.
I’m told there’s a lot of overlap between Stoicism and Buddhism, especially around the idea of non-attachment (I’ve never read too deeply into Buddhism, but that tallies with what little I have read), and it seems to mesh with mindfulness and meditation, which means I can build on what I’m already doing.

“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts:
therefore, guard accordingly, and take care that you entertain no
notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature.” (Marcus Aurelius)

Stoic values (virtues)

Practical wisdom

Navigating complex situations in a logical, calm, informed manner.
Translated variously as intelligence, prudence or mindfulness, the Stoics cultivated wisdom, valuing rational thought, science, and knowing what in the world is good, what is bad, and what is neither.

“It is our attitude toward events, not events themselves, which we can control. Nothing is by its own nature calamitous — even death is terrible only if we fear it.”
(Epictetus)

Temperance

Exercising self restraint and moderation in all aspects of life.
Epictetus said that the worst of vices are lack of courage and lack of self-control, and mentions several times in the Enchiridon that a student of Stoicism should look to act out their virtues rather than talk about them*.

“No man is free who is not master of himself.”
(Epictetus)

Justice

Treating others with fairness, even when they’ve done wrong.
Other people’s failings aren’t our concern – we don’t have any control over anyone’s thoughts or actions but our own, so we should look to
being the best person we can be. People can only act according to their nature, and we can’t expect them to do otherwise. If someone’s behaviour bothers us, it’s because we expected them to act contrary to their nature; we can either try to correct them or accept that they’re the type of person who acts like that and lower our expectations accordingly.

“Humans have come into being for the sake of each other, so either teach them, or learn to bear them.”
(Marcus Aurelius)

Courage

Facing daily challenges with clarity and integrity
Some of the sources I looked at described courage as being analogous to endurance, determination or even industriousness. It looks to be about having the perseverance to continue, despite minor (or major) setbacks, and to follow what you believe to be the right course of action, despite opposition or ridicule.

“Be like the rocky headland on which the waves constantly break. It stands firm, and round it the seething waters are laid to rest.”
(Marcus Aurelius)

Stoic practices

Non-attachment

Everything in life – friends, family, health, wealth. prestige, even life itself – is transitory and we will eventually, inevitably, lose them. By practising non-attachment, Stoics aim to prevent themselves from becoming distressed at their loss.
Epictetus suggests that we think about the things we value in abstract definitions to prevent ourselves getting too attached to any one specific person or thing – I love, not my partner, but human beings in general; I am fond of, not the specific mug I use at work, but mugs as a whole; I love, not my job, but being meaningfully occupied.

Locus of control

We have control over a very small set of things in the world, namely our actions, thoughts and desires. External things, like whether people like us or if we’re going to succeed at a venture, are all beyond our control and worrying about them is an exercise in futility, because we can’t do anything about them.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t prepare – when packing for a holiday, it’s sensible to bring some clothes suitable for wet or colder weather, instead of assuming the forecast of wall-to-wall sunshine is going to be accurate, but there’s no sense in worrying about what the weather is going to do, and even less in trying to change it. We can’t do anything about things beyond our control, but we can mitigate the risk and prepare for the worst-case scenario. For example, driving is (statistically) one of the most dangerous things I do on a daily basis, but I wear a seat belt, obey the speed limit, maintain a appropriate braking distance and check my mirrors before manoeuvring. I control the things I can, but I have to accept that everything else is out of my hands.

“Freedom is the only worthy goal in life. It is won by disregarding things that lie beyond our control.”
(Epictetus)

Negative visualisation

I’m not sure how authentic this technique is, but it’s been recommended from a variety of sources.
As you acquire more things, you become complacent about what you have and desire things you don’t have. This leads to strife and discomfort, especially if the thing you desire is something you can’t have. By imagining life without the things or people, you love refreshes your joy in what you already have, making you grateful for them and less complacent. Additionally, having practised grieving for them can help buffer you against their loss in that you won’t have so many regrets or things left unsaid.

“Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now, take what’s left and live it properly.”
(Marcus Aurelius)

Stoicism and me

On the face of it, Stoicism seems like a pretty grim outlook – regularly imagine if life was so much worse than it is, eschew nice things in order to “build character”, accept other people’s crummy behaviour as par for the course – but I’m finding it immensely helpful.
I’m an anxious person, so taking a realistic look at what I can and can’t control, and then acknowledging that what I can’t control isn’t worth worrying about, is useful to me. For a long time, I was paralysed by the idea of embarrassment and failure and the fear of being thought stupid or foolish, but Stoicism has helped me to accept that what other people think of me isn’t my problem, and that’s liberating.
The other thing I have long struggled with is a sense of my own mortality. The sense I’m wasting my precious, finite time – has wasted more of my time that I care to think about. While I talk about being death-positive, I don’t know that I’ve really internalised that, and I need to push through, accept that there are certain things that I can’t control (I have to work, I have to eat) and focus on the time I do have. Mindfulness should help here, and hopefully Stoicism will give me a framework to practice within.

“Life is like a play: it’s not the length, but the excellence of the acting that matters.” (Seneca)

That said, the main area I see myself struggling in is in temperance. My self-control is very poor in certain areas (snacks and books, mostly), so that’s my primary area of focus. Snacking is easiest to establish rules around – not eating between scheduled meals, proscribing certain types of food and drink, the usual – but sticking to them is going to be harder, especially in the face of temptation.

As far as reading goes, I considered making a rule that I have to read two books for every book I buy, but tackling my to-read pile already feels like climbing the North Face of the Eiger, and I have a horrible feeling that imposing such a rule means I’ll be found crushed to death under my books in short order. Limiting myself to one new book a month would be more practical.

Action plan

  • No shopping for non-essential things on Sundays and bank holidays
  • No more than one new book a month
  • Read at least one book a month
  • No fizzy pop
  • No deviating from the meal plan

References

* Epictetus did follow this by saying that a student of Stoicism should refrain from talking about their philosophy, as wanting to talk about
Stoicism shows they haven’t grokked it and will only mislead the people they’re trying to teach. In that light, take what I’ve written here as my personal notes, and check the references for more information:

http://ift.tt/1qCbQ4F
http://ift.tt/1RYY3jN
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC34paKsEjtrlapZyRczztYw
http://ift.tt/2u4hxLv
http://ift.tt/2vt2CxE
http://ift.tt/2u4A1ev