Guest Post– Choosing Creativity In Crisis
A Reflection on Practicing the Artist's Way Mid-Pandemic
Today’s post is by sober yogi and creative recovery facilitator Lauren Aune.
Lauren is a yoga teacher based in Tennessee who also runs an international online sober support group for women called “The Healing Hive” which is open to women struggling with addiction or alcohol use disorder.
I attended a three-month, weekly round of Lauren’s online Artist’s Way Creative Clusters, as discussed in the essay below, and found the experience to be tremendously wonderful and beneficial. I highly recommend the process if you’re looking for artistic recovery or a creative boost, paired with accountability.
For information on her next Artist’s Way Creative Cluster, email Lauren at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her on Instagram.
If you would like to write a guest post for this Lagoon, please get in touch. I love sharing the work of my readers and other creative writers.
Let’s get into Lauren’s journey.
Choosing Creativity In Crisis:
A Reflection on Practicing the Artist's Way Mid-Pandemic
By Lauren Aune
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit my corner of the world, Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 2020, I was just shy of 18 months sober. Fear gripped me as I walked the aisles of my typically well-stocked grocer, seeing the empty shelves. Every store was out of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and cleaning products with signs instructing to “take only one item due to high demand.” Another item in high demand was alcohol. Like me, many people were afraid and looking for ways to cope.
According to the New York Times, alcohol sales in some major cities rose 300% that week, and liquor sales exceeded that of both Halloween and New Year’s combined, the two largest alcohol sales holidays of the year. There were no guarantees anymore about the future and nothing to trust beyond the here and now.
Only a couple of years prior, I’d found myself in a quarantine of my own making, drinking daily, often upon waking, numbing the pain of life and past traumas.
When any catastrophic life event occurs, it’s difficult not to long for old ways of coping. I deeply considered buying alcohol that day myself, something I had not thought of doing in ages. I felt like all I had worked for in sobriety—mental clarity, a strong yoga practice, and a work schedule made easier by my daughter’s in-person schooling were being taken from me with no identifiable date of return. However, despite the fear and uncertainty, I made a different choice. Instead of self-destruction, I chose creation.
Elizabeth Gilbert, author, and a personal hero of mine, wrote on her Instagram account that March:
“Constant creative response. The world changes, the ground is yanked from beneath your feet yet again, uncertainty reigns, nothing is promised for tomorrow…. What are we to do?… Constant creative response. Create, create, create…”
I knew I had a problem with alcohol long before giving it up, and the path to eliminating alcohol was long and hard. For years, I consumed every podcast, television show, and documentary that depicted a person’s struggle, and sometimes recovery, from addiction. It took many different avenues of support to find an alcohol-free life. Now, I would face this pandemic sober.
My mother had gifted me a copy of The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron, fifteen years before the pandemic. This creative book/workbook sat dusty on my shelf until the pandemic when a friend from my recovery group asked me if I’d ever heard of the process. Her question felt like the type of synchronicity that Cameron encourages readers to pay attention to; it was the extra nudge I needed to finally dive into the book. This is a common story among those who have found The Artist’s Way process.
The book arrives, then waits for you to be ready.
We formed a small “creative cluster” to meet virtually and began going through The Artist’s Way process together. Suddenly, the same world that had felt just days before like it was closing in on me, began to feel expansive and new. I quickly discovered that The Artist’s Way is less about becoming an artist, and more about becoming a creative participant in your own life.
If you had asked me before the pandemic if I was happy with my life, I probably would have told you a resounding “yes.” Denial has a way of building walls around the truth and lulling us into a sense of security. It’s a coping mechanism that sticks us in a prison of our own making. The reality was, I was deeply unhappy. Getting in touch with underlying pain is always the first step in change, albeit a scary first step.
The principal tool used in The Artist’s Way process is what Julia Cameron calls “morning pages.” This is stream-of-consciousness writing for three pages, by hand, upon first waking. Cameron prescribes the morning pages for the “creatively stuck.” This “stuckness” can apply to your literal artwork, and also your life.
Because what are our lives if not our greatest creations?
Instead of feeling dread, I looked forward to my sober, creative mornings in lockdown. This was a noticeable shift from the days when I would wake up in utter panic over the hours that stretched before me. When I was a drinker, I was a morning drinker, often having at least one drink almost immediately upon waking to numb the anxiety of my racing mind. The problem with that is alcohol appears to reduce anxiety, but in truth, it increases it two-fold as it leaves your system. This is one reason it’s so incredibly addictive. You need more and more alcohol for it to “work,” and in reality, it’s completely working against you.
The morning pages became the place I could expel those racing thoughts from my mind, like a pressure release valve.
Instead of secretly pouring the vodka, each morning, I rolled out of bed, wrapped in a blanket, and padded to the living room with my pen and journal. If it wasn’t raining, I would build a fire and watch the sunrise over the trees of my wooded backyard. I spent 30 minutes emptying my mind of all the thoughts and feelings that came up, sometimes finding the process easy and sweet, other times tedious and draining. With any creative habit, there are moments of dullness and moments of magic. Cameron likens the process to “mining for gold.”
The more I did the morning pages, the more I experienced the elation of uncovering shiny gems from my own chattering mind. I would notice extra tension in my body on days I skipped writing the pages.
The morning pages are a form of meditation. They revealed my own critical voices. These negative voices reside within each of us, convincing us to believe false narratives about ourselves, about others, and about our lives. They contribute to unsupportive, self-destructive habits formed to keep us feeling “ok” in the world—spending, eating, drinking, sex, workaholism, screentime–external temporary fixes for internal problems. Cameron writes in The Artist’s Way:
“We meditate to discover our own identity, our right place in the scheme of the universe. Through meditation, we acquire and eventually acknowledge our connection to an inner power source that has the ability to transform our outer world. Meditation gives us not only the light of insight but also the power for expansive change.”
In lockdown, there was a sense of endless time, and the tools and exercises in The Artist’s Way process became a beautiful container for self-exploration. I paid close attention to every aspect of my life and the world around me. “The capacity for joy is in the gift of paying attention,” Cameron says.
We think that joy is somewhere “out there”, but joy is within. During my quarantine days, after my morning pages, I would set up camera timelapses of the sunrise and I grew attuned to the cycles of the moon and the positions of the planets and stars. I decluttered and threw out unused items and I made a little writing nook in my walk-in closet where I could journal and take zoom calls. I created a space in my basement for yoga and set up an altar and devotional corner for my spiritual practices. I designed a new workspace for myself and ordered office furniture that I liked. I started offering online yoga classes through my yoga studio, something that had previously terrified me.
“Artist’s Dates” are another principal tool of the process, a “step two” of sorts in getting unstuck. In writing your pages, you are expressing out. The artist’s date is designed to fill you up. An artist’s date is when you go alone and do something that isn’t a chore out in the world. You listen for answers to the questions you ask your morning pages. Insight bubbles to the surface when we stop hyper-focusing on our lives. And while it would seem during a nationwide lockdown that you could not take yourself on a date, there are lots of ways to spend time with yourself without setting foot in a store, restaurant, museum, or theater.
I turned to nature for my artist’s dates as well as to other forms of creativity besides writing. I took free online dance classes. I sketched and painted. I cooked and baked. I built and planted a flower garden. I discovered new music and made playlists. I developed a love of photography and took walks in the woods with my camera. I even had a little scrape with the law when I hopped the gate of a closed state park to go for a swim in the lake. Even state parks were closed during lockdown, and a local ranger wrote me a ticket for trespassing. It matters very little what you do during your artist’s dates, it only matters that you schedule and take this intentional time for yourself every week.
As lockdown continued into April and May, I stuck with The Artist’s Way process, not always doing it perfectly, but returning over and over to the structure it provided during a time of crisis. It made me more honest and aware of my problem areas. I listened to my own inner guidance in a new way. Most importantly, a vision for my life began to crystallize. So many times, in yoga workshops or teacher trainings, I’d been asked the question, “what is my heart’s deepest desire?” and most of the time, I had no answer. It wasn’t for lack of dreaming; it was the lack of feeling allowed to dream. The Artist’s Way gave me permission to dream and gave me the tools to uncover my dreams.
The process supports you in becoming intimate with yourself. I learned to be with my own thoughts, feelings, and desires without crippling judgment or personal condemnation. I learned to accept my shortcomings with grace, recognizing them as strengths not yet cultivated. I started really, truly trusting myself and loving myself.
I also bonded with the other women in the group and supported their creative visions and consumed the art, poetry, and stories they made during our time together.
You become intimate with each other in a way that heals the soul.
Soon after I completed the 12-week process with that first creative cluster, I decided to form and lead another group of women, facilitating three more clusters during the summer and fall of 2020 and into the Spring of 2021. I did this process for an entire year, guiding over 30 women from Canada, the US, and Europe through the journey while continuing to refine my own creative process alongside them. Participating with others adds a beautiful and connective richness and depth to the experience.
During a time of great stress and change, taking part in The Artist’s Way gave me tools to navigate an uncertain world and a coping mechanism that was also life-giving.
While it’s not a quick fix for life, and won’t turn you into Vincent Van Gogh, the process is powerful and transformative if used consistently over time. The book and the time spent with other women in the clusters have left a lasting impact on how I show up in the world, how I make choices, and how I see myself.
The process is the paint, and your life is the canvas. How will you color your world?
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That's a good question. How will I color my world?