Seeking Wisdom: A Book Review
"The Artist's Way" author Julia Cameron proposes a spiritual path to creativity.
Posted January 14, 2022 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
- Julia Cameron's book "Seeking Wisdom" offers a spiritual path to creative connection.
- When creatives decide to "take something down" rather than "think something up," creativity flows.
- Cameron teachers prayer as a path to creativity, but suggests that one first rethink their "God concept."
Julia Cameron, the best-selling author of The Artist’s Way, has taught filmmaking, creative unblocking, and writing for decades. Her new book, Seeking Wisdom: A Spiritual Path to Creative Connection is a six-week program readers can use at home to unlock their own creativity.
Cameron first recognized the connection between creativity and spirituality during her time in treatment for alcohol use disorder. While she got sober, she discovered her own Higher Power, one which spoke to her in a way the God of her Catholic upbringing did not. In the process, she also found her path back to robust creativity.
And that’s what Seeking Wisdom is: a personal look at Cameron’s own spiritual practices for creativity. But more than anything it is a book on prayer, written or spoken. This prayer practice adheres to no particular religious tradition but asks the reader to pray to the Higher Power that speaks to them.
Inspiration and the spirit of service
The key to creativity for Cameron is that it must not just be about yourself. That path leads so many artists to become blocked. “Before I got sober, I was always trying to be brilliant and impressive. After I got sober, I try to write more from the spirit of service. When I did that my writing became clearer and more accessible, and to my surprise and delight, my career took off. Creativity and spirituality were so connected that I consider them to be one and the same,” she writes.
“When I try to ‘take something down’ rather than 'think something up,’ the words follow. I am receiving rather than trying to control. Letting a Higher Power write through me, I find I sit down to write with more ease.”
In this, Cameron reframes for a modern reader a tradition that is as old as human art itself. From the spirits of inspiration to the Greek muses without whom an artist could accomplish nothing, creatives have always described the experience that the art comes through them. The theme featured prominently in Elizabeth Gilbert’s (author of Eat, Pray, Love) own book on creativity.
Prayer and retooling one's "God concept"
While the book is rooted in the Higher Power tradition, it will resonate strongly with anyone who practices a religion. To be fair, the ideas about prayer are profoundly Christian and less aligned with Muslim practice. In this, the influence of Cameron’s Catholic upbringing is evident. But for those who have been turned off by their own church upbringing, Cameron begins the book with a challenge to retool one’s “God concept.”
In one exercise, readers are asked to list 10 characteristics of the God concept they grew up with, and then list ten they would like their God to have. In her examples, she juxtaposes a “punishing, male, all-knowing, angry, vengeful, unforgiving, homophobic, white, shaming and judgmental” God concept with her own: “welcoming, everywhere, accepting, creative, loves to cha-cha, loving, full of ideas, inspirational, gentle, and listening.”
Whether the reader wants a Higher Power or prefers the spirituality of connection to all things as is more common in the meditation community, the exercises can stimulate creativity. Specifically, the exercises seem designed to bring on the flow state, in which the changes in brain activation actually create the experience that we are “taking dictation.”
By taking the focus off forcing creativity and the planning activities of the frontal cortex, Cameron’s practice likely activates the default mode network in the brain, allowing intuition and creative ideas to pop.