Are you listening to the Great Creator?
Since the publication in 1992 of Julia Cameron's creativity handbook The Artist's Way, it has sold more than 2 million copies and inspired people from all walks of life to explore their artistic abilities. Her follow-up book, Walking in This World, offers 12 more weeks of creative how-tos. In addition to teaching workshops and public speaking, Julia is also a poet, playwright, fiction writer, essayist, and journalist. She spoke with Beliefnet about the connections between spirituality and the creative process.

What is the relationship between creativity and faith?

Art used to be made in the name of faith. We made cathedrals, we made stained-glass windows, we made murals. When Michelangelo was flat on his back in the Sistine Chapel, he was in service to something larger and greater than himself. And so artists have always talked about the inner connection to a larger something, and sometimes we call it the muse. But what we are actually talking about is that any time that you are engaged in a creative act, you are engaged in a spiritual act. And that's probably the single most important sentence: Any time we're engaged in a creative act, we're engaged with an inherently spiritual act.

Faith is almost the bottom line of creativity; it requires a leap of faith any time we undertake a creative endeavor, whether this is going to the easel, or the page, or onto the stage—or for that matter, in a homelier way, picking out the right fabric for the kitchen curtains, which is also a creative act. You have to muster a certain amount of belief that you're not making a mistake and you're not a fool. And this means you have to have faith.

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Is it faith in yourself, or something else, like a higher power?

Well, I think when you have faith in yourself you are simultaneously having faith in a greater power. If we are all part of an interactive connected universe, which is what I believe, then as we listen to the still, small voice—which is another way of saying the intuition, the hunch, the leading, which are all things that artists must pay close attention to—we are in effect listening to the Great Creator.

We can believe we are being self-reliant and independent, and yet there is still clearly an overarching destiny, a Great Maker. So when we say we have faith in ourselves, we cannot really separate the small self from the large self.

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You say that making art is not an act of the mind or the intellect, but of the heart and the soul.

Yes, and I want to be clear about that. We have a culture that is very competitive and also very product-oriented. And artists live within this culture, so there is a tendency to advise artists to think about shrewd career moves and consider the odds and pursue an artistic unfolding much the way someone would climb a corporate ladder.

However, the reality is that, again, if we are living in an interactive and essentially a benevolent universe—and that in itself is a leap of faith for a lot of people—then it comes back down to the idea that every time we make a piece of art, we are in fact having a spiritual experience.

I think creativity is just part of our spiritual DNA, in one form or another. Artists talk about it a lot of different ways. But, essentially, when you're really in the moment of making something—whether you're singing or in acting or painting or writing—you have an experience of something moving through you. And people have that when they get involved with sewing an apron or making curtains or writing a letter. It's that funny sense of altered time—and that's a spiritual experience, although people don't often think of it that way. You know when someone will say, "I looked up, and three hours had gone by." That's because they were absorbed in the now. All spiritual practices talk about getting absorbed in the now.

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Walking in This World makes the case that beyond the heart and the soul, the body is also intimately involved in the creative process. How?

When we walk, things tend to become clear to us. You know, a lot of us intuitively know this, like if we have a relationship that's not working very well, we'll go out for a long walk on it. And we'll think, "Oh, we're being so moody," but we may come back saying, "I should stay in it or I have to break up." We automatically access our bodies just from instinct. This is also why if somebody has a trauma, bodywork is often used to release grief.

What I'm hoping to do is to get people to integrate their body into their spiritual practice and into their art. And many times in creative situations, your stomach will start to go crazy, and it'll be, "Don't trust this producer," "This agent isn't right for you." Your body is the first line of defense signaling danger, and so creative people really need to learn to listen to their bodies because often their heads are slower to catch on to something suddenly wrong. We tend to want to lead with our heads. We tend to say, "That's not rational." And actually our intuition—which we access often through walking—our intuition is our early warning system.

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As far as doing something physical—can it be anything, or is there something about walking that particularly refreshes your soul?

I think walking is a spiritual practice, an ancient spiritual practice for a good reason. There is something about walking that really integrates the body and heart and psyche. I experience sort of a physical shift when I walk. I can literally feel it in sort of the back of my brain at the top of my head. It's as though I go out on a walk worried, and somewhere, maybe 20 minutes into it, I suddenly am in the moment. And I'm not saying that skating or roller-skating or running don't work, but I think that Aborigines and Native Americans go on walkabouts and vision quests for a reason. And also walking is easy—you don't need any special stuff. Anybody can do it, you can do it anyplace, you could do it in the center of Manhattan, you can do it in Los Angeles—although people stare at you when you don't drive your car. You can do it in New Mexico, you can do it Chicago, you can do it in Des Moines.

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You say were called to this teaching. Do you ever feel as if you've started a new religion?

I probably started an old religion more than anything. People will come up to me and say, "The Artist's Way is a Sufi book," or "The Artist's Way is a Buddhist book," or "The Artist's Way is a creative spirituality book or science of mind book." It seems to connect to a great many spiritual pursuits. And I think that's because if you get the barnacles off, most spiritual traditions teach pretty much the same thing. So I think that since art is a spiritual path, and it can be pursued within any number of religions, The Artist's Way is complementary to other religions.

Personally, I think of myself as a working artist. I worry if my plays are going to get done this year, if I'm rewriting my novel. I am very careful that although I do teach, I've spent an equal amount or a greater amount of my time actually making things. So I feel like I've largely dodged the silver bullet of gurudom.

There are also many artists who would never talk about art in spiritual terms at all. And yet they would be having the experience and learning the spiritual lessons exactly the same as a spiritual path, but they would never put it in those terms. I've been a writer for 35 years. This has taught me patience. God knows this has taught me humility. God knows it has taught me to enjoy inspiration and conscious contact when I feel it. These are all the same things that a monk would tell you. If you meet somebody who has done one thing long enough, they've always learned a lot. Someone who's been a baker for 35 years has learned the same lessons as a painter who has learned the same lessons as a monk.

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