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'The Artist’s Way': The Secret to a Better Quality of Life - by Lorraine Espenhain

‘The Artist’s Way’: The Secret to a Better Quality of Life

6 minutes

I’m reading a book right now that is having such a profound effect on my life that it seems almost criminal for me to not share with others what I am learning. It’s called The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron.

It’s an international bestselling book that touches on the subject of creativity—a book that has inspired not hundreds, but millions, to overcome certain beliefs, thought patterns, fears, etc., that serve as a barrier to their creativity.

 Center of Focus

In the second chapter of this book, Cameron speaks about the importance of paying attention to everything that is going on around you in order not only to connect with this world and survive in it, but also to overcome it.

She makes specific mention of her deceased grandmother, a woman whose life was filled with pain, heartache, and hardship, but who knew how to survive and be happy in the midst of it all simply by focusing on the lovely and wonderful details and miracles going on all around her. Even in the midst of gut-wrenching stress and trials, when her grandmother wrote letters to her family members, she didn’t just write about her problems.

She also interspersed her letters with the heart-thrilling news that the forsythia was starting to bloom, she saw her first robin that morning, her Christmas cactus was getting ready, and her new dog loved to sleep in her cactus bed, of all places.

Yes, she would write of the sad things that were taking place in her life so as to keep the family properly informed, but she made sure that she also wrote about the wild tiger lilies that were in bloom, the lizard that had found the perfect sun spot, and the roses that were holding their own in the heat.

Julia Cameron’s grandmother was a world beater and an overcomer because she saw life, not as a series of problems, crosses, and trials to be endured, but as a series of miracles and small detailed wonders continually taking place all around her throughout the course of her day. She paid attention to those miracles. She made those countless wonders the center of her focus, and in so doing, moved the darkness in her life into the background where it clearly belonged.

 Capacity for Delight

In this extraordinary book, the author shares with the reader that the quality of one’s life has nothing to do with success or failure, but with one’s capacity for delight! In other words, to the extent that you are capable of taking delight in the many wonderful things going on around you is to the extent that your life will have any quality.

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When I read this, I said to myself, “Wow… simply wow!” Cameron wrote of the importance of simply living in the moment, for when we do this, life, no matter how difficult it may be, becomes bearable. If we pay attention, if we listen, we will see that each moment is not without its beauty. By focusing on that beauty, we will not only survive, but thrive!

This may be something that you have already learned how to do, but for someone like me, it’s a whole new way of looking and living. Simply put, I tend to focus on the wrong things. When the alarm clock goes off each morning, my husband is already smiling and whistling before he’s even opened up his other eye!

While he’s enjoying his first waking moments, I’m intently focusing on problems that have to be confronted and dealt with that day. Sometimes I even find myself getting irritated. How am I supposed to decide what to get miserable about with all of his noisy whistling in the background?

 Getting off on the Wrong Foot

As I reflected and meditated on the words written in The Artist’s Way, I vividly recalled a memory of an incident that took place when my firstborn daughter, Elizabeth, was about five or six years old.

We had gone to the supermarket, and my husband and I couldn’t understand why she kept tripping and stumbling. When I looked down at her feet, I saw that she had placed the wrong shoe on the wrong foot.

Her right foot was shoved inside of the left shoe, and her left foot was shoved inside of the right shoe. No wonder she was stumbling and having difficulty walking. As soon as she placed her feet into the proper shoes, the problem was solved. No more stumbling.

I think that there is a huge element in our society (of which I am a card-carrying member) who tends to make the same mistake when it comes to walking in this life. The reason why we’re always stumbling while others around us are walking and whistling is because we’re thinking the wrong thoughts. Put the right thoughts into your mind, focus on the right things, and you’ll stop stumbling.

You might even whistle too.

And so, I decided to try it. After meditating on Julia Cameron’s words, and wishing with all of my might and main that I could have known her grandmother, I said to myself, “I can do this. It might seem foreign at first, the language might seem awkward and unfamiliar, but I can do this!”

Starting on that particular afternoon, I decided to pay attention and focus on the many ordinary—yet wonderful and lovely—things going on all around me that I never noticed before because I was too busy focusing on problems.

 Going Crazy?

I decided to test the waters on a dearly beloved friend of mine in Philadelphia. This woman is old enough to be my mother; yet, we’ve been best friends for so long that I can’t even remember not having her in my life. We met at church many moons ago, and we just connected and bonded.

We were both Italian, loved coffee that was so strong that our husbands called it brewed peat moss, and were gloriously intoxicated with Jesus. What more did we need? My friend has seen me at my worst, and I have seen her at hers, but we still love and accept each other. We appreciate that we don’t have to put on an Oscar-winning performance when we’re talking on the telephone or emailing each other because we accept each other unconditionally as we are.

And so, I decided to send her an email from The New Me. It went something like this:

Hello, Soul Mate!

Just checking in this morning to see how you’re doing. I have a migraine headache this morning, but there’s a fresh pot of coffee brewing, Christmas carols are playing softly on my stereo, and outside my kitchen window is a beautiful tree with orange and gold leaves shimmering in the breeze beneath a golden morning sun.

The house is pretty dusty since I didn’t get a chance to clean it, but when the heater goes on, all of the dust mites come to life and dance like ballerinas in the air, waltzing to and fro in the dazzling light, holding me captive with the beauty of a dance they’ve been dancing for thousands of years. The Philadelphia Academy of Music never put on anything this spectacular! You have to see it to believe it!

I don’t know how I’m going to pay for the car insurance at the end of this month, what with Christmas and all, but the sun that is shining through my sliding patio doors has hit one of the crystal balls in the chandelier hanging over my dining room table.

It’s absolutely beautiful! It’s magical! Twinkles of dancing light and lovely rainbows are everywhere! Wishing you were here to see it! Just thought I’d share this magical moment with you!

Write back soon! Love and Hugs in Jesus!

My friend’s response, which came back within 20 minutes, was quick and to the point:

“Honey, talk to me. You know that you can tell me anything. Are you on something? Do you want me to call you tonight? I have free minutes on my cell phone, and it won’t cost me a cent… not a single blessed cent.”

 A New Way of Walking

Okay, so it will take her a little while to get used to The New Me, and maybe I do need to tone it down a bit, but I think life is a lot better this way than just focusing on migraine headaches, bills, water stains on my bathroom mirror, empty wallets, chores, and gloom.

It’s like learning how to see all over again, but I have to say that I’m loving it! I’m really loving it! I’m still stumbling and falling as I learn how to walk in this new way, but then God shows me something beautiful, and I focus on that instead.

This afternoon, I felt myself dwelling on the stack of bills that have to be paid this week and all of the different appointments that I have this week as well. I found myself tensing up. As I dwelt on these things, one of my daughters came into the room and started talking to me about something.

I stared into her eyes, which are the most beautiful eyes that I’ve ever seen on anyone. They’re big and brown. They remind me of two chocolate Hershey’s Kisses every time I see them, and I have to drop whatever I’m doing, make her close them, and give her kisses on each eye.

As I stared into those Big Browns, and as my daughter’s eyelashes tickled my lips, I thanked the Lord that in that moment He had sent me something better to focus on rather than the things that were causing me to tense up.

Those Big Browns staring up at me pushed the stack of bills and the pressing appointments back into the background where they belonged, and I was able to see the beauty of that moment clearly. I was able to see the most important thing, the better thing, and it was this that made the moment, which was threatening to go sour, turn sweet.

Yes, there are bills to pay. Yes, I have a lot of appointments this week. But I also have a daughter with beautiful brown eyes that look like huge chocolate Hershey’s Kisses. Yes, my windows are dirty and need to be cleaned, but when I opened them this morning for a bit of fresh air, I heard my neighbor playing Ave Maria on his flute. The dirt on the window was pushed to the background, and center stage was given to my neighbor and his flute.

I no longer saw the dirt, only the beauty of that moment. I saw what mattered most, what brought joy to my heart, and refreshed my spirit. I saw that I had within me the capacity for delight of which Julia Cameron wrote, and I knew that because of this, I was well on my way to a better quality of life.

I think I’m going to like this new way of walking. I’m still tripping and stumbling as I learn to adjust to my corrected vision. Sometimes I even fall, but I know that I’m on my way…

Somehow, I’m going to make it.

Boat on Sea Image © Warren Goldswain / Dollar Photo Club

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About Lorraine Espenhain

Lorraine Espenhain
Born in Philadelphia, PA, Lorraine now lives in New Mexico. She is a wife, homeschooling mother, religious instructor, and freelance writer with 200+ articles on Catholic.net. She also has her own children’s column at Agua Viva, her diocesan newspaper. Meet Lorraine
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