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Julia Cameron, Carl Jung, and Why I'm Now Waking Up at 5:45 AM

A friend of mine told me a heavy burden, a deep secret drenched in anguish and guilt. I went to bed that night, and the secret burned up my brain, devouring my dreams with the haunting echoes of her secret. My restless, orange dreams came to a close when my alarm went off at 5:45 am and I got out of bed. Disbelievingly, I walked down my hallway in the comforting quiet of awake and sat on my couch with my journal, and I started to write. I wrote down her secret. I hunted it down with blue ink and white paper, extracting it from the recesses of my brain; I wrote out my condemnations and precatory thoughts. The scorched soil remained, but the secret was released.

This habit of writing my stream of consciousness is new. I did it last year when I went through The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. She wrote about needing to write out 3 pages a day (every morning, specifically) to actually see what is hiding in your brain. These pages, not to be read or published, are meant to see what is really inside you. She told me to do them right when I woke up in The Artist's Way, but I almost never did. Mornings are chaotic at my house--my two-year-old son still wakes up from time to time (in fact last week he woke up at least twice each night), he wakes up at sporadic times (but almost always early), and I have to leave by 7:30 am to make it to work in time, so all this is to say that it's much, much easier to write out my pages after James has gone to sleep. Even so, sometimes I just stare at the cream paper and have no idea where to begin. I have nothing to say, and yet so much to get out with no idea where to even start. I wish someone would give me a journaling prompt or order me to write about something, but when I google journaling prompts they all seem like things I've already written about or sycophantic flights of fancy.

However, I started working through Julia Cameron's new book, The Listening Path: The Creative Art of Attention. I'm only in the first chapter, but the thesis of her books is simple: listening well is the root to all creativity and connection. Consciously working to listen (to our environment, others, silence, etc.) breaks us out of feedback loops and insular patterns. She presents three practices by which to cultivate this listening: morning pages (every morning), artist dates (once a week), and walking (twice a week).

Reading about morning pages, I was armed with my standard my-child-doesn't-sleep-and-I-have-to-leave-early-and-everything-is-chaos-and-I'm-not-a-morning-person excuse. But then I stumbled upon this passage:

"Jungians tell us that upon awakening we have about a forty-five-minute window before our ego's defenses are in place. Catching ourselves off guard, we tell ourselves truth, and truth may differ markedly from our ego's versions of events. As we listen--and record--our actual feelings, we become habituated to the truth. We puncture 'I feel okay about that' to reveal that we may not feel okay at all. As we discover our authentic feelings, we discover our authentic selves, and those selves are fascinating." (The Listening Path, p. 9)

The morning time slot isn't about setting the day up. It's about disarming your ego. So I did it. I woke up at 5:45 am and wrote morning pages, and anger I leaked out stayed caged in my journal that day. The next morning, I woke up at 5: 45 am and I had eked out just one page when my son woke up. But that was okay. That was the only time I was given that day. Then, when the secret was dropped into my mind, I was reeling. And I knew that I needed to go to bed so I could disarm my ego and write the truth. And I did.

As I begin The Listening Path in a nation filled with malice and contempt, I hope that I can learn to hear not just myself, but others with intention and discernment. Julia Cameron's book The Artist Way profoundly changed my life last year. It upended a pandemic for me and reframed the tragedy around me. While the beginning of 2021 has already had enough of illness, death, and mob violence, I hope that The Listening Path can forge a path to make it through.

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