We strive to be good, to be nice, to be helpful, to be unselfish. We want to be generous, of service, of the world. But what we really want is to be left alone.
—Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way
I think I have been subconsciously putting off my post for week five. The chapter was very insightful; however, I finished reading with a strange uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach as considered Cameron’s virtue trap. She covered several thought-provoking topics in week five but the concept that as been lingering in the back of my mind for a week now is the virtue trap. Essentially, this constitutes our tendency to consistently put the wants and needs of others before our own—understandably children need attention, spouses, friends, and family all need quality time to maintain a healthy connection. However, Cameron’s point is that we, as creatives, (and humans) need time for ourselves to replenish spiritually—quiet time to do what we like, when we choose, without interference or the pressure (or expectation) to be nice.
Many recovering creatives sabotage themselves most frequently by making nice. There is a tremendous cost to such ersatz virtue.
—Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way
Cameron has a valid point. I love my alone time. Both my husband and I have our own weekend routines, his time is spent in the kitchen or the garage, while I work on my computer or in my studio. This is ideal for us. We can unwind and be inspired with our own projects—or simply do nothing. When we meet up for dinner, we are relaxed, content and fully appreciate each other’s company.
However, I am somewhat conflicted. By my understanding, Cameron is advocating a form of complete freedom from this virtue trap. Thus, she is encouraging allowing ourselves to be who we are in our lives and eliminate the unnecessary expectations set upon us that cause us to exceed our limits? She seems to emphasize that it is not only important to have alone time to replenish, but to alter our lives and routines in a manner which frees us from the social constructs which results in our own virtue trap. I understand her line of reasoning. I can certainly identify moments in my life when I have become overwhelmed, anxious and depressed simply from overextending myself and living by the expectations set upon me by others. We feel obligated to play nice. Most religious affiliations and social expectations set upon the majority of the population (especially women) tend to stress the importance of placing others before ourselves. Obviously, Cameron isn’t encouraging us to regard each other with complete apathy, living with malicious selfishness.
Many of us have made a virtue of deprivation…We have used it to feed a false sense of spirituality grounded in being good, meaning superior.—Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way
Presumably, our lives would benefit from removing those pretenses and obligations that force us to live outside ourselves for the needs of others. However, I also believe in the importance of empathy. In my life, I genuinely like that I am a sensitive and compassionate human. (Or have I simply convinced myself that I am?) I want to be considerate to others. I never want people to leave my presence in a worse state because of their interactions with me. Where does this leave me? Not going out of my way play nice, not succumbing to the expectations to place everyone above myself, but still attempting to be a good human? Of course, Julia Cameron’s artistic life philosophy isn’t the end all in the manner in which people should lead their lives. However, she does make very interesting points well worth the contemplation.
By seeking the creator within and embracing our own gift of creativity, we learn to be spiritual in this world, to trust that God is good and so are we and so is all of creation. In this way, we avoid the virtue trap.—Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way
I am not sure I can trust that we are all good, despite my trust in the good of God?