Monday, July 18, 2016

What Does Happiness Sound Like?


For the past 11 weeks I have been working through the new book by Julia Cameron, "It's Never Too Late to Begin Again: Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Midlife and Beyond." Many of you may remember her phenomenal best seller of 25 years ago, The Artist's Way, which helped millions of us find our creativity and give it a voice. Now she is focusing on folks who may have put off birthing their creativity until the kids were grown and gone, and their work life became their retired life, or for those who never believed they were creative to begin with.

As she did before in The Artist's Way, Cameron arms us with the tools we need to find our way on this journey, namely her ever famous Morning Pages and Artist Dates to which she had added walks and, now, Memoir. In Memoir, she asks us to break our lives down into smaller spans of years and to write about them. Just so we do not become overwhelmed at the prospect, she guides us with a series of questions that we are to write the answers to, and then feel free to elaborate on them and see where they take us. The questions ask us things like: Where did you live at this time? Who were the significant relationships during this time? What major changes occurred at this time?" However, being the brilliant teacher that she is, she asks us to use all of our senses: "What is one smell you remember from this time? One Taste?" For me, those were easy. Growing up in an Italian family, smell and taste had to do with food, and the feelings and memories I associated with them. In our home, food was a symbol of love. I can remember the smell and taste of my Mother's spaghetti sauce bubbling on the stove on Sundays, or the aroma of chicken soup on a cold, rainy day. Then Cameron threw a new ingredient into the recipe ... what is one sound you remember from this period!

Sound? I grew up in New York City. We didn't have "a" sound, we had a cacophony of sounds, a symphony of cars, buses, horns, sirens, people. trains, and the bells of the Good Humor Man. So I found it difficult to single out one sound that reminded me of what I had thought of as home, or even happiness. It wasn't until I got to that part of the Memoir where I moved away from the city and out into rural America that I had no problem answering the question. In fact, two answers sprang immediately to mind: the sound of crows, and the sound of silence.

Crows. There is no problem identifying the sounds of crows. They make their presence known. My sister once studied with a Native American Medicine woman who told us, whenever a crow came into our presence, to ask it: "Brother Crow, what do you know?" The first morning that I awoke to the sounds of cawing over the corn fields surrounding my home, I was filled with a feeling of warmth, of belonging, of happiness. I felt like I was truly home. I felt it in the roots of my being and the song my heart was playing. I felt connected to the crows, the corn fields, and, yes, even the smell of the cows on the hillside. I felt connected to it all. It sounded like happiness.

Now, you may well ask, what exactly is the sound of silence? Well, Simon and Garfunkel had it right all those years ago. Silence is our old friend. Silence calls to our very core to come out and play. Silence opens the doors of perception. It is where inspiration and creativity live. There are moments here in the country when the birds have finished their morning travels, the little critters have gone under cover until dusk, and the farm equipment has stopped for the day, and there is a silence so profound that it wraps itself around the heart and introduces itself to us: "Hello, there you are!" Perhaps that is why I love meditation so much. If prayer is talking to God, meditation is listening for the answer, and that can only be found in the stillness and silence within. I take my hat off to the folks still living in the Big Apple who have found a way to meditate amidst the sounds of the city. Here among the crows, the cows and the critters, the trees and I have found that place of stillness inside that anchors us.

The corn is just starting to show itself in the field across from my writing window. Soon the crows, who have been busy raiding everyone's gardens, will be paying me daily visits. I will listen, as I was instructed to do by the medicine woman, to see what the crows have to tell me. It will, undoubtedly have to do with coming home. While I wait for their arrival, I will tune in to the silence and listen for the guidance I need for the day. It never fails to lead me where I need to go.

And so it is.


  1. Barb,

    I'm a HUGE fan of Julia Cameron (even took a workshop with her a few years ago!) and I'm off to buy her newest book thanks to YOU and this fabulous post. And because painting is this new thing for 52 years old...and I'm freaking painting! LOL

    1. Have you read "Living Color" by Natalie Goldberg ("Writing Down The Bones")? In it she explores the same thing, how painting and color combined with her writing to make both of them deeper and more meaningful. She and Julia Cameron have been my inspiration all of these years, as is Elizabeth Gilbert now. Her "Big Magic" is wonderful! Happy painting!

  2. Barb, this is such a lovely, poetically written post. Your writing always creates vivid imagery in my mind & I so want to come sit with you in your fields and gardens! I have Julia Cameron's book "The Artist's Way" & have used her "Morning pages" I'm putting this newest book on my list. Thank you for sharing it with us. And I agree, silence is my friend!

    1. I'm glad you liked it, and glad to meet another Artist's Way graduate! I'd love to hear how you and Peggy make out with the Memoir Tool and what insights you uncover!