“Do you dare love what you’ve hated all your life?”
That’s the first line in the book “Shadow Dance: liberating the power and creativity of your dark side” by David Richo. I read and did the exercises in the book during the three months I was in Kenya in 2010.
Being away from my normal routine helped me to plow through some of the more challenging bits, and though tough at times, it was rewarding. I mean, seriously, shadow work, while worthy and ultimately enriching, can be pretty ugly business.
ugly, but life-saving, business
We can’t change the world unless we change ourselves, we are after all part of the world. The negative shadow, Richo writes, contains all that we despise and reject as unworthy in ourselves. But it’s not evil. It only feels inferior because we deny it, and it then becomes destructive. Spiritual maturity helps us to weave our negative shadow into the whole of ourselves and access its creative power; and coming round full circle, we need creative and spiritual practices to do this mending work.
a creative step forward
I realise now I’ve always been a creative person and I’ve been surrounded by creative people all my life.
But this lesson didn’t hit home until 2008 when, for the first time, I did the “Artist’s Way: A course in discovering and recovering your creative self”.
Meeting weekly with a group of friends we worked through the chapters. Slowly and steadily, each of us gradually fell into a different pace as we juggled our lives and work and the tasks assigned by the book. It took about a year for us all to finish. The mutual support and flexibility around the time line and chapter exercises were essential for our success. The first one done in our group did it in six months; my own journey lasted nine; and until the group disbanded, we all kept coming to the weekly meetings and sharing our creative practices.
I began the process hoping to kick start a writing project that had been stalled (hhhmm, familiar) and was shocked and delighted to discover a pool of visual creativity within. The writing stayed stalled, but wow! It was like discovering a new room in a house where I’d always lived. I wanted to draw. And I did, and do.
But I kept this discovery to myself. I was shy to even talk about, display my drawings or show them to anyone. Then in 2010, in Kenya, at the beginning of a nonviolence campaigning course, I greeted the group and introduced myself: “Hello, I’m didi, I live in London where I work for TTT as the nonviolence programme co-ordinator, and I’m an artist.” I slapped my hand across my mouth and said, “Oh my god, did I just call myself an artist?” I had, and I do. But wow, was that scary and a leap.
And that was that. Another step in what was an unconscious and invisible creativity journey to something else.
Time rolled on. I did the 3 months of shadow work with Richo’s book, and later another pass through the Artist’s Way with another group of friends. I learned to meditate; I worked with a creativity tutor to help me publish a little book about the Zapatistas; I got involved with the work at the Ecodharma Centre; and I keep on keeping on.
the blog: act, believe, change
I set-up this blog in December 2012, but I didn’t actually have the heart and courage to post anything until April 2014. ¡Madre mia! What am/was I scared of? Myself and my own creative power is what Julia Cameron (the author of the Artist’s Way) would say.
two lessons from the Artist’s Way
I got a lot out of the the Artist’s Way. One thing, I’ve already mentioned but is worth repeating: we are all creative, we have to be, or we’d be dead. Or dreadfully dull. Or both: dead after having led a dreadfully dull life.
The other thing, and I can’t find the exact passage, but the idea was something like – a daily and mindful creative practice is a powerful and subversive act of resistance and liberation.
There’s nothing more that the “powers that be” would like than for us to not think and simply do whatever everyone else is doing. The average, normal adult armed with a box crayons, or 10 minutes writing each morning to empty the nonsense out of our heads and get down to who we really are and what we really want can be a subversive and powerful act leading on to even greater subversive and powerful acts.
Yipppeee, how exciting is that?!
Enough said. A picture speaks a thousand words, so here is the “shadow gallery I”, some of the images I have made over the years to help me through and remind me of this important life-long work.