Dancing in the Dragon's Den: Rekindling the Creative Fire in Your Shadowby Rosanne Bane
Bane identifies and addresses the connection between creativity and the personal shadow--which Jung defined as the person we have no wish to be--and gives readers the tools to use shadow energy for rekindling their creative fire. See more details below
Bane identifies and addresses the connection between creativity and the personal shadow--which Jung defined as the person we have no wish to be--and gives readers the tools to use shadow energy for rekindling their creative fire.
- Ibis Press/Nicolas Hays
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Dancing in the Dragon's Den
Rekindling the Creative Fire in Your Shadow
By Rosanne Bane
NICOLAS-HAYS, INC.Copyright © 1999 Rosanne Bane
All rights reserved.
Into the Dragon's Den
THE DRAGON IS A POWERFUL SYMBOL in both Eastern and Western mythology. For the Chinese, dragons bring good fortune and were once the exclusive sign of the emperor. For westerners, dragons are darker and more dangerous. Our legends describe fire-breathing dragons guarding golden treasure hidden deep underground.
When I first started working with the dragon as a metaphor, I saw it only as a harbinger of darkness and destruction. My journey of discovery began fifteen years ago, when I received an invitation from my psyche. Perhaps summons would be a better word because it was the call to begin the spiritual work of acknowledging and integrating my shadow, the parts of myself I had disowned and cast aside.
It was no coincidence that I also received an invitation to explore my creativity at the same time. My interest in writing then was, to a large extent, an attempt to lose myself in the flow long enough to forget the misery of going through a divorce I didn't want. I wrote powerful, dark stories during that time of my life, and that was no coincidence either.
Most of the stories I wrote then disturbed my family and friends. They scared even me, and, at the same time, they amazed me. I recognized that the emotionally disabled characters I wrote about were thin disguises of myself. But I didn't know that the value of these stories lay in the process of writing them. I thought I was writing them for publication or at least for my friends to read and respond to. But they were painful to read, almost impossible to respond to, and nowhere close to being ready for publication. I didn't know it yet, but my creative flow was in service to the spiritual and psychological work I needed to do.
Unfortunately, I didn't have a safe place to do that psychospiritual work. My family and friends didn't know how to respond to the shadowy, draconic aspects slipping out from behind my goody two-shoes persona. With the best of intentions and the worst of effects, they encouraged me to not think such dark thoughts. In response, I cut myself off from them, certain that if my writing was too hard to talk about, then what I was feeling and thinking was unquestionably too horrible to speak aloud.
* * *
Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.
RAINER MARIA RILKE
I didn't have resources or awareness. I didn't know who I could talk to. What my shadow brought up was too shameful for me to acknowledge. I didn't see my unconscious as a well that I could learn to draw pure water from; it was a slimy, black dungeon, and my shadow was a dragon haunting me from its depths. I was lost in depression, which I now see was sheer exhaustion from the effort it took to repress my shadow. In despair, I attempted suicide.
In an attempt to do away with my shadow, I nearly did away with all of me. I learned a dangerous, hard lesson: we aren't supposed to do away with our shadows. We can't. We can't cut off our shadows without cutting and mortally wounding ourselves.
In the years that followed, I knew I wanted to write, but the images came in floods that I didn't have the word craft to keep pace with, interspersed with long droughts when I felt bereft of inspiration. I feared any sign of the depression returning, and yet I had learned to associate the energy of writing with the energy of pushing the depression away. I thought that if I felt too good, I wouldn't have the inclination to write or material to write about, and if I felt too bad, I wouldn't be able to do anything at all. I spent so much energy shoring up the levees against my shadow, I had no time or inclination to trust the joy of floating down the river.
The psyche, our Higher Self, yearns for wholeness and works through synchronicity (meaningful coincidences). I was eventually given resources and awareness. I found a community that encouraged me to restore my faith in the God of my understanding, and I regained my emotional and spiritual footing. I "lucked into" a job writing for and editing a newspaper that addressed the ideas and issues I was most interested in. Later, someone insisted I accept the offer to attend, free of charge, a workshop led by Jacquelyn Small, author and pioneer in transpersonal psychology. I was on a journey back to my hidden self, and the workshop introduced me to traveling companions. I found a safe container for and a loving community to support my shadow work, this time with understanding and compassion. My psyche had sent me another invitation. Perhaps my Higher Self recognized I had finally learned enough spiritual manners to RSVP appropriately to this one.
* * *
It does not do to leave a dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.
J. R. R. TOLKIEN
Once I thought the dragon was a symbol of my depression and therefore something I needed to conquer. Gradually, I realized that my "dragon-self" held years of repressed anger, and — although I didn't want to burn anyone to a crisp — that dragon-self was the source of important insight and power. First I acknowledged that aspect of myself, then I learned to accept and eventually even embrace my shadowy dragon-self. And just as in the legends, the dragon had a treasure horde to share with me.
Today, with a safe place and supporting friends, most ventures into the dragon's den — into the depths of my hidden self — are still frightening or uncomfortable. The difference is that now I know the journey has a higher purpose. I've learned that it is possible to repress the shadow — but only at tremendous cost to the totality of the psyche. I've learned that when I allow my shadow out of the self-imposed dungeon, I do experience fear, but I'm always given the gifts of creative energy and insight. I've learned to trust outcomes to a Higher Power, to trust the wisdom of my Higher Self, and even to trust my shadow to deliver the gold it holds. Fifteen years ago I could never have foreseen the day when I would willingly enter the dragon's den and learn to dance with joy there.
It is my privilege and my joy to share what I've learned to guide others in discovering that creativity and shadow rise together from the unconscious. I've watched with love and awe as others descended into the depths of their unconscious and returned with creative insights and energy that are gifts not only to themselves but to everyone they come into contact with.
Many of us are surprised, awed, or shocked at what comes out of ourselves when we create. Michael, a former publisher finally pursuing his dream of being a writer, started a free-form writing exercise that became, to his surprise, the beginning of a murder mystery. He was surprised by how it felt to write the grisly details of the murder scene and shocked that such images came from his own mind.
* * *
This [the unconscious] is the source of all creativity, but it needs heroic courage to do battle with these forces and to wrest from them the treasures hard to attain.
Paul, struggling with his Ph.D. dissertation in English, wrote, just for fun, a first-person narrative explaining why the main character is a hit man. When I offered to read it, his manner told me that, more than hearing what I thought of the story, he wanted (and feared) to know what I thought of him. Did I think he was weird or strange or bad for writing such a dark story?
The surprise at what we create is sometimes so uncomfortable, we cover it by denying that what we've done really is artistic. I often see fear in students' eyes and hear apologies in their voices when they talk about a new project or medium they're exploring. "I know it's not art," Sandy confessed, "but I like romance novels, and I thought I might try writing one," as if writing a romance novel isn't a project of worth and so Sandy had the freedom to try.
When Judy shyly showed the greeting cards she embossed and colored by hand, she insisted before anyone else could comment, "It's not much. The woman who showed me how does so much better," as if to say with pride and awe, "I did this! Isn't it great!" would tempt the gods to punish her for hubris.
This misplaced humility is a common shadow aspect in people exploring their creativity. It is, I'm certain, a behavior we have learned to protect ourselves; so it is something we can unlearn when we realize we don't need to protect ourselves in this way any longer. But until we realize that, we are afraid.
In her book Source Imagery, Sandra G. Shuman asks: "Why is the fear so prevalent? What is its cause? The need to depreciate our originality, to tear down what we have made in our own and others' eyes, is almost compulsive. It's as if we must steadfastly keep something hidden from view, something bad and disgusting that being creative exposes to the public eye. What is this negative feeling or projection all about?"
It is about our shadow and its connections to our creativity. No wonder we've repressed our full creative potential. To express our full potential, we must consciously work with our shadow, which can be frightening. It's often a struggle. Yet if we don't work with our shadow consciously, we pay the price of diminished creativity, and we expose ourselves and others to unconscious shadow outbursts anyway.
Creativity and shadow are inexorably intertwined. Some people think craziness is a prerequisite for an artist, while others see artistic endeavor as a safety valve that allows an individual to avoid madness. But shadow is not insanity, although sustained resistance to the psyche's call to integrate shadow may look like insanity, and the struggle to acknowledge and integrate shadow sometimes feels like losing your grip. Creating is much more than an avoidance technique or a coping mechanism. And integrating the shadow is much more than a way to break through blocks, although that would be reason enough for many people to undertake it.
* * *
The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.
Jung said the shadow is 90 percent gold. As difficult as it may be to recognize at first, the shadow — your shadow — holds a tremendous gift, a saving grace you need to be fully creative and fully alive. We don't have to be Christian to recognize the wisdom of Jesus' words: "If you bring forth what is inside you, what is inside you will save you, but if you fail to bring forth what is inside you, what is inside you will destroy you."
As you work through this book, you will find, as I and my students have found, that creative work and shadow work are both spiritual issues and that both your creative nature and your shadow are truly 90 percent gold. You may be uncomfortable when you first venture into the depths of your full Self, but I know that you, too, can discover the joy of dancing in your own dragon's den.
What to Expect
Exploring your shadow and your creativity is not the work of an evening or two. Plan on reading and responding to one chapter of this book per week.
I've discovered, usually to my chagrin, that reading, writing, or teaching about the shadow often invokes my own shadow. Shadow is a faithful companion, always willing to give me a new lesson. My ego is not always so compliant, and I frequently struggle to accept the lesson my shadow offers. I suspect you'll have similar experiences, so I recommend you take this process slowly. Always be gentle with yourself. One chapter a week is plenty.
Another reason not to rush is that tapping blocked creative energy can cause your interest and imagination to outstrip your skill. Patience is vital. So is accepting mistakes as part of the process.
Don't worry if, in one week, you don't assimilate all the concepts and completely resolve the creativity and shadow issues that arise in response to a chapter. It's likely that you'll complete this book one chapter at a time, then return to various lessons from time to time. Each time you return, the experiences will be different because you will be different.
* * *
The truth is, everything is contained in the self. The creative power of this entire universe lies inside every one of us. The divine principle that creates and sustains this world pulsates within us as our own self.
The first part of the book, "Recognizing Your Creativity, Seeing Your Shadow," will give you a map of the dragon's den in the form of background information about what your shadow is and how it is connected to your creativity. The second part of the book, "Embracing Your Shadow, Expressing Your Creativity," will lead you through the process of using the energy and insight of your shadow to rekindle your creative fire. There are exercises at the end of each chapter, and you'll find that the first part of the book prepares you for the experiential work of the second part.
It's important to find safe places and people to support you as you do this creative and shadow work. I'll discuss this in greater detail as we go along. For now, know that when you get to the experiential work of the second part of this book, you will want and need people who love you for yourself and who are willing to support you as you move through unfamiliar territory. Your support network will probably include both friends and professionals. Part of what can surface as you explore your shadow and creativity is old, old pain that has been stuffed away for years, even decades. These issues can be the raw material for significant psychological growth. Get seasoned guides, including a good therapist you can count on.
One important source of support is the stories of others who have made the journey into unfamiliar territory before you. You'll find those in the third part of the book, "Surrendering to the Creative Shadow Process," which presents insights my former students and I have gained from exploring the depths of our creativity and our shadows. It begins with a retelling of two myths of descent — the story of Inanna, a goddess who descends into the underworld to visit her sister Ereshkigal, and the story of Persephone, who is dragged unwillingly into the underworld. Aided by observations drawn from Clarissa Pinkola Estés's audiocassette Creative Fire, you'll discover that both myths have rich insights about the connections between creativity and shadow. Combined with real-life stories of others who've made the descent into the dragon's den, these myths will help you understand why it is important to stop resisting your own descent and begin the often difficult, but always re-warding, journey inward. When you want a little extra support as you work through chapters 7 through II, you may want to skip ahead to the stories in chapters 12 and 13.
* * *
The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.
I've been enlightened by Carl Jung's explanations of the shadow and its functions in our psyche as I explored the connections between shadow and creativity. Ill refer to Jung and other writers from time to time, but this book isn't strictly Jungian. You don't need to agree with — or even know about — Jung's theories to apply the ideas and exercises in this book.
Practices That Lead to Personal Insights
The exercises at the end of each chapter will give you ample opportunities to experience what the chapter's concepts mean to you. Each exercise has a number of possible "correct" responses; any answer that gives you personal insight is right. Often it is our ego's need to be correct that gets in the way of surprising, and therefore useful, responses. Try to set aside your ego's desire to be right. We'll try a number of different approaches to perform an end run on the ego so you can see what your sometimes elusive and less articulate shadow has to say.
Read through all the exercises and select about half of them to work through. I strongly recommend you do at least one of the exercises you'd really rather avoid. But if there's one that terrifies you, make sure your support network is available before exploring it, or, if you don't feel safely supported, postpone that exercise. Again, be gentle with yourself. Use your own judgment. Only you can tell how much emotional stretching will be healthy and when you should stop so you don't tear spiritual ligaments.
But don't worry, the exercises are not going to be excruciating. Some of them are meant to be fun, even downright silly. Be sure to do some of these too. Go ahead, have a little fun.
In the search for ways to get our egos to take a break long enough to gain insight to our shadows, exercises that allow us to free-associate are often useful. A technique my students and I find particularly useful is freewriting, which Natalie Goldberg describes in Writing Down the Bones. Basically, freewriting is writing without stopping and without fretting about your spelling or punctuation or phrasing (which is, of course, your ego trying to be right again). The trick is to keep writing, keep your hand moving, even if you have to write "I don't know what to write" over and over. Eventually, your internal editor will get so bored with writing "I don't know what to write" that it will give up and go away, and then you'll be free to risk writing something unexpected.
* * *
We do not write in order to be understood, we write in order to understand.
If you are already doing some kind of journaling, continue the practice. If you aren't, establish a time when you can be alone and uninterrupted for about twenty minutes every day. I recommend writing first thing in the morning. When you first wake, your brain waves are slower and you're closer to your unconscious. You'll remember your dreams, and dreams are a significant way your Higher Self communicates with you. If you can't or won't journal in the morning, pick another time of day, preferably a time when you're able to relax and open your awareness to your unconscious by simply sitting quietly for a few minutes. Be consistent in your timing so your unconscious will know when to expect you to listen.
Don't get hung up in thinking you need to write great prose; you don't even need to write at all. If writing feels too cerebral, or when the words seem flat or won't come at all, drawing is an alternative way to fill the journal. Everyone's Mandala Coloring Book by Monique Mandali is a great place to start playing with colors and design in a healing, insight-producing way.
Excerpted from Dancing in the Dragon's Den by Rosanne Bane. Copyright © 1999 Rosanne Bane. Excerpted by permission of NICOLAS-HAYS, INC..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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