Tag Archives: hidden self

Writing the bright shadow

Lots of shadows in the House of Dreams lately, but before I leave this theme, an update from Toko-pa has prompted me to write a balancing article about the bright side of the Shadow.

I did mention the bright side in my article ‘It’s the seat of creativity – so how can you find your Shadow?’ but only in passing:

This is not to say the Shadow is only negative. Positive potentials which may have been strong in us can be lost. For example, a strong-willed child may learn to identify that strength as a bad thing, and grow to suppress and deny it.

The Shadow is everything we can’t see directly in ourselves. Toko-pa says 90% of that will be ‘pure gold’, but I feel the percentage will depend upon other aspects of your personality. A person with low self-esteem, for example, will be unconscious of many of their more positive qualities, strengths and potentials, whereas someone who feels they are ‘good’ may be suppressing or projecting out many of their own human weaknesses.

When we write, our protagonists express energies in our Self of which we may or may not be aware, and these are not only the dark energies of our villains but also the bright energies of our heroes.

In our heroes, we experience qualities we may not identify with in life, but which must exist in us because they are finding expression in our stories. My protagonists are usually resourceful, independent and brave, but I’ve only come to see where they are me through writing their stories. I used to think of myself as the very opposite of all that.

So there are bright lights hidden in these shadows which, if we follow them, can lead us into the most wonderful areas of the Self. The process may still feel challenging, because anything that shakes our beliefs about ourselves unsettles our world and forces a readjustment of both our memories and our future dreams.

And we have to walk this path lightly, not trying to understand or interpret, but listening for echoes, being aware.

Have you noticed key characteristics that run through most of your protagonists? Are they qualities you recognise in yourself?

Next week I’ll be giving my answer to a straightforward writing question: Is it easier to write for children?

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Why you should not spurn your daemon!

The award-winning author Susan Price and I are exchanging emails at the moment for a future entry on the ‘A conversation with’ page on her blog. By a delightful synchronicity, her latest response was a perfect illustration of the blog post I had just written last week, and she has agreed to let me publish it here.

Susan Price
 

There was a time in my life, when I was denying that ‘other’in my head, when I think my subconscious very deliberately worked against me.

I would say something quite innocent to someone – ‘Hello, how are you?’ for instance – and hear myself saying it in a tone, or with an inflexion that completely changed the meaning and made it insulting or aggressive. I had absolutely no conscious intention of insulting anyone, and would be as astonished as the person I’d just offended – but, of course, what could I say? – ‘I didn’t mean it like that! – That came out wrong!’

Sometimes people were polite, but I’d just bitten their heads off for no good reason. It was impossible to explain that the voice they’d just heard wasn’t mine. They would have thought I was mad. I occasionally thought I was mad.

I was at logger-heads with what I now call ‘my daemon’ because I was refusing to acknowledge that it existed, and so it fought me all the way. I would be writing something and would decide to make some change to the plot. What I now call the daemon would object, but I would refuse to listen because I didn’t recognise its voice. I put it down to a mere passing thought, and brushed it off because at that time I was certain that there was only one voice in my head: the ‘I’ voice, which I would now call ‘the editor’.

The daemon took its revenge by withdrawing. The piece of writing I was working on would turn to stone, or dry up, or fall over dead – whatever image you want to use. I had to learn that with writing – or, I think, any art – the daemon does the real work! The Editor may make some great editing decisions, once the real work is finished, but shouldn’t be allowed to interfere with the daemon.

A vengeful, spurned daemon is a dangerous thing, I think. Mine not only stymied my every effort at writing, it played those tricks to embarrass me. It was ingenious at finding ways to make such remarks as,“Yes, please,” and “Yes, I’ve heard of that,” nasty and cutting.

I had to learn that talk of ‘muses’ and ‘daemons’ was not the arty-farty nonsense I thought it, but simply a way of talking about something that we don’t quite understand, and don’t have an everyday vocabulary for. I began to solve problems with writing by summarising the problem and saying to the daemon,‘Solve this for me.’ And it did! The more I trusted it, the faster and more inventively it solved the problems.

I started to give way to it. If it insisted that a particular character should – or shouldn’t – die, I no longer argued, but humbly worked with it to make it so. I discovered that the more I worked with and trusted the daemon, the friendlier it became. It stopped playing those tricks on me!

As a result, I paid it more attention and ‘heard’ it more clearly. I started to see how a piece of writing that I’d ‘made up as I went along’ had sub-texts planted in it, and other subtleties that ‘I’ hadn’t written – so who had? And then I read Kipling’s description of his ‘daemon’ and knew what he was talking about right away.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this taster, watch out for our full conversation on Susan’s blog in the coming weeks. You may also like to check out her ‘Muse Monday’ guest post on Katherine Roberts’ lovely blog, Reclusive Muse, where she descibes her daemon and quotes the passage from Rudyard Kipling she refers to here.

It’s ‘the seat of creativity’ – so how can you find your Shadow?

Jung called the Shadow ‘the seat of creativity’ because it contains every potential in us, not just the qualities we identify with. Instead of being limited and narrow, like our ideas about who we are and what life is, it’s fluid and boundless, and messy like real life.

Meeting the Shadow is an experience of expansiveness; it releases energy which was previously tied up in holding the border between what we think of as ‘me’ and ‘not me’, what we think of as ‘how life is’ and how life really is.

It isn’t something you can understand by reading about it. Jung said the archetypes were not ideas but ‘pieces of life itself.’ You have to experience it, and you only know you’ve got it when you are changed by that experience.

An uncomfortable meeting

Meeting the Shadow is always uncomfortable. If it’s easy, you aren’t doing it right, because the Shadow is by definition the aspects of our self that we’re so uncomfortable with, we’ve disowned them.

This is not to say the Shadow is only negative. Positive potentials which may have been strong in us can be lost. For example, a strong-willed child may learn to identify that strength as a bad thing, and grow to suppress and deny it.

We can’t see the Shadow in ourselves; we have to look in the mirror of the world, where we have projected it out, and the clue is in our feelings.

Five obvious places to look

  1. Think about people who provoke an exaggerated emotional response in you, either positive or negative. These might be people you know personally or public figures. The things you dislike or admire about them could be undeveloped potentials in yourself.
  2. Think about your fictional heroes and villains – who’s your favourite character in the drama/sitcom you’re following? Which character do you most despise? Describe them in two words. Consider!
  3. Slips of the tongue. When you say something you didn’t mean – or someone takes something you’ve said in a way you didn’t mean – what would it say about you if you meant it?
  4. Notice what people say about you – both criticisms and compliments – anything you balk at could flag up qualities in you that you haven’t fully recognised.
  5. Consider anything which blocks your ego-desires, anything you normally fight against in life, as possibly carrying shadow aspects. Physical symptoms which stop you doing what you want, for example.

Letting go of how things ought to be – accepting how things are

Whatever you resist in life, rather than fighting it, see what happens if you side with it instead. Experiment, but don’t go at it like a sledge hammer. This isn’t about instant insights; it’s about attitude.

It’s about a way of being in the world, not demanding explanations, but opening to possibilities, being willing to let go of what you think you understand, without having to replace it with another understanding. It’s about amplifying your experience to accommodate uncertainty and confusion.

Judge by results. You’ll know whether the Shadow is at work by what happens when you stop resisting the things and people in life that you don’t like. The Shadow is an unwelcome visitor, but it comes to bring balance and wholeness.

For example, if you think of yourself as a hard worker, willing to put in all the hours, but back problems mean you keep having to take time off, the illness may be helping to bring balance. It may be forcing you to occupy more of your self, more than just the part that is hard-working. If you acknowledge it, loosen your identification with hard-working and swap some of your overtime for leisure activities, the Shadow’s happy and your back problems may start to improve.

Authors talk about writers’ block. But if instead of battling with it we accept it as part of the natural rhythm of writing, it ceases to be a problem and becomes enabling. Writing is more than time spent at the computer, and words written per day. Trying to push on when it isn’t flowing may mean the ideas aren’t firmed up enough, or you aren’t ready, and your block is forcing you to be patient and receptive.

If you want to explore shadow-work further, I recommend this book of short pieces by various authors – it’s both accessible and thought-provoking.

 
Have you ever realised something about yourself that you’d have preferred not to see?
Next week, the award-winning author Susan Price will be telling her own story about how engaging with the shadow – or daemon – helped her to release her creative power. Wonderful stuff – don’t miss it!

Here’s a dream question for you

A few nights ago, I dreamt about a row of old shops which had been boarded up with huge sheets of brown cardboard. Along the top, there was a big bright Tesco banner.

In my dream, I realised that when my dreams are set in man-made environments, they are always up-to-date. I very rarely dream about my own personal past, let alone further back in history.

I reflected that I’m a person who isn’t drawn to the past – I don’t write on historical themes, and I’m not fired by antiques, or costume dramas, or classical novels or paintings. Only last week, I bought a limited edition print of the Lidl in Brixton. It felt fresh and different – mean, how much Lidl-related art do you see?

Lidl in Brixton

Even when I did a few past-life regressions, they didn’t go further back than wartime Europe, but that’s another story.

I wondered about other people – antiques collectors, historical novelists, family archivists. People my spiritualist friend used to call ‘old souls.’ Did they have more dreams set in the past?

At the end of the dream, I dreamt I was recording this as a blog-post rather than an entry in my dream diary – and that’s what I’ve just done!

So this is my dream question – if you love old things, if you read or write historical books, do you have dreams that are set in the past? Or if, like me, you love the new, is that reflected in your dreams and writing too?

When did you come out as a writer?

Out and proud now – it wasn’t always so!

A friend of mine was really pleased with herself the last time I saw her because, after a lifetime of writing, she had finally stepped into that space and owned it. She had told an events organiser, ‘I’m a local poet.’

It reminded me of another friend who had written several novels which absolutely no-one else knew about. She had only told me because she wanted my advice about how to find a publisher.

Coming out as a writer doesn’t sound as if it should be hard, but I think for many writers it can be. We may have to do it bit-by-bit, our family and close friends first, before going public enough to maybe join a writing group or sign up for some courses. Having confessed we’ve been writing, there’s another coming-out to do if we decide to try and be published.

Since I had wanted to be an author from a very early age, my family always knew, and I actually foisted my teenage efforts on school friends for a penny a chapter. So the fact that I wrote was never something I felt shy about confessing, and when the time came for me to try and earn a living from it, I was happy for everyone to know.

I reckoned that otherwise they’d just have thought I was a slacker anyway, sitting around at home when all my children were in school or playschool. On the whole, it seemed better to risk looking like someone with unrealistic expectations, wasting a lot of time and effort which was doomed to failure, than someone who wasn’t making any effort at all.

It came as a complete shock to me, therefore, when my first books came out, to find that I suddenly felt exposed. It wasn’t only my family and friends who knew any more – now everyone would know, and what’s more, they could read what I’d written.

I couldn’t understand at all why I was having such a problem – I mean, wasn’t that the point of being an author, to have people read what you’d written? So when I found myself on a psychodrama day with a group of counsellors, I told them I was totally up for exploring the reasons why.

In psychodrama, I went straight into a cave with all my writing and flatly refused to come out! 

In a cave… and not coming out!

It turned out that the essence of my anxiety was about having things out there that I’d written, which I might find embarrassing further down the line. This did happen, a decade later, when I was revising my adults’ book on bullying for a new edition. I had completely changed my mind on the subject of forgiveness, and I realised that there might be any number of earlier opinions in others of my books that I’d long ago left behind in my life.

I was reassured to read, in John Fowles’ preface to a new edition of his first book, ‘The Magus,’ how he had wrestled with just this difficulty. Much of what was in the book, he no longer felt or even liked very much. He said he considered doing a total rewrite, because he felt embarrassed about what he now could see were the book’s shortcomings.

But in the end, he decided to leave the text just as it was, saying

All artists have to range the full extent of their own lives freely. The rest of the world can censor or bury their private past. We cannot, and so have to remain partly green till the day we die… callow green in the hope of becoming fertile green.

 A lot of the books I enjoy reading are essays, memoirs and opinion pieces, and I like writing that kind of book too. Perhaps that’s why this was my particular stumbling block, when it came to coming out as a writer.

An enemy of self-reliance is consistency – we feel we can’t contradict our former ideas and utterances – but that’s just conforming to other people’s idea of who we are based on historical evidence. We think we may be misunderstood – but so what? We need to live and grow in the present, not be tied down by the past.  Ralph Waldo Emerson

The book I’ve just written about dreams is full of my own ideas, experiences and opinions, and now I’m writing this blog… I guess you could say that I’m over it now!

If you’re a writer, did you find it hard to tell people about your writing, or writing ambitions? Did you have a particular block when it came to going public?

What was that dream about?

In ‘Take the bones and build a story’ I suggested a way of stripping back a dream to its basic theme or emotion and using that as a starting-point for creating new fiction.

The reason why dreams can energise and inspire your writing is because many of them reflect an emotional situation or dilemma which is current in your waking life, whether you are consciously aware of it or not.

For the same reason, stripping dreams down to the bones can provide clues as to what they are about, if their meaning is not immediately obvious.

Reducing a dream to the ‘someone is doing/feeling something’ format – ‘someone is making a stand… someone doesn’t like what they’re seeing… someone is being reckless…’ –  will often reveal a connection with something that’s going on in your waking life.

Recently, I dreamt I was walking on a path with a huge expanse of water on one side and a rushing river on the other. I was feeling happy and excited. I stopped to look down at the river and saw that it was full of fish – some tiny, others very big.

I stepped into the water and paddled out a little way. The current was strong, and the water was up to the top of my wellies. Some people on the far side were tut-tutting, saying it wasn’t safe, but I didn’t feel in any danger.

I reduced this dream to, ‘Someone is somewhere amazing… someone is feeling happy… someone should be feeling scared…’

At the time, in my day-life, I had just delivered my dream book, and I knew it might be the start of a big shift in my writing life. It felt exciting. But maybe a small voice somewhere was saying, shouldn’t you be feeling a bit more worried?!

Reducing dreams to their themes is what the kind of interpretation book which doesn’t fix on symbols, but rather on situations does – ‘Ten common dreams and what they mean’ sort of thing.

‘The Universal Dream Key’ by Patricia Garfield- subtitle, ‘The 12 most common dream themes around the world’
Most dreams about falling, for example, would reduce to ‘someone is feeling insecure/afraid’ and therefore they will usually reflect a waking-life situation in which the dreamer is feeling insecure.

Most dreams about being chased will reduce to ‘someone is running away from something… someone is feeling scared…’ Most dreams about shopping will come down to  ‘someone is making a choice/considering their options…’

You can check whether these stock interpretations are right for your particular dream by thinking about how you felt in the dream situation. Not all dreams about falling indicate insecurity, even if most do. You may have had a feeling of release and liberation as you plunged over the cliff!

Not all dreams about being chased will be negative – you may be the world’s fastest runner, and loving that your pursuer hasn’t any chance of catching you. Or of course, you might rather hope that the person chasing you will catch you.

The wonderful thing about dream interpretation is that one size does not fit all. Experts and commentators can suggest useful ways in, but only the dreamer can hear how the dream fits in the full symphony of the heart.

The dark place where talent leads

When I wrote about talent before, I was thinking about the personal qualities a writer needs to develop if they want to be published and make a career of writing.

Recently, I read a quotation by Erica Jong which reminded me of a quality writers need whether they want to be published or not. She says, ‘Everyone has talent; what is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.’

A dark path to hidden places

You need courage to even embark upon the path of writing, let alone move towards publication, because when you write you are opening up to the hidden places of the self, and you can never be sure what you might find there.

People in workshops will often express surprise at where their writing has taken them – that’s part of the magical and sometimes mystical experience of any creative endeavour.

But occasionally that delighted surprise can give way to something much darker. Dismay, for example – ‘But I don’t want to write sad stories.’ Rejection – ‘That’s not really me!’ Even disgust – ‘I hate the character I’ve conjured into being.’

This is another reason the image Ted Hughes offers for writing as being like fishing is so apt; you might catch a tasty gorgeous trout, but you might equally snare a big angry pike or a grotty old shoe. There could even be alligators circling your bait, ready to pull you down.

What lies beneath the surface?

Again, dreaming with awareness is wonderful preparation for creative writing, because in dreams we will inevitably encounter our own darkness, as well as our light. In intending to recall our dreams, we willingly surrender; we undertake to engage with that inner world, whatever we might find there.

In dreaming, as in writing, we may find more than we might wish to find, but that is the lesson of any inner work; we are much more than what we want to be.

If you are a writer, has your writing ever taken you to dark places that you didn’t know were there?