Tag Archives: The Shadow

A vocation of unhappiness?

The prolific Belgian author, Georges Simenon, famously said, ‘Writing is not a profession but a vocation of unhappiness.’

Writing is certainly a vocation. Many professional authors have been doing it for years on top of the nine to five before they start to make any money from it, and most say they’d continue to write even if their income from it completely dried up.

Like any other vocation, this hunger to create comes at a cost; it takes time and energy away from social life and other interests, and puts personal challenges upon us which we might otherwise prefer to avoid, such as developing the ability to deal with criticism and rejection.

But because it’s a vocation, that inner drive enables us to overcome our setbacks and difficulties and keeps us moving forward towards a growing sense of doing what we were born to do.

I used to think that dreaming was a vocation of unhappiness too. It felt like a compulsion which had me in its grip. Over the years, it has taken me to all sorts of places where I’ve felt confused and frightened, and out of my depth. It has given me insights and information I did not want to know.

Ignorance is bliss, and dreams are a road to understanding. Writing is hard, and for most of us it will not lead to a life of material abundance. But if you have a vocation you have to find and follow your inner compass, because that is the only way to achieve the supreme happiness of coming home to the 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?

‘Your dreams were trying to kill you!’

My complete conversation with award-winning author Susan Price – she of the vengeful, spurned daemon – has gone live on her blog today. It’s got darkness and daemons, death and delight… all the stuff you’d expect in a chat about writing and dreaming. Take a look!

Plus the added bonus with Susan’s lovely blog, you get Blott 🙂

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!

The Shadow and Jimmy Savile’s dirty secret

In Jungian psychology, the Shadow is one of the major archetypes of the Self. It represents all the things you have identified as ‘not me’ during your formative years, when you were building your sense of who you are. It’s the other side of the Persona archetype, which is your identity, or how you see yourself and expect other people to see you.

The classic Shadow story, which came to RL Stevenson in a dream

A classic depiction of the conflict between Persona and Shadow is ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde,’ by Robert Louis Stevenson, which came to him in a dream. In the story, Dr Jekyll is a respectable pillar of the community, but he has a secret other side – at night, he is addicted to the pleasures of debauchery.

He invents a potion which can completely change his physical appearance so that, as Mr Hyde, he is able to go out on the town and not worry about being discovered. Effectively, he turns himself into two people, one embodying his Persona, and the other his Shadow.

My version, for children – what can I say? I love that story!

Whatever we don’t identify with as ‘me’, we project out. We may disown it so completely that we can’t recognise it in ourselves at all. We can only see it in the mirror of the world.

One way we project undeveloped aspects of our Self is onto the people around us. A person who thinks of himself as hard-working and high-achieving may find other people lazy and unambitious. A person who thinks of herself as ugly may feel that virtually everyone else is good-looking.

In a couple, the tasks of personality are often shared out. One partner may be good with money, so the other can enjoy financial security without having to develop good money-sense themselves. One might be fun-loving and dizzy so the other can be sensible and steady, yet still enjoy a party lifestyle.

On a collective level, cultures, countries and sub-sections of society also have a Persona and a Shadow. In families, for example, it may mean one person becomes the black sheep, with all the family’s unacknowledged problems projected onto them.

Where there is Shadow projection, there is always emotion, because we’re defending our very existence, insofar as that is our idea of ourselves. Which brings me on to Jimmy Savile.

This was a man who appeared to be helping the young and vulnerable but was actually hurting and abusing them in secret. Quite rightly, there’s been huge public outrage, because nobody should have the slightest doubt that what he’s alleged to have done was heinous and wrong.

According to Jung, there may be another dimension to this natural disgust and condemnation – extreme public outcries of the dig-up-his-bones, may-he-rot-in-hell variety may be intensified by Shadow energy. ‘We’re not like that! We’re the opposite of that! We protect children from sexual abuse!’

So, do we? Young children are regularly exposed to highly sexualised music videos on daytime television, and sexual story-lines before the watershed. Magazines and video games which are targeted at children contain sexual content, and children’s clothing which could be seen as sexually provocative is sold in high street shops. A large proportion of primary age children have seen internet pornography. If you google ‘sexualising of children’ you’ll find page after page of examples.

Jung called the Shadow ‘the seat of creativity.’ Embracing the Shadow means letting go of fixed ideas about who we are and the way life is, opening to unconsidered possiblities and engaging with complications, so to create something new.

Something new is happening because of these horrific revelations. People who have kept their own experience of abuse to themselves for many years are suddenly speaking out. Not just the hundreds who were allegedly abused by Savile, but thousands more are flooding helplines with their stories. That in itself is the beginning of a major change.

I hope the high profile and new openness given to the problem of child sexual abuse because of this case will mean that the sexualising of children by adult society in recent years will come under proper scrutiny and be seen for what it is.

Jimmy Savile’s dirty secret may be holding the mirror up to ours,  showing us something about our society that we prefer not to acknowledge. Like all Shadow work, simply to acknowledge it is to begin the transformation.

More about the personal Shadow next week – where to look, and how to see it