The Shadow Side of Creativity: Being as Destructive as we are Creative
In this book I have tried to describe and substantiate with quotes and references to other authors that Sacred Art is uplifting and deeply inspiring in the final reckoning, but this is only achieved if the Descent or Journey Into Darkness is embraced and made fearlessly (ideally with sacred witnessing and supportive participation from a community of kindred spirits). We cannot speak of The Critic, The Descent and the need to do Fearless Shadow Work without also addressing the very shadow side of creativity itself! London-based participant Jane Moynihan often quoted the work of Robert Johnson in our classes. This led fellow participant Helena Partridge to his books, where she discovered a powerful passage about exactly this. Thank you Helena for the quote at the top of this chapter and for sharing your reflections with me and with all of us!
In his book Owning Your Shadow, Johnson asks an extremely important question that is very relevant to this book: how, then, can one produce something of beauty or goodness without doing an equal amount of wreckage? He answers this question by saying: through ritually acknowledging this other dimension of reality. The unconscious cannot tell the difference between a "real" act and a symbolic act. (We teach the same thing in shamanism: the spirits do not make a distinction between a real even or a ceremonial event - both are equally real to them, which offers great opportunities through ritual acts of healing and even prevention of accidents and disasters!)
This means that we can aspire to beauty and pay out the darkness in a symbolic way. Johnson gives the example of two Jungian analysts sharing a household: the person who had enjoyed some especially good fortune that week was the one who was expected to carry the rubbish out of the house...
If our own shadow is triggered (by someone who overstays, offends us, pushes our patience to the very limit etc.), I can either do a five minute ceremony to greet and honour my shadow - or in my own case I could draw a pictures of my shadow and have a word with the image). However we approach this - if we do not do it, those around us will suffer!
Does this mean that I have to be as destructive as I am creative, as dark as I am light? Yes, but I have some control over how or where I will pay the dark price. I can make a ceremony or ritual soon after doing some creative work and restore my balance in that way. This is best done privately and need not injure my environment nor anyone near me. I can write some blood-and-thunder low-grade short story (I won't have to look far for the characters since the other side of my seesaw has already been set into motion) or do some active imagination which will honour the dark side. These symbolic acts serve to balance my life, do no damage and injure no-one. Much religious ceremony is designed to keep the left-hand side of the balance functioning in a compensatory way.A similar thing occurs in the world of music. The French music critic Camille Mauclair describes the howls, stampings and cheers of an intoxicated audience to the growling of savage beasts before Orpheus. He says that this stage is an essential part of returning to ordinary life after experiencing musical ecstasy. It also calls the performers back: they must acknowledge their music yet become human again.
- Robert A. Johnson
You can view Sacred Art: A Hollow Bone for Spirit on Amazon.
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