Intentional Creation - Seeking Mirroring in the World
When I was in my twenties I was a professional artist. Having my work hanging in the top gallery in the city was both a source of pride for me and an enormous pressure. Every painting had to be "good" so it would sell. I would spend over a month on each painting, painstakingly making sure that it was aesthetically beautiful.
We all have a personality self that we function in the world with. From my social, presenting self, I began painting and drawing in my twenties in the hopes of being mirrored and noticed from the outside. I knew in some part of my being that I was beautiful and creative, but I did not often feel that way at the time. Because I intentionally created from my conscious mind, I self-consciously painted in a way that reflected how I wanted to be seen and mirrored by the outside world.
Because I created consciously and intentionally, I wanted something from my creativity. I wanted to see a beautiful end product for my efforts. I wanted my creativity to fill my need for external mirroring. I felt invisible to myself and by others. I was having trouble loving myself. I wanted to be recognized and loved for who I authentically was. I hoped that my artwork would enhance me somehow and make me more attractive. Creating art that other people approved of - helped me to feel better about myself - for a time.
Spontaneous Creation - A Method of Self-Mirroring
After a few short years exhibiting as a gallery artist, I became pregnant with my daughter. Suddenly I had an aversion to painting for a pleasing end product. The urge to know myself became intense. I pulled my work out of the art gallery and began to paint spontaneously in my basement studio. My first spontaneous paintings and drawings were both ecstatic and disturbing to me.
I was not prepared for the emotional content that arose from my subconscious mind - endless drawings of faces without mouths, and the boldly passionate imagery in my painted work. Yet as I painted, I felt alive for the first time in a long time. I felt honest and invigorated about the openings of truth that I felt in my body, mind and soul. My authentic truth began to unfold as I mirrored myself to myself.
I was so enthused about my new found freedom of expression, I made the mistake of showing some of my more somber drawings to one of my family members. It is often important at such budding stage of psychological honesty, to keep our creative work private, so that we can tenderly allow our forbidden imagery to become comfortable, welcomed, and integrated into our everyday awareness.
My aunt remarked what a contrast my new work was to my former, more "happy" professional artwork. She said, "You must be very angry right now" and I could feel my freshly accepted part of self retreating back into the shadows again. I felt happy about the honesty of my new work, even through my drawings and paintings looked strange and primitive. For me, my paintings evoked truths that I did not know that I had inside.
When we allow ourselves to paint whatever wants to be painted, we might experience fear at first. Spontaneous paintings often mirror back what we have repressed in fear, guilt and shame. It can feel difficult from the level of our tightly controlled and censoring social mask to see what wants to be expressed from the shadows. We may struggle with self-rejection in the same ways that we have felt rejected in the past - for both our dark and our light aspects.
We can be just as self-rejecting of where we shine, as where we hurt. A fear of being unloveable might arise - if somehow whatever we are expressing - whether dark or light - may not be comfortable for others. We might fear that we will not be loved for expressing our authentic truth. Self-mirroring our own truth back to ourselves in visual form is therefore a profound act of self-love - especially if we do not have accurate mirroring in our life.
Expressing Your Shadow
"Doing shadow work means peering into the dark corners of our mind in which secret shames lie hidden and violent voices are silenced." - Natalie Rogers
Spontaneous creativity opens up a window to the unknown inside of ourselves. It provides us with clues about who we authentically are. Whatever we have exiled out of our awareness is actually an essential peice of the puzzle to our wholeness. We need every part of ourselves to come up to the light to be whole and empowered if we are to live a meaningful and vibrant life. All of our negative feelings such as anger, shame, guilt and fear hold key and specific gifts of strength that we need to express in the world.
Anger, for example, is the seed of passionate change, constructive action, and healthy emotional boundaries. Shame hold the seeds of our humility and compassionate tenderness. Guilt teaches us where we have not stepped up to love fully. Guilt reminds us to take more responsibility for offering our best efforts to give to life with the utmost of integrity. Fear opens us up to Spirit. Fear helps us to see where exactly we need to find the faith to express our authenticity.
We gather energy when we express our disowned feelings and discover the authentic truths that are hidden within them. Difficult feelings point to dark choices we made in the past to see life in a fearful way. Our difficult feelings arising now, offer an opportunity for change. We can revisit our darker beliefs from the past. Each time our shadow feelings come up, we can choose again. It is possible work with challenging feelings with great vigor and strength - if we know that we are at a new choice point. Even if we hurt immensely about past hurts and mistakes, we can lean into shadow feelings with passion and determination to listen to what we emotionally need to do right now to heal.
Usually we will find a mistaken belief inside of our shadows where we do not feel loved in some way. Our shadow parts of self will be fueled by thwarted emotional needs, guilt, failure, self-attack, beliefs in our weakness, and hurt from the past. Once we identify the shadow belief, we can contemplate the opposite truth of the mistaken thoughts that surround our emotional pain, and discover the possibility of a new strength and a new choice. We are meant to feel good, and if we don't feel clear and on purpose, we are making a mistake in our core beliefs. We are believing something that is not true. Our emotional pain offers the opportunity to see things in a new, more truthful way.
Reclaiming Needs, Feelings, Desires and Drives
"The repression of both negative and positive instincts, urges, and feelings into the unconscious causes them to inhabit a shadow realm. While the ego attempts to continue to censor the shadow impulses, the very pressure that repression causes is rather like a bubble in the sidewall of a tire. Eventually, as the tire revolves and heats up, the pressure behind the bubble intensifies, causing it to explode outward, releasing all the inner content.
The shadow acts similarly. We find that by opening the door to the shadow realm a little, and letting out various elements a few at a time, relating to them, finding use for them, negotiating, we can reduce being surprised by shadow sneak attacks and unexpected explosions.”
― Clarissa Pinkola Estés
The deeper I go into my own journey, the more I feel that we are born into the perfect family situations to heal the struggles that we came with in our soul. Whenever we are afraid to express ourself in any way either positively or negatively, intense shame will indicate a feeling that we believe we are "not supposed" to have. Our shadow parts withdraw aspects of our unaccepted self away from life - so much so - we can hardly feel alive. It is possible to claim strengths and higher aspects that we did not know that we had when we do our shadow work. It is possible to revive rejected, dormant, and even dying parts of ourselves forward into our awareness, and into our whole.
If we can sense into the possibility that we are here to heal our soul patterns - we can know that wherever we perceived we were unloved or ignored as children - wherever our caregivers were wrapped up in their busyness, distractions, addictions and emotional pain - is exactly where we habitually ignore and reject ourselves. We can easily make other people's emotional absence mean something negative about ourselves.
We make other people's emotional absence mean we are unloveable, and we can carry and perpetuate these self-demeaning beliefs throughout our entire life. When our caregivers seem too preoccupied with their own emotional struggles, it actually has little do do with our worthiness, but we can feel ashamed even for our need to be loved.
We can delve with care and compassion into our shadow realms to find out where we perpetuate our own self-rejection, and let each disowned part of ourselves come up into the light to be loved, understood, and reclaimed into the light of our awareness. Withstanding shame, as we learn to love the different disowned parts of ourselves, is therefore often the path to deepening consciousness. We need to learn how to gradually open to the areas were we decided we were rejected in the past - and where we continue to reject and punish ourselves.
"Each time an inroad is made by the Numinous into our individual consciousness, the potential is created for the opposite to take hold. This potentiality is only energized from the part of our nature that asserts itself during moments of unawareness - the part that belongs to the subconscious. The subconscious is a reservoir of stored experiences in their unassimilated form; a hotbed of complexes formed from our past traumas, disappointments, fears, unexpressed ambitions and motives and the like."
F. Aster Barnwell
My experience in doing my own shadow work is one of great openings and great closings. It seems that when I taste the openings into my True Self, another layer in my subconscious mind comes up to be healed and reconciled. To meet the dark and the light - both of which we are afraid of in our ordinary selves, takes constancy and an uncommon strength of presence. As we open ourselves up to remain in the light of the "Numinous" of our True Self, the opposite arises to be healed and reconciled in our new light.
At first, we need to be gentle with our integration work so as not to become overwhelmed with our arising psychological material. Little bits of hidden sexuality, anger, or shame may arise in our creative work to be seen and accepted into the light. At first, it might be important to paint a little, and then allow a new feeling to move through and release before continuing to paint. As buried feelings arise, it is important to notice the thought patterns that surround them. All of our disowned feelings hold hidden gifts of great strength.
Shadow work takes a strength of presence. The moment we get "flabby" in our awareness, we can be down the rabbit hole of our shadow thought and feeling systems. What has been long repressed can come up with a great intensity when we begin to make the room for it. When I first started painting spontaneously, I wanted to "dig it all up" but I did not realize that by diving right into my difficult feelings without breaks - I letting the power of my shadow weaken me and "take me down". My strength of awareness was not sufficiently developed to handle too much at once.
I easily became overwhelmed with my shadow beliefs and emotions. I would swim in my heavy emotional states - sometimes for drowning in them for days. I became my feelings instead of facing them and witnessing them with powerful presence and the determination to see myself in a larger frame. Over the years, by becoming more strongly present to the intensity and force of my darker feelings, I came to learn what soul strengths I was guarding against by drowning in my psychological shadows. I came to understand that on the deepest level our darkest feeling are not the truth of us. There is a higher way to understand and integrate our dark feelings.
Healing our darkest feelings creates greater connection with others, self-acceptance and inner peace. Each difficult shadow feeling faced with full throttled presence, vigour, courage - equal to its arising intensity - reveals a choice. When we disassemble our emotional patterning, we win our strength back from the shadows. When we face our disowned feelings with determination and presence, usually entire dark and life negating thought and belief systems will be revealed. As we attend to everything that arises inside, we find an inner friendship between our dark and our light. We grow in faith in our ability to take care of our own feelings.
Spontaneous Creativity as Self Therapy
Going into our shadow places is the loneliest place that we will ever go. Our shadows are the places where we have cut ourselves of from light, love and spirit. As we meet what we have isolated off from our awareness, we will need the strongest of love. There is a wonderful quote that says, "Everyone has baggage. The key is to find someone who loves you enough to help you unpack." I have been blessed to have the most brilliant of guidance in my dark places with my partner Ondrea. And, I have had to learn how to love myself and open up to what I experience as Spirit/God/Love.
We all have the capacity, no matter what we struggle with, to open to Love inside ourselves and to find a connection to a level of inner encouragement that is beyond what we have previously experienced. We can ask for help from others, or we can find the deeper help within ourselves. When we make room to create spontaneously, we discover that we have an innate capacity for self-honesty, self-empowerment, and self-friendship.
We can experience surprising emotional releases and fresh insights when we finally let ourselves express our inner truths. If you feel like you do not know yourself fully, spontaneous art-making, either through honest writing, drawing or painting are ways to mirror the truth of your inner life back to yourself. You can come to know yourself profoundly by self-mirroring your hidden inner landscape in a loving and self-accepting way.
As you progress along the path of spontaneous creativity as a way of loving self-mirroring, you can begin to form an honoring and fresh relationship with yourself. I offer you the following self-valuing tools by psychologist Carl Rogers to help you make the most of your creative, spontaneous, self-mirroring process.
1.) Congruence: When you work on your spontaneous paintings, know that you are creating a sanctuary to be utterly yourself. This is your time to let down your facades and to listen to all of the feelings that are flowing through you at the present moment. Paint what you feel. Allow each brushstroke to feel genuine. You might have the urge to paint something dark and ugly. In fear, you might want to change it into something pretty. Go with the truth of the moment. Trust your real feelings. Honor whatever comes up in your art-making process.
2.) Unconditional Positive Regard: Your creative time is your time to prize and value who you really are. Perhaps no one has ever done this for you before. It is possible for you to have an accepting attitude towards yourself - whether you are feeling intense joy, the deepest of sorrow, or the most intense anger. Prize yourself totally for all of your feelings. Learn to encourage yourself to allow yourself to feel everything inside with dignity and self-caring.
3.) Empathy: Empathy requires that you ask the highest part of yourself to listen to your feelings in the deepest way possible. You can use empathy to practice being a good and loving parent to yourself. You could imagine how it feels to be unconditionally loved by Spirit. You can invite all of your lost and exiled parts of self to come forward for all-inclusive love and acceptance from your higher self. From your higher mind you can witness your more frightened, shadow parts of self with the utmost of compassion.