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Transmuting the Shadow
Working with your darker shadow to take your creativity to new heights
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OK, on to today’s article…..
Here’s a well known parable that is wrong:
An old Cherokee man told his son, "There is a battle between two ‘wolves’ inside us all.
One wolf is evil, consumed with anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, and lies.
The other is good. It lives in joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith."
The son thought about it for a minute and then asked his father: "Which wolf wins?"
The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed.”
There is a Shadow, call it the evil wolf if you wish, inside of me, perhaps a shadow in the Jungian sense, and I have determined over the course of many years that this shadow will express itself. Contrary to the parable above, choosing not to feed it doesn’t starve it. It just adds more energy to its angry side. A hungry wolf is a dangerous wolf, and it is only a matter of whether this shadow will be allowed to express itself creatively or destructively.
The shadow, you see, accepts the reality that all is constantly changing, all is in flux at all times. It understands that we can only truly notice what changes, though we pretend otherwise. Fish don't normally notice water, and people don't normally notice health, but we all do notice when there is a change and suddenly one one of those things is lacking. It is these contrasts that allow us to understand anything. What is dark without light? What is good without evil? What is life without death? What is youth without old age? What is creation without destruction?
While we desperately try to deny the dark, deny the evil, deny death….and, ultimately, deny the constant change that we cannot stop, as we fiercely cling to the temporary as if we can hold on to it forever, the shadow simply accepts this brutal reality and is seeking to flow with the universe and do its part to create change, to be noticed, to do something with this enormous energy that it has built up. For while change is constant, it is our job to inject our own unique vibrations and thoughts into this swirling change. Rather than simply being shaped by the world, the shadow (which is ultimately you) wants to help you uniquely shape the world. “Be the change….you want to see in the world,” Gandhi said.
When we starve the shadow (which we can only do for a while, until we either burn out or explode), it builds up tremendous energy. Did someone cut you off in traffic and anger you? Yet you made yourself stay calm? That is fuel that gets pushed down into the shadow. Did your boss chew you a new one? Into the shadow that powerful energy went. Your shadow, when starved of expression, becomes a sort of Dr. Hyde of suppressed ideas and emotions that have built up over a lifetime. Perhaps you even get glimpses of what is raging inside it in your dreams.
This shadow desperately seeks expression, it seeks to be seen and heard. It accepts change but seeks to be part of it and make its mark while it can.
Ideally, I am honest with myself about this shadow, and I set aside the necessary time to write, to play, to meditate, and to create. When I do these things, sometimes this shadow (called a “muse” when allowed to create) rewards me with ideas and insights that are far more brilliant than what my waking, conscious mind is able to conceive of.
The subconscious shadow is your inner artist and your warrior. It is closer to your deepest self. And, unlike your waking mind, it allows no deceptions. Like many artists and warriors, it can be moody, brooding and, when you ignore it, when it doesn't feel seen or heard through its art or violence, it expresses itself in anger.
Have you ever suddenly snapped at someone you love and a fight starts? And then you step back and wonder deep down where did that come from? It came from your shadow. Your shadow doesn't necessarily have your waking mind’s best interests at heart, and, if denied the power of creation, it will turn to the power of destruction. For both create the change it craves because both creation and destruction are two sides of the unified reality.
If suppressed, It will sabotage your relationships. It will undermine your health. It will turn you to addictive behaviors. Or, perhaps, your shadow will instead ruin your inner world, and make overwhelming guilt, regret and dissatisfaction your constant companion, draining life of all color. Your waking mind doesn’t truly want these things, but your shadow will not be denied. One way or another, the “evil” wolf feeds.
But, allow your shadow to create, especially when you find your own unique creative outlet, and it will merge with you and you will no longer be two divided entities sharing one body, but you can unify through the sacred power of creativity and become undivided, become indivisible, which is why it is only when you merge with this darker part of you, and accept it, and repurpose its energy for creation, for your unique purposes, that you will truly become that rare being that is related to the word indivisible: an individual. You will no longer be divided, but will instead transcend the dual and embrace the non-dual.
That’s what the wolf parable gets wrong: Feeding one wolf or the other only makes you weak and lopsided, you will either weakly accept the script society has created for you, or you will be eaten alive by the shadow of the evil wolf as it turns to feed through increasing destruction and grows more and more frustrated at what might have been.
Instead feed both wolves and become meek, in the original sense of the word, as in the meek shall inherit the earth.
Knights were meek. They were powerful warriors, inhabited by shadows full of raw, wild power, anger, and violence. They were full of powerful evil shadow wolves. But the true knights, the meek ones, the ones who believed in chivalry and light, unified the two wolves inside and transmuted that dark shadow power into something creative and good: the protection of society and the defense of the weak. Meekness is found in this powerful transmutation. It is, actually, weakness to feed only one wolf, allowing your shadow to simply rampage roughshod over your life.
The shadow can be a powerful source of positive energy and creativity but you have to feed both the “evil” wolf and the “good” wolf until they come together and merge in meekness at which point, you will “inherit the earth” and transcend into what you were always meant to be: Divine.
For an artist, withdrawal is necessary. Without it, the artist in us feels vexed, angry, out of sorts. If such deprivation continues, our artist becomes sullen, depressed, hostile. We eventually became like cornered animals, snarling at our family and friends to leave us alone and stop making unreasonable demands.
Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way
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