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Do Artists Hold the Key?
Gabrielle Motter, from Unsplash
“Wildness…it is perennially within us, dormant as a hard-shelled seed, awaiting the fire or flood that awakes it again.” Gary Snyder
I’ve been thinking a lot about resilience in times of difficulty, given the current situation that we are in. I’ve been trying to understand what resources we have to survive this time. Usually I write about and make dolls that reflect how outer circumstances affect our inner world. Being an introvert by nature, I tend to take whatever the external situation is, and bring it down into the cave of my imagination. There I mull over it until I can transform it into writing or into a doll. Lately I’ve been looking more directly at the dark state of the world. Here’s a question that I recently read, “what if, by chance, our time in evolution is a dark night time, a time of crisis and transition that must be understood if it is to be part of learning a new vision and harmony for the human species and for the planet?”
In Limbo, Goauche and stitched panel
Dark Night of the World?
Constance Fitzgerald, writes this question in her article, Impasse and the Dark Night. She suggests that we are currently experiencing a dark night of the world. This isn’t something that has suddenly come upon us, of course, with the current pandemic. She is referring to problems on a world-wide scale that have been building up over time. These include (you don’t need me to enumerate them) the state of our environment, our political situation, poverty and abuses in so many parts of the world, and more. These problems are all dark and scary. Yet there is something hopeful in her question. She challenges us to find a “new vision and harmony for the human species and for the planet.” What does that mean?
Fitzgerald mentions how, in a “genuine impasse,” our usual way of looking at the world is completely shut down. None of our usual routes to resolution are workable. We look to the left and it is a dead end. We look to the right. Another dead-end. And so forth. We are completely stuck. But what if there is a silver lining to this impasse situation? Our left-brain solutions don’t work any more and the impasse “forces the right side of the brain into gear, seeking intuitive, symbolic, unconventional answers so that action can be renewed eventually with greater purpose.” This is such a hopeful way of looking at our minds, believing that we are capable in extremis, of making a U turn. Really looking at our situation in a new way with the potential to bring lasting change.
Guardian of the Sacred Garden side of flip doll
Artists hold the key
I believe that the arts, writing, poetry, dance and art hold the key to a solution. Those who delve into any one of these creative pathways described above, know about those “intuitive, symbolic and unconventional answers.” And in doing so, the artist (and I mean this in a very inclusive way) comes to the place of wildness that is “perennially within us.” In doing so, the artist unlocks both, his or her own hard shell but also opens a window into the healing darkness of nature. By this I mean to emphasize the ways in which the creative process connects us to our inner wildness. And that wildness opens us to nature in all its forms, to wide open skies full of endless stars, to the deepest ocean and to the teeming world that lives under our earth.
The Shadow, from Inside Us to Outside in Nature
I’ve been really enjoying putting together a new e-course called “Befriending Our Shadow” and as I’ve been preparing, I’ve been thinking of the different meanings of the shadow. The shadow can have a very personal and individual meaning. Carl Jung thought of the shadow as the hidden side of one’s personality, holding the potential for the full realization of the self. But the world, the living earth can also have its own shadow. For the e-course I am planning to make an alter ego flip doll along with the participants. For this doll, I am thinking of making a doll that reflects the state of the world. I have no idea how it will look yet or exactly how I am going to make it. I haven’t cracked the “hard shell” of the seed of this idea yet. But there is something about this early stage of an idea that is enjoyable. The not-yet-knowing. The dreaming.
Befriending Our Shadow starts next Tuesday
There are one or two spots left in the Befriending Our Shadow e-course. I want it to be an intimate experience where participants can share their process as they work on their alter ego flip doll. So, after next week I will be closing the doors for this e-course. If you are interested in diving into your own doll-making experience or if you want to learn more, take a look here. And if you feel ready to sign up take a look here.
Here’s my little spiel: I'm so excited to share with you a brand new doll-making e-course about befriending our shadow, using tenderness and compassion to connect with all parts of ourselves. Flip dolls are two sided dolls connected at the waist. I have been fascinated for years with their capacity to capture divergent views of reality, dark vs light, joy vs sorrow, love vs alienation. In this course you will have the chance to explore and befriend your shadow, through making your own doll. And at the end of the course, your doll will represent and unite both shadow and light. And, important note, you do not know how to sew beforehand. This class is open to those at all levels of sewing ability.
Befriending Our Shadow...
Does everything feel magnified in this strange time?
Suddenly personal quirks and habits in yourself can seem exaggerated and if you live with others, you might see their quirks magnified as well. It can feel like everything is under a microscope. That can leave you feeling isolated and lonely. You may feel drawn to escapes like binge-watching Netflix or silly animal videos on YouTube. Or you might feel tempted to blow up the next time your partner questions your cooking methods or when that family member in a Zoom call monopolizes the conversation one too many times.
Annoying as it may seem, there may be something here for us to learn
Maybe this is a time to learn to befriend our shadows. By this I mean those feelings that come up in those frustrating situations like that Zoom call. But not all at once and not without a lot of self-kindness and compassion. It takes a while to develop the patience and self-compassion that is needed to tolerate what comes up. All I am saying is that if we treat ourselves with the utmost care and kindness, there may be a silver lining to all this time of the pandemic. This is not to diminish the experiences of all those on the front lines or without basic necessities. There are many whose situations are dire and in need of our help and attention. But for those of us who have our basic needs met, perhaps this pandemic can be a gentle nudge to do some compassionate self-exploration.
Mary Miseracordia/Hell Mouth Alter ego flip doll about facing the shadow...
Pema Chodron and her struggle with a nun who hated her
One of my mentors, Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron talks about a particular nun, who seemed to hate Pema for reasons she didn’t understand. I think this is in one of my favorite of her books, When Things Fall Apart. Living in close quarters in a monastery, similar to our lives now in quarantine, she had nowhere to escape from the situation. She had to work closely with everyone in the monastery, including this nun who seemed to hate her. Pema would have to interact with this nun several times a day. In any other world, even a traditional work world, she would have been able to ask for a transfer or even get a new job. But like us now in this pandemic, these options were just not available. She just had to live with it.
Releasing into the struggle
So what did she do? In typical Pema-style, honest and direct, she describes feeling sorry for herself, being down on herself and wishing she could escape the situation. And yet at the same time, she turned to prayer and tried to figure out how to release the situation to a larger power than herself. She knew that she couldn’t face this challenge alone. Ultimately, after many months, she finally had a sort of breakdown, a release into surrender. She was able to come to terms with the difficult feelings in herself that this situation aroused in her. Because the struggle in its essence didn’t have to do with this other person, but with parts of herself that she couldn’t accept.
Dragging the burden, goauche drawing with collage
Upside down world
I hope I’m not coming across as too preachy. I’m not trying to say that you have to be spiritual or find religion in order to benefit from this story. But what I get from Pema’s story is that, in a no-exit situation like this, sometimes the only thing we can do, even kicking and screaming, is to finally face and befriend those parts of ourselves that we don’t like.
I’ve been really interested in this sort of no-exit scenario lately, as it is kind of what we are facing right now, both during this pandemic but also in the world situation at large. I’ve been interested in the question; what remains when it seems like there are only dead ends? Because sometimes when all seems hopeless, we are forced to dig into the deep soil of our inner life. When we start poking around in there, we can begin to unearth some unexpected treasures. This is the realm of the shadow, an upside down, Alice in Wonderland kind of world, where nothing is as it seems.
The upside down tree
In the shamanic tradition there is a story of an inverted tree, whose roots become branches and branches become roots. The image of that upside down tree fascinates me. It has stayed in my mind for a lot of reasons, but I want to mention one of them. The upside down tree shows how when we turn a problem on its head, sometimes we can start to see strengths where we may have only seen problems. Following the rules of magic, the branches of the tree, having received nourishment from the light of the stars and sun, can bring that star/sun energy deep into the earth. And the roots, having soaked up food and water from the ground, can release those into the air. If we can imagine ourselves a bit like these uprooted trees, we can begin to see those quirks and annoying qualities in ourselves and loved ones as unexpected strengths. And the shadow becomes light.
Tree of Life, felted panel and The Importance of Trees: Topsy Turvy, felted panel
Befriending the demon
There are so many books out there now about the idea of accepting and befriending our darker side. If you’ve been reading me for a while now, you will know that this is a fascination of mine. In an earlier blog post I mentioned one of these books, Feeding Your Demons: Ancient Wisdom for Resolving Inner Conflict by Tsultrim Allione and an article that summarizes this technique.
A very brief example so you can try it out if you want…
Here is a brief meditation adapted from the first two steps of the process of feeding your demon in case you would like to try it. I'm calling it "befriending your demon," though in the original meditation it is called "feeding your demon." The first step of the process is to “find the demon in your body.” And the second is to envision it as a living being. I am going to use an example of a meditation that I did recently on this topic.
Sitting or lying in a comfortable position, take some deep breaths until you feel a bit more relaxed. Then when you are ready, scan your body to see if there is any point of pain and discomfort that you want to focus on.
I noticed an uncomfortable tightness in my left shoulder. It comes up during times of stress and even during yoga, this spot doesn’t seem to relax.
Bring your attention to that place and see if you can visualize more of the shape of whatever it is that is bothering you. You can use images or physical sensations or just colors to try to describe what is there.
I saw that the tightness was sort of horizontal, with two flat parts and a sort of lump in the middle
Next, try to imagine that shape or color or tense sensation as a sort of demon. What would it look like if you could imagine it as a living being?
When I looked closely, I saw that it was a figure lying down, a male figure, with stick legs and arms and a big protruding belly.
Stay with this image for a few breaths, just allowing it to be, and then release it
It was interesting to see this figure lying down. It seemed less uncomfortable somehow, because it was kind of helpless in the lying down position. Later it occurred to me that it could represent a family member with whom I have sometimes had a difficult relationship.
That is enough for now. But in the further steps of this exercise you would then begin to learn what your “demon” is asking for. You “feed” it until it is satiated. And finally though the process of accepting the demon, giving it what it needs, it often changes form into a sort of ally. This ally can be revisited and can even offer you guidance and assistance in future meditations.
Here is an article that gives a quick summary of this the whole process of feeding your demon. You can try it now if you are interested. https://www.lionsroar.com/how-to-practice-feeding-your-demons/
Offer: Befriending Our Shadow: A Doll Making online workshop
If you found the stories of Pema’s release into acceptance or the upside down tree intriguing, I want to tell you about a workshop that I have coming up, where you can meet and explore your own shadow. This online workshop should be available by the end of May. It will encompass some of the themes that I talked about in this post. I am excited to share these techniques with you, both how to befriend your shadow and how to make an alter ego flip doll that can help you uncover your inner star/sun energy.
There is something about the process of envisioning and then bringing into reality a creation of your own that can be very nourishing. The stitching process itself can be meditative. The weaving together of your own story into a doll of your own can feel empowering, And once you are done, you have a reminder of the process that you went through in the form of your finished doll. You can put this doll on your altar if you have one or some other place in your house where you will see it and remember what you have learned.
Click here or onto the above image to learn more about the workshop. Stay Tuned!
I've been making dolls for about ten years now. I believe that dolls serve as representations and reminders of the best part of ourselves. I am excited to share with you here my learnings about new methods and techniques for doll making and healing. So glad you are here!