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Two shadow flip dolls by (left) Ruth Tamaroff and (right) Linda McNutt
Everything is Better Accompanied...
Today I am featuring the partnership of two participants in the last Befriending Our Shadow workshop. Linda and Ruth had already formed their creative partnership during the pandemic. Each, with the time and inclination to work on creative projects was seeking someone to work alongside of, to make the process more meaningful and rewarding. Then they heard about the Befriending Our Shadow e-course and decided to do that together as well.
In each of the three times I have offered this course, there has been at least one such partnership, sometimes two, of friends or relatives who decided to take the workshop together. In each case, it was wonderful to watch the ways in which they encouraged and supported each other. At the same time they found ways to connect with the intimate group of participants who had signed up on their own.
The importance of accompaniment on several levels
In the Befriending Our Shadow course, I talk about the ways in which accompaniment is such an important part of the healing journey. The more layers of accompaniment, the better. Within the intimate group, each participant can accompany the others on their shadow journeys and at the same time receive accompaniment. There is also the self-witnessing that occurs during guided meditations, journaling and the doll making explorations. Hidden and often previously unacknowledged parts of the self make themselves known and receive accompaniment and love. And once the doll is completed, it also becomes a witness to the process and a resource to return to as a way to witness what has been revealed about the self.
Accompaniment is like butter on a croissant
In the words of writer and researcher, Sarah Peyton, accompaniment is like butter on a croissant. No matter whether the an experience we are having is positive or negative, our systems do better when we allow ourselves to be present to what is occurring. In the process of making croissants, butter is smoothed across each layer of the thin, flaky dough, thus making it more delicious. Our loving presence and the presence of loving witnesses, acts just like that butter on the croissant, helping the experience to soak in and become integrated into our being.
Back to Linda and Ruth. Here is the story of their dolls and of their experience of participating in Befriending Our Shadow.
Ruth had always been drawn to an embroidered face on black fabric that had been given to her on one of her many journeys to exotic locations, such as Bali, with her husband. She wasn't sure exactly what drew her to this face but she knew it made her happy. Linda pointed out several times that Ruth always had this doll face to hand, "why don't you make a doll?" she had suggested. But Ruth hadn't been ready. Finally, for the purposes of a shadow doll, Ruth decided to use this treasured piece of fabric.
Reflecting on the process of aging
Ruth's journey began to be about the aging process, what is lost when one grows older. She spoke of an image of herself from a high point in her life, when she had successfully sold her business, upon retiring. She loved this photo of herself and at times felt sad that she no longer looked this way. Linda suggested that perhaps she would like to use that face on the other side of her shadow doll.
The doll comes together easily
Once the theme had been determined, Ruth set about, with encouragement from Linda to create a doll, with her young self on one side, even adding a skirt from fabric that she had loved to wear when she was younger. And on the other side, this wise black face, perhaps a representation of the Black Madonna, though she wasn't sure. It just felt right.
Linda came to the Befriending Our Shadow class in the midst of a radical transition in career and life. And then the pandemic hit. She made a decision to put her career on hold for a bit, sensing that some deep inner work was needed. She was happy to find Ruth as a partner in this exploration and they decided to meet weekly for sewing sessions, encouraging each other, first on line and then when it was safe, in person.
Inspiration comes in a guided visualization
During a guided visualization, Linda encountered a goddess-like figure who seemed to be coming out of the murk and darkness of a muddy pond. She realized that this murkiness was reflected the way she felt about the path ahead of her, murky and unclear. Linda worked with this murkiness as it became the shadow side of her doll.
As she continued in the journey over the eight weeks, and especially as she began to create this image in her shadow flip doll, the figure coming out of the murk morphed and changed. In the guided visualization and in her stitching the doll, she encountered a new figure, forceful and strong. Perhaps a nature goddess, connected to trees. This became the other side of her flip doll, strong and tall, a woman merged with a tree. At first she added a face to the top but then decided that, no it was going to be part of the tree.
Ruth encouraged Linda throughout and shared of some of the beautiful fabrics from her fabric stash. Linda's completed doll became a representation of both being with the murk of uncertainty and at the same time the feminine strength and power of Mother Nature. Linda was reminded of the strength within her that would guide her on her continued journey, whether through murk or clarity.
Linda's testimonial about the Befriending Our Shadow course
My expectations were more than met. The transformational aspect seemed appropriate for both the transitions happening in my own life, as well as for these uncertain times we’re in. It seemed that it would open some new directions, and I wasn’t wrong. I’m always interested in what involves stitching and healing.
I was unfamiliar with flip-dolls, and I wanted to do something with my friend Ruth. We’d made many dolls and stitching projects over the years, and now that her sewing abilities are declining, it sounded like the class would be appropriate for all levels. I was surprised at the deeper level of inner exploration. What I didn’t realize was that it would become such a personal journey, and how my compassion for myself would grow in so many directions. The process is ongoing. And, you get a really cool doll at the end.
I really enjoyed seeing and hearing about everyone else’s dolls. I felt we became a supportive and safe community. Amazing women, so heart-opening, creative. I so appreciated being allowed into their process. Keeping a journal and making a small Guardian doll were things I wasn’t sure I would do, and they turned out to be very powerful. The journaling was a great place to jot down dreams that came up, or other symbols or images or phrases. I found that many things that I was encountering during those 8 weeks began to inform and influence the becoming form of the doll. Very good facilitating, Erika, thank you.
Ruth's testimonial about the Befriending Our Shadow course
My expectations of the course were that I would learn to make by hand a flip doll. These expectations were definitely met. There were some unexpected surprises, which included the discussions that Erika brought to us about different ideas. My experience of the course was much more rounded than I expected, and I liked it very much..
I enjoyed the eight-week time frame and I enjoyed having the small group Zoom participants. All in all, I enjoyed the process and would be interested in doing it again. Thank you very much.
Some more words from Ruth about her doll
Regarding my process I decided to dress my doll in lovely clothes and chose the pink silk for the blouse and the mixed bright colors of the skirt. I had worn the skirt fabric to high school dances and parties and thought it to be a lovely skirt for the doll. I wanted her to look good and think she does look good. As I told the class I named my doll after myself since I used my own photo for the doll's face and related well to the dark face of the doll also. I felt very close to the doll and shadow as I worked on the doll.
Image credit to Matt Paul Catalano, Unsplash
Imagine yourself at the shoreline of an ocean. Sometimes huge waves sweep over you, washing away and scattering everything familiar. At other times, the ocean recedes for a while and you have a moment to breath. What if the world-wide challenges that we have been collectively experiencing, especially in the past year and a half were this ocean?
It can feel like an endless cycle, the washing in and out of these huge waves. And each time the waves recede, it's easy to try settle back into the way it was before, but this is not to be. The only certainty is that another wave is coming. And yet, there is a deeper certainty. The truth that there is a way to find your footing even in the midst of crashing waves....
Down Deep image from my 2020 art journal-Riding the Waves
What if we are living in a collective undertow?
To continue with this metaphor, the waves of challenge seem to be getting larger, to the point that the risk of getting swept away in an undertow seems imminent.*
We are literally out of our depth. What to do then? It is so easy to grab onto seeming certainties in a swiftly changing world. Easy to try to build complicated protective structures, ways of acting or being that might save us. There are so many different directions we can go in, so many potential strategies for coping and many of them are probably just fine. But if these strategies are not grounded and connected to our beings in a meaningful way, they will collapse and be swept away if there is an undertow. Things are changing too quickly.
How do we find certainty in the midst of constantly shifting ground?
What is needed is a certainty that isn’t grounded in things outside of us, that isn't grounded in outward structures or scaffolding. But instead, a way of starting from within ourselves, as a way to look at the world around us in a way that creates space for huge shifts in reality. A flexibility that allows us to bend and pivot, rather than stand rigidly on tightly gripped feet. How to do this? Difficult as it might seem, it helps to turn inward, to find an inner spaciousness and timelessness, where we have access to creative thinking.
It helps to be able to release into a sense of a being stronger than yourself. Yet, even if you don’t have a belief a being greater than yourself, it still helps to take time for a for pause. When nothing seems to be working in the world around you and when there seems to be very little certainty, it helps to pause and take stock. Two of my mentors, Sandra Ingerman and Tara Brach, recently posted about using the “pause” of the recent lockdown as a time to reevaluate their priorities. They both were inspired by the large-scale “pause” of the pandemic, to choose time for themselves to care for themselves, psychologically and spiritually, to let themselves have quiet time.
In order to do this, they are cutting in half their public programs and turning down engagements. This made me think about the impulse to find certainty in the midst of the waves of recent changes. Maybe you can't find certainty, but you can use the times in-between each crashing wave as a chance to reevaluate your life and see what needs to stay and what can be left out. In this way, the time you have seems more precious. In a way, it feels like a wake-up call to alertness and presence.
A wake-up call to alertness and presence
Maybe it helps to see the pandemic and other scary things in the world right now as waves that are waking you up. To see these waves from a broader perspective, as tragic and painful experience but also as a wake-up call, a reminder to pay attention. They remind you to wake up to spaciousness and inner stillness. And they remind you that you have within you a still, small voice that can guide you step by step.
Or, if you don't yet have access to that inner voice, you can start with simply taking time to breath, to connect to the inner wisdom of your body, when the waves of the ocean get too large and scary. And if you are interested in exploring a way of accessing this inner guide, consider joining in the Befriending Our Shadow course which begins in October. See here for more information.
*credit to this undertow idea to Sandra Ingerman and Renee Baribeau’s recent podcast about the Undertow
We are living under a poisonous shadow during this divisive time. The weight of this shadow hangs heavily on all of us, no matter our political or personal beliefs. It might be helpful to look at one of the founders of psychology, Carl Jung’s, concept of the collective shadow to understand more about what we as human beings are facing right now. Jung saw each of us as having a shadow, a sort of internal dungeon, where we throw all the experiences and feelings we don’t want to face. The shadow doesn’t go away but instead weighs us down and influences us from below, influencing everything we do and say.
The collective shadow
Just as this personal shadow weighs us down, we are also affected by collective shadows. Whole groups of people within a culture reject painful feelings and uncomfortable experiences and throw them into a collective shadow dungeon. Whatever this first group doesn’t own, gets projected onto an “other,” usually another group within the culture. The other then becomes seen as not human, not worthy of the same care and empathy, becoming a two-dimensional symbol of everything that is wrong with the world.
An extreme example of a collective shadow from Jung’s time
In Jung’s time, and in an extreme example, it was the rise of the Nazi party, which represented the dangerous effects of a collective avoidance of the shadow. A charismatic leader can take advantage of the suffering of one societal group by claiming that another group is to blame. This targeted group becomes the collective scapegoat, allowing those within the first group to have someone to blame for their suffering.
What gets lost, our ability to empathize with the “other”
What gets lost is the ability to empathize with what becomes the “other.” Whole groups of people, or living beings are seen as not human, or not real, not deserving of empathy. This can happen not only with other humans but also with other living beings, such as animals, trees and protected land. The mind wants to make sense out of a painful reality, to find someone or something to blame. This can make it easy to grasp onto an explanation, especially when it seems to be held by many others.
Collective shadows can take all forms
Climate denial, racism, homophobia, sexism-all of these can turn into collective shadows, but so also can the tendency to reject people or groups who hold these beliefs. Not to say that climate denial, racism and all these collective shadows are not extremely dangerous. But it can be easy to see those who embrace climate denial and other shadow beliefs and throw them into the shadow as well. Finding a balance can seem extremely difficult, even impossible.
How do we as individuals resist the pull of the collective shadow?
How do we as individuals, resist the pull of this powerful dynamic to throw whatever we reject into a collective shadow? We are creatures of community; we need each other and we need the company of others. When the communal atmosphere is poisoned by judgments, rejection and other negative emotions, how do we find a place for compassion and kindness? We need to be able to resist dangerous and destructive forces, from a place of inner strength and integrity, rather than from a place of hatred and judgment. As much as we can, we need to reject the temptation to react from a place of shadow, and instead find ways, however small to connect with our common humanity and aliveness.
How can shadow doll work help?
In the shadow doll work, we start with ourselves. We begin to befriend this “other” within ourselves and to see that this part of ourself is worthy of love. We begin to see that rather than a strange and scary other, the shadow, like all parts of ourself, is part of a whole. We can reject it out of hand, or we can try to understand and find potential wisdom within it. And then, from this place of self-acceptance and integrity, we can look at the ways in which we might have joined a collective shadow, perhaps even a shadow inherited from our ancestors. Gradually we become stronger, fiercer and more whole.
Deep and Important Work
The is deep work and important work. And it cannot be done alone. We need each other and we need to find those still places within us and within our society, to have the compassion and forgiveness to let go of beliefs that no longer serve us.
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!