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The Reluctant Shadow Journey
The reluctant shadow journey:
Nobody really wants to look at the shadow. I mean really look at the shadow. When it comes down to it, we don’t ever want to leave our comfortable lives, our cosy habits, the structures we have constructed in our lives to make everything run smoothly. Until those habits and structures stop working. Yet, even then, it is not as if we feel discomfort and immediately let go of our old habits and ways. Instead, if you picture those old habits as an old skin, like a snake skin, or a shell, like a turtle shell, we sometimes try to fit ourselves back into them. We squeeze and force ourselves in-ignoring the rips and the bulges that threaten to rip the skin irretrievably or the cracks or holes in the too-small shell. We try, like Cinderella’s unfortunate sisters-to force our too big feet into the crystal slipper meant for Cinderella, saying “it fits!” We may even try cutting off important parts of our psyche, like the sister who cut off the back of her foot to try to squeeze it into the crystal shoe. Your old “skin” may be an ill-fitting job, a relationship or life situation, or you may feel reluctance to face aging and what it does to our minds and bodies.
A true story, a promotion that didn’t work:
Sometimes it feels like we choose growth and change only when we are so uncomfortable that there is no other option. Maybe this is just me or maybe you can relate. This isn’t any sort of heroic journey. No, it’s sort of awkward and embarrassing journey where we fall on our feet, make mistakes and look foolish….
In my very first “real” job, just out of art therapy graduate school at NYU, I worked in a nursing home as an art “specialist,” (because even though I was fully trained as an art therapist, the administration thought the residents would be more comfortable if they didn’t have to think of me as a therapist.) I enjoyed the job for many years, the wonderful opportunities to create innovative programs because I had an amazing boss, who let me do almost anything from creating a professional art gallery in the nursing home, doing intergenerational poetry and art programs, and so on. But inevitably my boss moved on to new horizons and I was promoted to “interim activity director.” This story doesn’t end well because though from the outside, this position looked more spacious and like an advancement, it had none of what my soul needed and I kind of crashed and burned. The new position didn’t fit-no matter how much I and others around me tried to fit me into it. I felt cramped and awkward, away from the work I was meant to be doing, filling my time instead with administrative matters and problem-solving. Perhaps this would have also ended differently if I had been older with more life experience. This was my first job, my first experience in the “real world,” and this new position just wasn’t right. Something had to change.
Inevitably, we have to face the fact that the old skin or shell is gone:
There comes a point, like when I realized that my promotion wasn’t right for me, that we are unequivocally shut out from our once-comfortable shell or skin. We are forced to take the uncertain path, to change metaphors-not because we want to, but because we have no other choice. The path we were on has crumbled beneath our feet. We are in exquisite discomfort. We have avoided this for so long. We ignored all internal warnings and maybe some outward warnings, that we can no longer go ahead on the current path.
It is not a choice but an inevitability
At first, once the path is gone, the way ahead is completely unclear or nonexistent. We knew it would be like this. This is why we have avoided letting go as long as we could. If there were another way, (or another skin or shell) available, we would have already found it and rushed into it. But at first there is not. There is just the dissolution of what we have grown so comfortable with.
In a way our discomfort makes sense, given the world we live in…
Our work environments, our cities, our political worlds are designed in a way that take us far from our true nature. Unlike the snake or the turtle whose new shells inevitably do grow back, we are more like the mythical selkie, half seal/half woman that Sharon Blackie describes in her wonderful book, If Women Rose Rooted. The selkie is tricked by a lonely fisherman, who steals her seal skin, into coming to live with him. He promises to return her skin after seven years, but, at the time of its promised return, the skin has disintegrated, making it impossible for her to ever return to her true home under the sea. Just like the selkie we are left cut off from our true home, vulnerable and afraid. It is only at this point of hopelessness that we may be ready to consider looking at our shadows. Shadow work is difficult work, and we are drawn to it only when we sense intuitively that it has become a necessity. A matter of life or death. Even if is “only” soul death that we are talking about.
On the shadow path
“Luckily” this new path we are on is dark and shadowy. We can only see a few feet ahead of us or maybe even just one tiny baby step. But this darkness makes it easier to see the shadows. In this darkness we can see and hear clearly that which was obstructed by the bright shininess of the familiar. In taking a look at our shadows, our fears, our discomforts, the things we can’t bear, we can begin to grow ourselves a new skin or shell that fits us much better, that allows for more of who we really are.
And more on my own shadow journey…
Within a few months, I had left that nursing home job to find another position as art therapist at an Alzheimer’s center in Brooklyn, and then three moves, various art therapy jobs and two children later, I found my way to doll-making and the Transformative Healing Dolls, but that is another story….
Where I got the inspiration for this story of shedding skins….
I got the idea for this version of a shedding skin story (a central metaphor in my work if you have been following me for a while) from Sharon Blackie’s book, If Women Rose Rooted: A Journey to Authenticity and Belonging and the story on page 73 called “The Selkie’s New Skin” in the chapter called Islands of the Heart: Embracing the Call. I highly recommend this book. I have also been fascinated with selkie’s and I made a selkie doll towards the beginning of my doll-making journey and she still holds a great deal of meaning for me.
8/26/2022 09:59:30 pm
This important story is also told by Clarissa Pinkola Estés in Women Who Run With The Wolves, which I think you'd also like!
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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!