Some Friday evenings, I'll cook, i'll move around the house and the next day make breakfast and juices and the kitchen becomes a mess and I don’t make the bed and clothes are on the floor and I don’t tidy a thing. The house looks extraordinarily dishevelled.
It’s really quite delightful.
Such is the pull of immersing myself in a real serious act of slobbery, that it more often then not wins out on absolutely anything else. I just wanna be an outlaw in domestic duties for a sweet short while, not much else needed. And I know that cleanliness is next to Godliness and you know mostly I'm tidy. And although my mother, boyfriend and friends will all be crying: You? Tidy! As if! My reply is well yes. Because what they see is me trying to be tidy, which takes an enormous amount of effort, but really when no one is looking I just love to open the door and holler: inner slob! come quick! and she does, bringing with her a pandemonium of mess and detritus and disorder.
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What's in a shadow?
This week I have been reading two little books interchangeably that shed a little light on the shadow for a course that I am doing: Robert Bly’s A Little Book on The Human Shadow & Robert Johnson’s Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding The Dark Side of Our Psyche.
The shadow is that part of us that we have learnt to push away and deny, as we focus on making those parts of us that we think others like, such as being nice, polite, modest, kind, chaste more well known. This normally means that we leave little room for the bitch, the witch, the wild man and woman, the philanderer, the sloth, the meanderer, the drunk, the addict, the user, the airhead, the competitor, the leader, rule breaker, the rule follower, the visionary and so on, we go something like this: oh Christ no! I can’t pay attention to you; they’ll burn me! Crucify me! Hang, draw and quarter me, no please go away. And so we send these parts of ourselves so far away that after a while we go oh phew, what a relief, for a moment there I thought that I was actually going to have to engage with them.
And here’s the thing: sooner or later we will have to. As Johnson makes clear this normally happens in middle age, a time that due to the fact that our psyche simply cannot go on any longer repressing so much of who we are, it bursts out of us in Jeremy Clarkson blow outs, Nigella Lawson coke outs and Tiger Woods sleep outs. Because no one is always a laid back geezer and no one is always a domestic godess and no is always that down to earth good guy. But we are just to blame for our fallen idols for we often ask of those who appear in our magazines and newspapers to carry those qualities we are not prepared to own: the dark and the noble. But what if we could be braver? What if we could claim these things for ourselves? Because often what we admire is only mask and what we reject (and project) is within us.
There is a wonderful Wallace Stevens poem ‘On The Way Home’ that Bly quotes that bears testament to this:
‘It was when you said,
“the idols have seen lots of poverty,
Snakes and gold and lice,
But not the truth”;
Truth is not manufactured, or mass produced, it is intensely personal. That our shadows if we engage with them can lead us to our own simple truths is quite astonishing and sweet and scary but Jesus it's real.
So how do we do it?
Bly and Johnson advocate the use of dance and the imagination and ritual for engaging with our shadows, we can even ask those we have lumped with our shadow for those parts of ourselves back! We can also dance with our inner witch as we welcome her back, (no need to tell others at the dinner table), write a story about the patriarchal figure we projected onto our spouse and so as compensation has internalised in us as a slew of critical internal voices eternally damming you. We can write about or draw about or sing about what it would be like to claim back the power and authority in our lives in a story you don't need to show anyone.
The point is we don't need to act out what we've repressed, but bring our awareness to those parts of ourself we tri so hard to deny are ours. Because it is this repression that causes havoc. For there is so much energy we exert into getting everyone on board with us to buy into this persona we want everyone to believe we are: it is truly exhausting! We are infinitely more interesting and complex and subtle then we acknowledge. But more then that, more then this wild mix of characteristics, is this place to move towards a place of equanimity with them all.
Now I have a slight idealization about this, partly because it seems to me such a rare quality amongst us homo sapiens: to be truly at peace with who we are. That this peace actually comes out of acknowledging the darker sides of ourselves and the more glorious – how liberating! And so I have relished and gazoloped up these books, with a slight preference for Bly’s book so that if you did want to buy one of them, (head over to www.lfraser,com for links) go for his, but if you’re up for really getting down with your shadow, then maybe the two is the thing to do. Or of course, maybe not at all.
We live on a planet governed by universal laws; we need not make up more
Thomas Hobbes had a theory and it is practically the only one I remember from my university days that went something like this: take away the laws and people will murder and pillage and rape and plunder. Which isn’t an untrue representation of our current world today and oh my, we do we have a surplus of rules. Similarly our reasoning for rejecting these gold and wildly unruly parts of ourself is but oh golly wouldn’t everything just topple over if we did?
But it's not that we are toppling, and its not that we are untopable, but something in between and it is in that in between space Bly and Johnson argue where we can find a state of being most religious – but a new religion. Johnson points out that the word religion stems from the Latin roots ‘re’ meaning again and ‘ligare’ meaning to bind, bond or bridge. Religion then means to “bind together again,” to bring closer what we have made separate. So this is their invitation to us, to move away from the endless struggle of leap frogging between what we deem virtuous and what we deem negative, that pits one way against another, and instead explore that "noble place of paradox," that goes something like this:
"...it is good to win; it is also good to lose. It is good to have; it is also good to give to the poor. Freedom is good; so is the acceptance of authority. To view the elements of our life in this paradoxical manner is to open up a whole new series of possibilities. Let us not say that the opposites are antithetical but that they make up a divine reality that is accessible to us in our human condition.... we must retrain ourselves to think that each represents a divine truth. It is only our inability to see the hidden unity that is problematic. To stay loyal to paradox is to earn the right to unity."
We get so confused. We long for and claim "love and light" in our lives, but the truth is most of us are not prepared to do the necessary work needed to really be able to hold both darkness and light in our hands. The more we chase the light, the more we try to make ourselves heroes rather then simply wonderfully ordinarily human, the more chaotic our world becomes as some balance tries to play itself out.
So here’s for a weekend of “paradox”. Where we start getting braver, moving like those amphibious beings did so many millenia ago, out of the primordial soup of the oceans something in them urging them on, to move out of comfort and onto new lands, enjoying the fertility they found, the oceans never leaving them too far behind. for life has a mysterious way of reminding us what we are, and who we are and why and what we've become.