The following is an excerpt from Linda Schirese Leonards book Witness to the Fire : Creativity and the Veil of Addiction.
The necessity of facing death and going into a dark night of the soul is, according to Jung, essential to human development. This dark night may be forced upon one (in the case of addiction or neglect) or it may be freely chosen, as in the case of the creator. But, in any case, it is the way of the transformation process. And as is the paradoxical nature of human kind…
When libido leaves the bright upper world, whether from choice, or from inertia, or from fate, it sinks back down into its own depths, into the source from which it originally flowed, and returns to the point of cleavage, the navel where it first entered the body. The point of cleavage is called the mother, because from her the current of life reached us. Whenever some great work is to be accomplished, before which a man recoils, doubtful of his strength, his libido streams back to the fountainhead – and this is the dangerous moment when the issue hangs between annihilation and new life. For if the libido gets stuck in the wonderland of this inner world, then for the upper world man is nothing but a shadow, he is already moribund or at least seriously ill. But if the libido manages to tear itself loose and force its way up again, something like a miracle happens : the journey to the underworld was a plunge into the fountain of youth, and the libido, apparently dead, wakes to renewed fruitfulness.
This describes the challenge for the addict (or depressive) who has fallen into The Abyss – to turn that addictive underworld journey into the fruitful return to life and creativity.
The poet takes the turn of transformation in The Abyss by giving expression to what he finds there. In this respect, poetry, is a call to all of us to embark upon the nightsea journey. It calls us forth, if we respond, into the dark unknown by jolting us from the ordinary with its unusual and powerful images. Yet it is also an attempt, while in the depths, to articulate the numinous unknown – a primordial beginning to name that which emerges towards us from the depths. Poetry invites us to accept momentarily the death of our ordinary ego world so that we may enter into a strange, often terrifying new vision, and from this extraordinary experience to return renewed .. to a more differentiated level of human existence – one that can accept and dwell more consciously in mystery… revolting against the one-sidedness that has far too long rationalised existence.. (the artist must) confront those opposite unconscious chaotic forces that have too long been repressed.
Only if we confront the chaotic irrational power at the very depths of our being will we be able to transform them into something more meaningful. ..
The readiness for the creative journey requires giving up possessiveness and expectation, dying to old ways of perceiving, daring to leap into the unknown, and being ready to open and receive what comes, be it something or nothing.
Perhaps everything terrible is its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.
Rilke, Letter to a Young Poet
Psychologically, then, the “Dark Night of the Soul” is due to the double fact of the exhaustion of an old state, and the growth towards a new state of consciousness. It is a “growing pain” in the organic process of the self’s attainment of the Absolute. The great mystics, creative geniuses in the realm of character,have known instinctively how to turn these psychic disturbances to spiritual profit.
In the act of creation, we wrestle with the elements. To bring the new creation into being requires our standing in the struggle between that which shelters and conceals and self disclosing openness. The artist is a gentle warrior who must stand between these opposing elements to allow and bring forth the new.
4 thoughts on “On creativity, poetry and the journey to The Abyss via The Dark Night of the Soul”
I’ve loved that book for years & it is on my recovery shelf. Maybe it’s time for a reread. Thanks for reminding me!
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Yes me too. I only picked it up again lately. I got heaps more out of it the second time around.
Truly insightful! So glad I came across this post. The afflictions we find so readily within our shadow selves; within a thoughts distance from us and so easily available by a trigger (name your trigger). But That’s where the treasure trove of meaning can be excavated. It’s a very hard won reward…long hours, days…months and years. From the woe of hard labour…the greatest wisdom is just that close. Funny…very rarely do people speak of the price.
What is so disheartening though is that the unaffected have no empathy, and too often the telling of a haroing journey is not understood by those that even have the ear to hear and to listen. Wisdom seems lost, and the woe is something to block and deny despite the delicious victory to follow.
Another paradox. Wisdom is so priceless. I guess that’s why there is the saying, “Cast not thy pearls before swine lest they trample them underfoot.” Imagine…trampling what is so precious underfoot. Yet…(sigh)
I guess poetry and other artistic expression are an easier way to swallow, in part, what is not so difficulty to understand through the mind but is very difficulty to feel with out a frame of reference…or a willingness to relate to the harder truths. And I don’t blame any for seeking the sweet coating so as not to have a hint of the bitter. I don’t blame any; not for one minute. And there is yet another irony; people pay dearly for great art! Art is sweet; the bitter source…no one wants that. (gotta laugh).
Thanks for these words of wisdom. I valued them immensely.
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I am so glad that this particular piece struck such a cord with you and led to even more insights. Thanks so much for your perspective and response. ❤