On creativity, poetry and the journey to The Abyss via The Dark Night of the Soul

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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.

(Carl Jung)

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. 

Evelyn Underhill

 

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.

A field of sorrow

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There is so much beauty in life

When you open your heart

Sometimes it takes me completely off guard

Knocking me sideways

Stealing my breath

Making tears to flow

Most especially that found in nature

Or poetry

Today these lines from Sheenagh Pugh

‘The sun will sometimes melt

A field of sorrow

That seemed hard frozen’

Yes, oh yes my heart

Causing tears to fall

Bringing new life

Again

Sunshine

From out of the dark

Or a heart

Of sorrows

Wracked by storms

Defeat

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It was so hard to hear you yesterday

So defeated my darling

You are usually the one so full of hope

And in the situation you find yourself

Sometimes I wonder how on earth you cope

And manage every day

To keep soldiering on

All you ever think of

Is how to protect me

How to care for me

And when I get angry because things go wrong

And I have not one clue

What is going on

Over there in that hell you inhabit

Then I forget to remember you are doing your best

All I feel is my frustration

At the fact trauma seems to find me

Over and over again

 

So many times it seems I bled

From the wounds of others

I was the one who cared

The one with a bandage

Ready to say there there

Because I knew too for years

How it felt to be traumatised

Or abandoned

Or left for dead

Oh my god the things it does to your head

And so I gave love

As I knew I must

But sometimes the anger well it rages inside

Why oh why God did you give me this life?

 

But then just as the storm seems to have totally consumed

And almost sucked all the air from the room

A bright sun will suddenly burst free from the clouds

And like a dead Jesus pain disappears

Only leaving a shroud

And then I know defeat is not really the end

Just a stepping stone on the way

To a new healing

A new understanding

A new way of living

A new victory

Enough

How different would our lives be if we only believed we were enough and had enough?  As I look around this society and even consider my own life and past I see that a fear of not enoughness can dog so many of us.  This fear can cause us to compete or to believe we are not worthy enough, it can prevent us from expressing ourselves, from reaching out to love and be loved and it makes us attack or collapse when that reaching out hits a brick wall or is demonised or rejected by another person who also feels not enough or that we are not enough for them.

I guess this is coming to mind as its interesting I had the clash with the gardener the other day all around the 11th anniversary of getting together with my ex partner back in 2007.   At the outset of the relationship he had a long list of why and how others were not enough and of how he had struggled to find enough love, and during the entire relationship he found it so difficult to relax and then began to point out to me all the time how I wasnt enough this or that.    I know now that as an adult child of an alcoholic parent he had never had a resting place either and he was driven by a lot of unresolved grief which manifested as rage when things triggered him.  He drove one of his sons very hard and would call him mean names if the son refused to do something his father wanted often only because he was tired too and loved to play guitar and needed to rest or just loved being in the ‘now’ as I did.

I thought of this unhealed wound yesterday as I have reached the chapter in Jeanette Wintersons’s book Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal (which is what her stepmother said to Jeanette when she found out she was gay) where she has a breakdown after a love relationship dissolves in her adulthood.  Reading it reminded me that suicidal feelings often accompany the opening to the realisation of our wounded self that never got to fully birth in dysfunctional homes that could not honour our sacred wholeness.   Jeanette expresses very powerfully the forces within herself that she struggled with and that over the period 2007 to 2008 caused her to break down and break open to the self hatred and ‘madness’ inside her which was nothing less than a composite of all the toxic things, behaviours and beliefs her mother had introduced into her life over years as well as associated feelings that for most of her life she was writing over the top of.

Jeanette tried to take her life in 2008 and had what I can only call a spiritual experience in which she understood her old self was dead and she had to be born again on a deeply psychological level, she also began to realise she needed to address and understand the feelings and forces that were driving her from within.

In a very heart wrenching paragraph she writes :

extremes – whether of dullness or fury – successfully prevent feeling.  I know our feelings can be so unbearable that we employ ingenious strategies – unconscious strategies – to keep those feelings away.  We do a feeling swap where we avoid feeling sad or lonely or afraid or inadequate, and feel angry instead.  It can work the other way , too – sometimes you do need to feel angry, not inadequate, sometimes you do need to feel love and acceptance, and not the tragic drama of your life.

It takes courage to feel the feeling – and not trade it on the feelings exchange, or even transfer it altogether to another person…..you know how in couples one person is always doing the weeping  or the raging while the other one seems so calm and reasonable?

I understood that feelings were difficult for me although I was overwhelmed by them.

She then began to hear voices and inside them found : ‘a piece of me…..so damaged that she was prepared to see me dead to find peace…. my violent rages, my destructive behavior, my own need to destroy love and trust, just as love and trust had been destroyed for me…. The fact that I did not value myself”  And she also found that ‘the lost furious vicious child’ was the ‘war casualty’ and that was the part of her hated herself and also hated life.

Jeanette began to dialogue with this destructive part of herself which was really a defence against her childhood pain and that is what brought her back home to herself.  It also led to the writing of a children’s book The Battle of the Sun which as a person with an astrological interest intrigues me as the Sun in our chart is our spiritual centre, it is the essence of us born to shine before it becomes in many cases covered in tarnish or buried under the force of our inner demons or monsters, or what Jeanette imagines as ‘the Creature’ within.  It was this creature which was a representation really of all the lies she had been told about her being a bad self, never good enough, and it’s primary purpose (as for all of us who internalise the critic) was to mock, disparage and tear her apart, but never the less giving this part of herself a voice in the end, as for all of us, helped Jeanette to reclaim her sanity.

Her pen ultimate realisation which she shares at the end of the chapter The Night Sea Journey makes me cry :

A few months later we (the creature and Jeanette) were having our afternoon walk when I said something about how nobody had cuddled us when we were little.  I said ‘us’ not ‘you’.  She held my hand.  She had never done that before, mainly she just walked behind shooting her sentences.

We both sat down and cried

I said. “We will learn how to love.”

Learning to love ourselves, to accept our pain, to hold our own hand, to know that we were and will always be ‘enough’ no matter what other forces or voices in the family or culture have told us well really isn’t this our most important challenge?  And doesn’t the deepest recognition of this truth mean a lessening of our insane and voracious consumption which drives us in covering over our sense of emptiness and not enoughness to over produce and over consume in ways that close our eyes to the reality of vast magentic gift of enoughness that surrounds us on this living, breathing, fully sentient, spirit infused love infused planet earth?  Is it not the trance of our not enoughness either internalised or projected the thing that keeps us hungry and blind, causing us to lash out, over protect or self or other harm?   Is not what is needed on this planet an awakening to the sacredness of earth and all life which can only come from a deeply realised sense of preciousness and enoughness?

Sadness for the lost child

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I think it is a real sign of growth when we can weep for the child in us who never got to fully live, who often had to be buried or hidden deep inside or who was forced to don a disguise of coats of shame or soot and ashes to survive the invalidating, unfacilitating environment of childhood.  Images of this soot covered slave or servant child appear in the book Leaving My Father’s House by therapist Marion Woodman.  In it, along side stories from several of her client’s lives and psychological recovery stories, she shares a psychological interpretation of the fairy tale of Allerleirauh a young girl who running in flight from her family becomes a servant girl to the King, cooking in his kitchen a number of different soups.

In time in the course of this fairytale she attracts the King’s attention and dons three different dresses, the final one being made of Stars.  This is an allusion to how in the course of our psychological work to recover the child covered in soot and ashes we also reclaim and begin to fully live and express our inner radiance and being, that sense of true self that just could not live in our family of origin, was buried, covered in neglect or shame or nearly destroyed over time by internalised, killing voices.

I know that when I feel and shed tears for the years of living covered in soot and ash I have expereince ever since I was a young adolsecence at times I have felt like I could not possibly cry to the depths of it.  However, over time, the undeniable emotional truth becomes very apparent and real – all that we lost, all the ways in which we suffered and were dismisse, all the anger we felt but were not allowed to express.  With the tears shed in grieving we are, in some way, washing away the soot and emerging clearer and cleaner.   We cannot make up for those lost years, ever. But we can emerge into our true radiance if we just trust that we have depths of goldenness and star stuff inside just longing to burst forth, to ‘be’, to express in this life.

When we can fully feel it all through, and that includes our terror, rage, sadness, shame and anger, we will feel buried inside all of those feelings the truth of our spirit which longed over all those years for our recognition, realisation and championing.  We must feel all of these feelings most fully in a body that may have been neglected or filled with shame, for are these not also feelings which will lead us to realise the inner love that our body and soul longs for: a feeling of the fully conscious feminine deep inside of us both man and woman, girl and boy.   The suffering we buried in our body is felt and released as we nurture the spirit, soul child we know ourselves to be most fully from within.

Conscious femininity is living the redeemed body of Eve, regardless of the gender of the human being.  This body is conscious of itself as an intelligent instrument, a living system that actively participates in the divine unfoldment of planetary life.  While finding the harmony of its own natural laws of being, it is at the same time finding the harmony with all forms of life on Earth… Conscious flesh knows that its function (when fully awakened) is the consciousness of this Earth.

We are not separate from the Earth and our inner child knows this, as does our vital lived spirit.  We must do all we can to fully express this truest part of our being.

(Quote taken from : Redeeming Eve’s Body by Mary Hamilton : in Leaving My Father’s House : A Journey Toward Conscious Femininity, by Marion Woodman)

Hard to believe

Lady in a Storm

I just discovered this piece of writing in my drafts folder.  I dont even remember writing it.  I think in some way my soul makes wisdom for me that will help me through on the darker days.   It may be something I was meant to read this week.

I know how hard it is to believe The sun will shine again Deep in your soul Believe me I know all too well the deep deep pain that comes when every bone and tissue in your body aches You feel so heavy or flooded with hurt and believe you will never smile again And you wonder how you will find the energy to live through another day When your soul and body feels broken or torn to shreds

I have been there and I can tell you There is sun on the other side of that storm Those clouds that gather and seem to send only rain that threatens to drown you will pass And you will find you have been cleansed by a deluge you thought would sweep you away You were only undergoing  the rising up Of all you forgot or longed so intensely to deny which lay so deeply hidden Perhaps even for generations And could not outrun any more

Living sober is not always easy There are feelings you never got to understand There are angers you feel you never got to shout out There are so many tears you never got to cry But just remember this Your soul is being restored to you And the schism that rent you in two is mending even if it does not seem so at the time

And although it feels that you are so alone Please remember There are those out there who have walked that painful path that led to a desert or a wasteland or a haunted forest And though they struggled with ghosts and demons They made it through and lived to tell the tale as well as the stories those phantoms needed to speak

So just keep opening and trusting although it is hard That there is life on the other side of this pain and that the seed capsule splits before the seed can be released to the new birth and the new life it is destined for

There are so many of these sheddings So just remember when the pain is strong In time it will pass and new life will be ignited from deep within the ashes of suffering, sorrow and death burning your soul and spirit clean.

Rescue

AB

In  the pool Of your tears You found a girl who was drowning And could not see The life within that pain That for long years was hidden beneath the surface

So much misunderstanding Bred by a silence She could never fathom Became an ocean And now from deep within the pool She is asking of you rescue And you know you have to take her hand

There are things she did Not knowing which way to turn There was only fear and longing that drove her to empty places Not knowing how or why she repeated this ancestral pattern of darker times Awakening in dreams Ghostly spectres arising from cells Cloudy ocean depths Obscuring day vision

This ghost girl became a waif With no blood pulsing through her veins Feeling herself to be So deeply alone Yet all the time her sense of aloneness Of drowning Came from disconnection

Once she found another soul To share her space and true being with Her folded up heart unfurled like a flower In the sunlight cast by affection and attention The pool of tears dried And slowly she found herself awakening in paradise

And so now When darkness threatens She runs to the light Knowing she must not stay here alone too long Listening to damaging thoughts that only grow in isolation and silence Whispering lies she had no protection from

Now she has found you And you can take her by the hand She knows she is never alone And that she can receive all the love she longed for From the one inside Who will never leave her so alone again.

Slowly over several years You taught her how to do this How to turn away from the false places And towards the real

Now she no longer needs to dream Of rescue But can summon her own life By breathing deep and acknowledging her self From within

Aftermath

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Your heart sings

When you start to feel you are not so alone

After travelling so long along a path that led so far from home

Warmth starts to flood your icy veins

When all the pain that kept you frosted up inside

Starts to melt

Mixing with life blood

From a heart no longer so ensnared

So paralysed

As the new dawn comes

On a brighter day

And you watch old shadows pass away

Suddenly you realise something new but paradoxially so old

Is being birthed down deep inside

Recognition grows that you are now no longer as alone

That others walking the same path at such a distance

Are emerging out of the shadows too

And you are meeting at the centre

The nebula of  new world forming

Enfolding you in pain and love and shared feeling

Into a centre

Where heart’s truth can be known

How sweet it is to feel that peace

To know all your grief, regret and sadness is being released

Your heart sings in vibrant harmony

A song of gratitude to the path

That opened

In the aftermath

Understanding the truth beyond suicidal urges

This is a deeply enlightening video which I found a while back after reading Jeff Foster’s wonderful book The Way of Rest and deals in depth with the existential feeling of homelessness we can feel which so often leads people to feel suicidal.   What is it that we really wish to kill when we feel suicidal?  And how can we really help someone in this place?   He answers these questions in a deeply spiritual way.

Disconnection and connection : some thoughts

Jung

From quite a young age I had a sense of being on the outside of the life around me.  I was the youngest in family caught up in other worlds, only lately am I realising the depth of aloneness I felt and how the attention was focused somewhere away from my inner self.  And so I believe I did grow into a loner, but one who craved connection of any kind, no matter what the cost.  I didn’t have wise protective radar for who was really connected to me though as I don’t think I was connected to a lot and so it felt unfamiliar, emotional abandonment or disconnect I knew (unconsciously at that point) so I attracted more of that in the years that followed.

I have been thinking about it a lot today and seeing what a hunger to connect outside of myself did to me before I was connected to my deeper self.  Put simply those connections just did not work and I always ended up sorrowing and empty.  In later years with all the trauma and insecurity I carried maybe I didn’t find it easy to connect to others as I had begun to turn to substances.  I also had an implicit feeling that I was a failure for not ‘fitting in’ and so I needed to change, but lately I am realising I didn’t need to change at all, my task lay in coming to know myself, so I had something real to offer relationship.

The Buddhist’s say the ‘self’ is just a construction and I do believe we can construct a false self of representations, but I am a firm believer that there lies inside an essential core of us we can know.  For me, as a sensitive, soul attuned person I find this feeling comes when I am connected to nature and my inner world.  I never feel more at home as on moments where I sit being comforted by the breeze flowing on my face, listening to the song of a local magpie who comes to visit around lunchtime and while writing or reflecting I touch base with something essential and lovely so deep inside.  At moments like this I realise that my hunger for connection outside of myself often led me astray.  My need to be liked or understood by those who could not hurt me and I also made demands at times out of a needy self that did not know how to hold her own hand.

I am so happy to say that lately these feelings of ‘need’ are dropping away.  I was thinking today of the young child or baby who cries out and when not heard collapses into depression or resignation.  In my own case I am learning to give up and surrender longings I direct toward unavailable sources.  And I have discovered a fundamental truth, that I connect best to those who connect with their inward worlds, something I touched on in a previous post about being an orphan.

Lately, I don’t feel that totally empty, bereft feeling of orphanhood that I did before, I am not making demands to have a different journey or fate than I have.  I will always probably be a loner but the paradox is that in society I connect with others when I see deeper in a way those who are on another plane don’t.  It’s not something that is easy to express and I know there are others out there a lot like me.  I don’t feel as alone in the crowd as I used to because lately I see more of our common humanity.

A fellow blogger helped me a lot a few months ago when I was sharing how I had met with a friend and we hadn’t connected by saying that connections cannot be forced and we cannot will them into being.  Knowing when we are connected and disconnected is important.  For me if I feel disconnected in a certain situation its a sign to retreat and listen to my soul.   I find so much loving connection, too from my blog and through reading the writing and blogs of others,   It’s that joyous moment of pleasure and uplift that comes from being received and ‘got’ and I am so grateful for it.  I am also coming to be more and more grateful for my times of deep solitude which are like a balm to me.  I am beginning to realise all the gifts I have and its okay to be alone, not necessarily a sign of something wrong with us.

I also feel myself separating more and more from my family on the earthly plane.  Deep at a soul level I know we are connected and always will be, but it seems to me I am beginning to be aware of playing a ‘role’ in that family can limit my soul which wants to be freer to breath new life into old past grief filled places.  Its beginning to be a real possibility that I can find a way to live outside of the pain of a past that nearly crushed me and for that I am grateful beyond words.