“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light,
but by making the darkness conscious.”
|‘Kali Dance’ acrylic & mixed media on canvas
For those of you familiar with the movie ‘Labyrinth’ (1986) by Jim Henson it’s a wonderful story and rich with relevant metaphors. It was one of my favorite movies when I was growing up and I still love it.
Here’s the basic plot: The heroine Sarah races through a dangerous labyrinth to reach the goblin castle and rescue her baby brother from the goblin king before the time runs out. She runs around in circles, gets lost, takes the wrong paths, gets into trouble, and almost gives up several times. The final scene in the labyrinth is when Sarah reaches the goblin king. He tries to distract her from her purpose by offering anything she desires – including his kingdom. Sarah refuses to be distracted and thrown off course again by his offers and promises. She finally remembers the words that she had forgotten and as she faces him directly she says ‘you have no power over me.’ The instant she speaks these words, the goblin king loses his power and his world of illusion crumbles around her. (And spoiler alert: she gets her baby brother back).
That particular scene immediately came to mind as I sat down to write this post. You see, lately I have been thinking a lot about what it means to face our feelings head on rather than running in the opposite direction. (To be honest, I’ve been running in the opposite direction from writing this post for a couple of weeks now). Finally I’m sitting still and writing it.
I am becoming increasingly aware of how much energy it takes for me to run through my own inner labyrinths. What does that look like in everyday life? For me it might be avoiding the one phone call that could bring me some answers. Looking at my sketchbook longingly but deciding that I have ‘more important’ things to do while the baby naps. Nodding my head in agreement to something someone says when my heart is saying the opposite.
These outer forms of avoidance are not actually the core issues I’m exploring. The underlying forms are the raw feelings that might be exposed once that last protective layer of avoidance is peeled back. They are the feelings at the heart center of the labyrinth. They might be feelings such as fear, anger, or even joy. What are the possibilities for healing and personal growth when we do the incredibly counterintuitive thing and sit still with our feelings, when everything in our being is yelling at us to get up and get distracted? Certainly society provides us with an endless buffet of distraction entrees…it is almost too easy to feast on all of them, while the part of us that needs to be fed is actually starving.
In her book Feeding Your Demons, Tsultrim Allione explores our inner demons and proposes that instead of starving them (running from them) that we actually give form to them and then feed them. She writes:
“Normally we empower our demons by believing they are real and strong in themselves and have the power to destroy us. As we fight against them, they get stronger. But when we acknowledge them by discovering what they really need, and nurture them, our demons release their hold, and we find that they actually do not have power over us. By nurturing the shadow elements of our being with infinite generosity, we can access the state of luminous awareness and undermine ego. By feeding the demons, we resolve conflict and duality, finding our way to unity.” (from ‘Feeding Your Demons’ by Lama Tsultrim Allione)
|“Hungry Ghost II” acrylic & mixed media on canvas
The author devotes a chapter to working with our demons through the art process (which of course immediately peaked my interest). Much of the healing takes place when we give form to the demon rather than allowing it to remain in the shadows. Once an image has been created it is possible to dialogue with the demon, ask what the demon needs, and then ‘feed’ the demon with our attention and compassion. This is truly about feeding a part of the self that has been neglected. The quote at the beginning of this post by Jung speaks to the transformative power of making the ‘darkness conscious.’ When the darkness inside is made conscious it cannot have power over us.
The art pieces in this post are paintings that I created while meditating on my own inner demons. They were uncomfortable to begin and messy to create. A part of me wanted to cover up the images that emerged and paint something ‘prettier’ or easier to digest. The first painting “Kali Dance” was a visual meditation on the fearsome goddess Kali. She gives birth and she destroys. Visually she is horrible to behold and yet in mythology her sword cuts through ignorance and fear. When our inner Kali aspect is embraced we have the power to transform ourselves and move through obstacles rather than dancing around them and wearing ourselves thin. The energy that is invested in avoiding our fears and unwanted feelings is then freed and can be channeled into our creative lives.
Children often spontaneously draw scary figures such as monsters. They have a natural inclination to take internal experiences and give them visual form. This is a wonderful way to connect with children and find out more about their inner worlds in a playful and non-threatening way. As adults we can benefit from the same explorations through art. If we have the courage and the proper support we can give form to our inner demons, look them in the eye, and have a conversation. They are after all, just misunderstood aspects of the self. As Rumi writes in the poem below, Welcome and entertain them all!
THE GUEST HOUSE
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.