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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Do You Dare Release Your Hidden Creativity?

Being creative is incomparably rewarding, so why do we all have so many ways to avoid it?

My first answer to this question was my first book, Dancing in the Dragon’s Den (published back in 1999), where I explored the connections between creativity and the shadow, what Carl Jung defined as the repressed and denied parts of ourselves, the person we have no wish to be.

Carl Jung started writing about the shadow in the 1930s. Yet, his insights about the ever-present urge to deny our shadow and the dangerous temptation to project it onto others are particularly relevant today. I’m proud that my publisher recently re-released Dancing in the Dragon’s Den in ebook and POD (print-on-demand) formats.

I hope the following excerpt will give you a sense of how much of your creativity you’ve hidden in your shadow and a bit of insight into how you can release that creativity.

We all have some part of our creativity that’s waiting to be expressed. Maybe it’s the sunsets you’ve never painted, the pots you’ve never thrown, the buildings you’ve never designed. Maybe it’s the blank page, the blank canvas, the blank stage, the unyielding lump of clay or marble or emotion that you’ve stared at for hours, knowing you want to do something with but not knowing what. Maybe it’s the life you’ve never fully lived.

This book is for all of us who are both attracted to and a little afraid of our own creativity.

The first thing we must know is that we are not alone. Look around; the next person you see either struggles with this dilemma or has given up the struggle by unconsciously blocking his or her creativity and, as a result, struggles with the surrender. It makes no difference whether that person is a successful, recognized artist or a hopeful unknown or someone who has given up any hope of being artistic. We all struggle with our desire to create fully – and thus live fully – and with our fear of what will happen if we do.

The second thing to know is that this struggle is perfectly natural. We have good reasons to be both attracted to and afraid of our creativity.

In the years I’ve taught writing and creativity, I’ve seen the pure joy that occurs when a student discovers that he or she is creative, that’s it’s okay to be creative, and that however he or she expresses that creativity is acceptable, even desirable. I’ve also seen students falter although I thought they had tremendous promise. I’ve come to recognize that faltering is part of the cycle of living a creative life. Some of those students have preserved, allowing themselves to struggle and fail and struggle some more and eventually succeed. Others quit. I’ve come to see that quitting is also part of the cycle. We all quit at some time, and we can unquit at any time.

Quitting is not an act of cowardice or laziness. It is a reasonable response to a real threat…

We don’t often talk about the threat our creativity holds for us. We talk about how being in the creative flow is a blissful state. All the books and seminars that tells us how to be more creative at work, in our relationships, and in our art assume we want to be more creative and promise we will be if we just learn a new set of techniques. We do need to learn techniques and develop our craft, but it usually isn’t lack of knowledge that keeps us away from being as fully creative as we year to be. It’s our fear.

We’re so busy telling ourselves how wonderful it is to be creative that we conveniently forget to mention, even to ourselves, “By the way, I’m afraid of this creativity. I’m not just afraid I won’t be able to do this or that I’ll be criticized or rejected, I’m afraid I don’t want to do this at all. When I open up and explore my creativity, I scare myself.”

We don’t want to give up the joy of creativity, and even if we did, our creative urges would not be ignored. We don’t want to go back, yet an unnamed fear keeps us from going on. We are blocked, not just in our art, but in our lives.

(The source of this fear is our own unconscious. You see,) …when we open ourselves to our creativity, we open ourselves to our unconscious as well…

The unconscious holds energy and inspiration for creative expression. It also holds our shadow-self, what Carl Jung described as the person we have no wish to be. In the process of opening ourselves to our creativity, we open ourselves to this shadow, the denied and repressed parts of ourselves. No wonder we’re afraid.

We’re afraid that to be creative we will have to become everything we don’t want to be. We’re afraid that the myth of the dysfunctional, egocentric artist is true and that being a great artist necessarily means being a rotten human being. But dysfunctional artists are not creative because of their egoism; they are creative in spite of it.

The uncomfortable truth is that there are ways to be truly and deeply creative without behaving as a rotten human being, but not without acknowledging our potential to be a rotten human being. We don’t have to become the person we have no wish to be; we have to acknowledge that we already are that person.

To be truly creative, we need to be aware of the difference between acting out and acting on. Jung called this distinction “taking moral action,” which means acknowledging our dark inclinations as part of our human heritage, rather than pretending we don’t have any, and then relying on our highest values to choose how we act on what we find in the deepest parts of ourselves. Those who don’t consciously act on their shadow will unconsciously act it out. If you don’t own your shadow, it will own you.

To deny the dark potential is to deny an enormous part of ourselves. It takes a great deal of energy, energy that is diverted from creative expression. It is to deny that we are truly, fully human and to deny the depths of our humanity that makes our creativity meaningful.

Echoing Jung’s comment that the shadow is 90 percent gold, Joyce Sequichie Hifler writes about our fears of tapping the depths of our soul in A Cherokee Feast of Days:

Giving up robs us of drawing up gold from our depths. Imagine having a well, a very deep well, that is topped off with several feet of tainted water. But deeper down, the water, the a ma’, is clear, and down even further it is a spring, a spring that bubbles cold and pure through deposits of gold. Should we give up because of what we saw in the beginning? Or would we want to tap the depths and clear away the polluted water and get down to the very best? If it is true that we only know five percent of who and what we are – then, is it possible that we have untapped depths, where our being is pure and free of contamination. Should we give up such a rich experience because of what we have seen on the surface?

With knowledge, commitment and reliable support, we can let go of the surface life of spending our energy repressing our shadow – and our creativity along with it – and become fully alive, fully creative, fully moral and human. We can walk through our fears to claim our larger Selves on the other side.

This book is about how to do that.

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2 Comments on “Do You Dare Release Your Hidden Creativity?”

  1. Catherine Brennan February 24, 2018 at 12:04 pm #

    Wow Rosanne! Just when I think I have a grasp of the depths of the unconscious, you paint a picture that is even deeper than I imagined. And with gold/ light no less! I will be thinking how to incorporate this sense of depth and darkness/brilliance as I continue to work to bring out my creative self.


    • rosannebane February 25, 2018 at 10:08 am #

      Thanks Catherine for the appreciation and more importantly for doing your “shadow work” as part of your creative work.


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