The Shadow Artist

Everyone is an artist.  Every child is creative. They either learn to express it, or they learn to suppress it. Those of us who learned to suppress their creative impulse are called Shadow Artists in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Shadow artists feel attracted to (certain) artistic expressions like bees to honey, but they don’t express their own creativity. That was me, in a nutshell. 

I come from a long line of Shadow Artists. I found drawings from my young granddad, they were ah-mazing, Never saw him touch a pencil for anything other than to jot down an order. When my grandma died, her legacy was a huge cabinet stuffed with fabrics. My dad left us more books than I can imagine, he never wrote a word other than budget reports. And I, I would drool over any artistic tool imaginable. I had paints, brushes, pencils, fabrics, fine pens and paper, yet I rarely to never dared to touch.

I remember how they filled me with yearning. How I knew that my attraction to them meant more than a mere infatuation. How my attraction to and jealousy of my room mates had nothing to do with my room mates and everything with the fact that they went to art school, and I could not do that.

I dabbled with the arts from time to time. Nothing seriously. Of course. I was not an artist. But somehow I could not simply be an amateur, either. So for the longest time, most of the time, I just treasured my art supplies.

This past week, while doing my morning pages, I learned that Shadow Artists are artists at suppressing. I discovered that I am an artist at suppressing. Even now, after two decades of unraveling and undoing trauma, I still censor myself. Whenever something other than love or sadness gets too intense, I block myself from feeling and expressing.

The first time I wrote my morning pages, it was midday, I kept falling asleep while writing. Now, I’ve written a whole lot in my life so far, but I’ve never fallen asleep with a pen in my hand. Just as I don’t fall asleep watching a movie or reading a book. That just doesn’t happen. This was blocking at it’s best.

Then another morning while trying to write down a thought, my pen kept hoovering above the paper. I was able to have the thought – and sometimes not even that – but unable to write it or speak it. I simply could not. Usually when I’m unable to express myself there is a palpable lump in my throat. Nothing of the sorts now.

Instead there was a tight steel band around my heart. It felt constricted, painful. I intuited that the real cause of not being able to express myself was that I was suppressing my feelings. I was not only afraid of expressing my feelings, I was afraid of feeling them too. How ironic! For someone who spent the past ten years learning to feel and be aware of her feelings, intense feelings were still off limits.

And then there was the rage again, the rage that has been raging these past weeks. This rage is new too. Rage towards anyone who has shamed or betrayed me. But mostly rage towards myself for allowing it, for abandoning, shaming and betraying myself for the past 49 years.

At first, the rage, like any other intense emotion, was frightening. I did not know how to handle it, to process it. I come from a very passionate family, and I remember very clearly putting a lid on it, the moment I discovered this intensity within myself. I had witnessed what could happen when that passion wasn’t channeled healthily and I flat out refused to let that side of me hurt anyone.

So I caged my passion. Unaware of the damage I would be doing to myself in the decades to come. Unaware that this passion is part of my life force. Unaware I was setting myself up for years of intense struggle and hardship. And grief. Relentlessly growing, unsubsiding grief.

This week, I learned that expressing my thoughts and emotions on paper in an uncensored way is a very healthy way of dealing with this temperamental, passionate side of me. I’m not afraid of it anymore.

And so, I write my morning pages. Every word an opportunity to express instead of suppress or repress. Every word a word closer to freedom from the corrosive power of my unconscious, negative and limiting beliefs.

I am thankful. I have a renewed, a deeper understanding of how we all live in man-made prisons of the mind, how our freedom is ours, ours to choose every minute of the day, if only we have the courage to face our shadows.

If this resonated with you, then consider sharing it with someone who will love it too or could use it in their lives right now. And while you’re in the flow, you may want to subscribe to my newsletter as well. I’ll send you an email from time to time to keep you in the loop. Don’t worry, I won’t spam you. Scout’s honor.

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Comments 2

  1. Lovely, as always, Hermien!

    The gift you have for expressing depth & feeling and engaging the reader at the core is a gift to be cherished, nurtured and shared. That’s something you’ve once again been willing to set free into the world to be received by waiting ones who want to walk that walk with you.

    My Artist’s Way Book has left my company, perhaps in the last move. I commend you for taking this soul-searching journey on and I further want to tell you how much I appreciate that you have opened your soul in this fashion.

    Peace and Blessings to you,

    1. Post

      Thank you, Junnie, for the light you always shine, for the way you celebrate my gifts. You are a blessing? Much Love and Light to you,

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