“Inanna was the Queen of Heaven and Earth. Heeding the news that her sister goddess Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld, was suffering and in pain, she decided to pay her a visit. Inanna mistakenly assumed she could descend with ease. She would, however find that the power and authority she had in the upper world had no bearing on how she would be treated in the underworld,” (from Close to the Bone, by Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D.)
As the myth goes, Innana descends to the underworld, and at each point on the journey another article of her person is removed, first her headdress, which designated her authority. Then a lapis necklace, a string of rich beads, her breastplate, gold bracelet, a lapis measuring rod and line, and finally at the seventh gate, her royal robe was stripped of her leaving her naked and humbled.
“The stripping away makes it possible for us to reach depths within ourselves that we otherwise might not reach, where whatever we consigned there or abandoned or forgot about ourselves, suffers the pain of not being remembered or of not being integrated into our conscious personality or allowed expression. In remembering, we find ourselves connecting with the soul.” (from Close to the Bone, by Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D.)
I’ve started with the myth of Inanna for a couple of reasons. The first is that it’s been a very impactful myth for me as I’ve moved through the last few years, sorting out a new life for myself. It’s an ancient myth that has comforted me as I’ve processed my travel through the underworld of a life-threatening illness, my marriage and family dissolution, and pursuit of a new spiritual path outside the faith of my ancestors and family, which is really heavy work, right?
Week 3’s work is scratching that underworld surface. Cameron writes about anger, shame and criticism in these pages. About anger, she says, “But we are nice people, and what we do with our anger is stuff it, deny it, bury it, block it, hide it, lie about it, medicate it, muffle it, ignore it. We do everything but listen to it.” It’s so true! Anger, particularly for women, is not a safe emotion to feel so we shut it down, but we must learn to listen to it.
“Whenever I have to choose between two evils, I always like to try the one I haven’t tried before.”Mae West
“Anger is the firestorm that signals the death of our old life. Anger is the fuel that propels us into our new one….Sloth, apathy, and despair are the enemy. Anger is not….It will always tell us when we’ve been betrayed,” Cameron writes. Most often, I am the one doing the betraying of myself. This looks like not setting boundaries, not taking care of myself, and not speaking kindly to myself.
Shame is another demon I have regularly wrestled with this past few years. I read all of Brené Brown’s books a few years back, and if you take nothing else from her work, please take this—shame does not promote lasting change. Shame is sneaky because it sounds like an authoritative, wise voice in the mind, but it’s actually a terrible master. The act of making art inherently triggers shame because art exposes the self, and it exposes society TO itself. So whether the shame comes up internally or is externally lobbed from the peanut gallery, it has to be processed.
Cameron talks about protecting our student artist from criticism. This reminded me of one of the agreements from the book, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz: Don’t take anything personally. This goes much deeper than don’t-let-the-bitches-get-you-down mentality—though that is part of it. To master this agreement we have to learn that a person’s reaction to us, has little to do with us, it’s mostly about them. And this goes as equally for the love, praise and adoration as it does for the shame, disappointment and fury. If you want to take this agreement to the next level, start applying the same rule to yourself. Sometimes it’s none of MY business what MY brain thinks about what I’ve done or made!
So, does this mean we should avoid all criticism? No. That’s not it. Criticism that is helpful feels like, Okay! Now I see the problem and I know what to do about it. It’s a kind of relief. But the newly emerging artist may need protection from all criticism for a while. Source and timing of criticism is important. A first draft should only be shown to someone with a gentle and discerning eye, or we risk killing the project before it’s really begun in earnest.
The antidote for shame, according to Cameron is self-love and self-praise, but sometimes this is hard to conjure. The entirety of this book will help you with that. You will learn how to show yourself little kindnesses and love that will create a soft landing space for you by the end. But in the mean time, Brené Brown’s antidote to shame might be helpful on your journey to self-love, and that is empathy. Shame cannot grow in the light and when we share our shame with others, or even better to begin with, in the safe space of the morning pages, it is brought to light and it begins to shrink. Shame will tell you the opposite is true. It will tell you to run and hide, but I promise, if you stop, pull it out of the dark corner and examine it in the light, the end result is freedom.
She also spends a stretch talking about synchronicity, which is the universe falling in with our worthy plans. This hearkens back to Week 2 when we talked about skepticism and cynicism. We are terrified that the universe might actually want us to be successful and is gently moving people and experiences in our way to make our most important plans and dreams possible. We. Are. Terrified. So we hold ourselves back and we talk ourselves out of these miracles by letting our super-smart-skeptical brain call them coincidences. Opening yourself to synchronicity effectively prepares the mind to receive what the universe has been sending you all along.
“Chance is always powerful. Let your hook be always cast; in the pool where you least expect it, there will be fish.”Ovid
In the exercises this week, we are asked to do a sort of archeological dig on our childhood. “A little sleuth work is in order to restore the persons we have abandoned—ourselves.” The first exercise is to describe your childhood room. I thought about this when I decorated my current bedroom. As I child, I was a collector. I loved my specific little trinkets, and I loved aesthetics. I covered a couple of the walls in little scraps and pieces of things I picked up, stickers, post cards, posters, wrappers, anything that inspired me. My bedroom became a sort of collage of the things that brought me joy.
In my current room, I have an art wall, where I put pieces of art that River, me, my niece, and my friends’ have made. It’s not in frames. I stick it to the wall with little command strips so it’s easy to change the content or the configuration. I’ve wondered if I ought to take down some of the older pieces because my art has improved somewhat since I started making it four years ago. But I’ve decided to leave them up for now, because my intention is to represent the flow of creativity in my life, not to display what an apt artist I am. The art wall is the grown-up version of the collage room I had when was was ten years old.
She asks us to describe five traits and five accomplishments and five favorite treats from childhood. This is the beginning of the process of unlearning our socialization and returning to some of the traits we possessed when we first arrived on the planet.
Then we get into habits—what are the habits that interfere with your self-nurturing and cause shame? What habits are self-destructive? What is the payoff for those habits? The biggest one that came up on my list is packing my schedule so I have less down time for creating. Creativity takes down time. It takes boredom. It takes quiet. Those things can feel really scary to me because I can get sad when I’m bored and quiet and alone. I know there’s a balance there, but I think I need a little adjustment.
The last few exercises really tie into friend selection. Am I surrounding myself with people I admire (not supposed to admire, but really admire), people that treat me like I’m a really good and bright person who can accomplish things? Nobody’s perfect every day, but on the whole, these are the kinds of friends we need. Our brains can tell us otherwise. These exercises help to flesh that out. Do you have the kinds of friends you need and want or the kinds of friends your brain tells you you “should” need or want?
So this week we dive into the underworld, the shadow side. Let me assure you that this work is work that is worth doing. If you can become, at least familiar with, if not comfortable with, the dark side, the hard emotions, the shadow work, the stuff your brain naturally wants to avoid—you become fireproof. It’s an act of bravery. It’s an act of self love.
Sat nam, fellow creators! Please update me here or on the Facebook group or in my DMs. Let me know what you are struggling with or where you feel some success. And remember—morning pages are every day and we must do one artist date each week. Don’t slack on those practices! Or at least do your best! Actually just do your best. You know what that is! And I trust you completely!