Monday, March 21, 2011

Me and my Shadow

I read Dana Goodyear's article in the New Yorker about Barry Michels, therapist to Hollywood screenwriters, expecting a good dose of woo-woo and hoo-ha. I mean, would any self-respecting, largely successful movie-industry "creative" would pay $360 per hour for anything less? There ought to be trances, silly names for common conditions, bullying in the name of tough love, and invocations of obscure gods--at the very least.

OK, Michels does deliver some of that. It's his job. Still, I was surprised at how...helpful his approach seemed. I especially took note of his use of the Jungian concept of the Shadow,

the occult aspect of the personality that Jung defined as “the sum of all those unpleasant qualities we like to hide, together with the insufficiently developed functions and the contents of the personal unconscious.” In “Memories, Dreams, Reflections,” Jung describes a dream in which he was out on a windy night, cupping a tiny candle in his hand. “I looked back, and saw a gigantic black figure following me,” he writes. “When I awoke I realized at once that the figure was a ‘specter of the Brocken,’ my own shadow on the swirling mists, brought into being by the little light I was carrying.”

That image of the Shadow coming into being because of that little light is really lovely. It illustrates the dilemma of creative work, which is at the heart of Michel's practice. That is: your creativity arises directly from those parts of yourself you would most like to hide. The more successful your work, the more of this creature will become visible--to you, and (you imagine) to your audience. It feels a lot better to suppress the shadow, but then your work suffers, or doesn't happen at all. So Michels gives clients various methods (some woo-woo, some just funny) to welcome the Shadow into your life and work.

I don't suppose the Shadow's existence will come as news to most people. By other names it's the subconscious, the wounded inner child, or high school. But a lot of therapy seems bent on exorcising the Shadow in order to allow it to dissipate. You may learn to treat it with compassion, rather than ignoring or raging at it, but ultimately you want it to go away. In this view you keep the Shadow close by, recognizing you can't do your work without it.

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