There is a very particular risk inherent in the creative process: when you take the journey inward, you discover that you are not who you think you are, or you are more than who you think you are. But sometimes these images reflected through the inner mirrors are so alien to our ego that they cause us to run. The trick is not to run, but to persevere. The image will shift, the fear will dissolve and the stranger seen through the creative mirror will become familiar and quite wonderful. These unknown parts of us will guide us through unseen doors, into unexpected landscapes.
A poem by Juan Ramon Jimenez speaks wonderfully to this point.
I Am Not I
I am not I.
I am walking beside me
whom I do not see,
whom at times I manage to visit
and at other times manage to forget.
The one who forgives sweet when I hate,
the one who takes a walk when I am indoors,
the one who remains silent when I talk,
and the one who will remain when I die.
How do we discover these who walk beside us and tend to be who we are not? How do we learn to lift the smoke screen?
First of all, I’d like to suggest that these ones do not walk beside us, but these unseen, unexplored voices live inside us.
There are different ways of exploring these inner selves, whom some call the dark or shadow side, hidden self or true self. Whatever the name, these are parts of self that have been secluded, usually in childhood or adolescence, when it seemed somehow dangerous to put them out into the world. We learn very early in life to pass judgments on those parts of self that don’t meet with acceptance; in so doing, we doom our self to live through a small part of the totality of self while casting other parts into the shadows, where we keep them hidden and silent.
Carl Jung said that the unconscious is a great friend, guide and advisor to the conscious and that psychic wholeness comes from bringing the unconscious and the conscious into balance. He believed the primary way of doing this is through dreams. I believe that this communication is also part and parcel of the creative journey. The trick is in breaking through the stranglehold that the rational, conscious mind, the “I” we think we are, has on us.
As far as I am concerned, this is the most difficult part of the journey, quieting the inner critic so that we can go unfettered, without judgment and criticism, into the great sea of the unconscious. This breaking through is also the hook — or perhaps it is more accurate to say that when we finally break through into the creative unconscious, we are hooked. For there we find the hidden selves who hold so much of our deep yearnings and explosive drive. They hold talents, wisdom and knowledge we never dreamed we had. For the fiction writer, our hidden, disowned selves often come through as powerhouse characters — if we let them! In so many ways, these hidden selves are partners in the dance of creativity.