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Collage by Shelley Klammer
Shelley Klammer : The Creativity of Suffering

The Creativity of Suffering

By Shelley Klammer

"Everything in life that we really accept undergoes a change. So suffering must become love. That is the mystery." — Katherine Mansfield

Life Calls Us to the Total Expression
of All Feelings

Years ago before my daughter was born, I had a real, very authentic art studio in the downtown core of the city where I lived. By authentic I mean the building was old and crumbling and filled with artists — photographers, playwrights, painters and writers and a whole cast of characters whose "professions" were unknown to me. I had a corner studio on the fourth floor overlooking the busy street below. It had high ceilings, a well used paint sink, large old paned windows and several rooms.

I was shy and withdrawn back then. I expressed myself mostly to myself — by myself — and rarely socialized with the people in the building. I was on an inner quest to understand myself as an artist, as a woman, as a human being. I cultivated my creative self because I felt there was more to me than just the nice girl image that I presented to the world. In spending so much quiet time alone, it was not long before my darker feelings inevitably rose up to be seen, balanced and integrated.

I was a gallery artist at the time, in one of the best galleries in the city. I was intent on painting "perfect art" and often I became bored and frustrated with my narrow ego driven efforts to produce a perfect, colorful painting that would sell. My primary personality was friendly, cheerful, helpful — lovely unto itself but quite one-sided. Because we all hold multidimensional aspects of our psyche inside, my darker, more disowned, instinctual energies begged for equal expression.

Something deeper and darker rumbled inside of me and it was weary of being ignored. When I would feel the anxiety rising as uncomfortable, long rejected feelings arose to the surface, often I felt called to hit the streets with my walking shoes on and wander the city. I walked for miles and miles in those days often for 3 or 4 hours or more. I wandered into strange neighborhoods miles from my studio downtown, and after several hours of walking, my mind would be still. In a reverie I would go back to the studio and paint for a few hours at the end of the day and then go home for the evening.

"I surrender myself to everything. I love, I feel pain, I struggle. The world seems to me wider than the mind, my heart a dark and almighty mystery." — Nikos Kazantzakis

The Light and Dark of Creative Inspiration

When we voyage into the darkness and meet it with all of the strength and determination of all of the awareness that we can muster — when we meet darkness with love, we are deeply changed. I recently wrote a friend who is struggling with her own darker feelings, about how meeting the darkness within is just as important and creative as meeting the light of creative inspiration.

In fact my deepest inspirations and connections to life often come only after meeting my darker forces inside. I make every attempt meet my deeper, darker suffering with a trusting presence. I try to be still as I ache and in doing so, once the intensity of the darker feelings come to its own conclusion, I am profoundly deepened and I am made "larger." After meeting my own suffering with faith, I am always rewarded with a new energy and a fresh creative lease on life. The presence that it takes to meet a darker feeling with stillness becomes a part of me and allows me to meet life with more strength and responsibility.

We find out phenomenal things about ourselves when we explore our personally disowned and our more universal, unfathomable difficult feelings. Mostly we find inner strength and our true humanity. In our humanity, we find love for our families, our friends and our whole humankind. I know by looking at the darker corners of my own psyche, by holding space for my own suffering, fears and tremblings, I cannot rightfully judge anyone for anything. I have every possibility inside of my self.

Looking back 16 years ago I can see that I was continuously trying to quiet my darker thoughts and the deeper, darker rumbling feelings, so I could create freely and be the artist I envisioned being. But I had to go through a journey of presence with them first. The long walks helped tame my anxious mind and dissipated the more difficult feelings underneath my thoughts.

I so wanted to tap into my true creativity, and I was frustrated by my lack of focus. Something begged me to express myself beyond the need for perfection. I beat myself up a lot back then about my lack of ability to remain intuitive and creatively aware as an artist. I was angry about being "taken over" by my unruly feelings. I thought ideally I should feel good and positive all of the time.

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