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Integrating the Shadow © Shelley Klammer
Shelley Klammer : Creativity and the Shadow

Creativity and the Shadow

By Shelley Klammer

I facilitate an art program for adults with acquired brain injuries and I love it! It is as if most people in my class have their censorship buttons turned off. I find their honesty utterly refreshing. They are very open about expressing themselves and display very little self-judgment and shame. During one class I had them draw their "inner demon." One woman drew a woman with devil's ears and a crack pipe coming out of her mouth. Perhaps it is a matter of survival after a brain injury to need to express all aspects of the self so as not to return to former destructive patterns. Repressed feelings accumulate and it requires a significant amount of energy to keep them tranquilized.

Working with people with acquired brain injuries has led me to question what is "bad" and what is acceptable. I am continuously laughing at the uncensored banter that flies back and forth as we are making art. It opens me up, it delights me and it frees me. Being a spontaneous artist is about breaking down the boundaries and to find freedom beyond narrow codes of behavior. The relief and aliveness that comes from having a safe place to let go of having to be "acceptable" in order to be loved is enormous. We are all dying to express our feelings and if we do not we will stop living in so many ways.

Amidst all of the bold conversations, one former gang member in my class looked at me and asked, "What do you think of us sister?" I told him that I loved how open they all are. When I teach spontaneous collage and painting to the general public it sometimes takes a good while for people to relax their well-cultivated social personas. We generally spend a good deal of energy trying to "keep it all together." What we do not realize is if we let down our guard and express the shadow it immediately loses it's power over us. Embarrassment is a good sign. We can choose to be intrigued and curious when forbidden feelings or images come up in our art. This invites acceptance and clears away the blocked energy that may be holding us back from living our fullest life.

I often ask people "What feelings were you not allowed to feel when you were growing up?" What is forbidden for one person my have absolutely no emotional charge for another. This is encouraging. It means the world will not end if we express our feelings. We may feel forbidden to feel anger or sadness or sexual feelings. We might feel that it is forbidden to be vulnerable or passionate or strong. Each one of us holds an accumulation of repressed and forbidden feelings inside. Uncensored expression spontaneously clears away the pockets of pain and darkness that we struggle so hard to keep down.

I encourage all of my students to explore the forbidden in their art. Following our intuition and having the courage to express what feels unacceptable is about standing up strongly for who we truly are. It is like peeling away the layers of an onion. Gradually we can see in tangible form all the levels of fears and conditioning that cover up our most passionate and essential selves. •

© Shelley Klammer, 2006. All rights reserved.

Shelley KlammerShelley Klammer is a Registered Professional Counselor and an Expressive Art Facilitator. More »

8/4/06