I spent a beautiful week in the red rocks of Sedona AZ and the Grand Canyon. Tea and coffee with sunrises. Painting with daylight. Smoke with sunsets. Colors crescendoed all around from subtlety to fanfare and back again.
While the golden mountains stopped me in my tracks, it was in the luminescent blues and purples of their shadows where I just lost myself. I just handed myself over and said "Take me." What more could I do? The shadows were exquisite, as though the sky were reaching into the land to swaddle the rocks forgotten by the sun. Those dark nooks and crannies lured me into their mystery, and my own.
In many spiritual practices, there is something called shadow work. Shadow work is a practice of facing, and transforming the parts of ourselves that are operating from a wound, a "dark" place. When we operate from a wound or trauma we are living through unsupportive patterns and dynamics. It feels awful, or at the very least, uncomfortable. It can feel like darkness.
The shadow is often misunderstood because it's uncomfortable to face. We cast judgement on our darkness. We call it bad or wrong, something that needs to be fixed or hidden. This judgement causes us to push this part of ourself away and ignore it because deep down we fear that if part of us is wrong, all of us is wrong. But the judgement that creates this wrongness is self inflicted (though societally perpetuated) and it's a construct of illusion. If we drop the illusion we can cast our story in any way we choose. We accept what is, and move forward from there.
Our shadow is a dark side of us and it will always present a choice. We can continue in the old predictable patterns (careful not to mistake predictability for comfort) or we can write a new, more aligned story for the person we've become today and the person we want to become tomorrow. The patterns we live in are not always aligned with who we currently are. What are yours? What we cannot afford to do, is to go on ignoring the mystery of our own darkness and thus ignoring the wisdom and ease (yes, I said ease) that comes from embracing the vulnerability and the wounded Self that hides in the shadows. Embracing the shadow is akin to voyaging the seas in search of treasure, and it's the waves of emotion that you must navigate.
Dancing with My Shadow
I want to ride the waves of emotion in the spaces between, where water mists into air and light refracts into color. A rainbow showing every rolling nuance of movement. To surf the waves, I have to respect the power they hold. I have to humble myself to work with them and their natural movement. I have to acknowledge that I am strong enough to hang in there. And I have to accept that there will be times when the wave knocks me under, and I'll eventually come up gasping for air. I will not drown.* I will rise again to catch the next wave. Because it's when I ride the waves of emotion that I feel the most ALIVE.
My shadow has a consciousness the same as I do and it wants to communicate. If I resist I'll become rigid and fall of balance. If I soften and listen, I find a voice of the true emotion every time. "I'm hurt, I'm sad, I'm angry, I feel forgotten, invisible, trapped, unloved, taken for granted, and what else?" These are just some of the shadowy parts that we ALL feel. At times we may even feel rage, violence and hate, and underneath it all is hurt, pain, sadness, and fear. What is underneath is delicate and gentle. Fear is complex, resourceful, and a ferocious protector - sometimes at any cost.
Knowing the Shadow Through Color
My darkness, my shadow, has gorgeous nuances of color to it. Today, my pain has a background of deep purples. Anger sends striations of red and yellow, softening to pinks. Loneliness, a green haze. Hope glows golden with green undertones of reluctancy. Doubt, a gray and black fog. Feeling taken advantage of turns a dull, icy blue. Desperation is a rainbow of chaotic color, seeking grounding and holding. And there is so. much. more... beauty.
There is infinite color in human experience, which includes both beauty and pain.
Each emotion holds a specific frequency. Each color holds a specific frequency. As I weave color into the interpretation of my emotions I receive a more specific frequency and understanding of who I am and how I feel in this moment. Color lets me feel what I cannot put to words (because how often do we articulate our pain perfectly? Really.). Giving color to the nuances of feeling brings accuracy and puts us in harmony with our true and valid emotions. Feeling for color helps me to feel my truth more clearly and generate compassion and self love. Color brings more information, creates relationship, and gives a voice to the conscious shadow that, at the end of the day, just wants to be loved.
A Colorful Invitation
We all experience our shadow every day in small and large ways. No matter how hard you try to run away, your shadow will always keep pace. I invite you to feel for the color in your shadow. To acknowledge the hue of your vulnerability, your anger, your sadness and see it all as valuable. Ask yourself why this color has arisen, and let it inform you of the emotions and memories it holds. Then feel for how it/you need to be loved by yourself to let this transform. No matter what happens, call it what it is, beautiful. And just love it. All color is beautiful.
Here's to finding wisdom in the shadows and ALIVENESS on the waves.
*A note on not Drowning: in 2007 I was swimming in the Pacific and was swept out in a riptide. I was loosing strength and struggling to stay afloat. I remember locking eyes with a mountain as the fear flashed through me. "Is this really it? Is this how I'm going to die?" Another wave hit. I went under. Then emerged, choking on sea water. I fixed my gaze on the mountain and said, or maybe I heard, "No. I will not die here today." (Perhaps it wasn't so elegantly said, since I was busy drowning! but the same sentiment.) The mountain heard me. And in that moment jet skis pulled in behind me, a lifeguard appeared. I was pulled from the water and dragged to the beach where I promptly collapsed like a soggy noodle.
There is always a chance to choose something different. It's not final until it's final.
I will not drown. I will also not swim in the pacific again :D Sticking to emotional waves ;)
Creation yields vulnerability. As I type that word I can feel the collective cringe. Vulnerability is a hard state to be in, regardless of whether it's witnessed within oneself or by an audience. It requires tremendous courage, bravery and trust to allow oneself to be seen when vulnerable. I admire those who can lay themselves bare, raw, and open.
Many see vulnerability as an absence of power, as a victimhood. However it takes a powerful individual to be so open, and an equally powerful individual to hold the vulnerability of others with gentleness and compassion. This power is an innately feminine energy, a divergence from our predominantly masculine understanding of power as dominance. (I'm not talking men v. women, I'm talking specifically about the energy of the feminine and masculine that we all have within us.)
Many people despise vulnerability. They reject it in others as they reject it within themselves. Many subscribe to beliefs that tears make you weak, compromise is submission, and susceptibility to pain makes you inferior. I do not subscribe to this assaulting belief system.
I believe in the power of the feminine; that tears are as valuable as diamonds, compromise is an act of service and creation, and pain is fuel for empathy and passion.
I believe that vulnerability is powerful.
Since arriving at my residency at Art Hub 2 weeks ago, I've acknowledged tremendous changes occurring within myself and my life. I've oscillated between overt strength and vulnerability. I've been flooded with intensity; laughter, anger, sadness, guilt, glee and more. As a result, I've also flooded with tremendous soft power. I'm not talking about resilience against the odds, I'm talking about a power that needs no opponent to stand tall.
This power has found color in my work.
On Thursday I sat in the studio, unrest stirring within. Instead of reacting to my unrest with a dramatic flailing of paint at a large canvas, I sat with a small page and some watercolors. I felt into the pain and agitation that was surfacing. What's the color? With which brush? And what mark? I pressed the brush into the rice paper, fusing fibers with wet purple pigment. I leaned back and watched, as the paint slowly. slowly. dried. I felt the purple blob on the page, and began to write; anything that came up in response, until I knew what needed to happen next.
Soon, another mark, followed by the same feeling, writing. I allowed myself to move slowly through my unrest so I might know it, myself, better. In the past I would have raced through the discomfort of my emotions, hoping that I could get it over with, or purge it from my system. Today, the slow quiet space that I offered my inner unrest proved to be what it needed. By serving the unrest, I served myself. The entanglement of discomfort unravelled into threads of curiosity, information about my emotions, needs, desires, wonderings an onward.
I met myself in a purple splotch.
I hung these pieces on the studio wall with no explanation. A mentally ill person wandered into our public studio and said "I really feel the depth in your paintings." To me, that means I'm doing something right.
Deep presence with my inner rumblings offered me gifts, the Truths I needed to lean-in to hear. Space and permission to be was required. Any effort to purge the discomfort would have been a passive, quiet robbing of my Truth.
To Create is to be vulnerable. Everytime.
Please give yourself permission to feel deeply, to be vulnerable. Your bravery in doing so may be the permission another person needs to crack open and see themselves, and even love themselves.
I'm hitting the road and rolling 'cross country to Kingman Arizona!
September through December I'll be one of the Artists in Residence at the Art Hub Residency. As a resident I'll have a living and studio space to call my own for three months! I'll offer 3 workshops in addition to dedicating myself to to personal creative works.
What will that personal work be? I'm not telling! (because I don't know yet.) Check back to find out! In the meantime, follow my creative adventures here and on Instagram @AnnaFoxRyan. Knowing me, it will be a cocktail of beauty, spirit and oddities. Cheers.
While I'm in Arizona I'll also be traveling to give oil painting lectures for Gamblin Artist Colors. Check out my workshop page to see when and where you can catch the presentations.
But before any of this happens, I'm packing the bus and road tripping to Arizona with my friend (and yoga teacher extraordinaire) Vic. Fire ceremonies all the way! See you on Instagram!
About My bloggy-blog
I think life is a pretty creative experience. In life, our primary tools for creation are intention, desire and choice. How we act is how we create. At the end of the day, what are we making?