The Handless Maiden

feelings-switch_269Last week, I wrote about owning your own shadow. This week, I’ve been reading Robert A. Johnson’s book on The Fisher King and The Handless Maiden and again, it’s resonating. Hands, writing, feelings….

We’ve done a weird inversion of the feeling and the rational. We increasingly replace rational solutions on a societal level – the way we regulate our schools, businesses and so on – with the singular litmus test of feeling good, regardless of whether it is effective, smart or makes sense.  Meanwhile, many of us are cut off from our feelings on the micro or personal level and that is when lives feel empty and fill with all the -isms and addictions. Nature abhors a vacuum.

Johnson describes the devil’s bargain at its worst: we want relatedness, but we will not give relatedness. Something for nothing. To gain a bargain at the expense of some inner value is extremely dangerous. Easier, faster, more is the great seduction of the modern mind.

“One faces the devil’s bargain frequently when planning the structure of one’s day. How much can one crowd into the day? How much can I get with minimum payment? How many times in the day does feeling (the daughter’s hands) take second place to practicality? How many days go by without music or the gym or a sunset walk?”

This leads to the lottery mentality of overnight success. Artistry requires time, effort, often pain and suffering… the more uncomfortable feelings.  Here’s Leonard Cohen on writing “Hallelujah“:

“The only advice I have for young songwriters is that if you stick with a song long enough, it will yield. But long enough is not any fixed duration, its not a week or two, its not a month or two, its not necessarily even a year or two. If a song is to yield you might have to stay with it for years and years. ‘Hallelujah’ was at least five years. I have about 80 verses. I just took verses out of the many that established some sort of coherence. The trouble that I find is that I have to finish the verse before I can discard it. So that lengthens the process considerably.

“I filled two notebooks with the song, and I remember being on the floor of the Royalton Hotel, on the carpet in my underwear, banging my head on the floor and saying, “I can’t finish this song.”

Discipline is required to give one time to work, but there’s the balance of allowing time for the unexpected, for honoring the generative part where the creativity bubbles up. It is one of the reasons Julia Cameron prescribes the Artist Date in her book, The Artist’s Way.

Fill the well. Allow feelings to surface. Write them, perform them honestly and you can help heal the world.

Owning your shadow


Perhaps since it’s October and Halloween is just around the corner, the dark, the spooky, the unseen are more on my mind. Robert A. Johnson, a Jungian psychologist, wrote a slim book, Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche that is very helpful for artists. He’s also the author of She, He, and The Fisher King and the Handless Maiden. Most of the circles I spend time in are made up of artists of one kind or another: writers, actors, improvisers, musicians and so on.  Most are functioning perfectly well to all outward appearances, but I’d wager most carry a heavy shadow. With a large measure of creativity apparently comes a large shadow.

Every artist I’ve met deals with depression and loneliness at one time or another, some nearly all of the time. Some also act out or have difficulties in a variety of relationships. In his book, Johnson writes:

“A friend asked me recently why so many creative people have such a miserable time of it. History abounds with stories of shocking or eccentric behavior among the great. Narrow creativity always brings a narrow shadow with it, while broader talents call up a greater portion of the dark. Schumann, the composer, went mad; the world knows about the very dark side of Picasso’s life; and everyone hears stories about local geniuses with their unusual habits. While those with the largest talent seems to suffer most, we all must be aware of how we use our creativity – and of the dark side that accompanies our gifts. To make a work of art, to say something kind, to help others, to beautify the house, to protect the family – all these acts will have an equal weight on the opposite side of the scale and can lead us into sin. We cannot refuse our creativity or stop expressing ourselves in this way; yet we can be aware of this dynamic and make some small but conscious gesture to compensate for it.”

The talented Justine Musk has also written about this in her post on the heroine’s journey.  You can hear her read at Roar Shack on November 10 at 826LA in Echo Park, CA.