Awhile ago, I wrote about creating an authentic life and I discovered recently that I have a big blind spot with my own authenticity and it took a total stranger to point it out. In my own life, I’m generally pretty straight forward about my thoughts and feelings and I thought that I had become more “authentic” but where I had a blind spot is in my writing. (For those of you who don’t know, I write poetry and I also have an interest in writing fiction). Recently, I submitted some poetry and work to a creative writing professor to see if I could be accepted into a creative writing course next year. I’m only in my first year of university so truthfully, I wasn’t expecting to be accepted, but I tried anyway. To my disappointment, I found out that I had not been accepted into the course but I decided to contact the professor anyway to see if he could give me some tips on my writing. What I didn’t realize is that our twenty minute meeting would change my life.
In our meeting, he looked at my poetry and told me that he had liked one of the poems (it was about a healing experience in a Native sweat lodge ceremony), but that overall, my writing was missing something. He pointed out that my writing is idealistic and it comes across as optimistic and uplifting. Doesn’t sound too bad right? Well, he went deeper than that. For example, why am I trying to uplift myself or others in my writing? Why can’t I go deeper than that in my writing instead of just talking about things on the surface? Sometimes life really is “that” bad. Life is full of good experiences, and bad ones and he explained that to write well, I need to put everything into it. He told me that I need to find my shadow side and not be afraid to express everything. He explained that in his course, the students “strip down” so much in their writing that by the end of the course they are having “naked lunch.” What he spoke about was courageously putting everything into writing so that you become almost vulnerable and raw in the process. It reminded me of a quote I once read about learning to “bleed from the page” which is about not being afraid to write about the things that hurt you, or the things that scare you. Sometimes that can be your best writing!
What he said to me was so profound because I realized that I was trying to uplift myself and others through my writing and that my blind spot was that I didn’t want to see negativity… At all… I realized after our conversation that being authentic means embracing all aspects of life – the good and the bad, and not being afraid to talk about it all. I feel like somehow over the years, I received the “message” that it wasn’t okay to talk about negative things. I’ve had a bit of an addiction to self-help gurus and books and although this may be a bit of a generalization, I now realize that one blind spot for self-help is that the person who is writing/speaking creates this image of someone who is always positive and living life to the fullest. I really admired that and I think that I wanted to create that type of life for myself. But, over the years, I’ve met some of the people that I’ve looked up to and admired and I’ve discovered… (surprise!)… They are human!! They can be shy, self conscious, and have a bad day. But, the image that they portray can sometimes be different. I guess it wouldn’t sell books if we discovered that the person who is selling a “happy life” isn’t always fulfilled.
I watched a really good movie once called The Shadow Effect which (as the title suggests) talks about embracing your shadow side and how there can beauty in it. For example, anger can be both a negative and positive force depending on how you channel it. Sometimes we need to be angry if someone mistreats us and sometimes anger can power a whole revolution. I think that when we don’t acknowledge our shadow side, it can become repressed and it can come out in subtle ways. It can be scary and uncomfortable to look at the thoughts or things that we don’t like about ourselves.
After my twenty minute conversation with the writing professor, I realized that to be authentic, I will have to stop holding back in my writing and I’ll need to express everything – the good, the bad, and all the shades of grey. On a deeper level, I’m also learning how to (as the Buddhists would say) “transcend and include” my own shadow side into my life. It is amazing how a conversation with a complete stranger can awaken and inspire something that was unconsciously hidden.
- Strawberry Woman