Saturday, October 22, 2011

Tips for Accessing your Creative Spirit

Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils and Rewards of Artmaking makes for a fine companion to Lawrence Staples’ The Creative Soul: Art and the Quest for Wholeness. If you are looking to tap into your own creative spirit, both of these fine publications will help.

Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils and Rewards of Artmaking
by David Bayles and Ted Orland
ISBN 978-0961454739. Trade Paperback, 122 pages

What is your art really about?
Where is it going?
What stands in the way of getting there?

These are questions that matter, questions that recur at each stage of artistic development - and they are the source for this volume of wonderfully incisive commentary.

Art and Fear explores the way art is created, and the reasons it often does not get created, and the nature of the difficulties that cause so many artists to give up along the way. This is a book about what it feels like to sit in your studio or classroom, at your wheel or keyboard, easel or camera, trying to do the work you need to do. It is about committing your future to your own hands, placing Free Will above predestination, choice above chance. It is about finding your own work.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

The Creative Seed

The Seed of a Creative Life

by Lawrence Staples,
author of The Creative Soul: Art and the Quest and Guilt with a Twist: The Promethean Way

Active imagination is a technique developed by C.G. Jung to help amplify, interpret, and integrate the contents of our dreams. When approached by way of writing, active imagination is like writing a play. One takes, for example, a figure that has appeared in one’s dreams. Usually, these figures express a viewpoint quite the opposite of one’s normal conscious view. Sometimes it is a male or female, shadow figure. At other times, it may be a feminine, anima, or maternal figure.

One starts to converse with the figure in writing. One challenges the dream figure and lets him/her challenge the dreamer. The dreamer asks the figure why he appeared in the dream. He asks the figure what it wants from him. Then, the ego, like a playwright, puts himself as best he can into the figure’s shoes and tries to express it and defend its viewpoint. There ensues a dialogue between the writer and the opposite figure in his dream or piece of writing. With practice one can become accomplished at expressing both viewpoints, just as a playwright does. One gets better at this the more one does it.

The technique of active imagination tends to detach the qualities and traits that are first seen in a dream or in a story as belonging to external persons, and coming to see them as belonging to one’s self. Active imagination, then, helps the writer become conscious of his opposite qualities by forcing him to give voice to figures, like shadow figures, that carry qualities opposite those of his ego. These qualities personify the rejected opposites that are present in the unconscious. This technique helps recover them and make them available to the ego and consciousness without necessarily having to act them out.

Following is an impressive and rich example of the power of this technique to affect and even shape our lives. It’s an active imagination done by Mel Mathews when he was in his late thirties. He was an extremely successful salesman who was, nevertheless, unhappy with his work and life. Despite his high income, work had lost its meaning for him. He had entered Jungian analysis in order to help him out of his suffocating existence and find a new and different way. He had a powerful dream that he took to his analyst.

His analyst suggested he do active imagination with one of the figures in the dream. His is a beautiful example of active imagination that led to much more than a dialogue. It became the seed of a creative life that grew and flourished into a wholly new career. Out of his active imagination came a novel, LeRoi - Book 1 of The Chronicles of a Wandering Soul series, which was then followed by several other novels, including Menopause Man-Unplugged and SamSara.

The power of the active imagination is seen in the fact that it unearthed in Mel some deep hidden spring of creativity that suddenly gushed forth. Apparently, he had been living a life of suspended animation that lay there until some psychic prince awoke it. He had the following dream:

A woman was sitting in a diner, in a booth smoking. “Excuse me, I wonder if you could put your cigarette out?” I asked. She ignored me. A few minutes later she lit up again. I stood up, walked around to her booth, grabbed her pack of smokes and the ashtray and walked out the front door. I dumped the ashtray and stepped on her lit smoke; then, I dropped her pack and stomped them as well. I walked back inside, slammed the empty ashtray down on the coffee counter and sat down. A petite pony-tailed brunette walked up with the iced tea pitcher to refill my glass. “Can I have some more ice please?” “Sure,” she answered, “I’m sure (Flo) the boss-lady will be out in a minute,” the brunette said, as she turned around with my ice. “What does she want?” “You’ll have to ask her yourself.”

Mel discussed the dream with his analyst who suggested a dialogue with the boss-lady.

Following is his active imagination with Flo, the name of the boss-lady. This brief dialogue is to his novel what an acorn is to an oak tree. This brief dialogue apparently contained all the genetic codes necessary to make a novel just as an acorn has the genetic codes that lead to an oak tree.

Flo: Howdy.

Mel: Hi.

Flo: Purdy hot day, huh?

Mel: I can stand the heat. It’s the stray cigarette smoke that sets me off.

Flo: So that gives you the right to run off one of my regulars.

Mel: I asked her to put it out.

Flo: Did you ask her or did you beat around the bush with some rude indirect comment?

Mel: Lady, I don’t know who you are or what’s on your mind, but I really don’t need any more crap today.

Flo: Well kid right now you’re in my diner and you’re runnin’ off my patrons.

Mel: Oh great.

Flo: I’ve dealt with your kind for years so let’s just cut to the quick.

Mel: Look, lady, I’m sorry if I offended anybody here, but I’ve got some problems. My MG is broken down across the street.

Flo: So what?

Mel: Things just aren’t falling into place today.

Flo: Would you like some chocolate milk little boy, or how about your ass wiped? In this café, the world doesn’t revolve around you.

While the creative process is different for each individual, one can sometimes discern similarities. The seed that unleashed Mel’s creative process was a dream and a few sentences associated with the dream. His process bears some resemblance to the process by which Isak Dineson created her work.

Mel Mathews' development as a person and a writer is a wonderful testimony to the power of creativity to shape our lives and connect us to our souls. His dream and the dialogue that flowed from it to create LeRoi is an incredibly rich and impressive example of active imagination, as I understand it. His experience of active imagination is one of the most powerful examples I have ever witnessed. His dialogue with Flo seemed to unearth for him a huge reservoir of suspended animation that poured forth into the world and continues to flow. Actually, "Flo" and "flow" do seem somehow related. Mel's experience is enough to encourage therapists not only to use active imagination with their clients but also with themselves."

    Wednesday, September 28, 2011

    Snakes! Everyone should have at least one. . .

    Review by Mel Mathews

    Snakes, a novel by Patricia Damery

    Go West Young Lady! Love – Sex – Naiveté – Family – Values – Commitment – Betrayal . . . Patricia Damery weaves a seductive tale about life’s insoluble contradictions. A Midwestern farm girl leaves the confines of her family heritage and is transformed by life’s vicissitudes. Snake stories, symbols of transformation, are cleverly intertwined in this highly entertaining novel as Angela, the heroine, undergoes numerous rights of passages, and comes to terms with life - her life – exactly where, when, and how it unfolds. Highly recommended, Snakes is deeply rooted in Mother Earth—and Soul.

    Mel Mathews' book reviews have been published in USA Today and many other notable publications. Mel is the author of several novels, including the Malcolm Clay Trilogy (Fisher King Press). His books are available from your local bookstore, a host of on-line booksellers, or you can order them directly from his website at:

    © Mel Mathews - permission to reprint granted with a link back to

    Sunday, September 18, 2011

    SamSara and The Guilt Cure: a Homeopathic Remedy

    From Pennington & Staples The Guilt Cure:

    Early Wounds, Guilt and Repeating Patterns

    All of us carry psychic wounds that were inflicted in childhood. In order to be safe and to be loved, we cut off and repressed thoughts, feelings and behaviors that were unacceptable to our parents. It is this “cut” that wounds us. None of us escapes these wounds because there are no parents to whom all thoughts, feelings and behaviors are acceptable. No parent gets it right. We are prone to think that the parent who neglects us is more wounding than the one who is over-solicitous and attentive. Both wound us. The wounds are different but they both hurt.These wounds become our developmental deficiencies. Our life long challenge is to recover the rejected qualities in order to become whole and live fuller lives.

    Guilt lies behind these wounds. We avoid the unacceptable qualities in order to escape the painful guilt we are wired to experience when we violate parental values and wishes. And the behaviors we adopt early in life to avoid guilt, punishment and loss of love, continue throughout our lives as repeating patterns of behavior. If guilt is a necessity in life, then psychic wounds are also necessities. These necessary wounds determine the developmental path we must follow if we are to recover those cut off qualities and heal our wounds. We have to bear painful guilt if we are to become whole, just as we have to bear painful hunger if we are to lose weight.

    It is the urge to develop and become whole that lies behind our repeating patterns. One pattern that most people experience is the tendency to keep choosing a partner that has the same difficult qualities as the previous one. Usually we are attracted to someone opposite, someone who carries qualities that we ourselves can’t express. The persons we are attracted to may superficially seem different, but psychologically be much the same. For example, we may always be attracted to someone who is relatively unavailable. We then repeat the childhood experience we had with one or both of our parents.

    The way of dealing with the unavailability may differ from child to child. One sibling may react by clinging, by expressing its neediness, by clamoring for attention or complaining when it is insufficient. Another sibling may react just the opposite. He/she may resolve to become self-sufficient and demand little from the parent. This sibling may take care of the parent and learn that safety lies in being the good boy or girl who never creates a burden for the parent. The other demands to be taken care of and is a real burden to the parent.

    Later in life, these two are attracted to each other. One needs to be taken care of. The other needs to take care of someone. As it turns out, they are both needy. But both are unconscious of it and deny it. It’s the basis for the widespread phenomenon of co-dependency. It’s a secret collusion. On the surface, one feels angry and rejected if his every need isn’t being anticipated and met. But deep inside, he feels guilty because he feels unworthy of care and attention. Meanwhile, the other feels just the opposite. Consciously, she feels guilty if she isn’t anticipating and taking care of every need of the loved one. And underneath she may be filled with anger and resentment when her caretaking is not deemed satisfactory or is not appreciated. Her sense of self worth depends on proper acknowledgement of her efforts.

    The displeasure and dissatisfaction that arise actually give us a hint about how to break this pattern. After many painful experiences, we eventually discover that healing takes place when we can treat the partner as we have been treated. The healing element is almost always homeopathic. Rather than trying to get the partner to behave differently, we have to take on some of the very traits we thought we wanted them to change. We have to develop traits that we have spent a lifetime trying to avoid or deny. The always available person becomes less available. The always unavailable person become more attentive.

    In order to behave homeopathically, we have to do inner work in the shadow where our opposite qualities have been stored. We have to become very conscious of our own feelings. For example, a caretaker cannot become unavailable without experiencing guilt and anxiety. If we become conscious of our guilt and anxiety as it arrives, we can name it and bear it. If we resolve to bear those feelings, they will not last long. The same thing happens in dieting. If we are not watching our feelingscarefully, the hunger comes and we grab a cookie without reflection. If we feel and name the hunger just as it comes and resolve to bear it, the hunger will not last long.

    In Mel Mathews’ novel SamSara, we see that the hero, Malcolm Clay, is caught in a repeating pattern. He is always strongly attracted to women who are unavailable. He meets this beautiful woman named Kelli. Kelli is focused on her own work projects and is not readily available to others. Malcolm falls for her. Her behavior is random and intermittent. He never can reliably count on her showing up for a date or returning a call. Sometimes she will; sometimes she won’t. Her behavior drives Malcolm crazy as he chases her around the world. Eventually, he ends up in Ireland where she lives and he is repeatedly let down by this incredibly attractive woman.

    After much hurt and pain, Malcolm is finally able to let go. He does it with a homeopathic treatment. He gives her a dose of her own medicine. She invites him to meet for a drink at one of the local hangouts. When he sees her coming this time, he slips out the back door, gets on a train and heads for the airport. She arrives at the café and soon begins to call Malcolm trying to find out where he is. His phone rings just as the train approaches the air terminal, and he notices a young boy crying in his mother’s arms. “Hey kid, you’ve got a call,” he says, handing the whining boy the phone before stepping off the train.

    It is likely that Malcolm had to bear much anxiety and guilt in order to stand Kelli up. Malcolm values reliability, dependability and keeping his word. It makes him angry when others don’t behave the same way. But, in this moment, he had to save himself by finding in his unconscious a quality that had been put there long ago in order to safely traverse childhood. He had to become unavailable. Malcolm also had to suffer through much painful yearning, just as an alcoholic does when he gives up something that once made him feel good but later made him feel bad. And like an alcoholic who gives up alcohol, he has to spot the yearning the moment it begins, acknowledge it, name it and suffer it momentarily, perhaps several times until the yearning passes.