Buried by the Shadow: Lessons from Baudelaire

Having just read a piece of historical fiction called Black Venus by James MacManus, I have been left at once saddened, uplifted, more informed about the French poet Charles Baudelaire and perhaps also a little wiser on the work of shadow energies in our lives. In the midst of public horror and ridicule, this gifted but tormented artist had the courage to face and describe the human shadow through its many manifestations in his personal life (much like James Joyce would do a century later). It is this window of identification and therefore the sense that we are not alone in our experiences that is, I believe, one of the massive attributes of literature, indeed all forms of expression. These ideas are also tied in with my current interests in creativity and mental health recovery and promotion, as well as with previous musings on the role of the shadow within a Jungian approach to personal maturation.

That literature and Jungian ideas overlap is inevitable. Jung emphasised the symbolic nature of human thought and imagination, as did Baudelaire and Manet. A muse was often a source of both inspiration and projection for the artist, a dynamic that may well be present in all our lives – who hasn’t ever had a hero or a guru or some other personified source of inspiration and motivation?

 

But to truly move onwards in  the hero’s journey of our life course, it is essential to incorporate and balance all the archetypal energies, of which the dark shadow is only one. The self-acceptance required remains elusive and unthinkable still for many of us and therefore while we might take the necessary step of acknowledging the shadow’s terrifying existence in ourselves, we must also avoid disowning and projecting it, or conversely, allowing it to swallow and destroy us. I fear that Baudelaire may have been devoured by his own shadow, a force he projected into his muses and possibly detected in himself but was unable to fully accept with compassion and therefore was ultimately unable to constructively channel it.

Like many before and since, Baudelaire went relatively unappreciated in his own time but is now recognised for his visionary genius and his initiation (with the painter Manet) of a whole new world of symbolism, modernist literature and the impressionist artistic oeuvre. T. S. Eliot, who wrote the groundbreaking modernist work The Wastelandcited Baudelaire as having paved the way for him and as the inspiration behind his poetry.

While the nihilism of these writers might be something of a blind alley if taken alone, and for many an all-too-shocking description of human nature, they did at least move towards a more authentic insight into that nature, if ultimately a too-pessimistic and destructive one. From  more recent work on the shadow as being both dark and light, we can embrace the shadow as having something to teach us, as gifting us with the potential for liberation and motivation, while living alongside the inherent potential danger.

It is unclear whether or not Baudelaire reached a level of self acceptance and accommodation. Certainly by all accounts he struggled and suffered but also experienced episodes of joy and happiness  in his life. I suspect we are all dancing a similar dance and can only hope that through literature, compassion, empathy and all the many forms of self-expression we can find, we can each give and take encouragement with our fellow journey-makers. Whether or not we manage to face, own and constructively channel our own shadow aspect is possibly the chief deciding factor of our mental health and well-being, perhaps even one of the  core tasks of our lives.

The novel Black Venus  by James MacManus is and excellent read by the way (follow the link at the start of this post).

My book is available now in the UK, USA and on Palgrave and Amazon sites:

Creativity and Social Support in Mental Health: Service Users’ Perspectives (Palgrave 2014)

 

images: Top: Charles Baudelaire by Emile Deroy

and Second image is T.S.Eliot photo by Lady Ottoline Morrell

 

 

Along the Way with Author Roberta McDonnell, PhD

So enjoyed my conversation with Sandra Harriette whose blog A Life Inspired is itself truly inspiring and full of beautiful uplifts and motivational resources. Thanks Sandra, a pleasure to chat with you.

A Life Inspired

There are a good number of people who obtained schooling and professional training in a field. What never ceases to motivate me is the fact that some of them are willing to share what they know and do it so creatively. Roberta McDonnell is that kind of person. Having started in the mental health nursing field, then onto full time education to study psychology and social anthropology on a doctoral level, Roberta decided to begin a blog on the experiences she had and the people she encountered throughout her careers. Several of her publications can be found there. She remarks: “These experiences have shaped my interests and inspirations today and I draw continually from those resources in current writings as well as in ideas for future projects.” Roberta is led by the conviction that literature in all formats is a priceless human gift and her utmost contributions in her field are…

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Creative Mental Health: Soul Spelunker: Thoughts On Heideggers Being And Time

Creative Mental Health: Soul Spelunker: Thoughts On Heideggers Being And Time.

This post from Mark Dotson’s Depth Psychology blog Soul Spelunker was reblogged on my own blogger site a few months ago, as I found it helpful in my attempts to understand existential and phenomenological psychology (I don’t pretend to have totally grasped it even yet, but I think I’m moving in the right direction!).

Lived experience is a concept gaining ground in mental health research. It is, however, not easy to define. In the post linked above, I found some helpful explanations of Hegel and  Heidegger’s vision of ‘being’ in terms of organic and developmental processes. Rather than the dominant approach of subject/object division, the concept of Dasein reflects a more holistic state of being in the world. From this theoretical stance it is then possible to discuss lived experience as an investigable phenomenon and so drive forward a more humanistic approach to research, evaluation, practice and policy.

Other authors whose work on ‘meaning making’ added to this repertoire included Rollo May,

Creative Mental Health: Soul Spelunker: Thoughts On Heideggers Being And Time

Eric Maisel,

Creative Mental Health: Soul Spelunker: Thoughts On Heideggers Being And Time

and Arthur Kleinman.

Creative Mental Health: Soul Spelunker: Thoughts On Heideggers Being And Time

My motivation for this search for understanding comes from my background in qualitative research and mental health. The concepts of ‘lived experience’, ‘ways of being’ and ‘phenomenology’ or ‘worldview’ were already firmly planted in my mind from anthropology and ethnography. The fact that humans ‘make meaning’ and form cultural matrices within which to affirm and manifest our existence had also taken root, mainly during the interpretive analysis of my fieldwork and other research material.

Most recently I have discovered the work of Mick Bramham in existential phenomenological psychotherapy, work which has really cranked up my understanding of these concepts by at least ten gears. I do encourage anyone interested to visit that site and to look as well at the work of Rollo May and Eric Maisel.

For any researchers seeking a theoretical and methodological approach that focuses on lived experience and making meaning, I recommend beginning with anthropology and in particular with Arthur Kleinman’s The Illness Narratives.

Happy Reading 🙂

The Inspirational Ruby Wax

SANE NEW WORLD is a wonderful book image of book cover, Sane New World by Ruby Wax, 2013by Ruby Wax, a gift to us all. In a previous article by Ms Wax in The Guardian  she openly describes her experiences and insights into mental health difficulties and recoveries, specifically with depressive episodes. Here she is in her inimitable gripping, ironic prose, ‘depression isn’t about having a bad hair day. In actuality it feels like your old personality has left town and you’ve been replaced by a block of cement; indifferent if you win the lottery or fall off a cliff.’ Ms Wax goes on to reflect that shame sets in alongside well-meaning but ill-informed advice to ‘perk up’, that is until you discover fellow sufferers with whom you identify and both give and get empathy – social support in action. But that support should be more widely available and built into society, she argues, in the form of walk-in centres and the regular availability of places to meet and mentor on the AA model. Her vision resonates well with the central thesis of my upcoming book entitled Creativity and Social Support in Mental Health: Service Users’ Perspectives (Palgrave). My main findings with day centre clients were the importance of having  somewhere to go and something to do every day, as well as routine and reliable social support. There is such a lot going on, awareness is growing, stigma is dissolving (slowly, we must keep at it). This blog will join the groundswell and hopefully contribute useful ideas and observations or at least help to bring voices together. Please feel free to add comments and suggestions. Thanks for looking in and until next time, look after your mental health 🙂

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