Sometimes I feel like creating, often writing, yet am unable to do so. It’s generally because there is some other expression of my heart and Soul that is crucial for me to communicate at that time. Perhaps I need to be with and journal about something, a dream, a situation, emotion or an experience. Other times, a critical part of self, or sub-personality, judges my writing and work as imperfect, unworthy, somehow lacking or deficient, and so on. At those times I use Voice Dialogue or an Expressive Arts technique to explore the issue.
Clarissa Pinkola Estés in her book, “Women who Run with the Wolves,” writes about nourishing the creative life. She describes the difficulty some women have in creating, due to challenges in the development of their animus.
I would describe the animus as an unconscious creative force within a woman that allows a left-hemisphere based ability to determine and execute a series of tasks to fulfill a larger goal. Of course, the drive of the animus, whether you consider it masculine or not, is highly influenced by right-hemisphere expression (emotion, vision, intuition) which could be considered more feminine energies.
Gifted women, even as they reclaim their creative lives, even as beautiful things flow from their hands, from their pens, from their bodies, still question whether they are writers, painters, artists, people, real ones. And of course, they are real ones even though they might like to bedevil themselves with what constitutes with what constitutes “real.” A farmer is a real farmer when she looks out over the land and plans the spring crops. A runner is real when she takes the first step, a flower it real when it is yet in its mother stem, a tree is real when it is still a seed in the pinecone. An old tree is a real living being. Real is what has life.
~Clarissa Pinkola Estés
That quote is from the section of the book called Clear Water: Nourishing the Creative Life. It describes in great detail this “masculine-within-the-feminine” that offers access to our ability to take creative and other action. A fascinating part of this section of her book are the paragraphs which cover what it is like when a woman is afflicted with a negative animus and starts and stops without finishing (projects, classes, activities, and so on).
Estés writes that, “These are the deformed life forms. These are La Llorona’s poisoned children.” La Llorona is a story about a woman who drowns her children by throwing them in a river and dies of grief on the riverbank but when she goes to heaven learns that she cannot stay there until she returns to the river and recovers the souls of her children (the story is recounted in full in this chapter and Estés describes the meaning of the metaphor and its application to the creative life of women today). She writes that the story is all about “the weakening and the wasting of a woman’s creative process.” Essentially the story is a warning to women, a moral tale about what will happen if we do not protect our creative expression. In the story, the woman, her two sons, and even the river itself (her creative flow) die or are poisoned.
The chapter goes on to describe the importance of keeping our creative river clear, not muddying it by allowing some sub-personality, or force with us, even our animus, to take over and create for impure reasons. Further in the chapter you can read about the “negative animus” and how it poisons a woman’s ability to create.
I don’t know what the correlate is like for men, related to the anima; though I am certain there Estés book could be useful to a male creative.
However, whatever one’s gender, when an individual cannot conceptualize and create to fruition, they have an opportunity for transformation or healing. As Estés writes, for women, “here something is wrong with the animus and therefore the ability to manifest and implement one’s ideas in the world.” I love what she writes about how we deal with the issue of a negative animus.
We have to go into the sludge and look for it all. Like La Llorona, we have to drag the river for our soul-life, for our creative lives. And one more thing, also difficult: We must clean up the river so La Llorona can see, so she and we can find the souls of the children and be at peace to create again.
~Clarissa Pinkola Estés
The thing about a damaged, or negative, animus is that it poisons anything a woman starts to create. Like an inner critic, it contaminates a woman’s consciousness with belief that her work is not enough and so on. Curiously, when I was typing the quote above, at first I typed “Real is what is left.” (The correct phrase was, “Real is what has life.”) What an interesting Freudian slip that I made in typing. Truly what has life is alive and yet it also remains, it is left (meaning residual or present). That could be an experience, an idea, creative or otherwise, and so on.
In reflecting upon the typo further, I conclude that the parapraxis points to the residual that is real for me. What is residual, which can contaminate and is a real threat to my creativity and heart and Soul expression, is often old trauma and/or painful life experiences. I know that sometimes I have had such grief, pain, upset, fear, and so on, about childhood and other challenging life experiences, that it was necessary to access, process, and release those to unblock my creative flow. My river was polluted and releasing emotional, mental, and other debris, in expressive arts, writing, journaling, or otherwise, was required–before my river of creativity could express anything else.
The key aspect to animus development is actual manifestation of inner thoughts, impulses, and ideas.
~Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Estés specifies that we must be “wild” to clean up our polluted river of creative flow. To censor nothing. To stream ideas, expression, creative works. To strengthen and cultivate our animus we must exercise it, Estés writes. We must protect it by allotting time for creativity, setting strong creative boundaries, so that we can craft our “real work.” Her recipe for nourishing the creative life requires: time, belonging, passion and sovereignty. When we create a life that nourishes our creativity, and re-build our (or “seat a new”) animus, our river of creativity flows and we are free to create. It is in balancing the left and right hemispheres of the neocortex and cultivating our receptive (feminine) and active (masculine) ways of being and expressing in the world that facilitates creative and/or word flow.