Over ten years ago I ran a business networking group for creatives.
It seemed to attract ‘conflicted’ people.
People who had a job – maybe working in a bank or an insurance company – but who had an artistic talent.
Someone who wanted to be a writer or a portrait painter or a photographer, but couldn’t see how to make a living out of it.
It was quite pioneering.
One of the rituals that was part of the meeting was to go round the room and say who they were and what their creative thing was.
Some members really disliked that part of the meeting.
When I decided to withdraw from the group, the new leader stopped these introductions. (It wasn’t fair, if some people didn’t want to do it)
The group lasted another year before fizzling out.
That speaking ritual not only bound the members together, (I’m still friends with many of the people I met) it also created a problem for those who went through with it.
If you’re brave enough to reveal an inner conflict you’ve got – in front of 30 people – it makes you feel it more deeply.
It gnaws away at your consciousness: you’re saying this: why aren’t you doing it?
The process of standing up in front of a group and saying who you are has an impact on your perception of yourself.
Last year I went to a workshop called The Mastery of Self-Expression.
At the time I didn’t know what I’d signed up for.
In retrospect, it created a more profound experience of this dynamic.
On the first night, I stood up and introduced myself as a self-effacing dad, speechwriter and entrepreneur, who has overcome a few problems in his life, and has now settled down to a quiet life in Bournemouth.
On the second night, we had to do our ‘audition’, which gives the leaders the insights to work with you.
I chose a dark German poem, chiefly because I learnt it in the 6th form and it only needed a moderate amount of effort to rememorise.
I was delighted that I was able to recite almost word perfect and have some fun delivering it.
The leaders, who are highly trained, invited me to push my boundaries.
(NB: The trainers at the Mastery gave us many warnings that we needed to look after ourselves very carefully during and after the workshop. The exercises were in a theatrical context. And what came out, came from me.)
They got me to perform the poem a second time.
I picked up a banana for a gun. I got the audience to sit cross-legged at the front and I played a prison guard.
I loved it. It was hilarious. It brought out the ‘demonic’ elements to the poem. And the audience passed me notes saying they loved it, too.
I took away the impression that I was much more engaging as the prison guard than as the mild-mannered dad I introduced myself as on the Friday night.
The problem is that I’ve been disorientated ever since.
I want to get back to my quiet life before The Mastery.
But who was that monster who emerged from my consciousness on the Saturday night?
I excavated a dogmatic, angry and aggressive part of my personality.
They call it getting in touch with your ‘shadow’ side.
Carl Jung wrote:
“The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognising the dark aspects of the personality as present and real.”
If my perception changes of myself changes, it follows that I will see the world differently and react to it differently.
This may all begin to sound a bit intense (my wife is afraid I got involved in some kind of cult.)
But the consequences are more mundane.
Acceptance that I have a ‘dark side’ makes me feel more effective.
I feel less need for response or recognition.
Back when I ran the creative group, I was unpopular among some people because I insisted everyone should speak in public.
That was a bit dictatorial. But it was a good thing. I pushed my colleagues to do something they didn’t feel comfortable doing, but it had many benefits, and over time, they could see that.
My political, intellectual and mild-mannered side says, The Mastery of Self-Expression is what’s needed by my speechwriting clients.
Sure I can find the words, the structures and the jokes, but this workshop gets you into the deep stuff that helps you find out what makes you unique and what truth you have to communicate to others.
And my pushy/evangelical/salesman side says, I’M GOING TO PERSUADE THEM TO HAVE THIS FANTASTIC EXPERIENCE!