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  • Writer's picturePam Newton

The Shadow Dragon of Creative Blocks

by Pam Newton

August 2021

Hitting a creative block can come at the most inconvenient times. When this dragon lowers a

cold, spiny tail or blows its fiery breath, it feels as if there is no way to move forward. Lethargy, lack of enthusiasm, and self-deprecating internal remarks often accompany the blocked inspiration. It may seem as if there is no way to start. What is worse, there may be a performance deadline to meet and a rental fee for the studio space.

The question is,

How can I transform blocked energy into building blocks for my next project? Further, how can I free up whatever is putting me on hold? What is “en-tailed” in getting this dragon of my back?

The experts come up with various suggestions according to personal orientation and training. Each individual is a whole, but also a complicated mixture of imagination, physical flesh, learned responses, and changing spiritual energies. It can be helpful to come at the issue from different points of view and with different strategies, to find what works for you.

I like to start with the easiest first, and for a dancer the most familiar terrain is my body. So, I ask the following questions. Is my body telling me something that I have been ignoring? Am I pushing too hard? Do I need a trip to the doctor to check out my health status? Is a muscle spasm pointing to hurt or anger? If acknowledging the body wisdom in yourself opens the flow of creative energy, then that may be all the information you need.

On the other hand, your thinking process may be getting in the way. Many choreographers and theatre professionals have been educated to analyze and criticize every gesture. Sometimes we think too much. Are you catastrophizing or predicting negative results in a performance? A constant stream of negative self-talk may start whenever you begin to work. Or the “oughts” and “shoulds” and comparisons with others can thwart your every move. When becoming aware of destructive thinking patterns or “scripts” allows you to get unstuck, you may be on your way to figuring out how to proceed more easily in the future.

If neither of these approaches frees up energy, you can then question your emotional self. You may be starving for approval, recognition, love, or time. Or maybe something from the past has been gnawing at your insides and preventing you from fulfilling your potential creativity. Do you need to talk to friends or family about issues that trouble you a lot? Or, is someone you are working with getting in your way because of negative vibes or too much competition? An endless variety of feelings can dam up the flow of inspiration. But, the artistic part of all people has an advantage; we are generally in touch with body sensation and emotional life when we shift into that deep Self’s voice. For professionals, we know that naming the sources of conflict can provide energy for building vital theatre works. A piece about loss, envy, frustration, or greed gathers steam when we acknowledge our own issues and find a way to craft the personal into a more universal image.

And then there are all those buried aspects that I call conditions of the soul. Rejected, vulnerable parts of ourselves may appear as shadow material. Addiction, compulsion, depression, burnout, or almost any mood or physical symptom may actually be about growth. We tend to push all the things we don’t like about ourselves out of awareness, into the shadows. When a creative block shows up, it may be signaling that hidden territory needs to be explored. The dragon may be guarding the treasure of full potential, a new twist to the story … a spiritual longing.

This is where I have found the discipline of theatre to be helpful. It is still possible to show up at the studio. In spite of a foul mood, I can simply lie on the floor waiting for the inspiration to move me, maybe no more than a little finger reaching out. Using authentic movement, dreams, and drawing or writing, the hidden impulse may flow out into body movement and sound – a performance piece that might include wailing or laughing uncontrollably.

Going down deep like this is not easy. It may involve facing miserable parts of yourself and feeling grief and despair. It may require that you admit power or talents that are just “too much” according to your family’s agenda or more conservative values. However, life is an adventure. Anyone who wants to experience the raw power of the creative act knows on some level that your choice is not about being accepted at this point in time.

It is about delving into the ecstasy of living and risking a life of exploring and learning. It is about becoming. This is scary, invigorating, and essential for producing new works. When the dam between inner and outer experience opens up, creative blocks disappear.

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