My life ground to a halt, and with it all my motivation, creativity, and curiosity. There was no meaning in anything I did. Nothing evolved or grew or changed. I was frozen.
In the psyche, paralysis ensues when two forces are in perfect opposition. Within me was a deadlock between that wilful urge toward purity and perfection and the repressed knowledge that in my quest for perfection I was ignoring the darkness around me: my abusive marriage, the death of my true dreams and desires, my exhausted body, the emptiness at the heart of my work. Through the years the parts of myself I thought I had excised, the parts that were not forgiving or gentle or ascetic or driven, had gathered and grown just below my conciousness, and now their power perfectly balanced that of my will.
As Jung wrote: “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. At all counts, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions.”
One morning, I did not even try to meditate. I sat there with the inner shadow made manifest all around me—a screaming husband, a crying child—and I wrote. I wrote feverishly as hands pulled at me and tried to take my paper away, as voices berated me, even my own. But I wrote. And letting the shadow out even that far–putting some of the darkness into words–lessened the deadlock to the extent that I could get up and walk out of that house.
And I kept writing. I continued to bring my shadow into consciousness, a little each day, until that deadlock began to resemble a wrestling match, and then a dance. As I brought my own darkness forward, the dark figures in my external life, the abusers and addicts and naysayers and devourers, fell away. My drive to be “pure” had drawn them in like a magnet—nature does abhor a vacuum!
What do I mean by darkness? I mean the parts of ourselves we don’t want. It’s different for everyone. For me, it was the parts that wanted rest, and a piece of the pie, and an easy life. Parts that were needy instead of generous, voracious instead of controlled.
A few years into this process I came across a book titled Addiction to Perfection: The Still Unravished Bride by Marion Woodman. It’s a Jungian analysis of the Medusa complex: a series of symptoms that manifest when the ego and the spirit/unconscious are out of tune with each other. The name comes from the tendency to “freeze”–be turned to stone– when faced with the dark entirety of our shadow selves. Often this complex afflicts women who try to hard to attain ideal states—spiritual or physical—and ignore or cut off their feeling body to do so, regarding it as weakness. Eventually the feeling body revolts, and at the point when the strength of this revolt matches the will of the ego to maintain the “ideal”, total paralysis ensues. There can be no forward motion because the forces oppose each other perfectly.
How wonderful to have language for my experience. Suddenly I saw Medusa everywhere, in beloved friends and sisters, in activist movements, in institutions–a wilful ignorance of the shadow that leads to paralysis. Aspiration to perfection that ends in stubborn frozenness. Perfection, after all, is a static state, and therefore closer to death than the fluid, evolving quality of life. When we seek perfection we seek death.
Better to waltz with Medusa, I think. Remember how Perseus used the reflective surface of a shield to escape her? I love that image–mirroring Medusa. Finding her within yourself takes her power away.