Hiding as a merciful refuge for our emerging self

Today I want to write about the need for protection in creative projects, in creative activity, no matter which form the activity takes. Something I often talk about with clients is that everything we do in life can be creative, from preparing breakfast to writing a blog post, to moving our bodies. Yet there are some creative projects that are more vulnerable than others. They need protection.

This passage by Poet David Whyte talks about this protection. One form that the needed protection can take is in hiding, link to whole post here.

“[Hiding] is a way of staying alive. Hiding is a way of holding ourselves until we are ready to come into the light. Hiding is one of the brilliant and virtuoso practices of almost every part of the natural world: the protective quiet of an icy northern landscape, the held bud of a future summer rose, the snow bound internal pulse of the hibernating bear. Hiding is underestimated. We are hidden by life in our mother’s womb until we grow and ready ourselves for our first appearance in the lighted world; to appear too early in that world is to find ourselves with the immediate necessity for outside intensive care.”

It can be really difficult to allow ourselves the space to be protected, to be in hiding, to explore the unknown realms in ourselves or in our lives and to not open that up to others. This can be especially challenging, if you’re used to being brave. And often, if you are expressing who you are in some form in the world, you may have chosen to be brave so many times, that it has become almost an automatic impulse.

How to recognize the need to hide?

So, how do you know that you need protection? This has been a question that I’ve been sitting with for some time. The answer, I believe, lies in our capacity to be present with both our yearning for something and our uncomfortable feelings about it. Understanding that in the context that I’m writing, hiding doesn’t necessarily mean avoiding what you dream of doing altogether, but doing it in a way that is possible right now.

I want to share a story with you. Three years ago, my son asked me to join him in Taekwondo practice. The instructor had mentioned to us that parents are welcome to join, and my son wanted us to train together. My initial reaction to my son’s request was one of both fear and yearning. I wanted to say no, because the thought of training something new and difficult, while other parents were watching on the sidelines, felt really really scary. The yearning said; “You’ve always wanted to practice the martial arts.” So I said yes.

Fast forward three years, to last year, about this time. It was May. Nature was awakening. We took a bus ride, with both my kids, to a new place in Helsinki and walked over green fields to find the gymnasium where the belt test event was held. This time we were testing for the green belt with a blue stripe in a location where official basket ball games are organized. It was large, there was a strong echo effect, microphones were used. There were rows and rows of people in the audience.

“Uh oh,” I thought and felt into the tumultuous atmosphere of sounds, bright lights, echoes, people milling about, excitement and fear in the air.

One of the reasons that I stayed in the children’s group with my son, is that I carry body shame. My attempts to participate in adult groups have not been successful. Sometimes, especially if I feel afraid, ashamed and like a failure (which I often do, when training) the connection between my mind, my nervous system and my body shuts down and I freeze. Our children’s group has two warm, compassionate and wise trainers, who give a lot of space for different styles of learning. It is, essentially, a safe space to practice in a gentle way. Or, said in a different way, the hiding place that allows me to train Taekwondo in a way that is accessible to me.

The gymnasium I was standing in a year ago was nothing of the sort. What I didn’t realize at the time, was that at this point my automatic pilot, that does its best to help me, switched on. I held a good attitude and participated in the warm up, doing my best to be a good mother to my son, who was excitedly joining the fray. At the time of the belt test, we were separated into our own groups, and the test started. A drop dead gorgeous black belt came to lead us, barking out orders, looking stern.

Trial and error, seen through the eyes of self-compassion

Have you ever seen those funny movies, where someone in a dance class moves four beats slower than everyone else, and when the whole line of people turns, this one person almost collides with them, because she is moving in the wrong direction? That was me. The whole time. Three humiliating sets of Poomsaes in a row. After that, my internal shame system kicked into gear, and my body became less and less like a body, and more and more like a rake, a cupboard, or a door without hinges.

Writing this, one year after it happened, I can still feel the skin of my throat feeling tight and warm with the memory.

In the weeks and months after this experience, spending time with feelings like shame, humiliation, grief and lots of compassion I’ve come to realize that there is a reason why I’m practicing in the children’s group. Simply the act of learning to kick fast and hard, and repeating these patterns of movement, is helping my body awaken from decades of being deep frozen. When I train in the circle of trust, at my son’s school, I can allow myself to be as humble as I am and open up to the teachings that help my body find its strength.

At the age of forty, I don’t know if I will ever reach the skills of a black belt. And that is not why I am training, it’s not where my yearning is leading me. Despite this, at the gymnasium function a year ago, I did receive the blue stripe for my green belt. I have come to accept that I did deserve that belt, despite my feelings, simply for showing up and participating.

Agreeing to go slow enough

What I’ve realized about protection, and what I would really love your heart to hear, is that when we listen to our yearning for something new, at the same time refusing to push ourselves according to some outer standard or another and keep keep taking the small steps that are possible now, is accessing a level of safety that will eventually allow us to bloom in our own way. At the pace of our natural development.

I feel that in our world, we put a lot of emphasis on being great, successful, visible and inspired. And there is definitely room for that. What I would also like to see, however, is that there would also be room for us to listen to our smallness, to what is still growing, to what needs to hide.

When we agree to do this, and be as slow as we need, I believe we are protecting our sacred creativity. We are listening as deeply and compassionately to our fears as we listen to our inspiration and excitement. This is how we find what truly enriches our lives and brings them meaning, no matter how modest and unhurried.

So my question is: Would it be possible to turn a kind ear inward and ask which parts of you, or what you are longing for, need protection right now? Is there something that needs to hide, that needs time and space? Maybe solitude or slowness? Or maybe something completely different?
I would love to hear if you have experiences of when hiding has helped your creative dreams, and any other thoughts and experiences you have about what you read. If you like this article, please share it.

So warmly,