A Holiday Spin on Shadow Work
Seeing The Nutcracker is a holiday tradition of mine, ever since I was a little girl. I was even fortunate enough to play a few roles in childhood and adulthood (a soldier, a Ginger Child, and Spanish Chocolate), There’s something heartwarming about it all. So when I started thinking about creative ways to teach about Shadow Work, this beloved ballet immediately sprung to mind.
The Nutcracker as we know it today actually started as a slightly different story, with the main character being Marie, not Clara. But the creativity was definitely there. Hoffman was known as being highly imaginative and letting his creativity run wild. And that’s why this story is perfect for discussing our unconscious minds. Much of the work I do with clients involves tapping into their creative unconscious and encouraging them to let it run wild, much like the skittering mice in the story. So as you read, I ask you to do the same.
Take a deep breath, smell the brightly lit fir tree, and allow yourself to be transported into Marie/Clara’s living room on Christmas Eve.
“Marie had the wounded Nutcracker wrapped in her handkerchief, and she carried him in her arms. Now she placed him cautiously on the table, unwrapped him softly, softly, and tended to the injuries.”–Hoffman, The Nutcracker
For our storytime today, we are going to focus on three main characters: Clara, Drosselmeyer, and The Nutcracker himself.
Your Inner Clara
In the classic ballet, Clara is the young girl who receives The Nutcracker as a gift from her godfather and later falls asleep, dreaming of a lovely Land of Sweets and her beloved Nutcracker Prince. But it isn’t that simple of a story. Clara’s brother antagonizes her repeatedly at her family’s holiday party and ultimately breaks the doll, wounding him. Her godfather patches the doll up with a handkerchief, but Clara’s emotions are wounded, and she tends to the doll throughout the party as she can. First, though, she takes time to weep.
We all have an Inner Clara. One minute we are dancing amidst our inner holiday lights, and the next, someone wounds something dear to us. It might be a physical object, but most likely they’ve wounded our emotions. They’ve hurt our feelings in some way. They’ve caused us to feel inadequate or judged. Or maybe we feel rejected or left out by them. We hurt. And even if someone bandages that hurt up with an apology, the act still may leave an emotional wound in our hearts until we tend to it.
So how do we comfort our Inner Clara?
Suggestion: Thinking about our feelings isn’t the same as feeling them. When we think about a feeling, we give it a story. It feels safe to do that–to run over the story in our heads–but it keeps us out of our bodies and too much in our mind. Our Inner Clara needs us to FEEL from our bodies. She needs us to stop and let ourselves feel the physiological response. That could look like weeping (as Ballet Clara does), and it could also look like shaking, trembling, feeling hot or cold, noticing vibration in the body, or any other nervous system response to a rush of hormones.
Super creative suggestion: Imagine your Inner Clara. Draw her, or just see her as a character in your mind’s eye. Imagine yourself comforting her as you would a small child. Give her a hug and say, “I know it hurts. I’m here.”
Your Inner Drosselmeyer
When I was a child, I was a little creeped out by Drosselmeyer–and for good reason. He’s supposed to be mysterious and scary. Even his name is menacing (Drossel means choke). He was created specifically to stir things up. But he’s not a singular character. He’s complex and multi-faceted. He mesmerizes the children with his magic tricks. And we see his softness as he carefully mend’s Clara’s doll.
To me, Drosselmeyer is a wonderful representation of The Shadow (the parts of us we hide away). The next time you watch the ballet, notice the other character’s reactions to him. The children cower a bit. And the adults look concerned and almost embarrassed. It’s as if they want to hide him away.
We do much the same thing with our Shadow Self. It’s made up of all the parts of us that makes others cringe. When we are young children, we just put all of ourselves out there on display, but somewhere along the line, we learn that people don’t like certain parts of our personality or certain things that we like, so we lock them up. We don’t show our anger. We don’t let people know that we cry. We keep people from finding out that we believe in UFOs and fairies. The list goes on.
We also lock up parts of us that we think have failed. The young part of us who once loved the piano gets shoved in the dusty attic because of that one time we embarrassed ourselves at a recital. We pack The Shadow up with our old softball trophies, thinking we are too old to play again.
But like Drosselmeyer, our Shadow Selves are complex. They bring us gifts if we pay attention to them. And they can comfort us, too.
Suggestion: Think of your Shadow as a dusty trunk in the attic, filled with things you may not want to look at but also things that you’ve forgotten you once loved. Shadow Work doesn’t have to be scary, but it is crucial to have someone professionally trained help you work with these parts of yourself (i.e., a qualified coach, therapist, or Shaman).
Super Creative Suggestion: Draw your Inner Drosselmeyer as if they were a comic book character. Take them to your professional support person and talk about them together.
Your Inner Nutcracker
Tradition says that nutcrackers bring protection to a household, so they are a perfect representation of our Inner Protectors. We see these Selves pop up when we are hurt, rejected, or triggered somehow. Anytime there is a perceived danger (i.e., when our nervous system ramps up), the Protectors report for duty. You’ll know it when you get defensive, freeze up, lash out, or isolate yourself. Sometimes our Protectors even speak for us. Those moments are the “I have no idea why I said that” moments. We all have them.
We need our protectors, for sure, but we can’t let them take over. You see, when our Protectors talk, it is a magnet for other people’s Protectors. And then all you have are a bunch of Nutcrackers snapping at each other. Plus, if our Inner Nutcracker is wounded, they lash out even more. Protectors want to be heard, and often they are exhausted from all the work they do all the time. And many times, they have no idea that YOU (the Whole You) actually know how to handle the situation.
Suggestion: Think about your Inner Nutcrackers. When do they pop up? Notice the patterns. What fears are they protecting you from? What are they worried about? Is there a way to let them know that YOU’VE got this? Maybe there’s another job they can do for you?
Super Creative Suggestion: Buy a Nutcracker doll from a holiday market and actually talk with it, as if it were your real Protector. You don’t have to do this aloud, but it can sometimes help to have a physical representation of these inner parts of yourself.
Let the Snowflakes Dance
At the end of Act 1, we come to one of my favorite dances in the ballet–the Snowflakes. I like to think of them as a reminder of stillness. It’s hard to do this inner work when everything is frenzied. Try to channel the stillness of newly fallen snow, when everything pauses just for a moment. Stillness allows you to tap into your inner wisdom where all these characters live, and it allows you to hear the wonderful advice they have for you.