“Once there was a poor motherless child who had no shoes. But the child saved cloth scraps wherever she found them and over time sewed herself a pair of red shoes. They were crude but the child loved them. They made her feel rich even though her days were spent gathering food in the thorny woods until far past dark.
“But one day as she trudged down the road in her rags and her red shoes, a gilded carriage pulled up beside her. Inside was an old woman who told her she was going to take her home and treat her as her own little daughter (1).”
The little girl climbed into the carriage and went home with the rich old woman. The gilded carriage looked comfortable and less stressful, but it was a trap. To the child’s sorrow and horror, along with the child’s ratty clothes, firstly the old lady burned the child’s beloved red shoes.
And life for the child slides painfully downhill from there.
Her Red Shoes Represent Her Creative Life; the Trap is the Price
Jungian analyst Pinkola-Estes compares that loss of the red shoes to a woman’s self-designed life and passionate vitality. They represent a step toward integration of her deepest self into everyday life.
She says to imagine traveling down the road of our lives, in our homemade red shoes, and a mood comes over us, something like: “Maybe something else would be better; something that isn’t so difficult, something that takes less time, energy, and striving.” She calls it a trap. But the gilded carriage isn’t the trap, as that’s normal for the ego to want life easier.
No, the trap is the price. The price is soul famine for the creative spirit. The price is a starved soul. The price is aridity. The little girl has to give up her creative soul life. The child must remain proper and silent. The senescent woman allows for no yearning, and definitely no fulfilling of any yearning.
It’s devaluing your soul life, and letting others be complicit in that devaluation. It’s like having a loved one but yet you do nothing to show that love or commitment. You ignore what’s of value to him/her. “Later,” you say. “Later, I’ll do what you want, later I’ll pay attention.”
Honor Your Soul
Your soul’s disappointment and subsequent pain is no different, knowing it’s not important to you as you plan your day ignoring its silent urgings.
I’ve seen it happen to both women and men. They’re going along with their lives, honoring their passion to be a masseuse, a parent, a gardener, an artist, a writer, a meditation teacher—fill in the blank. Along comes something—anything, a partner, a job—a distraction so he/she doesn’t have to work so hard. Or perhaps it’s guilt: “This isn’t what my family wants me to do.”
And before she knows what’s happened, she’s middle-aged and doesn’t know who she is anymore. A deep sadness sets in. The ennui has seeped deep into her psyche. Maybe she’s depressed and sees no reason to live. She watches TV all day eating Bonbons. Life has lost its luster, its joy. Her doctor prescribes anti-depressants for her, which cut her off from her truth-telling emotions and their wisdom.
6 Steps to Hasten Your Creative Soul’s Return
1-Welcome the dullness, the ennui, the weariness. Your body and psyche are trying to tell you something.
2-Sit with it mindfully, as Jon Kabat-Zinn taught: Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.
3-Watch what surfaces. Watch for excesses and their costs to soul, psyche, and instinct.
4-If possible, find a supportive counselor/therapist who understands life’s journeying. Find a person who encourages your process of coming to wholeness, who tells you this is normal. If you’ve pushed your psyche into a soul-famine, begin to respect its desires. Surround yourself with people who support you.
5-Every day upon awakening make the choice to do—and be—something that celebrates your creative soul. If a poet, spend a few minutes reading poetry or writing down those few words running through your head that won’t leave you alone.
6-It DOESN’T mean you ignore and/or abandon your sacred commitments to family. It means you resolve to honor your soul, that life-giving force within you. It isn’t either/or; it’s and/both.
What Gave You Life Today and What Brought Death to You?
In the 1500s, Catholic priest Ignatius of Loyola co-founded the Jesuit Monastic Order, at the heart of which was self-examination. Ignatius developed an entire monastic practice around these questions: “At the end of the day, what gave you the greatest joy today? And what brought you the greatest sadness? What brought death? And what brought life?”
That which gives one joy and life is encoded in your DNA, it’s what gets your DNA wiggling around with joy, what you’re created to do—your “marching orders,” as it is sometimes called.
I stepped into a gilded carriage as a lost and confused 18-year-old when I fell into the Jesus Movement in the 1970s. At the time it seemed the right way to go, as my choices didn’t seem to be getting me anywhere. The movement quickly morphed into a patriarchal authoritarianism which told me I had to remain “proper and silent,” and follow the injunctions of the Apostle Paul and submit to the male leadership.
It offered me an easy way to live, as I was rescued from making decisions, from uncovering myself. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my soul had gone deep into hiding in order to protect herself. Over the decades I’ve slowly coaxed and drawn my creative soul out of its cave.
In 2020, resolve to honor your soul, especially so if you’re experiencing a soul famine by neglecting your passions through devaluation. Listen, look, and act—until calling yourself back becomes a habit. Be the gift to the Cosmos you are designed to be!
Notes & Sources:
- Pinkola-Estes, Clarissa. Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype. Ballantine Books, 1992.
About the Author: Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her spiritual connection at People House and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation.