This is the fourth class of the 60-day immersion, which you can take as long as you need to complete! All students have lifetime access to both the course and the community!
Day Four: The Beast
Before we get into today's challenge, it's storytime!
The Lady Ragnell This is a story from the King Arthur tradition, about a willful woman who falls under a curse and frees herself by finding a lover who doesn't try to control her. In my research I encountered many versions of the story, accompanied by a massive body of scholarly work. Here is a short version, in my own words:
One day, King Arthur was caught off guard by his enemy Sir Gromer, who snuck up on him from behind. Just as the man was about to strike him down, Arthur suggested that to kill him in this way wasn't exactly chivalrous.
Sir Gromer thought about it for a second and then said, "Ok, you're right. How about I make you a deal? I will give you one year to solve a riddle, and if you can't come up with the answer, then I shall ride into court and cut off your head in front of everyone."
Arthur accepted the deal, thinking, "how hard could this riddle be? Surely I already know the answer!”
But then Sir Gromer said, "What do women want, above all else?"
Arthur was at a complete loss. For the next year, he rode from village to village, asking everyone he met. As the year came to a close, he sent out a last, desperate call, offering great rewards to anyone who could provide the answer. At the last minute, Lady Ragnell, a hideous hag known for her unruly ways, came snorting into court. She weighed four hundred pounds, with matted, greasy hair and two large, moldy tusks growing out of her face. Her skin was lumpy and she smelled like a rotting swamp. Everyone stared as she lurched toward the King, saying "Sire! I have the answer you seek!"
"Wonderful!" cried the King.
"Eh, not so fast," said the Lady Ragnell, "you must pay a price."
"Name it," said the King.
"In exchange for my help, I shall marry the handsomest, most honorable man in court, your nephew Sir Gawain." The court went into an uproar, for Gawain was dearly loved by all of Camelot and many women already had a mind to marry him. But Gawain stepped forward, saying, “If it shall save my King, I shall marry the Lady."
The next morning, when Sir Gromer rode into court, Arthur was ready with the answer. Hoping to save his nephew from the gruesome fate of marrying the hag Ragnell, he first offered all of the other answers he had collected throughout the year, reading them one at a time. But none of them was the true answer, and so finally Arthur offered what the hag had told him:
"What women want, above all else, is sovereignty, the freedom to make their own choices."
"Blast!" yelled Sir Gromer, and off he rode, foiled.
Next came a glorious wedding celebration for Sir Gawain and Lady Ragnell. The bride blushed in forty yards of white lace, for it took that much to cover her massive form. The groom stayed by her side, acting as if he were madly in love. This hag was to be his wife, after all, and the knight had resolved to make the best of it. When the time came to go to bed, the Lady draped herself against the pillows, beckoning to her new husband. "How about a little kiss?" she said.
Drawing himself up with all of the courage for which he was known, Sir Gawain replied to his wife, "Nay, I shall do more than kiss," and began to climb into the bed. Suddenly, she was transformed into a beautiful woman. Alarmed, Gawain insisted the Lady explain herself.
"I am under a terrible curse," she told him, "and by choosing to love me regardless of my looks, you have freed me of half of that curse. But now you must make a decision: either I can be this beautiful woman in your bed, at night and when we are alone, and I will still appear as a hag in court and to all the world, or I can be your beautiful wife to all the world but when we are alone together I will be the hag. What shall it be?"
Gawain was stumped. He thought about it for a long time and then finally he said, "Lady, Wife, I cannot be the one who makes this decision. The choice is completely yours."
And with that, he freed her of the second half of her curse. She explained that the curse had come onto her many years before, when she had refused to obey the orders given by her father and brother. They had insisted that she would never find a husband who would give her the freedom to think for herself. And they had cursed her to wear the guise of a hideous beast until she could prove them wrong.
Challenge #4: Pull your beast out of yourself and put it on paper. Or into sculpture. Or into land art. Or make it into a dance.
But don't just write about it. Manifest it, visually. Use any medium you want. Dirt, crayons, paint, pens, collage, glued-on macaroni. Whatever you want.
Think about all of the monstrosity you see in yourself. It comes into you, it goes out of you. Grapple with the fear. Move towards it.
Let the fear be your compass. Give the shadow full reign of your hour here today. Indulge that beast! Let it be the devil on your shoulder. Let it bully you into a nice work of art.
Where is the heart, and what does it love?
What goes on in that beastly head and how does that affect your life?
What kind of body does it have, what form does it take? Does it have special powers? Does it connect to an archetype?
Don't forget about the tail, that thrashing muscle behind the monster. What sort of trail does it leave in its wake? Who else does it affect?
I have drawn, painted, sculpted, danced DOZENS of versions of the beasts in me. It's an amazing form of art-based self-therapy for when you're feeling wicked or out of sorts! If you give your beasts a place to live, outside of your body, they become so much more lovable.
Finally, on a separate piece of paper, take a few moments to write down all of the words that came up for you while you worked. Write down the monstrous, beastly things about yourself.
Next, go back down the list and add the other side of that coin. I don't mean the opposites of the things that you see as your beastly traits. I mean: what are the positive aspects of these traits that you have, and how can you see your inner beast as being all good stuff?
For example, mine says “selfish.” But doesn't being selfish also mean that I am mind my boundaries? Yes, for me, it does. And if I can hone down that selfishness a tiny bit, then it becomes this positive, useful trait.
You see what I am doing? Make the list as long as you can, always finding that balance point. Think about the ways people have criticized you and the ways you criticize yourself. Revel in your monstrosity so you can get to know it. Make love to your shadow today.