Robert Bly published a short piece called, The Long Bag We Drag Behind Us, inspired by Carl Jung’s theory of the “shadow”. In it, he writes that we all begin life with a “360-degree personality” as a “living globe of energy” but that throughout the course of our lives, we put pieces of our personality into an invisible bag that we drag behind us. We put in anger, individuality, spontaneity and sexuality to keep our parents’ love and to fit in with our peers. By the time we reach our twenties, we are left with only a small slice of our personality—the other parts are sealed inside the bag. Bly claims that we spend the rest of our lives trying to retrieve these repressed aspects of our personality but that this can feel impossible, as every part of us that we have not loved has become hostile to us.
Movement is the same way. When we were babies, we breathed deep, 360-degree belly breaths and moved in strange and asymmetric ways—rolling, kicking, crawling and spending hours trying to fit our tiny fists inside our even tinier mouths. In childhood, we were told to sit in chairs and stay quiet. As teenagers, we learned to dance in ways didn’t appear too strange and freaky to our friends. As adults, we choose to specialise in a narrow range of activities that keep us trapped in repetitive movement patterns.
And now, when we want to move in a different way, in a direction or pattern that we have neglected—we pick up our kids at a strange angle or take a surfboard out for the day—we find that these movements have become hostile to us. Our lower back hurts, or our neck, or we don’t have the lung capacity that we used to have and are forced to take a break.
Jung offered a solution. The integration of our shadows selves. Maybe we could start to re-integrate movement patterns that for years we have been stuffing into an invisible bag to alleviate the pain and become living globes of energy once again.
The Long Bag We Drag Behind Us, Robert Bly