Madiba’s powerful words encapsulate many levels of meaning. Perhaps that is why they inspire and light a creative spark for so many of us. These words point to the idea that finding passion requires commitment and responsibility. The heroic attempt to live up to one’s potential and the power that entails is often an overwhelming challenge. Marianne Williamson wrote
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? […] Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do […] As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
The responsibility of owning our powerful creative potential requires knowing the shadow aspects of our personality. Artist Louise Bourgeois had a deeply personal lens through which she artistically engaged with her shadow and what she felt was the burden of her own creative potential power. Bourgeois wrote
I’m afraid of power; it makes me nervous […] In my art I am the murderer, the man who has to live with his conscience… As an artist I am a powerful person. In real life I feel like the mouse behind the radiator… By withdrawing, by recognizing that you have no power, you become more than yourself. You get ideas which never would have occurred to you . In my art, I live in a world of my own making. I make decisions. I have power. In the real world, I don’t want power
Bourgeois was able to create powerful art by acknowledging her shadow side and fears. She played with both positive and negative aspects of power and its potential for both good and evil.
In his lifetime, Madiba also experienced both the dark and light sides of power. His words are meaningful because they emerge from a deeply felt, impassioned life experience, a life that entailed great courage, risk and exploration of the unknown, all elements of the archetype of the creative hero.