From our earliest experiences, we learn from our environment that certain emotions and behaviors are best kept under wraps. In the process of learning how to smooth out the edges of our uncivilized, untamed selves, much to our parents' and teachers' relief, over time we gradually become "domesticated."
We learn it's not OK to throw a temper tantrum in the grocery store, pick our noses in public or touch ourselves in "inappropriate" places. We learn it's not OK to talk back to our parents, show disrespect to adults, or tell people what we really think. It's not OK to mock or ridicule others, call someone ugly or fat, take more than our share or not share at all. It's not OK to hurt or injure someone, cheat, lie, or steal. It's not OK to be mean or be a bully. And with good reason!
There is much taming of the untamed required of us on our way to becoming a fully-functioning human in what we think of as "normal" society. We are constantly required to learn discernment. How far can we go before we've "crossed a line" and wandered into the forbidden territory where the "beast" part of us takes over? See my last post on "Beauty and the Beast: Learning to Love Our Shadow." Having become the jailor of our "beast" for a lifetime, we fear that if we opened the door to its cage, we would be consumed by its ferocity.
There were many powerful comments in response to my last post. I want to highlight a couple of them and take up our discussion from here, for they illuminate the dilemma we all face when it comes to facing our own darkness.
Mamacat commented: "I feel that the darkness waits to overwhelm me at every moment, as it has in the past ruled my actions. While appreciating beauty and truth, I know all too well how easy it is to slip into meanness, cruelty, and evil."
Karenlkay said: "I don't mind a peek here and there, but find I am still a bit afraid of the dark, wanting to constantly fill it."
This then, is our dilemma. Having been outvoted in the past by our darker impulses, the stuff of our shadow, we know all too well the impact of allowing it free reign. We've witnessed the destruction our "evil twin" self is capable of if given the chance, and we certainly don't wish to inflict that on ourselves or anyone else. But that's only part of the story.
Out of fear, we learn to override our darkness or operate over the top of it. Here's the problem with this strategy: Suppressing our shadow doesn't vanquished it, it only pushes it off the screen of our conscious awareness. It's like clicking the "minimize" button on the computer where the active window gets shrunk and disappears out of sight, where it sits in waiting until we activate it again. The same is true for our shadow. It doesn't go anywhere when we vanquish it to the nether regions of the unconscious. It simply gets put on "hold," awaiting a new opportunity to make its next appearance.
But there's more to the story of the shadow, for while it is in the holding tank of the unconscious, it is gathering up a head of steam. Like a dog chained to a wall, the shadow will begin to strain against what binds it and seek freedom. Sometimes at all costs. Anything that is resisted or suppressed will be compelled to seek release. And when it succeeds, as it will, most often its expression is wildly distorted, having hurtled itself out from behind the force of our resistance.
So it is with those impulses we've banished into the darkness. They emerge with such ferocity we are terrorized by them and thus bullied into thinking we must submerge them even farther. We are mistaken.
I'm reminded of the story of two psychiatrists having dinner together at a restaurant. One says to the other, "I was having breakfast with my mother the other day. I meant to say 'please pass the salt' but instead I said, 'you ruined my f--ing life, you b--ch!'"
I think we all can relate. Operating over the top of the shadow is tricky business, much like walking through a minefield. We never know when we'll step on a hidden trigger and all hell breaks loose. So much for not saying what we really think!
So the dilemma is: How can we seek visitation rights to the darkness and live to return to the light of day? How can we walk into the cell of a prison inmate and trust that we won't become his newest victim? How can we come into relationship with our shadow and tame it without being consumed by it in the process?
Here are six strategies for integrating your shadow material and bringing it into the light of awareness. This is not an exhaustive list by any means. There are as many approaches to this aspect of our journey as there humans on the planet. Each of us is unique and uniquely creative. Let's hear your thoughts about this too.
1) Reframe your story about it. You've cast your shadow as the villain and you as its victim. From this perspective, you've shut down the possibility of learning anything it might have to offer that could open new possibilities for knowing yourself more deeply. Try recasting your shadow from villain to teacher and be open to what it might have to teach you.
2) Become a seeker and seek its lessons. No matter how hard the shadow material may be to be with, housed within it is something golden. Like the grain of sand that irritates the oyster into producing a pearl, the shadow contains a hidden pearl of wisdom that will require you to go beyond your current capacity for courage in order to retrieve it.
3) Call its bluff. There is a famous story about Milarepa, the Tibetan saint, who came home one night after a long day at work and found his home filled with fire-breathing dragons. At first, he cursed them and ordered them to leave, but they breathed even hotter fire and moved closer to him. He continued cursing them and they continued to advance toward him. Finally, Milarepa stopped, and instead of cursing them, he welcomed them and invited them into his home. Upon hearing this they all disappeared. Call the shadow's bluff like Milarepa did and see what happens. Lions become kittens, dragons become cream puffs. But we must stand and face them first.
4) Stage a jail break -- but with assistance. Unchain yourself from the wall. Welcomed into the warmth, the shadow material is transformed from fire-breathing dragon into humble servant. I recently saw a spectacular movie, Samsara, for the third time. I highly recommend you see this. In fact, it should be required viewing for all humans. One scene shows a man whose body, including his entire face and head, is completely covered with tattoos. For all appearances, he looks like a typical gang member, tough, hard and scary looking. But in his arms, he's holding his infant daughter. He is nuzzling her face with his own, holding her very gently and sweetly. Here is a most tender man, hiding under a visage of ferocity; the shadow in reverse with his sweetness being that which was normally concealed. His sweetness had staged a jail break.
5) Seek support. One aspect of the shadow has us thinking and behaving like the Lone Ranger, convinced we have to go it alone, that no one else would understand or could tolerate our darkness. Not so. We're all in the same boat. No one is exempt from this part of the human journey. Look around. We're all overriding something, operating over the top of it, hoping no one will notice. What if you were the one who called a halt to our collective masquerade and began a dialogue about how we can help each other find our way in the dark?
6) Go for it anyway. Go for it before "it" goes for you! Like Milarepa, dare to stick your head in the dragon's mouth and send back postcards, like actress Carrie Fischer in her biography Postcards From the Edge, and in so doing, help to create a map for others.
Your turn. What strategies have you found helpful in turning toward your own dark qualities and integrating them into the light of awareness? This is the part about how we find our way out of the rabbit hole (from my last post). Let us hear from you.
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