One of my (many) oddities is that I am rather clueless about most celebrities. Because I don’t have a TV, rarely go to movies, don’t pay attention to sports, and do not follow mainstream music, I am unaware of who most of these people are. And even if I’ve heard people mention the names, I am entirely unable to recognize most celebrities in photographs. So news about the trials, tribulations, or even deaths of these famous people generally leaves me rather unmoved because I don’t know who they are.
Authors tend to be a different story for me. I love to read, and books have often been my closest friends in that they have expanded my world, encouraged me in tough times, and helped me to grow. The authors that write these books that mean so much to me—most of whom I have never met in any way—feel like distant friends because they have shared so much of themselves with me in the writing of their books. When one of these authors dies, I feel the loss.
“You have to confront the very parts of yourself that you fear most to find what you have been looking for, because the mechanism that drives you to conceal your darkness is the same mechanism that has you hide your light. What you’ve been hiding from can actually give you what you’ve been trying hard to achieve.” ~Debbie Ford
I’ve spent most of my life projecting my shadow elsewhere so that I could avoid looking at the darkness that I carry within. I was so afraid that if I came face to face with my own darkness, it would destroy me. But as Debbie Ford says above, that also meant hiding my light because the light is what highlights the shadows. Light draws attention to me and makes it more likely that others might see those shadows too.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve gone through several periods of so much change in my self-identity that I feel like I don’t even recognize myself anymore. It’s as if there’s a stranger staring back at me in the mirror, and that’s a really disconcerting feeling.
Just recently I have been going through another one of these growth spurts, but this time around has been very different from what I’ve experienced before. Rather than feeling tossed about by the winds of constant change, this has felt more like an unfurling of new shoots of life coming forth from the core of who I am. Instead of being disconcerting and disorienting, this feels more like an ongoing celebration!
It’s now been six weeks that I have been completely my gratitude practice on a daily basis. I continue to notice how I am grateful for the little things more often during the course of my day and not just during my gratitude journaling time at night.
I am also noticing how often the idea of gratitude comes to mind during the day. I find myself thinking in terms what I can be grateful for and how I can remind myself of gratitude on a regular basis throughout the day. But I’m also noticing a downside to this.
“Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.” ~C. G. Jung
I’ve spent years trying to ignore and/or outrun my shadow, but all that has done has made me considerably less good that I want to be—or imagine myself to be, in many cases. The times I got glimpses of my shadow were horrifying to me because what I saw was so ugly and because I was convinced that there was nothing I could do to change it.
Over the last few months, I’ve stopped running and started trying to face my shadow to see what is really in there. Being able to look at my shadow as a curious observer has not made it pleasant viewing by any means, but it has made me able to take a long, hard look without being driven to despair. I’m discovering that being more conscious of my shadow is allowing me to take steps to change the patterns that lead to that place.
“When we find ourselves obsessed with aspects of other people’s shadows, it is only because they have touched one of our own.” ~Debbie Ford
I have become very aware in recent months just how true this is for me. As yoga continues to increase my ability to detach from situations and just observe myself, I’m realizing how very often the times that I become most obsessed with the shadow of another person are those times when their shadow is functioning as a mirror to me of my own shadow. In fact, the more I obsess over their shadow, the stronger that shadow aspect of myself turns out to be.
“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.” ~Pema Chödrön
Jean Raffa’s recent post Will the Real Orphan Annie Please Stand Up? was a timely reminder for me of how often the things that annoy me most in others are really the things that annoy me most about myself. In fact, as Jean describes, they often annoy me so much that I am unable to see them in myself; I can only see them in the mirror of another.
I had a bit of an epiphany today. I was thinking about a conversation I had recently had with friend who had been really beating herself up (verbally). As I thought about her tendency to engage in this kind of self-talk, an unexpected question popped into my mind: “What’s she getting out of doing that?” Because I have the same tendency myself, this immediately became a mirror to ask myself, “What am I getting (or hoping to get) out of doing that?” Ouch.
After my initial surprise at such a seemingly harsh question appearing out of nowhere had subsided somewhat, I found myself pondering the question a little more deeply. I am becoming increasingly convinced that all of our choices are made (consciously or unconsciously) in terms of what we believe will bring us the greatest benefit, so even my friend’s choice to bad-mouth herself was a choice made in terms of what she believed (unconsciously in this case, I think) would bring her the most positive result.
On the surface that seems crazy! But it really does make sense if you think about it a little bit …
“Although our desire to grow is genuine and pure, it often gets mixed with lesser motivations, including the wish to be loved, the desire to belong, the need to fill our internal emptiness, the belief that the spiritual path will remove our suffering and spiritual ambition, the wish to be special, to be better than, to be ‘the one.'” ~Mariana Caplan, PhD (from 10 Spiritually Transmitted Diseases)
While I know I still have my blind spots, I am quite self-aware—in fact, often much more self-aware than I let on—and I find this to be as much a curse as a blessing. Although the quote above is specifically talking about our mixed motivations in our pursuit of spirituality, I am always aware of a similar level of mixed motivations taking place in everything I do.
My mood generally tends to be relatively stable. I have my ups and downs, but the gap between the highs and lows (as least as far as is obvious to others) is generally fairly narrow. When I do hit a low point, it’s almost always of a more depressive nature; I become even quieter than usual and just overall blue and pessimistic.
I very seldom become truly angry. When I do, it is in response to a specific situation or event, and it usually burns itself out fairly quickly. I confess that I do complain rather more often than that but true anger is rare.