The Shadow

We present to the world the parts of ourselves we wish to be known by, the parts we are conscious of and comfortable with. This is our psychological clothing, and it is how we wish to be seen by the world. But we are also made up of our shadow, which contains the parts of us that we have cut off, repressed or denied. The parts that we have at some point decided we do not want to be known by. Continue Reading

Why do Shadow Work?

Many of us begin to have the nagging sense at some point in our lives that something is missing, that we’re not fully alive. Even if we have ticked all the boxes for ‘happy’, whatever that may mean to us, we can still find that life exists in a variety of different shades of grey, rather than in the glorious technicolour of our childhood. Continue Reading

The Sovereign Archetype – Interview

 

This is the transcript of an interview by Carolyn Clitheroe, a psychotherapy student who has developed an interest in Shadow Work. In relation to her studies she interviewed Marianne about the Sovereign archetype. The interview took place in the Green Room in Frome, Somerset in July 2017 and focuses on the inner Sovereign. The discussions are wide-ranging and a variety of topics relating to the Sovereign are discussed –  self compassion, authority and leadership, the inner child, trauma, joy and more. Inevitably the other three archetypes – the Lover, the Warrior and the Magician – are also spoken about, since all four archetypes are intimately related. Below is a simple diagram showing the archetype displays in the room which are referred to in the talk, and giving a brief description of the qualities of each archetype. This diagram may help you to get more from reading the interview. For a video giving more detail about each archetype please follow these links:

Sovereign                 Lover                   Magician                 Warrior

Sovereign Lover ArchetypesMagician Warrior Archetype

 

Marianne Hill interviewed by Carolyn Clitheroe (Sampritti)

July 2017 at The Green Room, Frome, Somerset.

 

C:  I’m looking around the room and that’s obviously the Sovereign corner (pointing to one of the displays in the corner of the room) and I suppose because of the work that I’ve done with you, when I think of Sovereign I think of it as kind of in the middle, directing things. Is that in any way accurate or is it because I particularly love the Sovereign archetype that I see it like that?

 

M:  The Sovereign is, as the name suggests, in charge of everything, so the Sovereign’s rightful place is to be in charge in the same way that a parent is in charge of their family or of their children or, for example, that the ‘Sovereign’ is in charge of their kingdom. I’ve never heard it referred to as being in the middle, because we also say that each of the four archetypes has equal importance and is equally necessary. So although the role of the Sovereign is to be in charge – that isn’t necessarily any more important than the role of the Lover over there (pointing to the Lover display) to be in connection or to be vulnerable. Maybe with our western take on things we might think that the one in charge is the most important!

 

C:  Interesting, yes. Where does the Warrior Archetype come into it then?

 

M:  Well the Warrior takes action, so the Sovereign is no use without the Warrior to do her bidding. In the same way that an old fashioned kind of Queendom where the Queen would decide she wanted certain territories and she would send her warriors off to gain those territories. The Warrior takes the action. So we see we have something called the Mission Loop which works between the Sovereign and the Warrior – where the Sovereign is in charge, she has the heart, the morality, the wisdom to make decisions, to decide what needs to happen. And then she will tell the Warrior what to do and the Warrior will take action. And so in that way missions, or visions get carried out – with the Sovereign and the Warrior working together. So the Sovereign is no use without her Warrior..

 

C:  …Otherwise she would be almost sort of fangless or clawless? – That is the image I have of a Sovereign without real ‘oomph’ behind her.

 

M:  Yes and very ungrounded with lots of ideas and lots of enthusiasm but nothing actually happening.

 

C:  And so between the other archetypes are there other loops that have a name – what else is connected to the Sovereign?

 

M:  There’s another really important loop with the Lover which is called the Connection Loop, because if you think of Sovereign’s job as the parent, then the Lover carries the inner child – the vulnerable parts of us or the vulnerable parts of other people. So there’s a loop there where the Sovereign cares for, supports, accepts, nurtures and blesses the inner child. That can be our own inner child or vulnerable parts, or those of other people. Internally the Sovereign is taking care of, and looking after, our own vulnerable parts.

 

C:  So presumably the Sovereign can engage the Warrior in protecting the Lover?

 

M:  Yes

 

C:  And it can kind of triangulate in that way?

 

M:  Yes exactly, the Warrior’s job is to protect and the Sovereign’s job is to care for, to understand, to accept, to give unconditional love to those parts of ourselves and to those parts of others.

 

C:  On the flip side of that then, what are these loops like when they are going wrong?

 

M:  Well with the Mission Loop, if it’s only the Sovereign, if the Warrior isn’t online as we call it, then as we’ve said the Sovereign just is ungrounded – lots of ideas, lots of excitement maybe, lots of passion but it’s got no oomph behind it and nothing actually happens, nothing actually changes. If we just have the Warrior with no direction from the Sovereign then we can do a lot of hard work, a lot of action, but it’s not going anywhere, it’s not achieving anything – it’s a lot of action or busyness for the sake of it, with no direction.

 

C:  And then what about Lover without the Sovereign then? I’m imagining collapse or something like that – self pity maybe?

 

M:  Yes. I was just going to say it’s the abandoned child without a parent. I think what happens to the inner child when there is no Sovereign is that she doesn’t get to grow. So those wounded parts of us that have been stuck as a child without the Sovereign there don’t get to grow up and become integrated into the whole of us. They stay stuck as wounded parts at the age where we got wounded and they kind of got trapped in there.

 

C:  That’s interesting – that brings shame to mind and I remember you’ve talked about shame being something that can infiltrate anywhere.

 

M:  Yes but it’s very much to do with the Magician. Because shame is about fear. For most of us, if we’ve been wounded in childhood in a way that hasn’t been healed, it’s because the Sovereign hasn’t been there – the parental influence hasn’t been there, or the role model influence or the nurturing care – not necessarily just from a parent but someone playing that role. So we’ve been through our trauma and had to make sense of it in the way that we can – which tends to mean relying on our Magician because the Magician is the part that tries to keep us safe and deals with fear.

 

C:  And shame is part of keeping us safe – socially?

 

M:  Shame is part of keeping us safe because its a way of taking control of a scary situation. If a child is being abused for example then that’s terrifying: They’ve got someone way bigger than them, way more powerful than them doing things to them that they really shouldn’t be doing physically, emotionally, sexually. If the child was to sit with the terror of that, psychologically they would go under. So what is very common is that the Magician part of the child reframes it – which is the job of the Magician; to look at it differently and says ‘No, this is happening because theres something wrong with you – you’ve done something bad or wrong – that’s why this person is doing these things to you’.

 

C:  So then the person would keep going back to their Magician and keep trying to work out, cycling it round, trying to work out how they can adjust themselves?

 

M:  How they can hide their ‘badness’ or not be ‘bad’ – it gives them some control. Because if it’s them that’s bad, not this big scary person, then all they need to do is try and take control of themselves, try not to be ‘bad’, try not to do that again. And along with that of course comes this shame which is a feeling, a belief that there is something wrong with us, which isn’t actually true, but it serves a purpose in childhood when the Sovereign isn’t present. If a child has a trauma and they have a loving parent around them, that can mitigate a lot of that because they can understand and explain and let the child feel what they are feeling and then they know it wasn’t about them.

 

C:  I’m interested in theories of trauma and I’m trying to think of these four archetypes through that kind of lens. I think from your description I would associate Magician with dissociation.

 

M:  Yes, absolutely. Anything to keep safe. So dissociation is very common because the Warrior is completely not present in trauma.

 

C:  Really? – Oh because theres not enough safety to engage that aspect?

 

M:  Yes, that’s one of the definitions of trauma: that we carry it. If we can shake off trauma – the fight or flight response…

 

C:  …yes mobilisation…

 

M:  …then we don’t tend to carry the trauma with us afterwards

 

C:  …because its been processed and resolved?

 

M:  Yes. So the trauma that’s got trapped in the body – the Warrior has gone completely offline because it wasn’t safe. You may be physically able to fight or flee as a child but you just can’t because you are so totally dependent on the people around you. The fear is that it could then just cause something even worse to happen. Or sometimes it’s a trauma where we can’t move because we are literally pinned down or trapped in some way. So the Warrior is completely off line and we have to totally rely on our magician – and we go into that freeze place – and yes part of that is dissociation and seeing it from a distance, that’s one thing that can happen. Confusion is another.

 

C:  And a sort of preoccupation?

 

M:  Yes and working it out, what we call the ‘risk manager’ – the part that’s constantly looking out for risks to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

 

C:  And that leads to sitting on the fence about things?

 

M:  Yes. Because making this kind of decision evokes this kind of childhood belief that you could do something that could cause something [bad to happen].

 

C:  And therefore thinking you could actually do something to stop something as well – trying to take responsibility for the situation.

 

M:  Yes and then being in that paralysed space of ‘no I can’t speak, I can’t move I can’t do anything because it might make this worse’.

 

C:  Yes, that makes a lot of sense. In the context of trauma then what would Lover be – would that be the grieving element?

 

M:  Lover is the feelings, all the feelings that can’t be expressed – the vulnerability of the trauma – which is what the Magician is trying to protect you from because it’s such extreme vulnerability in that situation that literally all the feelings that go with that – sadness and grief, yes, but there’s going to be rage and anger as well.

 

C:  So rage and anger can live in that territory too?

 

M:  All emotions live in the Lover. With the other archetypes we always talk about the ‘gateway emotion’ but the emotion doesn’t kind of ‘live’ there if you see what I mean. It’s the gateway emotion that we need in order to feel able to experience that archetype.

 

C:  I remember you saying that grief was the gateway emotion for the lover.

 

M:  Lover represents all the emotions that we feel. Its where our ability to express our emotions lies.

 

C:  And shame tries to block those emotions, to try to stop the processing because its not safe enough – or at least that is the perception…

 

M:  …and theres no one to listen – so that’s where the Sovereign comes in. There’s no one who is going to receive those emotions and still love and care for you unconditionally and give you the correct response.

 

C:  So if you’ve grown up in a situation where there wasn’t enough of that Sovereign energy around how do you heal that and develop that later on in life so that you’re not constantly going back into these traumatic situations?

 

M:  Well it’s interesting because a lot of the time we’ve been talking about Sovereign I’ve been thinking – ‘well this is what a therapist does – this is the role that a therapist plays’ – and it’s not the only role that a therapist plays because you also hold a Magicians role – stepping back and allowing people to see perspective and reframe things. But a lot of the time I think a good therapist is modelling that unconditional love, that acceptance, that lack of judgment….so that someone can be free and the inner child parts are free to come up. Certainly in Shadow Work that’s what we would do. Almost always the first thing we do with anybody is to bring in a strong Sovereign so that they can learn to be that way towards themselves. That’s the sort of double whammy: if you haven’t had that from the outside then you don’t treat yourself like that – you talk to yourself from a more critical place in a way that maybe your parents or those around you treated you. And so you can’t even bring love for yourself to those parts until you’ve had it modelled somehow or experienced it in a piece of Shadow Work.

 

C:  Yes I mean I’ve done Shadow Work Groups with you where as an individual I’ve done pieces of work and then I’ve also done couples work. I’m wondering though, how it works in a group dynamic where there’s transference between people in a group that’s quite complex because it involves more than one person, or more than two people. Is there any insight from the Sovereign perspective on those sort of situations?

So far we’ve talked about an individual’s inner world so I am asking how does that mesh – for example, if there is trauma present and somebody is not mobilised, how does that interact with someone say who has a very strong Warrior?

 

M:  Do you mean not in Shadow Work but in a group dynamic situation of some kind?

 

C:  How would you work with the Shadow Work principles with that kind of thing or would you avoid them because they are too complex and its actually better to work with individuals and couples separately?

 

M:  There’s no reason to avoid it except that it would be complicated but that in a way that only ups the potential for healing. But I think the Shadow Work communication model (which I think you have come across) – that would be my first port of call so that everyone can start to see, especially the people involved, and I would work with two at a time within the complex dynamic I think to try and simplify it a bit and when you’ve got an understanding of that then you can look at the bigger picture so that everybody involved, including the two people, can start to understand why each person is behaving in a certain way. Because the person who is being Warrior is likely also to be carrying some pain or some trauma from the past that’s causing them to behave that way that’s expressing differently, that for them is expressing as Warrior – the person who is traumatised will be behaving maybe in fragmented ways or confusing ways to other people because of their reaction to the situation that they are perceiving as something from their traumatised past. And so the communication model is one way – or just talking about parts of people and helping them to see what parts are ‘out’: What is it that’s stimulating the traumatised person? Where is that coming from? Why are they feeling that way and having that usually quite extreme response? And equally what is it from the Warrior person’s past that is causing them to react to it? It maybe that they carry something very similar themselves that they don’t want to see and so the Warrior is protecting them from seeing that by attacking. Or it could be a multitude of other reasons. But the first thing – the Sovereign’s job – is to bring off the shame, that has to be done. So the Sovereign’s job is to hold the belief that everybody in that room is absolutely sane and perfect and loving and loveable and is behaving as they are for totally understandable reasons. It’s in that sort of cauldron that then everybody can step back – you know that doesn’t mean that the pain and the anger and the resentment and hurt and everything won’t be there …

 

C:  …but if the shame’s not there then people can own their part in it or their history of what has led to that behaviour can’t they, and not have to keep defending or dissociating or hiding.

 

M:  But you know equally it’s important not to force someone to do that if they aren’t ready for it. They may just stay entrenched in their position because that’s less risky than revealing to themselves, as well as to other people, what’s gone on for them in the past and what they’re trying to struggle with in their unconscious. So it’s very important that everything is always done with people’s permission. In a group there may be a risk that there is pressure on someone to admit or acknowledge something that it’s just not the right time to admit or acknowledge. So that would have to be done very sensitively.

 

C:  So Sovereign then is also compassion?

 

M:  Yes

 

C:  What’s the gateway emotion for Sovereign?

 

M:  Interestingly it’s Joy.

 

C:  That is interesting! Yes because joy resonates with higher emotions doesn’t it? I mean I know that might sound judgemental of more negative emotions which serve their own purpose, but in terms of having vision – that comes from joy doesn’t it? It comes from an opening to life, an opening to possibility and to things being different in the future. Rather than keeping on cycling through trauma, Joy is the opening out into some other expansion, some other life – positive experience that would make it worth doing the work, you know, worth putting in the effort for, or thinking through, or planning it or feeling the fear of it or whatever (gesturing to the relevant archetypes represented in the room).

 

M:  Exactly! Yes so there’s the joy that’s the real excitement, really kind of heightened – ‘Yes! Im going to build myself a Shadow Work room!’ – you know that kind of joy, and there’s the kind of joy that comes – say I’m working with a couple where I know that they are both good and lovely and wonderful and worthy people and I know that I’m a good and wonderful and lovely person and so its that more quiet, almost you might say peaceful joy of knowing and coming from that place which I believe is really important when you are working with a group or an individual.

 

C:  I’ve also experienced when I’ve been in real pain and very deflated this very subtle feeling of self compassion which feels like the sort of ‘thin end of the wedge’ of joy.

 

M:  Yes.

 

C:  You know it’s like rather than insisting that I go from 0 to 60 and feel absolutely ecstatic and want to dance – just that tiny little thread at the bottom of self compassion is the beginning of climbing back up into feeling in tune with vision and genuinely optimistic and energised.

I feel like we don’t have enough words for joy – I’m on a a bit of a mission to try and find more words for it because I think it is only understood as a kind of ‘out there full volume’ thing and actually I think that dishonours what it is – and it makes it unreachable.

 

M:  I think it does – yes and it forces people to be in a place, like you were saying, it sort of latches onto that idea as something higher and better than any other form of emotion – whereas I think the really important one for Sovereign is just that knowing that you’re OK, that you’re loved and that you are good and that just brings a real peace and gentle joy and then everything else can come from that. And Sovereign has this two sided nature as well – so the one side is the vision and the passion which is the masculine – and then the feminine is the blessing and the care and the support – and both are needed, both are equally as important – and there’s joy related to both of those which I think is the two different kinds of joy that we are talking about. So if you just have the blessing and the care and the support then you have that warmth and safety but not much growth and then if you just have the passion and the vision then you burn out – you just get excited and excitable and it doesn’t have any strength behind it because then you collapse. Manic depression / bipolar is a kind of inflation and deflation of Sovereign. So having loads of great ideas and then collapsing into that really depressed place of ‘Well who am I to do that?’ you know ‘Who am I to even be breathing?’ kind of thing because there is not that love and sense of self worth there…

 

C:  …and sort of continual blessing in the background.

 

M:  Yes exactly there’s not that bedrock.

 

C:  Do you see any particular patterns in your work around the Sovereign? For example people needing to have connections to other archetypes in place before they can access Sovereign or you said that normally you try to bring Sovereign in quite early on because actually Sovereign is the one that opens things out.

 

M:  The main thing that I notice when I am working with Sovereign is that it sounds so easy and wonderful and lovely to bring in a part that’s going to love and bless and support you, but people tend to find it quite hard. So quite often if I encourage people and they really want to bring in this Sovereign part that’s going to really support them, then when they first try it, it quite often looks like the parenting that they received as children. So their version of caring, their version of loving may be really quite critical and judgemental and harsh. Or it may be a bit more subtle than that or it may be kind of ‘well you didn’t do badly but if only you’d done…this and that and the other … then that would have been great’. So people need a lot of coaching and they need to step back and see that from the outside and see what they are doing to themselves. That their idea of nurture and blessing is not really what they would want, it’s a little bit off because its what they learned from a parental figure who themselves was getting it a little bit wrong or even very wrong. And so then we have to try again.

 

C:  And do you – because you’re the one in charge in these sessions – are you modelling Sovereign in a way?

 

M:  In a similar way as a therapist I think I use a lot of Magician, to help the person get perspective and see and reframe things but I think probably the most important thing is that I’m modelling Sovereign. So I am bringing that to hold the whole session. And I’m accepting all the different parts that come out on the carpet. Trusting that they are there for a reason. Trusting that they are there for the good of that person and trying to find out what it is they want and why they are there and giving them my unconditional attention and care and positive regard.

 

C:  Can you remember what your first experience of Sovereign was?

 

M:  Apart from my very first piece of Shadow Work which was a Lover piece, a grief piece, for the next few years my memory is of there being a black coloured part of me on the carpet that was completely covered with black cloth like a mushroom and the group bringing some kind of Sovereign to support that part – I couldn’t do it myself. I couldn’t – I just thought she was just …unspeakable…which is something that happens with trauma apparently – the verbal part of our brain gets completely shut down…

 

C:  …so having other grown up Sovereign brains online…

 

M:  So yes my memory is of ending up being held by people and having some sense of being loved and cared for but I remember very much not being able to bring it to myself for a long time…

 

C:  Was it something that you had to kind of grow from the ground up? Or is it something you think is innate in everyone and it’s just a question of accessing the Sovereign archetype?

 

M:  I think it’s a question of finding out what’s in the way – you know I thought I had a lot of Sovereign from being a teacher, from being a single parent, from being a Shadow Work facilitator and couple’s counsellor – clearly I could turn the Sovereign out to other people but it was a case of what was in the way of it coming in towards myself really – and I think a lot of that was the shame that you’ve talked about. That sense of there being something to be gained from ignoring that part and turning against that part of myself and denying that she was part of me and working with that.

 

C:  I’m interested to know as a follow on to that – what have you noticed people working on in their inner world in this way impacting on their outer world?

 

M:  I think – I mean I know this is a Sovereign interview so I don’t want to be artificially skewed towards the Sovereign, but I do think that the most common feedback is just people being able to be kind to themselves – and give themselves a break and feel less shame in their interactions with other people, and having compassion for the parts of themselves that they are really ashamed of that they really don’t like that they really don’t want people to see. Just being able to be gentle – to turn that corner of not judging themselves, of having some compassion and acceptance for those parts.

 

Then they have that kind of relaxedness and joy that I was talking about and they can say ‘Well I am a bit of an angry person’ or you know ‘I do lead quite a limited life, I do get quite frightened’ or whatever it is they’re ashamed of they are able to speak it and speaking as I already said with trauma is such an important thing. So to lessen the shame so that people can speak about themselves and to be able to hold themselves and talk to others as though they respect and care about themselves is a really big step and a lot seems to follow from that.

 

C:  I’m just wondering about the cultural or social approval or disapproval of people being in their Sovereign. How much is it related to status? You know, if you are given the status where Sovereign seems to correspond for example being a teacher, or being a therapist or  something – people expect you to be in your Sovereign don’t they? And that seems to be a cultural norm. But if say you are a student or you have a lower status within a group for whatever reason, how do you use Sovereign without almost inviting external aggression or indignation or something like that?

 

M:  I mean it’s a good question because Sovereign is generally very wounded in our society and that starts – I mean it may start in peoples homes depending on the parenting they get, but it definitely starts at school where we are expected to be subservient and give in to authority: We have no right to speak unless we are spoken to – or we have to put our hand up. Our joy, interestingly, our joy of learning, our joy of self expression is crushed. We are taught to control ourselves and to bring the Magician online out of fear – doing something we have to do that we have no choice in. So all of these are smothering the Sovereign and it’s based on conditional acceptance, if you write well: ’good girl’, if you can sit still: ‘good girl’, there’s no unconditional love involved – there’s no place for that. You pretty much can’t have unconditional love in a class of 30 children, it just wouldn’t work!

 

C:  Something about institutionalisation and Sovereign really not meshing very well then.

 

M:  Yes and getting warped into this kind of thing that you’ve talked about where one person is the Sovereign and in control and must be looked up to, which isn’t what Sovereign is about at all. It’s much better to think about the family and the kind of leadership and support that a loving mother would give to her children. Instead it’s got warped into this massive authority figure, which is really bad for the authority figure because they feel they have to take all the responsibility and do everything themselves and get no support because support is out: in school you are not allowed support because you can’t ask a question in an exam, you have to learn to do it on your own. So we get that message reinforced really – you know we look down in our society on people who need support. So the bigger an authority figure you are the more trapped you are into that kind of situation, where you to have to look like you know it all and you can do it all…

 

C:  …and be invincible in some way

 

M:  And you get this difficult dynamic going on. Then what does that authority figure, who is backed into a corner, do with someone who starts piping up and having ideas of their own and, you know, thinking that they know stuff – it’s terribly threatening to their very fragile position.

 

C:  And presumably then all the rage of the people who haven’t piped up against the authority before starts to be directed at the person who has piped up because ‘how dare they?’ when nobody else seems to have the right – how dare they give themselves the right?

 

M:  They’re not playing by the rules. These rules are very strong in our society. There are very few examples of healthy Sovereign because healthy Sovereign has two sides to it: So there’s leadership as a side of Sovereign. Following is another side of Sovereign – to be healthy in your Sovereign – you have to do both. To be a good leader you have to follow, you have to have as much of your life as you have leading, following. Following others, getting support, getting care, learning, whatever ‘following’ means to you.

 

M:  You know the Sovereign needs their ‘court’ to use the old fashioned term. But you know she needs to be supported as much as she is leading and when that doesn’t happen you get this brittleness because the leader needs somewhere to go to say ‘Oh I don’t know how to cope with this person because she is having ideas that are sometimes better than mine / different to mine. What should I do?’ You know the odds are that the leaders don’t have somewhere to go with that – so then they either have to resort to their Magician and some kind of cruelty, manipulation or control or to their Warrior and some kind of outright kind of attack. In some cases they might resort to their Lover and form a kind of fake connection where they lose their authority and say ‘Oh I want you to be my friend’ They sort of come down to the same level which isn’t their role either because their role is to be the one that’s in charge. So it’s terribly confused for us. How do I stay in charge but still give another person respect and still listen to them and still allow them to speak? What is it? What is subtly different about my role as a leader here if I give away my power and let other people have ideas and speak and even contradict me, then how am I still the leader? And people don’t know the answer to that question.

 

C:  I suppose its’s about including. It’s a quality of leadership is to be able to include isn’t it? Quite enlightened leadership maybe, but to include different perspectives and be able to integrate them and sort of model that way of integrating to the people that they are leading.

 

M:  I think it’s helpful to think of a family and to think of a mother with several children and she will listen – say they’re wanting to go on holiday – listen to all the children’s ideas and what they all want to do and she may very well do some of them or take some of them on board but she takes the final decision because she knows she’s the leader, she gives as much attention as she can to what they are saying and what they want and it may very well turn out that they can have what they want. That doesn’t in any way diminish her authority.

 

C:  I’m wondering how Sovereign applies to the politicians we have at the moment – people’s perspective of them and the scapegoating of them and the abuses of power that they get tempted into – we’re seeing a shadowy Sovereign being played out here (in the UK) and in America at the moment.

 

M:  We are, and I think again its interesting to think of leadership and Sovereign as involving both the leader and the followers – they’re all involved in that dynamic so we put them up there – we vote them into power – (unless there really is some vote rigging going on which we’ll leave out of the equation for now!). You know we choose these people and in a way we then want and expect impossible things from them. Now where the dynamic starts I don’t know. It may start with them promising impossible things, but somehow the dynamic gets skewed so we actually, as the ‘little people’, are looking up to our leaders in a way that’s backing them into this corner of being perfect. You know, if you look at Jeremy Corbyn being criticised for not wearing a tie or not being super decisive or not having some of these leadership ‘qualities’ that we believe are what a proper leader should have. It shows what pressure other leaders are under to be in this – the best word I can think of is a sort of a brittle, backed into a corner way of having decisive answers for everything, for never getting anything wrong.

 

C:  Always towing the line and wearing that tie. Which to me doesn’t look like leadership. It looks like obedience and conformity which you could equate to almost a lack of responsibility and self directed thinking. It’s quite flummoxing to know that other people have this totally different world view where they think those qualities are qualities of leadership whereas from another perspective they don’t look like that at all. I wonder whether when we put all the responsibility on ‘official’ leaders whether then we disown Sovereign in ourselves.

 

M:  Absolutely, Yes. And then we get ‘king slaying’ as we refer to it in Shadow Work: We put someone up on a pedestal and then we just really enjoy pulling them down because we don’t have that power and authority ourselves because we’ve given it away. So we don’t want to see someone who has it. So we will criticise and pull them down rather than get behind them, you know, because how leadership works in a healthy system (in theory, if there is such a thing!) is that all the followers are behind their leader they are blessing and supporting their leader and not wanting them to fail – quite the opposite – wanting them to succeed. So they are there behind them and the leader is receiving this rich resource of support from every single person who is in that community or, who is a hundred percent behind them and then it looks and feels very different.

 

C:  And then if the Sovereign knows those people are behind them, when they bring their own ideas or they bring autonomy or their own impulse, it’s seen as a contribution to moving forward rather than as undermining.

 

M:  And an essential contribution as well because one person can’t possibly have all the answers. They are just in a role for whatever reason and it’s quite healthy if that role is quite fluid as well I think, over time, so it’s not one person for too long. So coming back to your original question you know there’s very little that an individual person can do if they are in an organisation or a set up which is organised in this dysfunctional Sovereign way. There’s very little power that they have to be able to change that dynamic so that if they speak up then they are almost certainly going to be got at in some way if they are operating inside an organisation like this. It’s kind of built in to the unwritten rules and it’s a very difficult dynamic to change. I can’t emphasise strongly enough how much that comes from the school system, especially the private school system, the boarding school system – where independence is everything. Independence is ‘God’ because you’ve been severed from your parents and severed from your Sovereign quite often at the age of 8 and so there’s no way you are going to be able to form healthy leadership from that place. You are going to be relying totally on your Magician.

 

C:  And then often the people who form the leadership of our countries come from those establishments.

 

M:  And if they don’t, it is soaked in the ethos. I mean state schools are soaked in the ethos of boarding schools – they are influenced by that.

 

C:  And then church schools have their own formalities.

 

M:  And Sovereignty is where our higher power lives as well so any religious organisation is affecting the idea of Sovereign by bringing in a higher power that maybe has even more influence than parents – someone we believe who ideally unconditionally loves and cares for us but there are other messages that come down with that in religion.

 

C:  Yes I’m finding that with my own son who is 6 and who goes to a state school which is also a church school – actually quite a religious one. The only image he is given of God when they worship is of a male god. So all the prayers are said to a male god and I’ve asked for that to be changed (because it has been changed now in a lot of churches) and ‘No absolutely not’. Its a big responsibility because I’m in charge of his view of what Sovereign is and I don’t want that being done in my name. It’s a clear example of what you are saying.

 

M:  It’s a very good example that his idea of authority will now be a man – probably a white man as well..

 

C:   …Undoubtedly sporting a beard..

 

M:  …and that goes in very deep. I think one of the core things for me about Sovereign is that it’s impossible to truly give out what the Sovereign gives out if you haven’t received it yourself and also if you are not able to give it to yourself. There’s something really important to understand there. If we look at some of our wounded leaders who maybe have been to boarding school, or who clearly haven’t received the kind of unconditional parental love that we would hope that they received, and if they’ve never done any work to heal that then it’s literally impossible for them to love themselves enough to be able to stand up and lead in a healthy Sovereign way. So it’s not for want of being willing or trying or it’s not even from negative intention, it’s from literally, psychologically, that being impossible. Same with parenting, same with being a therapist – we can’t sit opposite someone and give them unconditional love until we’ve learned, to a reasonable extent, to do that for ourselves. I mean none of us obviously has ‘got there’ to total unconditional love – but to know that place, to know what that feels like.

 

C:  I guess one’s relationship to a sense of ‘source’ or overall goodness in life is important for that because once we’re grown up it’s unrealistic to expect to be nurtured from a Sovereign place by other adults in a consistent way I think?

 

M:  I don’t think so – no, not at all. In fact I think that’s what we should be looking for. But we are not likely to find it unless we are doing it to ourselves first.

 

C:  Why is that? Is it the idea that until you resonate with something yourself then even if it’s right in front of your face you don’t let it in…?

 

M:  …It’s going to feel wrong, it’s just going to feel wrong somehow or the other stuff is going to feel right.

 

C:  I remember having this experience at the end of a really intense workshop where we formed a kind of human arch and one person at a time walked through the arch and they had their eyes shut and we could whisper acknowledgements or blessings into their ears as they passed through and there was one man who had been through all kinds of abuses as a child and he shook with kind of terror and vulnerability all the way down this line of people, shaking, sweating, because he was really having to reach and open a place in him that had been so wounded and he was offering it back up to the light again. It was one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen.

 

M:  I mean that’s a great demonstration of how hard it is. In the real world he would avoid that – because who wants to be shaking a sweating and going through all that in the middle of a meeting or you know, when you’re on a date or whatever. It is a question of we can’t recognise something until we’ve seen it inside. It might even feel threatening or not real or not trust- worthy. So we generally have to go through quite a big shift internally before we can start receiving that from outside but then yeah my God! Have as much of it as you can, you know! It doesn’t cost anything! And a lot of people have a higher power that resources them as well in a different way. But you have to be careful with that because we have a piece called a ‘God split’ (in Shadow Work) where we get the higher power of that person out. So we may have someone very spiritual who believes in ‘love and peace’. So we get ‘love and peace’ out on the carpet and lo and behold it is saying: ‘Well, you’re not very loving and peaceful are you?, You’re not actually a very calm person…’ and we find out that even their higher power is actually giving them messages that are subtly critical or judgemental and they are not really getting that full acceptance. So in a similar way we try again and we try to get them in touch with a real higher power.

 

C:  That’s very interesting because in terms of trauma work I can see that Sovereign is resource, is being here in the body, being connected, feeling blessed, feeling permission, feeling safe. There’s something I’ve been learning about called ‘titration’ – being able to re-experience some feelings of trauma but in the light of resource. Being able to go in and out of those painful feelings and keep on touching back into resource so that re-traumatisation doesn’t happen.

 

M:  I do that a lot with one to one clients – so we have a lover part – a traumatised part, sometimes from a very specific age or event on the carpet and then we have the Sovereign part of them and so first the Sovereign will go and make a connection with the smaller part, the vulnerable part and let it know that it’s a safe space and that part is welcome and so on and then they’ll switch into that part and be able to experience some of the trauma and at that point I take the place of the Sovereign or ‘I remind them what the Sovereign was saying and so on and then they come out again to be in the Sovereign and so we work between the two.

 

C:  Yes that reminds me of the poem you read out at the beginning of the groups I was in – Everyone is welcome here. I realise now that’s actually Sovereign isn’t it? You were bringing that in right from the word go.

 

M:  Sometimes we even do it with a candle and each person in the group goes to each person with a candle and says ‘Welcome – all parts of you are welcome here’- it’s really nice. And very Sovereign! In fact fire is the element associated with Sovereign in Shadow Work. I lit a candle for us today and there is something that really speaks to me about Sovereign. You were talking about the importance of Sovereign and almost the centrality of Sovereign and almost you could say that it’s our pilot light – the spark of life inside us…

 

C:  …I’m thinking of the expression of ‘keeping the candle burning’ for someone or something, you know keeping the faith with something, an alignment to a higher vision of something, intention, purpose, all of that is symbolised by a candle. Even the life force within us is often described as a candle that’s either ‘snuffed out’ or ‘re-kindled’.

 

M:  It’s that love or that warmth – obviously it can be really raging or really burning as well when we are really on fire with an idea or something but I more often think of that warmth, gentleness and life force.

 


For more information about Shadow Work and Marianne’s practice please see: Marianne’s Website

 

Diversity From The Inside Out

In this article I will explore the idea that diversity is, at core, about more than just accepting and welcoming ’other’. It is, first and foremost, about accepting and welcoming parts of ourselves – parts that we haven’t yet had a chance to meet.
Firstly I am going to introduce you to a belief that has influenced me for a long time now and underpins all the work that I do. You will need to bear with me for a while as I take you through my own personal journey to arriving at this understanding – via shamanism, poetry, quantum physics, group dynamics and the other varied influences that have informed this belief.

When working with the shadow I work with the idea that we are all made up of many different parts. Some of these we are aware of and happy with, others we are aware of but we dislike and we’d rather they weren’t there. In addition to this there are yet other parts of us of which we have no awareness at all. They are missing from our conscious knowledge of ourselves and, as a result of these ‘missing’ parts, our experience of life is limited. Furthermore we can suffer much pain and confusion as these hidden aspects run things from the shadows.

Every day in my work I experience the truth of this idea that we are all made up of different parts. I meet and get to know many different aspects of my clients, and we continue to discover new parts of their personality together as they begin to come out of the shadows and make themselves known.
But how can it be that we are made up of so many very different, and often contradictory, parts? What deeper truth lies here? This is what I would like to explore now a little more deeply.

The Holographic Universe

I want to introduce here the idea of the holographic universe.
Both ancient mysticism and modern physics have suggested this profound, and for many of us counterintuitive, property of nature. Let me first explain about holograms themselves:

A hologram is a three dimensional image that is created when light is shone on to a holographic film. A holographic film is a small thin sheet of material where a 3D hologram, such as the image of a flower, is stored using laser technology. When you shine the laser through the film a 3D image of the flower will appear in front of you, hovering in space. This image looks just like the real flower, and can be viewed from many different angles, but it has no physical substance – it is made purely of light. That a hologram can be created at all is in itself pretty exciting – but there’s more. A fascinating property of a hologram is that, if you break up the holographic film into a thousand different pieces, and then you shine the laser through just one of these tiny pieces, the whole flower appears. It doesn’t matter how many pieces you cut the film in to, or how small each piece is, this is still true – although the image does get slightly blurrier as the pieces get smaller. For most of us this is completely counterintuitive and obviously profoundly different to the result we would get if we cut up a photograph of the flower, where each piece would contain only a small fraction of the whole image, and in order to see the whole flower again you would need to have all the pieces and then do a complicated jigsaw puzzle. This is not so for a hologram, the entire image is contained in each part of the holographic film. The whole is contained in each part. This is an idea that has been understood by mystics and poets for millenia. Famously it is found in the four lines at the beginning of William Blake’s poem ‘Auguries of Innocence’ :

‘To see a world in a grain of sand
and heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
and eternity in an hour.’

Science, however, has only relatively recently caught up with this idea. For example, in the mid 20th century results suggesting that the whole exists in every part were found by neuroscientists studying the human brain. They found that, rather than separate memories being stored in separate locations, almost any part of the brain can access any memory, and there is no one fixed location for any one piece of information. Each part of the brain has been found to have multiple and complex connections with other parts of the brain and information can be accessed from any area. As well as this the mathematics governing the way the brain works has been found to have the same form as the mathematics governing a hologram, suggesting the brain has similar properties to a hologram, ie – The whole is contained in each part.

To help with your understanding of this idea I want to include an analogy using some everyday science that more of us are familiar with. This time we are looking at the human body. We all know that the body is made of a head, arms, legs, brain, heart and so on, all very different in appearance and function, yet, if we take one tiny cell from any part of the body and look deeply in to it we find the genetic information that gives the template for the whole person. It doesn’t matter where we took that cell from – it will contain the information needed to recreate the whole person. A nerve cell will contain all the information necessary to make a heart, a leg, a toe nail and so on. So again, the whole is contained in each part – if we look deeply enough.

The above examples only refer to three specific aspects of reality – holograms, bodies and brains. What is really fascinating however is that theoretical physics has come up with the same suggestion for the entire universe. That is, the whole of reality. David Bohm, a pioneer of quantum physics who worked with Albert Einstein, believed that although the universe appears to be solid, it is, in essence, a magnificent hologram. He believed in the “whole in every part” idea, and he believed that, just like a hologram, each part of physical reality contains information about the whole. Quantum physics has found that particles in the universe are connected in surprising and instantaneous ways and that the mathematics that governs the universe has similarities with the mathematics governing holograms. Each particle is instantaneously connected to other particles and the universe behaves as much like a single unified whole as it behaves like a collection of separate particles. If we study one particle deeply enough we can find connections and information about other particles and other parts of the universe. So theoretical physics provides a wealth of evidence which suggests that the universe can be seen as a giant hologram existing in a way where the whole is contained in each part.

I first came across this idea many years ago, when studying theoretical physics at university. I studied the bizarre predictions that quantum physics makes about the nature of reality, and although disagreements continue to abound about how to interpret this ‘strangeness’, no physicist would dispute just how strange the nature of reality actually is. Further experiments have only gone on to confirm some of the more weird predictions of quantum physics that are impossible to marry up with our ‘everyday’ understanding of the world. The holographic universe is one of the many ideas I came across at this time. These studies allowed me to open my mind to ideas that previously I might have thought were ‘unscientific’, and once I’d gained my degree I left the world of physics and began to study psychology, shiatsu and eventually Shadow Work.

So let us run with this idea for a moment – if the nature of the universe is that the whole is contained in each part, then doesn’t it make sense that this could be true for human beings too – that the whole of humanity may be contained within each human being? Could the “whole in every part” nature of holograms provide us with a radical new way of understanding ourselves? We are the creations of a holographic Universe. As reflections of it we reflect its nature and are holographic as well – with the whole of humanity being contained in each and every human being.

This is an ancient mystic and shamanic belief and is at the core of the work I do exploring the shadow. This idea provides us with a way to make sense of human beings presenting with so many different and contradictory parts – because we all contain the potential for every possible aspect of humanity. We are not simple but infinitely complex. We are not just individuals but we are also intimately connected with the whole web of humanity. This idea is beautifully expressed in this poem by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh written in 2015:

Please Call Me By My True Names

Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to, my people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life.
My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

Our 360 Degree Personality

In Shadow Work we often speak of the idea of being born in to a 360 degree personality. In a similar way to the ‘whole in each part’ theory, this idea suggests that at the moment we are born we contain the potential for all different aspects of humanity to be expressed. What does get expressed, however, depends on a multitude of factors: the people around us, the circumstances we are born into, the challenges we face in life and also perhaps a natural tendency to lean towards certain ways of being. In childhood we will quickly learn to hide or deny aspects of ourselves that might put us into danger. Similarly, the sides of us which help us survive become strongly developed. The situations life presents us with will powerfully affect which aspects of ourselves we call on, which we hide away, and which are never discovered and lie dormant.

Many years ago when I was training as a couple’s counsellor I read a book about working with gay and lesbian couples. As part of the author’s introduction she stated that if you have never had homosexual feelings you are repressing something. I was really taken by this idea and remember saying to myself slightly jokingly – “Wow, how interesting, I must certainly be repressing something, I have never felt any sexual attraction to women”. To my astonishment, a week later I had a dream about a sexual encounter with a woman. I was fascinated by this process…. it seemed like reading that one sentence had unlocked something in my unconscious that gave permission for attraction to women to be expressed. Although consciously I still have no attraction to women, given the dream I had, an unconscious part of me clearly thinks otherwise.

In the work that I do I hold this understanding that each person has every possibility in them – even if they have never known that aspect of themselves or it has never been expressed. Holding this belief informs the way I facilitate. So if a client hasn’t found their ‘successful leader’, or ‘sensual lover’ or ‘brave warrior’ side for example, I will help them find it. I will work on the assumption that this is within them (in the same way that every aspect of human nature is within them) – they just haven’t found it yet. Similarly, if someone has difficulty with authority, say, and finds authority figures to be overbearing and critical, I will support them in finding their own inner critical authority figure. Only when they meet, accept and get to know this part of themselves will they gain the understanding and resources necessary to be able to manage such people in the outside world effectively.

In my early years as a Shadow Work practitioner I attended a week long Shamanic course where we explored and deepened our understanding of ourselves using many different shamanic tools and ideas. On one of the days we performed a ritualised dance. We had to imagine that the person we were dancing with was someone from our real life with whom we were in conflict. This dance was a battle – without touching our partner we energetically battled out who would ‘win’ and who would ‘lose’. The winner finally ‘killed’ their opponent who then dramatically ‘died’ and fell to the floor. I was absolutely immersed in this – and absolutely determined that I would be the victor in my dance! I couldn’t imagine why anyone would submit and be the one who was killed. True to form I ‘won’ the battle and ‘killed’ my opponent. Then, when all the ‘losers’ were dead on the floor we, the victors, were directed to go and be with the person we had ‘killed’ – to put our hands on them and absorb their being in to us – to breathe their essence in. We were accepting they were part of us. We had slain part of ourselves and were now absorbing and integrating that in to ourselves. It was astonishingly powerful. At the same time I was still very glad that I’d won! It was only when we had feedback in the group afterward and the ‘losers’ reported the beauty of being lovingly absorbed in to their victor that I realised I had missed the point – It didn’t matter who had won and who had lost – there had been beauty and love in this experience for the ‘losers’ too. This was the first time I really came across the idea of us all containing every aspect of humanity with no aspect being ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than any other. Anything we see and are in conflict with in the world is an aspect of ourselves we haven’t yet come to know and love. The battles we have in life are important processes to go through in order to meet and integrate these new parts of ourselves.

Meeting difference

It may be striking you by now that if each one of us contains the whole of humanity, we need to expand quite a lot to become whole and embrace every aspect of ourselves! This is certainly the work of more than one lifetime…. However, being part of a diverse group or society can significantly increases the potential for this process by introducing us to new and different aspects of the human experience. As we get to know people different to ourselves we are offered the opportunity to recognise new aspects of our own being. We can then explore, accept and integrate these parts.

There are, however, obvious and significant challenges in this. Familiarity is safe, and there may be risks for us in accepting certain aspects of ourselves. For this reason it may be very uncomfortable to be exposed to diversity. Because of the risks of facing particular parts of ourselves we may keep distant from certain people who are different to us. This offers us the opportunity to deny aspects we don’t want to see within ourselves and to use the different person or group as a convenient place to dispose of these parts. We can leave ‘abusiveness’ with authority figures, ‘moral degeneration’ with sex workers, laziness with ‘youth’, disconnection with immigrants and so on – so we can firmly leave those aspects ‘out there’ and not have to accept that they may also live in us. Of course, if we really got to know these people we would realise that they were much more than just our projections – that they may not even fit these stereotypes at all – that they are, in fact, not so different from us. So if we wish to maintain this illusion of difference it’s important that we don’t really get to know these ‘others’. We keep them, and the aspects of ourselves we’re not willing to own, at arm’s length. This may give us a sense of security and confidence in the short term – but in the long term it can limit who we are and our full expression of ourselves.

Most of us enjoy the sense of safety that can come from being in a group or society where people are ‘familiar’ or ‘like us’. We seek out such places and feel relaxed and comfortable there. Sometimes though, after a time, we might get the unsettling sense that our acceptance rests largely on us not ‘rocking the boat’. What would happen if we spoke a different opinion or revealed something different about ourselves? We are unlikely to trust the outcome of this if we haven’t seen it tested by anyone else. Or worse, we may have witnessed another person being rejected by the group for expressing their difference, and we may fear this to be our fate too if we share certain sides of who we really are. We begin to sense that our safety and acceptance depend on us being similar to the rest of the group.

For simplicity, and ultimately for safety’s sake we often try to fit ourselves in to certain boxes and to narrow ourselves down to just a few aspects with which we and others are comfortable. Human beings, however, are not simple, and at some point we will feel the pain of these restrictions as parts of our true selves are denied and repressed. A more authentic sense of safety can come if we get the opportunity to be in a group, society or family where those who are different are welcomed and accepted for who they are – where difference is approached with interest, and conflict is openly processed. We are then able to trust that we are safe to be ourselves and express the many facets of who we truly are, without the pressure to fit in or the fear of rejection.

My Own Journey With Inner Diversity

When I was a young mum bringing up my son alone I was very aware of how people might pigeon hole me. As well as raising my child I held many different roles simultaneously. At one point I was a Starbucks barista, an ‘A’ level physics tutor, a relationship counsellor and a shiatsu practitioner. Internally I was also a struggling single parent, someone who felt isolated and lonely, someone who had painful angry relationships, and I was a wonderful, devoted and loving mother. I could feel myself inhabit each of these stereotypes at different times. Some I enjoyed and embraced more than others, and some I felt deep shame about.
When new acquaintances asked me ‘What do you do?’ I rather enjoyed choosing from my varied list of jobs. Playfully I would often choose the role which I thought would baffle them the most. I was well aware that the answer I gave would result in people forming very different views of me and responding to me in very different ways. I envisaged people’s confusion when they couldn’t marry together the different dimensions to my life.
The different elements I expressed may have confused others, but primarily I believe I myself was confused by this diversity and I was struggling to integrate and feel comfortable with all these disparate parts of myself – especially the polarities of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. They didn’t all sit together comfortably within me and I wasn’t sure how to present myself to the world. I was self-conscious in choosing how I wanted to be seen. I was uncomfortable with the thought of the different opinions people might form of me – both positive and negative. I somehow didn’t feel that I was allowed to just be myself – containing such variety. I did my best to hide the parts that carried deep shame, trying to obscure these by developing what I saw as the more ‘acceptable’ and praiseworthy sides of myself. This may have looked ok from the outside, but for me it limited my true self expression and prevented me from feeling relaxed within myself.

The impact of denied aspects in a group

If there is no person or group of people available where we can ‘dispose’ of our unacknowledged sides then these will come bubbling out in unexpected and sometimes dangerous ways. An aspect can get completely put in to shadow if a whole group, family or society are unaware of that side of themselves – it is pushed in to the shadows and can cause damage from this place. Let me explain this with an example: Imagine a group of people join together for a month long retreat. Now imagine that for one reason or another none of these people believes that anger is part of their personality. As this aspect is denied by the group over the month it goes more and more deeply in to shadow. All groups and individuals have a natural drive towards wholeness. So, if something (in this case anger) is missing from the group the tension of this will build. At some point, anger will erupt out in an uncontrolled unconscious and destructive way. When the tension gets too much it may result in one person having an extremely angry, explosive outburst and then being ostracised – scapegoated by the rest of the group as ‘the angry one’. This will restore the status quo for a while as anger is now consciously present within the group. (Although it will be extremely uncomfortable for the scapegoated person who is left carrying all the repressed anger of the whole group!) Alternatively the anger may show up as passive aggressive behaviours that fracture the group and reduce trust. Another result might be that the anger gets turned inwards, resulting in self harm, depression or suicide. One way or another the anger will find a way to come out, because it has to be present for the wholeness of the group. We all have an angry side – and if we can come to accept and know this side of ourselves we will be able use its power consciously and constructively rather than destructively. However, our using anger effectively also requires those around us to have an awareness and acceptance of this side of humanity, otherwise we can simply become a convenient scapegoat for their unacknowledged anger.

So, when a group or society decides (consciously or unconsciously) that something is unacceptable, or taboo, it doesn’t have the effect of ‘stamping out’ that behaviour, or that type of person. Quite the opposite – this aspect, driven in to the shadows, rises up, forcing its way out, and carries a huge amount of power from its banished position. A helpful analogy is to imagine trying to hold a beach ball underwater. It takes up a huge amount of energy to keep it down, and if we lose control for just a second it forces its way quite powerfully to the surface. One way we can make sense of this hidden force is by thinking of all groups, societies and individuals as having a drive towards wholeness. This is their true nature, and the desire to be whole will eventually overcome all obstacles and win through.

There is a paradox I’d like to mention here regarding group workshops. A high level of safety is required if we are to explore our shadows. We can often find this sense of safety if we are in a group of people who are similar to us and who we feel will understand us well. However, if a workshop consists of only one section of society then, while the sense of safety experienced may be high, the work of the group may also be limited by this lack of diversity, which can limit what people believe would be acceptable within the group – and paradoxically make them feel less safe to express themselves. On the other hand, the more diverse the group the less safe each person may feel – at least initially, yet the greater potential for richness in the work. As more and more aspects of the human experience are welcomed into the room everyone present is liberated by this – shadows are lifted and people feel safe to express more of who they really are.

Every Part and Every Person is Necessary

Now let’s come back for a moment to my original statement – that diversity is, at core, about welcoming in and accepting parts of ourselves. I hope the links I’ve explored and the examples I’ve given have both clarified this statement and helped you to explore it more deeply. Diversity is intrinsically linked with the work that I do. It is vital when working with the shadow to invite in all aspects of each person – to make everything welcome and to understand the inherent value of each part. No one part is more important than another, and each is an essential, necessary piece of the whole. If a group is unable to accept certain members then that group is limited and diminished by this. If a person is unable to accept a part of themselves then their experience of life is limited and diminished also. Each person is necessary for there to be wholeness in a group and each part of each person is necessary for that person to be whole.

Who am I then?

This leaves us with the question – Who am I then? If we all contain everything what makes me different from others? Which parts are the real ‘me’? For myself – am I the wise, capable, confident group facilitator, or am I the person who can be found curled up in a ball overwhelmed by one of my many ‘irrational’ fears? Of course, the answer to this is that I am both – and much, much more. A more pertinent question might be – Can I expand enough to embrace and accept both of these aspects of myself? Ultimately can I continue this life long process of getting to know and accept ‘new’ aspects of myself – the ‘bad’ as much as the ‘good’, the ‘small’ as much as the ‘big’, the ‘hopeless’ as much as the ‘hopeful’? The more parts of myself I can know, accept and integrate the more whole I can become. Furthermore, the more parts of myself I know, the more I am able to welcome and accept all aspects of others. The more I know and accept myself the greater intimacy I can have with my partner and my friends as I will be more willing to allow and accept all aspects of them. I will also be better able to support those coming to my practice to explore their shadows and get to know new parts of themselves.

Once I know and have integrated new parts of myself I can then choose which to express and which not to express. This is different to being in denial of these parts and saying they are ‘not me’. This is about knowing and accepting all aspects of myself, so that I am in charge of myself and my life and no aspect dominates from the shadows. So, once I get to know the frightened part of me well, I can then listen to her and reassure her and take care of her so that she doesn’t need to dominate. If there are parts of ourselves we don’t know then we have no power over them and such parts can dominate us completely. Working in this way, whilst each of us contains the potential for all aspects of humanity, we can manifest our unique personality deliberately and consciously in the way we hold and express each part. We can also accept that who we are is something fluid, dynamic and changeable as we continue to explore more and more parts of ourselves.

Uniqueness and Universality

Rather than ending this article with our uniqueness and difference though, I’d like to share with you another paradox that often emerges when working with groups. As everyone’s differences are welcomed and expressed, what frequently comes across most strongly for everybody present is how, as we dive deeper and deeper in to each person, we find so much similarity there, and how, at core, we experience the same pains, the same joys, the same longings, the same fears. We’re each part of the same whole and the whole is contained within each of us.

‘… While we celebrate our diversity, what surprises me time and time again as I travel around the constituency is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.’

Jo Cox MP (An extract from her maiden speech in the House of Commons Chamber on Wednesday 3 June 2015)

 

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More information about Marianne Hill Shadow Work

Maybe it’s just my imagination….

How do I know what I’m feeling?

There is a wealth of evidence available which suggests that our whole bodies themselves are sense organs which communicate with us, often on an unconscious level, about our feelings. We get information about our emotions via our bodies. Similar to the way that we get visual information through our eyes, or auditory information via our ears. Our bodies tell us about our emotional reaction to situations, and they tell us things our eyes, ears and brains can’t. So although we may not be consciously aware if it most of the time, our emotions are felt via the body. This is most obvious when we are in extreme emotion – we may shake with fear, tremble with rage or convulse with grief. If you’re feeling that there is something wrong, then there is something wrong. The evidence is there in your body, and our bodies have a wisdom that is different to intellectual thought.

Your emotions matter, what you’re feeling matters. In fact it matters more than anything else. If you are able to listen to this information from your body then your feelings can guide you towards a fuller expression of who you are and towards healing and wholeness. Your feelings are not your imagination, they are real – you know this because you can feel them. It can be helpful to practice tuning in to your body when you are feeling something and notice where it lives and the sensations that are present. This is your truth. If you can come to trust this then it will serve you well. The first step is to believe that what you’re feeling matters – then you can allow this to be your guide.

Why do we minimise our feelings?

Many of us have developed the habit of dismissing what we’re feeling because we think that maybe it’s ‘just us’. We fear that it may be ‘in our head’, and may not be ‘real’. We think it may be ‘silly’ or ‘irrational’ and we might say things to ourselves like:

‘Maybe it’s just my imagination.’
‘I’d better not say anything.’
‘I don’t want to rock the boat.’
‘I don’t want to make a problem where there isn’t one.’
‘I shouldn’t be feeling like this.’
‘It doesn’t matter what I’m feeling.’
‘It’s not grown up or rational to feel like this.’

For many of us thoughts such as those above can be so persuasive that we don’t even allow ourselves to notice and focus on the feelings that are going on in our body. It may take time and some conscious effort to start noticing this and taking it seriously. The idea that what we’re feeling isn’t important can be deeply embedded, and may stem from a lifetime of not having our feelings welcomed or respected. There may be a shame and embarrassment in admitting to our feelings because we don’t understand them or they seem childish or silly. Alternatively we may fear the consequences of listening to our feelings… If we feel angry we may fear having to act on this and say something to someone, and we may fear what their response might be – so we decide not to listen to the anger. If we’re feeling empty when we’re with our partner we may fear the relationship is over, and we may fear the consequences of this – so we decide not to listen to the emptiness. There are many such thought processes, (which are often largely unconscious), that can cause us to squash our feelings almost before we have even felt them.

But sometimes I get upset for no reason!

Ok. Now what you are feeling is real, it matters and is important. But this doesn’t mean that what you are feeling is always related directly to what is happening around you right now – and that’s ok. That’s how human beings work. It’s not a reason to dismiss your feeling. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know why you’re feeling it – it is real and there is a reason.
What you’re feeling may relate directly to what is happening around you, or it may relate to an experience you’ve had in the past – where the emotion is still unprocessed and living in your body. Many of us carry intense fear, grief or rage from childhood experiences that we found intolerable. We had no one to go to who would listen to this pain and comfort us, so these feelings continue to live inside us, looking for an opportunity to be expressed and understood.
Whether what you are feeling is related to what is happening now or to the past, you are really feeling this – the feeling is real, and responding to it offers a way forward – either by reacting directly and appropriately to what is happening around you, or by sharing what you are feeling with someone else so that it can be supported and understood. You may choose to explore and release the emotion of past experiences in a safe place, with a therapist or in workshop, so that you no longer have to carry this.

Is it fair on those around me?

Many of us try to be very careful not to hurt others by expressing powerful emotions that we are experiencing. However, if you’re with someone else and you don’t want to ‘infect’ them with what you’re feeling, or you don’t want to ‘spoil their day’ – then sorry, but it’s actually too late. We are all very sensitive beings and that person will pick up on what you’re feeling even if you don’t share it with them. You are in relationship of some kind with that person, and what you are feeling will affect things between the two of you, whether you want it to or not. You can decide to take yourself off and be alone, but this too, of course, will have an impact on the other person. So trying to pretend we’re not feeling what we’re feeling is not a very helpful strategy. Another person can be left very confused if they sense strong emotion in us that is not being expressed.

So how then can we allow ourselves to have our feelings without acting out and hurting those around us? Firstly it is helpful is to get to know ourselves well enough to have a good sense of what might be emanating from us and what we might be picking up on from others – although this exploration will probably never be complete. It’s also helpful to have a language with which to share our thoughts and experience of what’s going on – this could be sharing it with ourself in a journal or self reflective process of some kind, or it could be sharing it with the other person involved in the situation.

In Shadow Work, and many psychological traditions, we believe that the world we see around us can be thought of as reflecting our inner world – the world we carry within us. One way of saying this is that we project our inner world on to the outer world. This is particularly troublesome when we are projecting out parts of our inner world that we do not like or find hard to accept. We project these on to others and then we don’t like what we see! Projection can be very powerful and persuasive – we can sometimes be totally convinced of a person’s motives or intentions, when actually this is not what is going on for them at all. We become upset and react strongly, not realising that what we see is just a reflection of something living inside ourselves.

Help! How can I know what is ‘real’?

We can find out about ourselves by interacting with the outside world and checking out the veracity of our thoughts – our projections. The outside world is a place we can grab hold of and interact with to help us get clear on what is ‘real’ and this will give us some solid ground to move forward from. But we don’t need to check the veracity of our feelings, our feelings are always real. They exist physically in our bodies. So in this way they are one of the few things we can absolutely trust. They are our feelings, but they are rarely ‘nothing to do with anyone else’. They are often intimately connected with another, and working with that person to understand what is going on is often the most effective way to gain insight and find out the ‘truth’ and move forward. We can find out if what we are feeling fits with what is going on for them, or if it is something we are projecting on to them and the situation.

But I don’t understand!

We work a lot with paradox when we’re exploring the shadow – we explore situations where two opposing ideas both appear to be true. A willingness to accept paradoxes is important if we are to interact with the world as it really is, rather than forcing it in to a box for the sake of having a sense that we know what’s going on! For example, in the world of physics there are some well known paradoxes, such as wave particle duality, where light appears to behave as both a wave and a particle in different situations. No scientist can explain this or would claim to have a full solution. The same is true in the area of spirituality and personal development – we come across many paradoxes. This seems to be the nature of the Universe. We have to move forward accepting the existence of paradoxes otherwise we can get stuck.
In terms of our experience of the world we have two theories (at least) that both seem to have validity. One is that we create our own reality and that everything we experience in the world emanates from our own psyche projected out on to the world. The other is that there are other people out there with their own physical, emotional and spiritual lives whos behaviours can affect us and cause a reaction. It is helpful for us not to spend too much time wondering which of these is ‘The Truth’, but to move forward we have to work with this paradox and to hold the possibility of either of these interpretations being ‘true’. That way we can explore the world as we experience it.

Following our emotions is ‘Win – Win.’

If we find out our feeling is a response to something in the outside world we can take the appropriate action and respond to this feeling in a way that serves us. If we’re angry we can set a boundary, speak up, stand up for ourselves, if we’re afraid we can protect ourselves in whatever way is appropriate, if we’re sad we can nurture ourself and give ourself time to grieve and share our feelings, and so on. If we follow this feeling we don’t know where it will take us, but we will be following our healthy growth impulses and moving forward in our life and our relationships guided by the wisdom of our feelings.

If we find our reaction is not relevant or proportionate to what is going on around us we can explore where it comes from and start to understand more about our own inner world and our woundings. We can begin to heal past trauma. We can share our feelings with those close to us and they can come to understand us better and to know our reactions and where they stem from, so we stand to be better understood and cared for.

So wherever our feelings stem from there is potential for healthy growth and healing – if we can have the courage to trust and listen to these feelings and take action.

How do we act on our feelings when we’re not sure where they stem from?

We can do this in many ways, although it is good to be as clean and clear in our communication as possible otherwise we may just add further confusion. It is important to let the other person know what we are feeling in a way that doesn’t assume it is related to them and doesn’t blame them for our feelings – yet that also allows space for the possibility our feelings may be related to what is going on for them. One set of guidelines for communicating clearly in this way is described by the Shadow Work Authentic Communication model.
Imagine coming home after a long day at work and our partner says ‘You’re home rather late.’ We might feel frightened and think that they are judging us, we might fear something is wrong – it may remind us of the past when we had a very critical parent and it seemed we could never do anything right. We may feel defensive. However the truth is that this could actually have been a simple statement of fact on our partner’s behalf. They may even be pleased that we were home late, since they got to, for example, finish off an important work project undisturbed. We simply don’t know. But we do know what we feel in our body – fear and a defensive anger. We can then look at the thoughts that have caused these feelings. The thoughts behind them might be ‘I’m being told off, maybe I’ve done something wrong. It’s not fair – I should be able to come and go as I please.’ We can either say nothing as we’re concerned this is just ‘our stuff’ and not necessarily to do with the other person, or we can share it with them, trusting that this is the best way forward. This can take some skill to develop. To read about ways of doing this please take a look at the following links.

How Can We Communicate With Authenticity and Depth?

Communicating Without Arguing

Communicating Our Vulnerability

Communicating Our Boundaries

Examining Our Judgements Of Others

Whatever we find out from sharing our experiences with another person it will be helpful information for us. We’ll either find out that what we’re feeling fits with their reality, or that it doesn’t. Either way we can have a conversation that leads us to a better understanding of ourselves – at the same time the other person also gets to know us better and to understand our reactions better. This all leads to a more easeful and genuinely caring relationship.

Why is it worth exploring our inner world?

If we have a powerful sense, for example of being belittled, unwanted, rejected, criticised or unloved, and on checking this out with those around us we find out that this doesn’t fit with their reality, then we may want to look at what’s going on in our inner world, and why we are creating this sense for ourselves when it isn’t actually ‘true’.

Some spiritual traditions would say ‘You create your own reality. There are no limits. You can have whatever you want.’ But in Shadow Work we would say ‘You create your own reality. You can have whatever you believe is possible.’ Which is quite a different statement. This clearly does have limits, based on what our inner world looks like.
If you think this sounds like a catch 22 then you’re right! Somehow we have to change our inner world – but how do we do that when we are always seeing our inner world projected everywhere – does this mean there is no chance for us to have a different experience?
One way of looking at it is that although our outer landscape reflects our inner world it is not an exact reflection, otherwise there would be no possibility for change. We can start the process of change by changing our inner landscape, or we can start by working on changing our outer landscape which, in turn, will reflect something new back to us which then becomes embedded into our inner landscape.

In Shadow Work we work with the deep wiring of our inner world. We explore the old patterns that are causing us difficulty, and we then go about changing these patterns and introducing a new experience. This is absorbed into your being on every level – through head, heart and hand so that it becomes real in your inner world. Once this is in place you will believe it is possible – because you have experienced it. You will then automatically attract this in to your life. There is no ‘trying’ to be different. Or ‘trying’ to think positively. You simply are different, and you think and feel differently about this issue.

 

More information about Marianne Hill Shadow Work

Positivity versus Joy

People look to many different things to bring them joy – money, status, a beautiful place to live, the perfect partner, children, friends…. . However there is also generally a sense that a person’s way of being – who or how they are – has a greater influence on their happiness than the people or things around them. Many of us strive to find this joy inside ourselves, and equally we hope that those we love will experience this kind of joy and we want to support them in finding this for themselves – but how do we find this? In working towards joy being positive about ourselves and our lives sounds like a logical starting point and is encouraged by many different ideologies and schools of thought – surely choosing to think positive thoughts is going to bring us closer to joy….isn’t it? This article discusses why this isn’t necessarily the case, and how positivity can actually move us further away from experiencing the deep and lasting joy for which we are searching.

Joy

A core belief that I hold when working with the shadow is that true joy comes from knowing, accepting, loving and blessing all parts of ourselves. This means knowing and accepting the parts of us that are in deep grief, or filled with rage, frightened, hesitant, hateful or full of shame or guilt. It means welcoming these parts of ourselves in to our sacred realm and tenderly caring for them and listening to their needs and the powerful emotions that they carry. As we come to know and accept more and more of ourselves we find we are more able to sit back, relaxed in our own skin, knowing there is nothing in us that we fear, nothing we need to hide. Sitting in this place colours all our life experiences. It gives us a deep confidence whatever is happening around us and allows joy to arise even in the midst of life’s most difficult challenges. We lead ourselves through life from a foundation of joy. Throughout our life we can find joy bubbling up from this place in us, unforced and unbidden. When it comes there is no reaching, no trying, joy simply flows.

Positivity

On the other hand a rigid insistence on positivity at all times, constantly  striving for only the ‘positive’, requires a denial or repression of the ‘negative’ ‘unwanted’ aspects of ourselves – a pushing away or hiding of these unwelcome parts. This can be in complete opposition to the process of self acceptance described above. Other people can unwittingly encourage this in us through the espousing of certain oversimplified spiritual beliefs and practices and also through platitudes and well known phrases such as…..

♦ Can’t you just be happy? ♦ No one likes someone who’s angry all the time. ♦ You create more of what you focus on. ♦ What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. ♦ It’s all happening for a reason. ♦ Time heals. ♦ If you can’t think of anything nice to say don’t say anything at all. ♦ Cheer up – it might never happen. ♦ There’s no point in being sad. ♦ You look much prettier when you smile. ♦ Man up. ♦ Boys don’t cry. ♦ You have to be strong. ♦ I’m sure he/she loves you really. ♦ Can’t you just be more flexible? ♦ Just go with the flow. ♦ It will all look better in the morning. ♦ Life doesn’t give you things you can’t handle. ♦hYou’ve been through worse. ♦ Think about it from his/her point of view. ♦ I can’t believe they really meant to do that. ♦ That’s not a very constructive thing to say. ♦ You have to forgive or it will eat you up. ♦ You’re the only person who suffers if you hold on to this anger. ♦ You’re being very negative. ♦ Negative emotions give you cancer.

On top of the pain you are already experiencing you are now experiencing the pain of not being allowed to be yourself. Of being told your feelings are inappropriate, invalid. You now carry the shame of being ‘wrong’ somehow in the way you are dealing with your upset, and the guilt of upsetting others with your ‘negative’, ‘unhelpful’ responses.

However the people who make these comments aren’t intending to be cruel. They are simply sharing their own manual for living life. They have no experience of emotions being helpful in anyway. They just don’t see the point in them. The problem here is that the value of emotions isn’t something that can be explained intellectually – it has to be experienced. The invitation ‘Why not just be happy?’ is hard to argue with – it certainly sounds like a very good idea! Why would you take the risk of experiencing these painful emotions if you have no prior experience of what is to be gained by allowing them?
Yet unfortunately these phrases that sound so benign, even caring, are subtly (or not so subtly) asking the person to move away from what they are feeling in that moment and suggesting that it is not ok or welcome for them to be experiencing this. How can we possibly feel joy if we are getting the message that parts of us are unacceptable and we have to keep them hidden? We are being told to hide our distress away, and in doing we lose the opportunity of ever finding the comfort and support which could bring us relief. Resigning ourselves to this can create inner despair and hopelessness. Relentless positivity requires a deadness to our true selves, a repression of the emotions that are our very life force. Our smile – although beautiful, will have a hollowness behind it, and we will regularly need to find a place to hide, since being around others in this way is exhausting and impossible to sustain. Behind this lovely smile which others may enjoy and encourage an ugly battle is going on, where parts of us are being banished, gagged, strangled and silenced. This is very painful for our true self. A dream that many people have described having is one where they become aware they have killed someone and they are trying to hide the body. One interpretation of such a dream is that we have killed a part of ourselves and we are trying to keep it hidden. In our waking life we may develop the sense of wearing a mask and yet not really understand where this feeling comes from, as hiding our true selves has become second nature and we are no longer consciously aware we are doing it.

An insistence on positivity comes from a place of fear

It is important to recognise here that relentless positivity comes from a place of fear – fear of powerful emotions and the energy they contain. There can, of course, be validity in this fear – emotions can certainly be overwhelming, even damaging if they are not held and met effectively. However the insistence on positivity needs to be recognised for what it is – a negative response to intense emotions, driven by fear. It is a running away from what is true and alive because it threatens to overwhelm us and there is no one around us who can help us to contain it. It is a coping strategy for dealing with aspects of ourselves that we believe are not loved or welcome. It is a contorted, desperate straining for the light because we do not know how to be with the darkness.

The challenges and gifts in accepting ourselves

It takes a brave parent to raise a child and to welcome all their emotions. It takes a brave person to be in a relationship where all emotions are welcome. Yet the riches of such a way of life are profound, and the vitality and joy that naturally flow from this far outshine the fragile ‘light’ of positivity and the brittle unsustainable nature of such an outlook.

If you try, yet struggle, to be positive in your life it may be that this way of handling emotions was a coping mechanism that served you well as you were growing up, or got you through a particularly challenging time in your life, but perhaps now you are outgrowing it. When you reach a point where life is safe enough you may wish to weigh up the risks of exploring these ‘negative’ sides of yourself and to see if you want to take the challenge of exploring these hidden thoughts and feelings. This opens up the possibility of discovering the joy that can be released along with the grief and the pain.
The fact that joy comes from accepting the ‘negative’ parts of ourselves is one of the many paradoxes that we work with in Shadow Work. This is why arguments such as ‘You create what more of what you focus on’ along with other statements listed above, whilst having some validity in some situations, simply don’t express the complex way in which human beings work.

Being with the ‘negative’ feelings in others

In Shadow Work we believe that the Sovereign part of us is the place where this self love lies and there is a link to further information about this Sovereign part of us at the end of this article. If we do not love ourselves we cannot possibly fully love another. Not because we do not want to, but because it is impossible to offer someone something that we are not capable of giving to ourselves. If we cannot accept our own places of shame/weakness/anger/ hatred/grief/fear we cannot accept these in another. And if we don’t accept these parts of someone else then we are not fully loving them. Our love is conditional and shallow and the other person will sense our judgement and feel pain at having these parts of themselves denied.

We can sometimes push other’s feeling away totally instinctively without realising we’re doing it, or it may be because we just don’t know what else to say. Sometimes we simply can’t bear to sit and witness someone else’s pain and we may find ourselves offering them one of the platitudes above in the hope that we can move swiftly away from such difficult thoughts and feelings. If you’d like to try a different way of being with people who are experiencing ‘negative’ emotions one place to start is simply to show that you are comfortable with the place they are in and willing to allow it. If someone is telling you about something painful that’s going on you can try simply saying ‘That sounds really upsetting.’ Or ‘I can see why that would make you really angry.’ Or ‘I’m so sorry that happened.’ or ‘You really can’t see any good in life at the moment can you?’ Try to show them as best you can that you get what they’re experiencing in this moment, and you have no need for them to be feeling anything different. It is tremendously powerful just to let another person know you are willing to be with their ‘negative’ emotions. That you don’t fear these and don’t feel the need to push them away. But of course, the most important place to start practicing this acceptance and allowing is with yourself – and this is the biggest challenge of all – and for most of us a life long journey.

 

For further information about Shadow Work and the support available please visit: ShiatsuAndShadowWorkBristol.co.uk

Further reading:

Are you Leading From Fear Or From Joy?

A talk about the Sovereign archetype

The Myth of Positivity

 

The Things We Do For Love

Our Need For Connection

In Shadow Work the ‘Lover’ archetype is representative of our need for connection. We believe the need to connect – to bond with other human beings, with ourselves, with nature and with spirit – is the most fundamental and the most powerful drive we have as human beings. There are well documented examples that demonstrate that humans and many other mammals place connection above food and physical wellbeing – sometimes even above their own survival. George Monbiot discusses this in a recent article in the Guardian where he gives the following examples:

‘Experiments summarised in the journal of Physiology & Behaviour last month suggest that, given a choice of physical pain or isolation, social mammals will choose the former. Capuchin monkeys starved of both food and contact for 22 hours will rejoin their companions before eating. Children who experience emotional neglect, according to some findings, suffer worse mental health consequences than children suffering both emotional neglect and physical abuse: hideous as it is, violence involves attention and contact. Self-harm is often used as an attempt to alleviate distress: another indication that physical pain is not as bad as emotional pain. As the prison system knows only too well, one of the most effective forms of torture is solitary confinement.’

If we look to our history then we see that the way we lived for over 99% of our time on this planet was as hunter gatherers. We lived in small close groups, working together and celebrating together, sharing food together and sharing our grief together. We were rarely alone. We also had a powerful connection to the land and to nature. Many tribes are found to have had in depth rituals for processing grief, and this is very relevant here. If we do not grieve fully for the connections we have lost we are not emotionally free to go on to form new connections. We continue to have a painful bond to those we have lost which takes up all our energy and stops us from openheartedly re-connecting with the world. Living in our society today, where such powerful emotions are given little space, many of us find ourselves living with unresolved grief and carrying around painful connections.

Loving Painfully

I would like to talk more here about this tendency we have to hold on to painful connections, even when they are clearly destructive and bring us no apparent benefit.  In Shadow Work, as in many other personal growth/spiritual belief systems, we believe that we are love. We don’t have any choice, this is our natural state of being. As children we are hard wired to love and connect to those around us, and we do this even when these connections are painful or when we are being treated harshly. We don’t love less in such situations, we love painfully. I remember being taught in my training as a relationship counsellor that there is no stronger connection between two people than a complete cut off. If we are cutting someone out of our lives we are remaining powerfully tied to them by our strength of our feeling and by the amount of energy we are using to keep them out. We can’t escape our connection with them simply by decicing to cut them off. There is far more to ending a relationship than that.

If we lose someone painfully – through a sudden or traumatic death, through suicide, through a painful divorce, if someone cuts us off, or if we lose a parent or loved one with whom we had a difficult relationship – whatever the loss, if we lose someone painfully then we may take on a painful way of remembering them and staying connected. Unconsciously we will choose to do this rather than to lose the connection altogether. If you are carrying a painful dynamic around in your life that you find you are not able to shift it is worth considering that this might be something you are carrying as a way of staying connected to someone or something you have lost. If this is the case it is unlikely you will be able to change this dynamic until the original painful feelings have been resolved. Then a new and more joyful way to stay connected can be found.
Some examples of painful connections may be:
a daughter has been beaten by her father during childhood and he then leaves the family when she is 15 and she never sees him again. She goes on to have relationships with physically abusive men and is unable to change this pattern despite years of therapy.
A son is told by his mother that he is her special one and makes her happy and he belongs only to her. She dies tragically when he is 10 and he finds in adult life that he is unable to form any long term relationships.
A young boy sent to boarding school and losing the precious connection with his mother may be told by her to ‘Work hard and be brave.’ He may then take this on as his way of staying connected to her. He may spend the rest of his life working hard and trying to be brave as a way of staying connected with her, even at the expense of his relationships and his happiness in adult life. So a man who doesn’t cry when his mother dies, and who can’t stay on after the funeral because of work commitments may not look very loving to us, yet in fact he may be deeply loving, by maintaining this connection he has with his mother via his bravery and hard work.

The Path To Loving Joyfully

There are many other examples I could list of ways we love painfully, we are endlessly creative in the ways we use to stay connected. Without the opportunity to really feel these losses we won’t be able to let go of the painful connection and we may carry this around with us for the rest of our lives. We may not think of ourselves as a loving person, but actually we are loving very powerfully by carrying this painful dynamic. In Shadow Work we have a way of supporting people to let go of the painful connection they are carrying and to lovingly return this to the person for whom they carry it. We then support them in finding a more joyful way to stay connected to this person, so that they can continue to carry that person with them in some form, in a healthy and loving way. They are then free to go on and make new loving and joyful connections in their lives.

The Effects Of A Lack Of Connection

Continuing on from the George Monbiot quote above here are some more examples of the strength of our need to connect and the devastation we experience when this desire is thwarted:

– Well documented experiences in orphanages show that despite having adequate food and water and having all other physical needs met, babies fail to thrive and many even die if they do not have regular physical contact.

– In this talk Gabor Mate a medical doctor, describes his findings showing that much illness, physical and emotional, stems from unaddressed childhood loss and lack of connection.

– In this poem London-based actor and poet Elliot Barnes-Worrel shares his experience of men’s struggles with connection and their inability to feel their grief.

It seems strange to have to search for quotes and articles to explain the power of our need for connection – yet it feels so important to  find ways to acknowledge this longing in us and to work to restore it to its true place in our lives. I find myself in need of reminders that I am human – therefore the single most important thing to me is connection. It is as if this is something we all know and yet don’t know – or at least don’t acknowledge.

Many of those who society does not reward, – impoverished artists, struggling single parents, carers, people going through emotional breakdown or spiritual crisis, addicts, those choosing to live in community or close to the land – may be valuing their connections/feelings and creativity above ‘practical, survival’ matters – and who is to say they have made better or worse decisions than the wealthy, successful much admired man or woman who goes home to an empty house at the end of the day and who may have compromised or sacrificed relationships and friendships and their connection to the earth and to their body to get to where they are? It seems that living deeply connected lives and experiencing ‘success’ in this society do not sit well together. Everything in our culture suggests connection should not be our priority. We should be independent, strong, successful, capable, or there is something ‘wrong’ with us – we might even be packed off to see a therapist or life coach to sort out this ‘problem’. Yet as  Jiddu Krishnamurti says:

‘It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.’