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

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.’

Meeting Our Inner Predator

In Shadow Work we explore the different parts of the person that make up the whole. We all have many different parts each with a different point of view, different ideas about our life and different feelings. Some of them carry very strong emotion. For example many of us have a part that can push on through and get things done when necessary, most of us also have a part that loves to laze around and do nothing! We may have a part that enjoys socialising and another part of us that loves solitude, or a part of us that is very confident and another part that is really quite shy, or a very sad part that comes out sometimes and a very angry part that comes out at other times. Everyone is different and all the parts are unique and have their own flavour and character. In Shadow Work one of our aims is to get all of these different parts working together. They are all a necessary part of the whole and when all our different parts work together towards the same goal life can feel much more harmonious and have a greater sense of flow.

However, doing this work we sometimes find a part of us that seems to be completely destructive. It criticises us harshly and frightens us with ideas of judgement and punishment. It seems to not want any good for us, destroying our confidence and taking away our joy. In shadow Work we call these parts ‘Predator’ parts. They seem to stalk us and want to destroy us. They are very clever and very powerful and often beyond our control to reign in. It can be extremely hard to practice self love, self care and compassion when a part like this is holding a powerful position inside us.

The Qualities of the Inner Predator

If things feel particularly tangled, knotty and stuck for you, and attempts to move forward in your life are just not working it may be that there is a predator part of you at play. Some people experience this as a critical voice constantly telling them negative or frightening things. Other people experience it as a dark cloud just behind them or to the side – there are many different forms it can take, but it is always a frightening, anxiety provoking part of us and it is very hard to argue with or shake off. It can be very cruel to a small vulnerable part of us, preying on our weakness. This can sometimes mirror a situation from our early life experience where we were treated cruelly in some way by someone who had power over us. That cruelty now seems to be living inside us. We instinctively want to get away from this side of ourselves, and sometimes we can feel very ashamed and not want any one else to see it. Often this part can want to be cruel to others in the same way it is cruel to us. These are all qualities of a ‘Predator’ part. We may feel frightened to have such a side to us – something so cruel and destructive, we may be very scared of letting it out of the bag. What might it do if we let it run wild? – our instinct is to keep it down.

Here we are facing one of the key paradoxes in Shadow Work. Experience shows that when we try to hide away a part of ourselves it just doesn’t work in the long term. We use so much energy to try to hide it, or run away from it that we create a huge amount of tension – and in the end it just comes bursting out anyway – it’s a bit like trying to hold a beachball under water. But when it pops out we immediately hide it away again, we don’t want to look at it, we don’t want to draw attention to it. Surely that will just give it more power and more of a hold over us…… So what can we do?

Embracing the Inner Predator

It turns out that relegating a part of us to the shadows actually ends up giving it MORE power over us. This is the paradox – hiding or running from parts of ourselves we don’t like actually allows them to grow bigger and more powerful rather than getting rid of them. If we send it in to our unconscious we have no control over it and it can then cause even more havoc, running the show from behind the scenes. It turns out that the way to take control of a such a part of us is to turn and face it. To speak directly to it and to find out what’s in there. This can bring up a lot of fear, and is best done in a therapeutic space with the support of someone who is used to working with the shadow. If we deliberately allow out this side of ourselves and get to meet it – in a space where it can do no harm and there will be no real world consequences, then we can take the power back. We can take back control by fully owning this as a part of us and then we can get to know and understand it. Once we’ve built a relationship with this part we can harness its power and begin to use it in effective rather than destructive ways.

For more information about Shadow work visit:

http://shiatsuandshadowworkbristol.co.uk

 

The Predator is associated with the Magician Archetype in Shadow Work. To watch a talk about the Magician Archetype follow this link:

The Magician Archetype

 

 

 

 

 

How Can I Know What’s In Shadow For Me?

 

Our shadow, by it’s very nature, is out of our sight. Either it is completely unconscious or it is right out on the periphery of our consciousness. The shadow consists of parts of us we have hidden away and are trying hard not to see. One way of thinking of this is to imagine that we have a bag which we drag along behind us, and in this bag we have hidden away all the parts of ourselves that we don’t want to show to the world – the parts we have cut off, repressed or denied. This bag forms our shadow. We can’t see it, and we hope against hope that others can’t see it either.
So when we want to explore our shadow side we have a problem – although we may have an uncomfortable feeling that something is hiding there in the shadows, we have no direct way of knowing what it is. At some point in our lives we have hidden it from ourselves. This article offers ways you can explore what might be in shadow for you. Since we can’t see our shadows directly, some detective work is required. Below I describe five ways that we can use to help us spot our shadows:

What we judge in others

Firstly we can look at what we really judge in other people – the qualities that really irritate, annoy, or enrage us. Take the example of anger – If, as a child, I have been told I mustn’t be angry, or I have learnt that anger is dangerous or hurtful, then I may have decided to put my anger in to shadow. I tossed it away over my shoulder in to my shadow bag, out of sight to me and out of sight to others. I tried to pretend I didn’t have anger. Now, one way of looking at this is that when we toss the anger away over our shoulder we can miss the bag altogether – instead, the anger travels all the way around the world and shows up in the person in front of us! This is the idea of projection. We are disowning anger in ourselves and projecting it on to the people around us, where we judge it strongly. It really grates with us when they allow their anger to be expressed – that just seems so wrong! We want to squash it down in them in the same way we squashed it down in ourselves many years ago. Please note, when you have this response it doesn’t mean the person in front of you isn’t an ‘over the top’ angry person, they may well be, it just means that it will really bother you in a way that it may not bother others who might be able to hold it more lightly.
In Shadow Work we believe that the healthy clean expression of anger can be helpful to us, and if we don’t have access to our anger we can encounter all sorts of problems in getting along in life. So if we notice ourselves judging angry people it doesn’t mean we need to start behaving in extremely aggressive or hostile ways, it just means we may want to look at our own connection with our healthy anger:

Is this something I’ve lost touch with?…

Have I disowned my anger?….

Are there times when it might be helpful for me to express my anger?

What’s it like to say to yourself
‘I get angry sometimes’?
This could be a first step in re-claiming this part of yourself.

Similarly with other qualities, such as selfishness for example. If we judge selfishness in others what might we be disowning in ourselves? It’s possible that you may have thrown other things away in to the bag – by mistake as it were – along with your selfishness. Putting yourself first, believing you are important, and having a sense of self worth are all sides of selfishness that you might find missing in your life, that might be a good thing. So you can ask yourself:

Am I losing something by denying my selfishness?…

Are there times when it would be helpful to be able to put myself first, or to have a sense of my needs being important?…

What is the kernel of gold that I may have thrown away along with my selfishness?…

What’s it like to say to yourself:
‘I like to put myself first sometimes.’?

The invitation here is to unpick things in this way. Notice something you really judge in others. Ask yourself if you have cut off that part of yourself and ask yourself if there is anything of value here that you might like to reclaim.

What we admire in others

The flip side of looking at qualities we really judge in others is to look at the qualities we really admire in other people. Sometimes this is known as the golden shadow. Let’s take the example of confidence. We may really admire people who have confidence, who can speak up in public, act or sing, or take on a challenging role at work. In our childhood we may have got the message that we were annoying or a nuisance if we spoke up, or we may have been told our gifts didn’t amount to much. We may have been told we were too big for our boots or too bossy. One way or another we may have got the message that it wasn’t ok to be bright and to shine. We put our confidence in to shadow in order to get along and be accepted by those around us. So when we see someone else with confidence we really admire them. We think ‘I could never be like that… they seem to have something magical that I don’t have.’ Well, in Shadow Work we believe you DO have confidence, it is a natural part of us all, but it has been hidden away for a long time, and some work will be required to re-claim this part of yourself.
The invitation here is to look at things you really admire in others and ask yourself if this is something you have put in to shadow. You can then start to own this in yourself. With the example above, you could try saying to yourself ‘I am confident. I could do what they’re doing.’ and see what it feels like. You don’t have to believe it right now, but rather just play with it and notice how it feels to speak like this. This could be a first step to owning your golden shadow.

What we do by accident

Another way we can get a hint of what might be in shadow for us is to notice things that we do by accident. It’s not actually possible to get rid of a part of ourselves, and if we squash something down for long enough at some point it will come bursting up and out. This usually happens without our deliberate intention – we just can’t help ourselves. Another way of looking at this is to say that the bag we’re dragging around with us, where we’ve hidden our shadows, is not hermetically sealed. However hard we try, at some point what’s in there will come leaking out. This can be very shocking and confusing for us. It is common to hear people say ‘That’s just not me – I don’t do that kind of thing!’ Yet they did, and in Shadow Work we believe it is them, just a part of themselves that they have hidden away for a long time and lost touch with.
Anger again is a great example. If we spend our whole lives trying to be calm and balanced, gentle and thoughtful – not having any anger in us – there will come a moment where that is unsustainable. Something has to give. When something catches us off guard we may snap at someone, say something hurtful, or even lash out in rage, immediately regretting it a moment later. We quickly regroup and get back in charge of our anger, but the incident is confusing to us. ‘What happened there?…I’m not an angry person!’
Another example could be someone who is very happy-go-lucky, never gets upset about anything and is always cheerful. It may be that one evening something doesn’t go quite right for them, an event they were looking forward to gets cancelled, or they may have an accident and spill something – some minor incident has them crying uncontrollably. They find themselves overwhelmed with emotion. They feel silly and embarrassed and don’t understand where this might have come from. They may think ‘I’ve got nothing to be so sad about.’, yet their overwhelming response suggests otherwise. It’s possible that something very sad happened when they were young and there was no one around to help them process their grief. It may be that sadness was met with little sympathy in their childhood, or it may even have provoked disapproval or punishment. Alternatively it may have been their role in the family to keep everyone cheerful, so they had to learn to put their sadness to one side. There are many different ways in which someone may have come to lose touch with their sadness. After so many years of not feeling this side of themselves they may have stored away a well of grief that feels scary to touch in to, it is so unfamiliar. Yet it will eventually find ways to express itself that take the person quite by surprise.
Another very public example of shadows coming out by accident is that of the groom who leaves their bride standing at the altar. This person may have put all their doubts and fears around being married in to shadow and not allowed themselves to acknowledge them. This means they haven’t been able to explore these feelings with anybody or work them through. Then the day arrives and they just find themselves unable to go through with the ceremony, not really understanding why. This happens totally by accident. They would never have planned it this way.

Again, the invitation here is to ask yourself if maybe you have put your anger/sadness/fears/arrogance, or whatever else it is that has taken you by surprise, in to shadow. Then, as a first step, see what it feels like to say ‘I get angry sometimes.’, ‘I get very sad sometimes.’‘I feel frightened sometimes.’, ‘I think I know best sometimes.’ or whatever is relevant for you. Reclaiming conscious ownership of these parts of yourself is a first step in having control over these behaviours and stopping them from bursting out by accident.

Leaking through our body

Another way our shadows can leak out by accident is through our bodies. It is usually other people who will notice this, as we are likely to be completely unaware of what is happening. For example a friend may tell us that we look terribly sad, when we ourselves are not aware of feeling sad. Or we may be talking confidently, while our body language and facial expression betray our hidden fears. We may be doing our best to be calm and patient with someone, yet our fists may be clenched, demonstrating the anger inside us that has no outlet for expression. These things are beyond our control and out of our awareness. However, if someone does point them out to us, or if we notice them when for example, we watch a video of ourselves then we have the option to explore things further.
If my friend tells me I look terribly sad I could reflect on whether or not there may be something I am very sad about that I have pushed away in to shadow. Did something happen, maybe a very long time ago, that I have not wanted to feel? If someone tells me I look angry, even though I’m feeling very calm and loving, I could ask myself if there may be anger about some past event that I’m not expressing.
It’s important to only take notice of what rings true for you. Other people’s observations can be helpful, but they can also be clouded by their own shadows and unowned material.
Our bodies may speak out in other ways too – by giving us migraine, rashes, backache or more serious illnesses. It is always worth exploring what unowned part of us might be trying to find expression through our body. Again, please be aware this is for your own interpretation only. It is never wise to put too much trust in others interpretation of our bodily ailments.

Compulsive behaviours

Things that we do compulsively can also offer a glimpse into our shadow world. Over eating, smoking, gambling, cleaning…. any habit we have that we just can’t seem to stop gives us clues as to the parts of us that are driving things from behind the scenes. Parts of us that we haven’t owned can have a lot of power over our actions. Consciously, we may want to lose weight and be fit, yet we just find ourselves eating automatically in a way we can’t control. Here we might want to ask – what is going on for this hidden part of us that wants us to eat? Is it feeling like it needs nourishing or nurturing?…. Does it want pleasure, sensuality or comfort?…Is it fed up with obeying all the rules we impose?…. Can we listen to this part and try to find out what it really wants? Similarly, if we find ourselves compulsively cleaning we could ask what it is that this part really wants – Is it requiring order, or safety?…Does it need a sense of control?…Is it a frustrated energy that needs an outlet?…. How could we meet the needs of this hidden part of us in a more wholesome and conscious way?

Over time the above five explorations may well reveal some insights for you as to aspects of yourself that you may have put in to shadow. This can be painful work. There are always good reasons for us to have hidden parts of ourselves away. There may have been much pain, fear, shame or guilt associated with these sides of ourselves. As children we have to do everything we can to survive and to get along with those around us, so it is sensible to hide away sides of ourselves that seem unwelcome, overwhelming or unsafe. Yet in adult life we can find we really miss out when we don’t have access to the full breadth of our personality. We may find we get constantly walked over and can’t stand up for ourselves because our anger is in shadow, or we may find we don’t take opportunities in life because our confidence is in shadow. Alternatively we may find ourselves stuck in a relationship or job that isn’t nourishing us because we have put our own needs in to shadow and we spend all our time pleasing others. Or we may find we can’t have successful relationships because we have put our need for intimacy in to shadow. There are many ways our shadows can cause us to live a difficult or limited life and for some people there comes a time when they decide the pain of discovering these shadow parts is worth the potential gain. They want to have their life back under their own control and to be able to form rich and nourishing relationships with those around them. Shadow Work is here to support people who are going through this process, and although painful at times this work can be incredibly joyful as people break free from past restrictions and experience the relief of owning and inhabiting the whole of who they are.