We all have a shadow side. It's a part of us that we've worked hard to repress. So hard, in fact, that we don't even recognize it.
Ever find yourself criticizing someone you see in public, or even one of your friends? Maybe they play the victim, or have a problem with extreme jealousy, or are passive aggressive?
By now it's not news to most of us that we are triggered by others' reflections of ourselves. But knowing that and doing something about it are totally different animals.
This week my child held up a mirror to me that showed me one of my shadow sides - anger. Big anger. And when you've been triggered by a four year old you can either call yourself crazy or count your blessings and look for the lesson. I chose to look for the lesson, knowing that I could free myself.
There are lots of great resources out there for those who want to delve into the shadow, namely the awesome book Dark Side of the Light Chasers (affiliate link) by Debbie Ford. But if you're looking for a quick and dirty way to address your shadow, I'll walk you through what I did last night. It took me about half an hour.
Acknowledge your shadow. Your shadow is a part of you that's been driven underground. It can be viewed as a personality and given a name and a face. Usually its opposite aspect has been very active in us while it lies inside quietly waiting for its moment to appear. We'll delve into the shadow's opposite in part 2 of this post.
Write down your shadow's qualities. I described my shadow's traits as judgement, condemnation, hostility, rage, wanting to control others, and yelling.
For each quality, ask your shadow, "how do you serve me?" and "what can I learn from you?" These lessons are most useful when you write them down, since otherwise they might be easily forgotten or ignored.
For example, here's what I can learn from Judgement:
Discernment. True authentic power comes from having the courage to step back and assess what is an authentic yes or no for me. Then I can own them and they will be clear to others as well.
Once you've written down everything you have to learn from each of these qualities, you can set your resolutions to integrate the lessons from your shadow. My list looked like this:
I resolve to:
Reflect on my heart's position before saying yes, no or making plans
Stand in my power when making decisions
Use my voice to speak my truth
Forgive others for past actions
Validate my own worth and value
Notice when I censor myself and observe the assumptions behind it
Own and love my strength and power.
Pretty amazing stuff for a part that I'd discarded as worthless. Even your bleakest, scariest part has gifts for you. It is simply trying to let you know that all of your truth is not being expressed.
Having or acting on negative emotions isn't a failing. It's simply a mirror. Accept that mirror with grace and find the courage to look inside it. You'll find that your inner demons are actually much more beautiful than you'd ever have thought.
This morning, I had the rare opportunity to attend a yoga class. I'd found a new studio within 3 miles of my house. Better yet, its schedule fit mine - not too early, not too late - unlike my old standby studio.
I prepped my toddler for my departure, and recruited her dad to watch her. I left the house, found my way to the class on time and eagerly signed in. Then I dashed into the studio and froze.
Moist heat was being pumped into the studio, sticking to my clothes and mat. It hadn't even occurred to me to check if this was a heated yoga studio.
As someone with mild asthma, and a history of getting winded during hot desert hikes, I've avoided hot yoga like the plague.
I circled back to the front desk to ask some basic questions - Will my cell phone get screwed up if I keep it in the studio with me? No. How hot does it get? 95 degrees. Wow.
Having conquered the major challenges of getting leave of my child and getting to the studio on time, I felt like there was no turning back.
Yes, I could ask for a refund and leave, but I really wanted to do yoga. So I resigned myself to my fate. The receptionist took pity on me and threw me a towel. I doubled back and grabbed my water bottle from the car.
As the class got started I was seething with anger. How could they do this to me? My mind kept re-telling the story of my asthma and heat intolerance, and as I tuned in I got madder and madder. I exited the studio several times to catch my breath. Each time the teacher turned up the heat, my anger would renew itself.
As I continued to practice, my anger leading my thoughts, I soon had a eureka: being angry is not solving anything. While it may seem that the solution to a bad situation is to resist it, to keep its undesirable qualities away from us, it became clear that the only thing I could control in that room was me.
Soon the anger gave way, and I felt a wave of sadness. Was I mourning the loss of the yoga class I'd envisioned, or some earlier loss that anger had been masking? Likely a combination of both. I stayed present to what came up, and soon the emotions and mental chatter passed.
The heat became my new norm, and I took the hot yoga class slower than I might otherwise, skipping postures I knew would make me lightheaded. But I made it through.
And as class ended, lying there on my mat, I felt like I'd climbed a mountain. I'd faced down a challenge - physical but even more so mental and emotional - and I'd overcome.
And now, knowing that hot yoga is within the realm of what's possible for me, I just might try that Bikram studio down the street.
Yesterday afternoon, I had plans to meet up with some friends and their babies. I was looking forward to it all day.
When the time came to leave, I saw that a couple of inches of snow had accumulated on the roads.
I live in Boston, so two inches of snow is no big deal – or at least, I thought, it shouldn’t be.
I bundled up my daughter and strapped her into her car seat. She was unusually quiet as we set off.
I gradually became aware of a growing feeling of sadness stirring from within. Why sadness, I’m still not sure, but I knew that something just wasn’t right.
I pondered my options for a moment, then turned around and headed home. When I reached the bottom of my street, my car spun out and I lost control, skidding in a semicircle across the width of the street.
Thank God, I thought. All of the variables that could have turned this trip into a disaster were absent. No other cars on the road, no tree in my way, no children in the street. No harm to my daughter, trusting me to keep her safe in the back seat.
All of us struggle with trust at one time or another. Many of us override our internal guidance systems in order to fulfill others’ expectations of us, whether in work or in life.
I certainly felt on some level that I had failed to follow through on my commitment to attend yesterday’s playgroup.
But when I circled back with the host, she told me a car accident that had taken place two blocks from her house.
That could have been me, I realized. If I’d not trusted my instincts.