Hiking alone is one thing. You find yourself at full presence with yourself. Your shadow becomes your hiking partner. Things that normally live deep below the surface arise to walk with you. When we are in a safe place, like a home or a routine, the threatening and sometimes ominous parts of reality live comfortably somewhere close, but no too close, to us. When the environment, circumstance, or company brings challenge, threat, or excitement, these oft sublimated pieces of us are pulled to the surface. Out of the subconscious and into the conscious realm.
A retreat in the jungle of Costa Rica is a safe place to welcome these shadow fragments in for tea. Set up your blanket, start your day with journaling and a walk on the beach… from there we can sit in silence and engage the challenging unfoldments of our day to day.
Can every day in a busy world be like this? For we must persevere, right? We must carry on the grand illusion of a stable personality, member of society, our role within our family and job. If we were to engage our instability, weakness, flaws, fears, and internal rage all of the time, the character that we play in many parts of our life would lose its ability to pretend any longer. We would become the exact thing that no one wants to look at or talk about.
Shadow isn’t a dark and scary thing, but a place we put things that we have deemed as dark and scary. Somehow even the idea of witnessing these things is less than ideal for us.
Instead, humans walk about their days hoping that things will change for the better. A little bit of faith never hurt anyone, right? Things will improve over time if I just ‘keep the peace’ or ‘do the right thing’. A better future for the next generation! Well, this is all good and true, but there is a key facet missing. An assumption that has been sold to us since the day that we were born. That you have to shift yourself to be accepted, that you must work for your value. We must sacrifice our authenticity…
Somewhere between codependency and disempowerment we have been taught that it is a virtuous act to follow rules and not create waves. I’ll just do what others want, what could it hurt? Well, it hurts YOU.
If these actions and choices are not in alignment with your best interest, with your creative spark, with your dreams and wishes, they are not actually serving anyone at all. What they end up creating is a lasting resentment… kinks in the chain of our communities, relationships, and society.
Every time we follow someone else’s lead, we are handing over power. On a guided hike in a foreign landscape, this is a smart use of our personal power. Guide me, please! I have no idea where I am and YOU (as the guide) have a keen knowledge and sense of this adventure.
I am not speaking about these instances. I am speaking of the daily agreements and decisions we make. In a relationship with a partner, this is silencing yourself to avoid confrontation. In a relationship with your family, this is refusing to acknowledge your emotions when they hurt you. At a job, this is accepting mistreatment because of the fear of being fired or let go.
These are all reasonable and often smart decisions in the short term. Sometimes we just have to bite our tongue and survive the day. The problem, however, is a long term one. Those around us are counting on us to show them who we are. If I refuse to let my partner know how I really feel about something, I am denying them the opportunity to get to know me. In addition, over time, I am telling myself that I am somehow unacceptable the way that I am. These two patterns are enough to destroy any partnership, they are insidious.
I have more than a few examples in my personal life of this playing out. Relationships ending where the people I loved so much just didn’t seem to understand where I was coming from. How frustrating! How limiting! How did this happen? Well, in my instance, it was an aloof quality I fostered as a child, to pretend that I wasn’t upset. I felt that my emotions and expressions were problematic. So, I built the ability to pretend that nothing bothered me. My deepest insecurity was to be the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ as I could clearly see the people around me were having a hard time. So as an adult I continue to play out this role with others.
It’s amazing how these things can play out. One relationship in my early thirties even manifested the most deeply confounding misunderstanding of my life. Personally, I felt that I had invested years in loving and honoring this partner. When things went south, I was devastated, confused, and very angry. Luckily, it’s been many years from that time, but what I learned about my role in this display is invaluable.
Apparently, I was so aloof and seemingly unshakable, that my partner was under the impression that I didn’t really care that much about them. It was a shocking wake up call to how repressed I had become! As I reflected on the situation, I realized that I was going through some of the most passionate and intense waves of my entire life, but barely showed it. I was scared of seeming too invested, too upset, too jealous, too vulnerable. The patterns from my early experience had me cancelling myself before I even showed up.
At the time, I was using deep meditation, exercise, and impeccable health habits to sublimate the otherworldly feelings I was going through. That’s one way to do it. It was as if I was collecting coins from the physical world and exchanging them in for spiritual insights. The trouble with this type of transaction is that the coins are being collected from the interactions with others. Authentic expression of my needs and responses in their full bloom is necessary to balance the books on these. To hide away in my temple in the sky is thievery without blessing myself and others with the richness of my true expression. My gifts of self soothing, gaining an enlightened spiritual perspective, and being independent were out of balance and alignment with my emotional honesty, ability to discuss sensitive details, and ability to trust a partner and actually work with them. To make it simple, I was not okay with who I was, I just wasn’t accepting myself.
Sometimes it hurts to feel alive. Often, in these times, it can feel good to find an escape. An escape from whatever feelings or emotions make it hurt to be alive. Exercise is a wonderful tool, but exercising so that you feel better can get out of balance. The deep and oft uncomfortable feelings are guiding lights and directions for our life path. If someone being evil towards you didn’t make you uncomfortable, you’d likely just be abused and used your whole life. When we don’t honor the negative feelings that come up around certain relationships, we are damning ourselves to accept whatever treatment or circumstance causes us to feel this way.
No one can be told what to do. They are free to make their own decisions. If we give them the opportunity to hear us out, then they can make an informed decision. When we hide ourselves from them (or from ourselves, which begets us hiding from others) we are cheating them of the opportunity to make an informed and mature decision about how to proceed. What started, as a child, as an attempt to create stability in the home or family environment, had become a torturous game of assured self destruction.
We are designed to be free from bondage. Shall we work tirelessly to create a peaceful relationship whilst we edit our own truth in the name of ‘peace’?
I am not interested in changing the past. The past, much like the shadowy figures we would sometimes prefer to ignore, are powerful teachers. Had we not seen the devastation in Hiroshima or Nagasaki, would another nation be more likely to create the same global abomination? In a way, the most painful experiences can be bookends to incredibly difficult times.
Maybe your emotions, your rage, your shadow is just coming up to say ‘I think this part of your life needs to end!’ If you want the help, they are there for you. If you feel lost and confused about your circumstance, look to them, they have much to teach. All that they ask is that you honor them. Give them space to unfold, journal about them, dance about them, talk about them to safe people. Yes, you will have to feel them, and it will be uncomfortable, but that is what change is.
Change is a holy experience by which we shapeshift. Change and all of its trappings are the symbols of our genesis. We have come into physical form out of seemingly nothing. When the form we have taken is changing, we are being born again. Comfort is a space that doesn’t change, so comfort cannot join us on the journey of mutation, transformation, and upgrade.
Break the comfort zone, push your limits, and listen to yourself. Practice sharing to yourself or your therapist if it feels right. I can tell you, from my personal experience, you won’t change your world with meditation, intention, and ceremony alone. You have to do the uncomfortable part, you have to honor what comes through your vessel.
In truth, we are a mystery. To others, a baffling, sometimes, glorious mystery. To ourselves, an unfolding storyline that can become more and more clear with time, if given the respect it deserves. Your uniqueness deserves this respect. Offer it to yourself.