This morning as I was drinking my coffee, a swirl of memories came to me from childhood. My mother and I had a repertoire of songs, poems, and rhymes that we would share during quiet times and this one stood out today:
Robert Louis Stevenson
I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.
The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow–
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball,
And he sometimes goes so little that there’s none of him at all.
He hasn’t got a notion of how children ought to play,
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close behind me, he’s a coward you can see;
I’d think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!
One morning, very early, before the sun was up,
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
But my lazy little shadow, like an errant sleepy-head,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.
Reading through it again as an adult brings up a new understanding about the concept of “shadow”. On the surface it appears to be a happy little cluster of rhymes, but underneath the words point to its tricky and elusive nature. Our shadow is that part of us that remains unconscious and conflicted. Shadow hides deeply within us and produces shame, guilt, fear, and self-defeating patterns. Shadows are universal and they are very human. We each possess within us our own unique shadow, constructed out of beliefs about ourselves that do not serve to enhance our spiritual growth. Shadows, if left in the dark, trip us up and keep the light within us muted. Shadows can make us wonder after the fact, “What was I thinking?” or, “Why in the world did I do THAT??” The shadow can jump out at us with recognition of what we feel is deplorable and unacceptable about ourselves. Some examples of shadow are lying, cheating, jealousy, hatred, anxiety, guilt, shame, destructive behaviors toward others, blaming, addiction, selfishness, and anything else that creates emotional conflict and confusion. It can also push down those talents and attributes that we know are present but seem unattainable. If you feel you are unworthy of your talents and gifts, the shadow will snatch them up and bring you to a feeling of unworthiness or failure.
We cannot “get rid” of our shadow. Doing so would deprive us of growth and the lessons our humanity brings to the depth of our souls. What we can do is recognize our shadow when it occurs, embrace it, and put its lessons toward emotional and spiritual growth. This is the challenge and the gift at the same time. It is the going within, the trust and courage to take an honest look, and the persistence to work with the shadow rather than rejecting it. Awareness and self-reflection are the balms we can use to heal this rift between our conscious light and our underlying shadow. Perhaps this fundamental part of ourselves reduces down to the two forces that govern our emotional world: fear and love. If we choose love, we accept ourselves in all our worst moments, in all our ugly ignorance and our hidden motives. If we choose fear, we feed the greedy belly of the shadow and continue to reject parts of ourselves that lead to fragmentation and alienation with our most intimate truths. Accepting the shadow is truly a declaration of our humanity and it leads to the understanding that we are simply fine and truly miraculous, powerful beings JUST THE WAY WE ARE!
*To set the right environment for working on your shadow, you might find it helpful to make a vow to practice courage and patience with yourself. Courage is for looking within in a spirit of “I accept whatever it is I find and will deal with it”. Patience is for allowing time and reflection upon those experiences that may create some pain or discomfort. Again, sitting with it long enough to work it through is imperative. Part of our natural human protection system is to flee when we sense danger or pain. A vow will assist you in keeping focus on your goal: to recognize, understand, and embrace the shadow.
**Have there been times lately when you have said or done something that creates an emotional conflict? Consider these examples:
- you are exhausted, yet you agree to take on another task at work, then feel resentment and anger
- you lash out at your loved one in anger over something that, upon reflection, is very insignificant in the grand scheme of life
- you become extremely jealous when your friend tells you she has won an award for outstanding work and will be getting a raise
- you look at a piece of art or a recipe a friend creates and think that you could never do something that good
- you lie to your partner about spending more money than you agreed upon at the store
Any of the above scenarios sound familiar? For the next few days, keep track of those conflicting emotions that come up for you. Take time at the end of each day to reflect on them. Awareness is the first step in creating change and it is perhaps the most challenging. This step is so important in helping you truly know yourself. By recognizing motivations behind the shadow, you will be more open to altering those patterns as they pop up for you. Keep trying and stick with it and remember your vow of patience and courage. (If you didn’t already make a vow, you may want to do so now.)
***Are there emotional places you have been able to identify in which you feel stymied and stuck? Chances are this is the work of that sneaky shadow again! Try breaking the situation down into three areas: thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Reflect on which thoughts bring about conflicting feelings that serve to trigger confusing behaviors in your life.
Example: When I get home from work, I think about all those chores that need to be done. I am tired and experience a sense of frustration, anger, and a general sense of being overwhelmed. When someone speaks to me, I am short with my answer or I may respond with an irritated, loud voice.
Notice the chain of events that create disrupting and sometimes even destructive behavior. Remind yourself often that you are human, and this is a journey. Be kind and gentle with yourself. Frustration that manifests in self-deprecation and self-hatred or self-punishment requires a patient mind and an open heart.
****Notice where you experience the feeling of conflicting emotion in your body. Is it a lump in the throat? A twinge in the solar plexus? A pain in your heart? A rumble deep in your gut? These physical sensations can assist you in detecting the origin and the nature of the issue. (Refer to appendix on chakras). What does the physical feeling point to regarding the roots of the issue from an energetic perspective? You may want to meditate on this chakra or consider bodywork or Reiki with special focus on this chakra. Next time the sensation comes up for you, try breathing into it. Does this help in alleviating the discomfort? Does this help you feel a sense of self-nurturing and calm?