Lately I’ve been questioning how well I know myself.
I know what’s on the surface. I know what I like and dislike. I know who I love, how to love, and how to be loved. I know what makes me feel good or bad and I know, for the most part, how to create the conditions for happiness to occur. I am willing to study my strengths so they’ll grow, and I’m willing to nurture the parts of myself that I feel might serve others, serve the planet and bring fulfillment. In general, I place a great deal of awareness on the aspects of myself that I consider my ‘light’ side.
But how well do I know my shadow side? Do I recognize its voice? Its tone? Do I recognize the way it feels in my body? When it is present, do I run away or do I face it? Do I blame other people and situations for its presence? Or do I own it, accept it and question its purpose?
Every person has a shadow side. It is the part of us that we generally choose not to explore. It’s where we hold the habitual tendencies that (sometimes unbeknownst to us) harm ourselves or those around us. It’s where we hold weakness, fear, doubt, guilt, shame, anger or jealousy. It’s the side of ourselves we don’t want to see, so often times we choose not to see it, fooling ourselves into believing that if we don’t look, it will go away. The problem is that our shadow tendencies creep into our lives, making their way into conversations and life situations, causing distress and turmoil until they sink back into the dark, only to return again at some other time.
The only way to dissolve the shadow is through awareness of it. Our shadow tendencies provide an amazing opportunity for growth and understanding if we have the courage to face it. If I choose only to study and observe the light and pleasant parts of myself, then I will be missing out on the opportunity to study the real reasons behind what causes difficulty in my life.
The critical element in seeing our shadow tendencies is to remain present. As we practice present moment awareness, we become skilled in the art of paying attention–watching our thoughts and emotions come and go; seeing what makes us feel good, but also seeing what makes us feel bad. The difficult part is that we generally don’t want to accept that we’re the reason we feel bad or sad or angry, etc. That’s when we try to escape the feeling, blame others, distract ourselves, remove our awareness and ignore the shadow.
The dissolution of the shadow happens when we can remain still as it arises. Drop the story that comes with it, and hold acute observation of the feeling itself. Whenever an uncomfortable feeling or situation arises, breathe into the sensation that is manifesting in the physical body. It may feel like hardness around the heart, a lump in the throat, or discomfort in the stomach. Continue to drop whatever thoughts come up and focus on the sensation itself until the feeling dissolves. The shadow may come up several times before it is completely gone, but through this practice, we are given the opportunity to work toward awareness and ultimately, freedom.
Once held in the light of awareness, a shadow is transformed. Jealousy becomes inspiration, anger becomes activism, doubt becomes courage, guilt becomes forgiveness, shame becomes compassion, and fear becomes love.
If I want to know myself better, then part of that process means choosing to observe and accept all the parts of myself–not just the parts that I like, but also the parts that I don’t like. The next time my shadow emerges from the dark, I’ll see it, accept it, question it, change my behavior, and allow it to dissolve into the light of my awareness.
What is your shadow trying to tell you?
Next time you see it, ask.
This post originally appeared on my first blog, www.emilyparkinsonperry.com on February 26th, 2013