Snuggling with Your Shadow: the Gifts of Darkness
This time of year – post-holidays, early sunset – is a perfect time of year for honoring the darkness within yourself.
For taking a cue from Mother Nature, hunkering down, drawing inward. Our bodies’ natural rhythms lean towards hibernation and quiet during the winter. Let that inspire you to start to explore the internal shadow that needs attention.
I spent most of my own life running from the darkness inside me. I imagine most of us do.
For me, it didn’t work so well. It resulted in a lot of sugar, as you know if you’re a regular reader. It also resulted in a frenzied, sped-up life where I was constantly looking for the next “high”, whether that was travel, a purchase, or a date. I was anything but present.
When I finally did learn to slow down and be present, there was a whole world of pain waiting for me. (No wonder I had been running so fast!) But over time, and with continued attention, the pain diminished, and the gifts of being present started to feel so much sweeter than rushing and distracting myself constantly.
This frenzied way of being – it’s usually not a conscious thing. I mean, it’s so embedded in our culture in this point. We’re surrounded by substances and circumstances whose sole purpose is to keep us numbed out, frenzied, in a jangling state of high:
We have artificial lights that keep us awake far beyond what our body’s natural rhythms would have us do. We have neon lights, cities that never sleep, alarm clocks (“alarm!!”) and computer screens that have been linked to a decrease in melatonin (sleep-inducer) production.
We have drugs, yes, but we tend to shake our finger at them as though they’re the whole problem. What about compulsive shopping, mega-malls, a society whose government actually decided in the 1930s to create a sense of more NEED in the consumer so that there would be a never-ending demand for more stuff? What about how sexuality is packaged in our culture, how the boundaries of what’s appropriate are pushed more and more? I’m expecting the next major music video to include a shot of the inside of someone’s vagina, cause really, where else can we go from here?
And it’s all this, yes, but in addition to the thing itself that we’re using to alter our emotional and energetic state, it’s also about how we interact with things in general. Even a book, when approached in a certain way, can serve to numb us out or distract us.
Hey, I’m not saying that occasional numbing out is a bad thing. It’s even necessary sometimes. Also, an occasional high is pretty cool too. Life has highs and lows – that’s natural. It’s when we’re constantly using external objects and situations to induce perpetual high and dissociation that we know that something’s really wrong.
I used to use food this way, and I sometimes still do. My clients do as well, that’s why they come to see me. They have a very hard time sitting still, just breathing and noticing, because when they do, what comes up? BOOM – the darkness, the pain, the shadow.
The shadow’s a catch-all term for the stuff inside you that you’re running from. It’s the part of you that gets enraged, or totally hopeless, or bone-crushingly insecure, or ravenous for everything in sight. It’s a ball of shame and/or pain and/or loneliness and/or fury and/or grief and/or terror. It’s the little-kid part that’s paralyzed with fear; it’s the endless dark abyss or the whipping hurricane you sense when you’re feeling out of control; it’s the vague but nagging sensation that the other shoe is just seconds from dropping and disaster is just around the corner. It’s all the stuff we think we’re not supposed to be. Particularly if we are perfectionists. Mean, petty, arrogant, wimpish, ungrateful, selfish, weak.
We’ve ALL got a part like this.
Everyone’s looks different (like a snowflake!).
But very few of us acknowledge that we have her. Or spend time with her. Or talk with our friends about her.
We are so unaccustomed to kickin’ it with our shadow that as soon as she rears her dark head, we run to the nearest numbing agent for relief.
Stop and think about it. What’s a few minutes spent hanging with our shadow going to do?
If we keep ignoring our shadow and using food (or sex, or the internet, or whatever) to medicate her, what’s the cost?
When I first introduce the practice of “checking in” – a body-centered exercise involving turning inwards and noticing your physical and emotional sensations – my clients usually get freaked out. When they stay with it, they experience some scary and difficult feelings. And they usually want to run.
But they are all fully capable of remaining with their experience. I often have to push a little (or a lot) for them to do it, until something clicks and they realize how beneficial it is to get to know their shadow.
The thing is, if you don’t hang out with your shadow – listening to her, acknowledging her needs, feeling what she feels – she is going to run the show. In fact, if you haven’t been spending time with her on a regular basis, I can pretty much guarantee she already IS running the show in some aspect of your life.
So while “snuggling with your shadow” isn’t necessarily the goal – although if you can do it, go for it – making regular dates with her IS. Have tea with her. Spend fifteen minutes after dinner shut away in your room with her. Take a walk with her this weekend and ask her what’s up.
I guarantee you, if you check in with her regularly, over time, she will stop needing to sabotage your best intentions and drag you into the muck – because she’s being heard.
(And true story…as I was working on this post, my computer spontaneously shut down, which it’s never done before. I decided to take that as a prompt, so I spent the next couple of hours doing self-care and checking in with my shadow, which, wow, did I need.)