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I am devoted to helping people become more of what is possible for them. My commitment, actually my passion, is to help people become more fully alive.

Love the Dark Side of Your Moon

“Every one is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.” (Twain, 1897) 
 
Try walking down a country road in the summer time without your shadow. You cannot deny it, as it is a demanding taskmaster. Cross the road, it is there; walk backwards, there it is, a constant. Where there is light, there is shadow. In addition to our outside shadow, there is an inside shadow, often experienced as alien, a ‘not me’ part. The more split off from it we are, the more uproar it can cause us on a daily basis. Within each of us is a cavern of unknowns where our forbidden feelings, secret wishes, and our creative urges are stored. For our lives to be full and passionate, we have to find the courage to meet our inner shadow.
Examples of the shadow showing up includes the compulsivity of addictions, adultery, lying, stealing, eating disorders, depression, blaming, etc. Whatever form it takes, the aftermath is similar, shame, pain or crises. Even if nobody finds out about our darkness, it still exacts its price. We hear from the news about a respected minister who has engaged in aberrant personal behavior that makes the news A normally kind woman shows her shadow when she verbally attacks her child for an errant behavior. The client, who comes to see me in distress saying she got drunk and had unprotected sex the night before, has experienced her shadow. The father who in denial of his own feelings of vulnerability cannot tolerate such feelings in his wife and children and becomes demeaning and abusive is showing his shadow. It is not uncommon to condemn in others what we disown in ourselves.
It takes courage to turn around and face the ‘shadow’ side of ourselves. An imminent psychologist, Carl Jung said, “When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside as fate.” (Jung, 1963) He added that this is not a popular concept and rather disagreeable to most of us. When you hear the phrase, ‘the shadow,’ what does it conjure up for you? The tendency is to see it as the dark side of human nature, maybe evil, ‘not us’ but ‘them.’
What if we reframed ‘the shadow’ and claimed it, the unknown part of us, with a curiosity, a willingness to know and to befriend the part of us that frequently rears its head when we least expect it. If ignored, and left unattended the power of our shadow may shatter our mask; the way we present ourselves to the world, to our families, in our careers, and relationships.
Often people refer to the shadow in others as their blind spots or their dark side. Are you aware of your ‘blind spots?’ The shadow is also referred to as our demons. Whatever reference you choose does not matter. What matters is that you find within you a willingness to explore what is hidden.
We tend to expect a quick resolution for whatever ails us, so as a rule we do not go searching for enlightenment through our unknown self. What I have observed, from personal experience with my own ‘dark,’ as well as with my clients’ shadows, is that we also have light shadows of intrinsic beauty and strength to claim and enjoy when we venture inward and examine. We cannot fully enjoy the light side of ourselves until we embrace our shadow side. To feel whole, we can make the darkness within us conscious as it holds many of our life juices. Until we make friends with it, we cannot have an integrated self. Regardless of how many good experiences we are having, it is not complete, because we still have in our unconscious a large, unaddressed, unknown part. It takes an enormous amount of energy to suppress such a cauldron of feelings in our attempt to deny its expression.
Our shadow is transformative if we will make it conscious, face it, and accept the fact that it is ‘me too.’ When denied it is likely to erupt when you least expect it, and may cause irreparable damage. At least if it erupts, your discontent with yourself may propel you to do something about it. It can actually be worse for you if it doesn’t erupt or peek out. That means you have suppressed so much of your authentic self, it will be harder work for you to unearth your denied parts. To live a more authentic life, we need to face the light and the darkness within. You will find the courage to shake up the patterns that hold you hostage. So tie yourself to the mast, it could be an interesting voyage.
Once we decide to become more aware of our hidden self and have an intention to know our truth, we will meet our shadow in a myriad of ways, many times a week. It shows up when we judge others harshly, as in she is stupid, fat, manipulative; he is arrogant, a control freak, a miser. It is the disowned parts of ourselves that we project. Our self talk also gives us much information about what is hiding in our unconscious. ‘I am a klutz, a loser, a failure, or superior to them.’ Our addictions cry out for shadow work. Our criticism of self and others, the secrets we hide, the shames we have and hide, are shadows in disguise. We spend much more time confused by our darkness than our light, as the darkness gives us more trouble, the unknown causing us more pain. For instance when we minimize our light shadows, we do not own our strengths, or are afraid if we expressed them in such a way, others may be uncomfortable. Creativity, courage, happiness and freedoms may be disowned.
Often the shadow shows itself in slips of the tongue, the embarrassing misstatements, or in telling an inappropriate joke. Sarcasm is indicative of lurking aggression. When I am in an important life transition, my unresolved shadow, or the dark visage, tends to show up in my dreams. If the symbols do not get my attention the first time around, they become uglier, more persistent, and graphic, until taken seriously. If these messages were not reflected on and treated as important, I would miss out on knowing about a hidden shadow part of myself, maybe a pattern that is negatively impacting my progress in some area.
The personal shadow is that portion of the unconscious, shaped by a confluence of forces, culture and family, moral and social values. We as young beings absorb and are imprinted by all of the above as if it is the truth. All that we take in this way goes into our unconscious and because we have not been able to examine, we may live out others’ truth that is not right for us, in a faulty way. The personal shadow can contain anything that is forbidden, shamed or taboo, depending on cultural, familial and parental training. For example the culture at large may praise an accumulation of wealth, and a particular family may worship the god of money. Another family may scorn any display of money. A person’s faulty beliefs about money may be in the shadow and acted out according to family beliefs. You may hear of a family that frowns upon athletic ability, forcing a natural athlete to go to law school, equating sports to child’s play and business as an authentic goal. Feelings are banished into the unconscious, reappearing in the shadow as rage, addiction, depression, tearing apart precious relationships. In the example above, one may not know that she has absorbed the familial injunctions regarding money and may wonder why she had a recurring problem and conflicting issues regarding money.
An example of the shadow sabotaging a person’s relationship was evident in the life of a client I’ll call Ted. Whenever he drank, he was vulgar and disrespectful to his beloved, blaming it on the alcohol. He said that if he had been in his ‘right mind,’ he would never do such a thing. Alas, alcohol only brings out what is already there. Buried in his unconscious, was a deep anger, many fears, and a deep distrust of women that had originated in childhood with his promiscuous, alcoholic, abusive mother. As a child, he suppressed his feelings then, as an adult, he had no idea the cauldron of fury that was in his well. On the surface he was a dutiful son to his now aging mother who was dependent on him. Polite and funny, he had many relationships with women, but usually he left as soon as it was time for a commitment or it seemed one was expected.
He wanted to change, work out his anger and fear, in order to have a real relationship and family life. He wanted to be respectful to women whether he was drinking or sober. He came for treatment with a determination and a strong intention to know himself at a deeper level. He dismantled his shadow as it related to the above issues and felt happier because of the improved quality of his relationships.
Shadow is in our projections of secret shames. We also find the shadow in addictions, blurt or slip of the tongue, humor, midlife regrets (the neglected and ignored), often camouflaged by physical symptoms. Dreams show us some of what we hide. Often a programmed response is to turn the other way, shifting into denial, ignoring humiliation, red hot rage, or grief.
Have you awakened in adulthood with a relentless desire for deeper intimacy with yourself and others? You may experience a deep yearning within and feel it is too late for you. At this stage of life it is important to intentionally choose to have an increased level of self awareness in regards to the meaning of the inner longing. Awareness is less likely to come about organically as it did in earlier phases of life. We generally have to become more intentioned in our work to become aware. It is frequently a major shift from the external world while making space for the inner world to blossom. This inner awakening may occur at any age, especially if one seeks psychotherapy, which usually signifies that one is ready to explore, and risk change.
 
… Know that you are not alone
And that this darkness has purpose;
Gradually it will school your eyes
To find the one gift your life requires
Hidden within this night-corner …
For Courage (O'Donohue, 2008)
 
We are conditioned to avoid our interior shadows, as if it were our enemy. Having being raised with a strong Irish background I notice that the Irish culture seems steeped in accepting the paradoxes of light and darkness and it is especially addressed in their music. They hold that the darkness is sacred and necessary, if we are to embrace the light. When we avoid facing life’s paradoxes, we may superimpose a false cheerfulness to deny our sadness or unease, which does not change the truth of the situation. Denial does not work so we may try harder, get busier, but the shadow is always galloping behind us.     When we take the courageous step of facing our shadow, to reflect on its meaning, it is as if we disarm the power of it. It is as if the unconscious says, “Finally!! She is willing to accept the part I play in her life and the importance of not denying an important part of self.”
Shadow then is really an invitation to become something more. Where there is light there are shadows. It has been written that when Michelangelo was faced with a huge block of stone, he saw something more in it, the beauty, the potential to carve the meeting of the light and shadows into a majestic, timeless masterpiece. You are a diamond not fully polished, so embrace your light and shadows. There is only one you in the whole world. If you do not embrace yourself, grow and share, that which you came to do will be lost to us.
A couple of years ago I had the good fortune of going to Ireland for a retreat, and with Irish background I know something about holding the opposites of darkness and light. With many losses at an early age, my challenge was not to stay in the well of grief. It was a struggle as there was a time when I saw and felt sadness everywhere. After working through the effects that grief had on my view of the world, and as I write this, I wonder if we ever totally work through our ‘howling hurts.’ Enough work helps us to come on board in life, to know and experience joy and happiness, in addition to, not in spite of, the darkness. So you see I fit well into the Irish paradigm. I remember journeying from one point to another during the retreat in Ireland while our leader played some beautiful soulful Irish ballads. I loved the ballads as they held the exquisite poignancy of the light and the darkness. Other retreat members requested more cheerful music.
To experience the riches of life’s tapestry, we cannot pick and choose only the attractive parts with which we are comfortable. “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light” said Carl Jung. (Jung, 1963) It is important to risk knowing yourself at a deep level in order to have more of you available for a full, happy, passionate life. It is only when we come to know our unique wisdom as well as our own dark side that integration can take place and we have more personal power.

 
The Guest House
 
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
 
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
 
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight,
 
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
 
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
 
(Rumi & Barks, 1995)
 

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