I have a beautiful yoga teacher who ends each of her classes with a nod to the
“love, light, and shadow”
in each of us.
I’ve adopted this closing in my own teaching and practice because it reminds me to acknowledge the darkness within me without fear or shame.
In a discussion with IIN Head Coach Jeff Curtis, Human Connection Specialist Mark Groves explains the complexities of our Shadow Self poignantly. “[We have] the idea that our feelings are negative…but feelings just are information…pieces of information that are teaching us about our environment…giving us feedback. And we’ve been socialized, cultured, medically taught that if you’re experiencing sadness or you’re experiencing grief or anger, then there’s something wrong with you”.
We all have shadows, unhealed things.
Every, single human has behaviors that we are not proud of. Imagine, though, if rather than criticize ourselves we accept that something is right with us and that we are actually incredibly wise. We are being invited to change our circumstances and our responses and reactions to them. When we keep tucking them away and hiding them we lose the ability to learn from them. We also shame other people for them, often unknowingly.
Groves goes on to say that when we don’t understand the richness of our shadows, our relationships are the place where the shadow comes to dance. This shows up in our reactivity. We learn to believe that someone in conflict with us is trying to hurt us when really the dysfunctional or toxic choices made when in conflict are trying to protect each of us from being hurt. When we can have compassion for what we label a “shadow behavior”, then we can start to look at its richness with curiosity rather than judgement.
Our hearts beat in the dark, and that decay is beautiful.
If we are willing to look at what we might call darkness or shadow we expand. Ram Dass has said that “In a way, who you think you are can’t do it. Who you really are, can. And who you think you are has to die in the process”.
When it comes to our shadow, the entirety of ourselves is welcome there. This means that whoever you are in a relationship with is welcome there, too. “And space is created for the relationship to become a sacred container which is very different than being tolerated. We often think that being compassionate for the origins of something means tolerating it. [Yet] this is the most beautiful work”, says Graves.
Our shadows come up when we’re triggered.
Attachment, jealousy, anxiety, cheating, lying, distancing, withdrawing, avoidance, stonewalling, gaslighting, ghosting–these are shadow behaviors. They are there because our mind, body, and emotions are developing them to protect us from something else. Our job is to be aware and accountable. Ultimately, the underlying characteristic of a secure attachment is that our partners’ needs matter as much as our own. Not less than our own, which is avoidance, not more than our own, which is anxiety.
Avoidant people are afraid of what happens when there is no space; anxious people are afraid of what happens when there is. Both are simply attempts to self-regulate. When we have a shadow or reactive behavior, what we are really trying to do is create certainty and predictability, and get our needs met. Just not in a healthy way.
So what are our options?
In order to embrace our shadows, we are going to have to step into spaces that we have never stepped into. We will have to behave in ways we never have and do (scary) things we’ve never done. We need to get to a place that we never sat in long enough to explore.
And in new relational experiences, especially when our reaction is not equivalent to what is actually occuring, we need to recognize that something old is lingering that is asking to be healed. What I am learning is that a lot of “new grief” is still actually “old grief”. Every moment where there is a trigger is an invitation to wisdom. But even when we have done the work, the triggers don’t go anywhere. And this is the best news of all.
Because sensitivities are actually superpowers when transformed and embraced.
Guess what? The shadow is actually where the whole bag of tricks is. Where all of the beauty is. And where all of the wisdom is. Lean in…