Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Embracing the Shadow Side

I subscribe to quite a few spiritual newsletters, and one of them today was talking about how we have the choice in every moment to act from a place of love or a place of fear.  This is a pretty common idea, that we may not be able to control what happens to us, but we can control how we react to it.  I am definitely on board with this, what I am not on board with is the idea that we should always be choosing the side of love.

Okay that sounds a bit shady doesn't it...I mean why would we want to choose to act from a place of fear?  Let me explain!

Fear exists for a reason.  If you are out in the woods at night, and see a wild bear up ahead, that fear exists to warn you of danger and to prompt you to act in a way that will preserve your life.  Sure, you may love the bear, but it is wiser to act on your fear and to slowly back away, than it would be to run forward and hug the bear.

Of course, this is an exaggerated example, but it feels to me like the overwhelming attitude in a lot of spiritual circles is that we should all be trying to rise above our darker aspects, to face our shadow and overcome it, and to fill our lives with love and light and everything wonderful.

I'm all about the joy.  I love when things are fabulous and everything is going my way.  But I am also very entrenched in my own darkness.  Sometimes this isn't in my benefit, but I naturally work very well in dark places.  I embrace parts of myself that are dirty and violent and low.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again for good measure:  I believe life is about balance.  I've done the 'wallow in my own darkness' thing (yes I was a little bit goth in my day...yes goth, it was before emo was a thing), and it wasn't healthy for me.  But I don't think trying to abolish and eliminate the darkness would be either.

So how does this pan out in everyday life?  I think that is one thing that the email that started this train of thought got right.  In every moment we have a choice in how to react.  We just have to have the piece of mind to be able to choose what actually serves us best in the moment.  And sometimes, reaching for love and trying to surround ourselves with only light IS a fear based action.  We are running from our own darkness because it scares us.  And I think that is a very different energy than embracing the light for it's own sake.

I've been thinking a lot about self-esteem and body image a lot recently.  This is another place where I find this tricky balancing act.  It is a pretty well known fact that hating on our body as it is now isn't a fun way to live.  Sure, many of us have things we would like to improve upon, but that doesn't mean we need to shower ourselves in negative self-thought all the time. 

I sort of think about it like I would approach a small child.  When my son was little, there were tons of things that he did that I wasn't too happy about.  And if he was old enough to know he was doing something wrong, he would get an appropriate punishment.  But it was always accompanied with a suggestion for a more appropriate behavior and a reminder that just because I didn't approve of the action he took, that didn't mean that I didn't love HIM any less.

And I think that is a great way to approach much of life.  We look at the things we do/think/feel and we can acknowledge when those things aren't what we want them to be.  We can give ourselves that moment of 'oh I really shouldn't have done that', but then we should definitely follow it up with some kind of positive action towards what we wanted to do and a reminder that we are all human and mistakes are okay (just try not to make a habit of them).

But I definitely think it is healthy to have an outlet for those darker emotions as well.  Things happen that suck.  Life isn't fair.  Sometimes you just have that horrible day, everything is going wrong and it feels like people are going out of their way to do you wrong.  Embrace it!  Run with those emotions!  Rant about it on paper, dance it out to your favorite angry song, pull out the crayons or finger paints and scribble all those ugly feelings out, or build something (like with clay or legos) with the intention of destroying it!  And then turn that dark energy into a focus that will move you forward.  Channel that rage and stubbornness into standing up for what you need.  Use those emotions to give you strength when people try to take advantage of you!

I think sadness is another emotion that people shy away from.  I am a crier.  I don't always want to be (it's messy, uncomfortable, and part of my brain tells me it is the action of someone who is weak).  I definitely cry a lot more than I would like at horribly inconvenient times (I hate crying in the middle of an argument...and I swear I never do it to be manipulative).  I cry while reading books or watching tv (even commercials).  But there is something very cathartic about crying.  Especially when I stop resisting it and just roll with it.  I definitely find that I feel the sadness more deeply when I do.  And there is a profound purity to deep sadness.  This sense of emptiness as if nothing in the world can ever touch you again.  There is also a sort of peace and calm.  When you are in this place nothing can hurt you because you have nothing left to loose.  It is a sort of certainty that can't be shaken.

The thing I find about these darker aspects is that they take work (although I also find that the light takes work, for me at least).  When you first face them, it is easy to be overwhelmed, to fall into their power instead of being able to harness their power to work for you.  It is only by sticking with it, by working with them and really being mindful about it, that you start to be able to ride the wave, to be able to direct the storm instead of being battered by it. 


  1. The part where you said "And sometimes, reaching for love and trying to surround ourselves with only light IS a fear based action." really intrigued me. I take pride in the fact that I rarely get mad and am very forgiving as well as immensely peaceful and full of light. I think that is a very beautiful thing to be honest. It has a lot of power behind it. It definitely something for me to meditate on. Thank you very much for this post!

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it! I think we all sit somewhere different on the scale of light/dark, though I definitely believe we all have at least a touch of each in us. Some people have more anger, and learning to embrace it (and use it constructively instead of trying to bottle it up or ignore it until they can no longer control themselves and explode) is where they find their power. But some people find they have no righteous anger, even when they are being seriously wronged...and they can't tap into that power to protect themselves. Tapping anger doesn't always mean you have to be violent or physical, it can mean using that energy to move yourself into a better situation or work to change how you respond (instead of just letting someone else do whatever they want to you).