the shadow is not your enemy

"I believe I know the only cure, which is to make one’s center of life inside of one’s self, not selfishly or excludingly, but with a kind of unassailable serenity — to decorate one’s inner house so richly that one is content there, glad to welcome anyone who wants to come and stay, but happy all the same when one is inevitably alone."
Edith Wharton 1862-1937

 

Times are trying at various points in our life, and it is a rare occasion to share the trial with so many others. I have had the foundations of my perceived life challenged in big ways over the last couple of months, and as a result of the turmoil, I feel more deliberate and focused on my purpose than ever. That is not to say I feel good and positive and free. Most of the time I feel incredibly anxious, heartsick and angry. But I have my practice, and I have tools that, when used deliberately and consistently, deliver me to a state of (*near*) equilibrium.

For the last three months I've been tested in my resolve to walk my talk. Overwhelmed by global, familial and inter-personal conflict, I felt crushed by the weight of it, and struggled (am struggling) to see the benefit of so much chaos. After nearly eight months of sobriety and deep self inquiry, I began testing the waters of drink again. At first it was enough to stand ankle deep in the familiar feel of soft waves, but it wasn't long before I needed not only something familiar, but the escape of going completely away from the shore. One glass became four and I was dancing with that dark part of me that desires death. Departure. To cease to be. When I drink, I don't feel ease and enjoyment I feel nothing. I want to feel nothing. I want to disappear. It is not the kind of experience that I imagine some have, but I think there are many who connect to their darkest shadow in substance use. That liminal space, between here and there, can be and is used to tap our subconscious, but if the shadow is never brought to light side, it will consume us. If the reality of our dark thoughts, impulses, cravings aren't seen as beacons, we will never be able to recognize their benevolence. Our fear of the shadow's authority and mistrust of our own power is what keeps most of us running from our fundamental lessons. 

The shadow in yoga is the fundamental counterpart to light, night to day, mind to body. As viewed from a more contemporary perspective, the shadow could be equated to our neuroses, habits, addictions and patterns of self-sabotaging behavior. These are our sign posts on the path to self-actualization. These aspects of self are the fertilizer for our soul's seeds. Most of us run from the shadow because its darkness can seem so all-consuming as to imply imminent destruction. Which it does. But not in the ways we fear. No end is final. Every end is a rebirth. I watched a video of childbirth that has overwhelmed me with waves of emotion because of the way it represents this time in history; we are giving birth to a new understanding of ourselves. We, together, create new life, and some of us will bear the weight more heavily than others. In the crucial moments of transition, it is excruciating, profound, seemingly impossible with no end in sight. But with the proper allies we come through, alive, radiant, with something precious to show for our efforts.

I want to invite you to turn around and look at the thing from which you're running. Fear of change, fear of commitment, doubt, uncertainty, conflict. The fact is that, as Thomas Moore writes in "The Soul of Sex," "There is no life outside of us. The world is, in fact, our collective projections of love and fear, hopes and conflicts. In taking responsibility for our own thoughts and feelings, we play our part in the healing of the world. The world is in a critical phase because we are. The world is in massive shift because we are. The world still has a chance for survival both in spite of us and because of us." 

Life is a miracle. Honor her.