Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Illuminating the shadow

Usually when we talk about parts of ourselves that we have disowned and placed into the shadow, we're referring to less desirable material such as fear, rage, shame, and despair. The shadow is seen as the dark repository for all of the so-called negative aspects of ourselves, i.e. our unhealthy dependency, unacknowledged narcissism, unmet hopelessness, and the looming ghosts of our unlived lives.

But it is not only negative aspects that we defend against, dissociate from, and place into the unconscious. Many of us have lost the capacity to access, embody, and express more “positive” experiences such as contentment, pleasure, creativity, sexuality, intimacy, and connectedness.

While it is a bit harder to wrap our minds around, some of us have disconnected from the simple experience of joy, a spontaneous sense of elation at being alive. For example, if the very natural, raw, human experience of joy constellated complexes in our parents – say it brought up anxiety in Mom, anger in Dad, or caused others to shame or pull away from us – we learned quite quickly that joy is not okay, and even potentially dangerous. This reality can be very confusing as we come to associate the experience of joy with being unsafe.

As a little one, with a developing brain and nervous system, we learn to disown or dissociate from any state of mind which has the potential to disrupt the tie to critical attachment figures. This capacity of repression is intelligent and creative, and in many cases saved our lives. But many of us long to know joy again, to feel alive, to fully participate here.

To re-train ourselves to feel joy is not an easy path as by definition we will have to step back through that anxiety, panic, and sense of annihilation that the repression of joy has served to protect us from. But it is a path well worth exploring. To allow ourselves, as part of our inquiry, to see the ways we have placed not only “negative” material into the unconscious shadow, but how we have split off from the positive as well.

The next two events are a five-day retreat, The Place the Light Enters, with Jeff Foster, April 4-9 at Sunrise Ranch in Loveland, CO

The Path is Everywhere: A Weekend Intensive, June 15-18 at Sunrise Ranch in Loveland, CO