Monday, June 3, 2019

Joy and 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 selfishness. The shadow is often conceived of as the dark repository for our unacknowledged narcissism, spiritual greed, unconscious materialism, unmet inflation, and hidden self-absorption.

But placing these figures into the shadow does not get rid of, heal, or transform them. It only sets up the causes and conditions for their ripening and expression in less-than-conscious ways that usually create additional suffering for ourselves and others.

If we are not in conscious contact with these qualities, we will be sure to evoke and locate them in others and in the world and enact them within the relational field. Until we are able to enter relationship with these ones within us, we will find them in the Other, whether that other be another person, a group of people, a culture, or even in the natural world.

But it is not only negative material that we split off and dissociate from. 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. A basic sense of awe at having a human form and human senses and a human heart that is often broken and whole.

Developmentally, for example, if the very natural, raw, human experience of causeless joy and aliveness activated anxiety in Mom, rage in Dad, or caused others to judge or 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 an emerging little brain and nervous system, we learn to disavow or dissociate from any state of experience which has the potential to disrupt the tie to critical attachment figures. This capacity of repression was intelligent and creative, an early form of self-care, and in many ways saved our lives, keeping us out of unworkable states of panic, overwhelm, and abandonment. But many of us long to know joy again, to feel alive, to fully participate here. We are coming to see that we may no longer need to be protected in the way that was once so necessary.

To re-train ourselves to feel and stay embodied to joy and awe is not an easy path as we will have to step back through the anxiety, panic, and sense of annihilation that the repression of joy has served to protect us from. But it may be 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.

To just open to the possibility and see. How have I come to associate simple joy and contentment and deep rest with something not quite safe, even evidence that I’m doing something wrong?

It is an act of love to do this work and is never, ever for ourselves alone. It is honorable and ethical and perhaps even moral. To include the ancestors and the ones yet to come. For they too are here with us as we remember. 

Photo by Efes Kitap

Befriending Yourself - you are invited to join me and my friend Jeff Foster at our new online membership site at the intersection of spirituality, meditation, and depth psychology. Video-based teachings, live meditations, question-and-answer videos, and a moderated online support community. 

The next retreat - The Deep Rest Retreat: Slowing Down and Befriending Yourself in Difficult Times - September 4-9 at Sunrise Ranch in Loveland, Colorado - registration open 

My most recent book – The Path Is Everywhere: Uncovering the Jewels Hidden Within You – is available in both paperback and Kindle editions. 

My next book, A Healing Space: Befriending Yourself in Difficult Times, will be published by Sounds True in 2020.