Facing Darkness and Allowing Light In

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This is an intense, challenging time we live in.  It's easy to look at the many tragedies in the world and feel fear or despair.  Heavy emotions are uncomfortable and can give us a sense of powerlessness, so we tend to avoid our dark thoughts and feelings.  Yet it is only in facing this darkness within that we can find inner peace.  

Common ways that we avoid our feelings are through denial or distraction.  In denial, we may try to put a happy face on and tell ourselves, "It's not so bad" or "Things will get better."  There's nothing wrong with a positive outlook as long as you are not using it to repress your dark feelings.   It's called spiritual bypass when you use a spiritual concept to avoid facing emotional pain.  Wounds can fester for a long time this way, keeping us from the peace we seek.

Distraction is a seemingly innocuous defense mechanism that keeps us busy but gets us nowhere, like hamsters on a wheel.  We fill up all our days, doing more so that there's no time to feel.  We convince ourselves that if we don't focus on it, it doesn't exist. This tactic doesn't make it go away; in fact, it exhausts us to keep running from ourselves. Although it's true that it can be detrimental to wallow in heavy emotions, there's a healthy balance point between drowning in darkness and avoiding our feelings.

Confronting the darkness within gives us empowerment.  If we act as if our own feelings aren't important, how can expect anyone else to value them?  By no longer running from our feelings, we are telling ourselves that we matter.  

How can we face dark emotions when they seem overwhelming?  First, let go of the notion that emotions need to be fixed.  Resist the urge to try to solve whatever situation triggered the emotion. Simply sitting with the emotion and experiencing the sensation in the body allows it to begin processing.  Second, notice if the feeling wants to be expressed.  If so, allow it to flow, whether through tears, a sigh or scream, or through writing or movement.  Finally, send love to the part of you that's hurting - whether it's from sadness, anger, fear or any other dark feeling.  Love is the most powerful healer.

Honoring all of our feelings in this way releases them or lessens their intensity.  Often what we fear outwardly is a reflection of our own darkness.  We build our walls but it never gives us a sense of security because the true source, our own shadow self, hasn't been addressed.   As we begin to face the inner darkness, we allow light to enter, the light of inner peace.

Uncovering the Power of Your Shadow

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The process of healing is ultimately a process of becoming balanced and whole. Oftentimes it seems like what we want is just out of our grasp.What if the answer were right under your nose? What if your greatest gifts were right below the surface, the ones you couldn't see? This is the power of the shadow.

What exactly is the shadow?  Carl Jung coined the term "shadow." He defined the shadow as "everything a person refuses to acknowledge about himself." Although everyone has a shadow, it is obviously different for each person and varies greatly with the values and culture we are raised in.  Jung believed that the shadow is the seat of our creativity.

As we grow up we begin to separate and label parts as good and bad, acceptable and unacceptable.  The acceptable parts remain in our conscious awareness.  The unacceptable parts comprise the shadow and become hidden.  Determined not to show these parts to others, we either spend a lot of energy keeping them hidden or we forget we have them entirely and instead project them onto others.  The energy used to hold this shadow down creates a pressure cooker inside.  Our fear gives this shadow strength and power over us.  We are no longer free.  We must now act carefully so that this ugly part is not exposed to the world.  Because of this internal pressure, when situations are challenging this shadow will lash out with a force doubly strong, all of its ugliness amplified and exaggerated.

If the shadow has become totally hidden and unconscious, we find ourselves attracting whomever we need to mirror back our disowned aspects. There is a saying, "what you resist persists." Although our shadow may be hidden to us, its energy is carried within us and magnetically draws people with like energy into our lives.  If we want to stop drawing these people into our lives, we need to own that quality within ourselves.

Perhaps as a child you cried at night, afraid of the boogeyman in the closet.  Your mom or dad came into your room and turned on the light to reassure you that it was safe. As adults what we don't realize is that the bogeyman we are so frightened of is just a neglected part of ourselves. We can shine the light of awareness onto these shadow parts and watch them transform before our eyes.

In each part of ourselves that we have overlooked or disowned, there is always a gift hidden beneath the dark exterior. With shyness, there may be the gift of introspection. With anger, there may be the gift of strength or passion.  Just recovering all the energy that is used to conceal the shadow is a gift in itself.  Releasing the fear of identifying with this "bad" part diffuses its energy so that it no longer controls us. Now we can better manage this aspect and use it in appropriate situations.  By summoning the courage to face each of these parts, we become stronger and more confident.

One of the greatest gifts of reclaiming your shadow is freedom from judgment of self and others.  You recognize your vulnerability as well as your strength.  You see your naïveté as well as your wisdom. You realize you have the capacity to be any quality in addition to its total opposite. This awareness awakens compassion and releases judgement, both within and without.

HOW TO ACCESS THE POWER OF YOUR SHADOW

As a hypnotherapist, clients see me because they want to change or heal some aspect of themselves and their lives.  Oftentimes people think the solution they're looking for is to get rid of a part that is unacceptable.  In fact, the solution is the complete opposite. Just like in physics, this energy cannot be created or destroyed.  Underneath the unacceptable behavior is a valid need.  While in hypnosis we access the part that is creating the behavior, for example smoking or getting stage fright. Once we address this part and discover its needs, we can come up with new positive behaviors to meet those needs. That part that was once disenfranchised can now be integrated.

Despite the fact that it's been hidden from us, the shadow is easy to uncover once we are willing to face it.  To get started, here's a couple of simple exercises taken from the book "Dark side of the Lightchasers" by Debbie Ford:

- Begin by listing all the people who really get under your skin.  This may be people you know personally as well as public figures.  Notice what specific traits of each person really bother you.  With each trait on the list, think of a time when you behaved the same way or think of a situation in which you would be capable of feeling the same way.  Sometimes you will need to break it down to the very base underlying emotion.  For instance, you may not feel capable of murder, however you can think of a time when you were enraged or when you hurt another.

- Make a list of all the parts you don't like and find at least one gift hidden in each part.  For example, if you were raised believing that people should be humble, your shadow may be a showoff. Gifts of being a showoff may be not being afraid to speak up, or the ability to demonstrate self-confidence.  If you have difficulty finding the gift in a particular trait, ask a friend to help. We each have our own unique blinders.

The point isn't to become the opposite of who you are or what you value.  You don't have to fall in love with all of your parts, just own them and see their value.  By recognizing you are also the opposite of what you identify with, you become balanced.  In recognizing you are every trait, you become whole.  When you are balanced and whole, you become free to choose how you want to be in each moment and act with awareness.