In the middle of the day, a sky filled with blue and a little bit of white suddenly became dark. The insects quieted. The birds stopped singing. Day-light became day-dark. Stars and planets became visible. The world as we knew it- our *view of the world*- became another world. Bang! Perception altered.
The recent eclipse gave us a firsthand view into how darkness becomes our reality when light is obscured from our vision. We’re used to this in a very specific presentation called ‘night.’ But it was like a magic trick to see day transform into night…during the day.
During this rare moment, I heard people gush about how they were blown away by the beauty. The sudden expression of lightness transitioning into darkness, then back into lightness was SO REAL and in our faces – something for all of us to see and for all of us to share. The sky was met with reverence and mystery. We took it all in: Light. Dark. Light.
A bit less novel and perhaps taken for granted, we don’t question how every evening and again every morning we move from light into dark, back into light again. It is simply part of our reality. We don’t try to change it. We adapt. We accept it. We allow it to be what it is.
Our days (and nights) are also filled with emotional eclipses, when darkness temporarily obscures light or light obscures darkness. We call them “bad moods” or “good moods,” and a slew of other things. We slip in and out of these often, experiencing a glimmer of light amid persistent darkness, or a shadow of darkness within persistent light. When we get caught in these eclipses, we often project these interpretative perceptions onto people, places, thing, politics… you get the gist… or onto the nature of who we are at our very core.
In this relative existence, most concepts have an opposite: good/bad, right/wrong, light/dark, and so on. And we as human beings prefer to be “on the side of” good, right, and light. We love to be associated with the “positive” side of these concepts. We love to be the bright shining sun, not the moon which obscures it. But, as many of us observed Monday, this obscuring has its own kind of beauty, too.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be associated with the positives. That’s natural. But the truth is that we all have our shadows and the eclipse was a glaring reminder that the shadow – the darkness – is an inevitable part of this reality.
Too often we’re so busy hiding from this side of ourselves that it quietly consume us, sometimes without us ever knowing it. We inadvertently become slaves to these shadow sides, in our ignorance or denial of them. I had a boyfriend once who, when he wasn’t getting his way, loved to call me arrogant and a hypocrite (neither of which I denied, fwiw), and when I’d tell people about this they’d laugh as they considered the source. He was well known for exemplifying the classic psychological move of projecting what we don’t like about ourselves – what we’re unwilling to meet within ourselves – onto others.
What happens to the shadows that we are in denial of? Unlike the ones created by the sun, our internal shadows don’t naturally shift away on their own. But we’re a stubborn species and sometimes we’ll do just about anything but feel or acknowledge our shadows, and this avoidance feeds our culture’s heavily addictive personality as we try to ignore or escape them. We bury ourselves in food, social media, gambling, sex, drugs, alcohol, work, unhealthy relationships. We want to feel love- but we can’t- because our shadows are ‘harshing our mellow.’ So we numb ourselves or act out instead.
While the shadows that we desperately try to conceal may, on the surface, seem to be about things like arrogance or hypocrisy, or racism, sexism, homophobia, and other judgmental traits, underneath these ‘negative’ characteristics are deficiency stories – a sense that we’re not good enough, that we’re unlovable, that we’re broken.
We try to hide our deficiency stories, clinging to a façade of power and strength, but they come out in our anger, in our judgments, in our fears, and they fester into depression and hopelessness. We either project them onto others, or we sink into them within ourselves. These shadows shape our perceptions, our reality. We’re a culture full of unacknowledged and processed shadows. We’re a culture full of overt and overt covert addition.
What if we didn’t have to pretend that we didn’t have shadows? What if we didn’t have to pretend that we didn’t have deficiency stories? What if we didn’t have to pretend that we’re not addicts in some form or other? What if we didn’t have to pretend that we’re not perfect?
The opposite of pretending is honesty. What if we could be honest, with ourselves and with others, about our shadows? What if we could admit that we are hurting? What if we could accept that we are having a hard time, that we are scared or sad or angry? What if we could just be our fully human selves? We all know that love is the ultimate ‘positive’ aspect, but when we have to deny a part of ourselves, it’s not love – it’s self-loathing.
Most of us have what I call inner managers –essentially the part of us that insists on controlling things – and a while back, I was battling pretty heavily with mine. I was having a rough day after a series of miscellaneous triggers, and my nervous system went from fully operational to completely freaked out. Now, when my nervous system starts to freak out, my hamster-wheel mind starts to spin…and then if that momentum isn’t neutralized, in comes the overwhelm. I have a lot of tools to attend to these various experiences, but sometimes I just get lost in it. That’s when my inner manager comes out to see what the fuck is going on. As you might have guessed, she’s not the most kind or compassionate voice that plays in my head. She’s more like, “Let’s get this shit taken care of, Lisa!”
When I spotted this inner manager, I wanted to get rid of her. She was harsh, more like a bully than anything helpful, and I didn’t appreciate her being around. Well, guess what? My resistance to her only made her dig her heels in.
My body was tight. My nervous system continued to be amped up. Emotions were rampant. Self-loathing was on the upswing. But I quickly realized what was going on, and took a deep breath. Why was I making my inner manager into the bad guy? Why was I trying to push down this shadow part of myself? I had this idea that she was in the way of my peace. But it turns out that my resistance to her is what kept me from experiencing peace. My denial of her – not allowing her to be as she was – was the true cause of my agitation.
Once this revealed itself, I was able to acknowledge that she was actually welcome to be here. Thank you for revealing yourself, I told her. You’re welcome to stay. Hell, I actually love you, too! And then I let her be, as there was no reason or need for anything to be different then it was.
These shadow parts of ourselves aren’t bad – they have been created innocently, based on our childhood and our conditioning. If you want to hear about the formation of my inner manager…well, let’s have tea sometime and I’ll tell you all about her. But for now, just know that we all have shadows. We can’t have night without day, or light without dark; they are two sides of the same coin. We all have deficiency stories and shadow states that are part of our persona, and they’re not as terrible as we make them out to be…especially when we stop demonizing them, or shaming ourselves for having them. What began as self-loathing can transform into self-love as we allow our humanity to be here in all its variation.
We’re human. We exist within a plentitude of expressions – so explore them. Get to know your shadow sides. Get to know what makes them so loud, and why they are here in the first place. Learn their message and their lesson. Instead of projecting your shadows onto your friends, make friends with your shadows. Being honest about them and their existence will actually set them (and you) free, as well as dismantle the deficiency stories that are tied to them. When you shine light onto your shadows, something magical happens…the darkness that seems to be tied up with them shifts. And then, just like with an eclipse, the beauty of that light will again emerge.