Catching yourself in the act of thinking or behaving in a way that is based on something you have repressed or denied—shadow—is a beginning. But what do you do next? And is awareness enough?
The first thing to do when you catch yourself in shadowland is to be kind to yourself. Self-recrimination seldom helps. By that, do I mean that you should never feel guilt or remorse? No, that is not what I am saying. Guilt and remorse can alert you to the fact that some thought or behavior does not square with your internal value system, your sense of appropriateness and integrity. But as mechanisms to alert you, they need to be attended to and then put aside.
If you use an alarm clock to alert you to the fact that it is time to get up, do you let it continue to beep after you wake up? No. You turn it off. It has done its job. Imagine telling yourself that you need to let the beeping continue, just to make sure you don’t oversleep tomorrow. Or worse yet, imagine deciding that you need to let it keep beeping just to punish yourself for not getting up without it. To do so would be an act of aggression against yourself. And do you really need to be at war with yourself?
Use that moment of awareness as an opportunity to be kind to yourself. Also use it as an opportunity to look at the choices you have made and consider whether you might want to make new choices. Those choices might be straightforward and simple or they might complex and challenging; they might be easy or difficult to enact. At the very least, appreciate the fact that you have actually caught yourself in the act of thinking or doing something based on old defense mechanisms. Without having done that, you would not be in a position to make new choices.
This is no small thing because awareness means vulnerability. To be aware is to open yourself to being touched by both the external world and the internal one. There is a quality of defenselessness to that and, therefore, vulnerability. And once you have had that moment of awareness, there is no going back. You cannot become unaware of whatever it is you have just become aware. You may shut that awareness down and try to retreat to the cocoon, but you cannot eradicate that moment of awareness you have just had.
Further, awareness has a way of expanding. You don’t simply become aware of your own internal state of affairs and your own behavior, you begin to become more aware of the world around you. And you don’t simply become aware of everything painful and problematic, focusing only on that, nor do you simply become aware of what is uplifting and delightful, focusing only on that. You become aware of everything, and you allow yourself to be touched by everything in that awareness. You will find that you are up to the challenge, that you can actually allow yourself to experience life as it is without dying or becoming overwhelmed and retreating. Abandoning the armor, even just at times, frees up an enormous amount of energy, and having freed up energy feels good.
It is a beginning. As you become aware and make new choices, you become cognizant that you are interacting within two important relationships: the relationship with yourself and the relationship with the world (or more accurately, the relationship with everything other than yourself). Not only do you become aware of these two relationships, you may even become aware that within each of these relationships, you are interacting with what is visible and physical and with what is invisible and nonphysical (or energetic).
As your awareness expands, it helps to avoid intellectualizing about it and just enter into a state of curiosity. Each of the relationships you are becoming curious about has dimensionality, a kind of dimensionality that transcends the three dimensions we usually think of. Each has depth and breadth. That is, each can be shallow or deep, broad or narrow. But neither a cube nor a sphere describes them. A spiral, expanding in both directions but otherwise in the form of a double helix, might be a better image, though even that does not quite capture it because any kind of spiral we can image is locked into three dimensions.
What are you seeking, whether or not you realize it, through these relationships? You are seeking a sense of wholeness. But this is not a fixed wholeness, it is an evolving one. And how do you attain that sense of wholeness? You attain that sense of wholeness by healing yourself and your relationship with everything else. This is an interactive affair. As you heal your relationship with yourself, it impacts your relationship with everything else, and as you heal your relationship with everything else, it impacts your relationship with yourself.
Awareness begins the process; an evolving wholeness is what you are pulled to.
Copyright 2014 by Melanie Mulhall
Tags: awareness, choices, defenselessness, expanding awareness, external world, guilt, internal world, invisible, kindness to self, relationship with self, relationship with the world, shadow, visible, vulnerability, wholeness