Posts Tagged ‘authentic self’

Shadowland, Part 1

October 6, 2013

When you begin to catch yourself responding to life (yourself, others, events, the world you touch up against) in predictable, defensive ways and it makes you a little uncomfortable, that discomfort means it’s time to explore what you have been repressing and denying within yourself—your shadow. Can you still flee? Of course. But one of three things will give you the courage to avoid fleeing if you’re ready: the weariness you feel about the life you’ve been living, the pull of Spirit forward, or both.

Why do you need to face what you’ve been repressing and denying? Because it points the way to what needs to cleared, healed, integrated, unearthed, and otherwise dealt with so you can live more through your authentic self. And why go to the trouble to do that? Because anything else consumes a lot of energy. Because nothing else produces quite the same feeling of joy, aliveness, and peace—all rolled up together at the same time. Because you cannot really fulfill your mission in this life without doing so.

There are many ways to invite your shadow to sit down and have a talk with you. One is to play an adult version of hide and seek with yourself. Catch yourself in the act of hiding. What form might that take?

It’s often easier to see this in others than it is to see it in ourselves. At work, you may have seen it in the form of an employee or coworker who denies having made a mistake that has just been discovered, one they definitely have made.

“It wasn’t me. I didn’t do it. Jack had it after me.”

“I checked the calculations. They were correct when I turned them in.”

“The order most have gotten screwed up.”

“I told Mary exactly what to do and how to do it. This isn’t my fault.”

When someone is dancing or outright lying, you may be annoyed with them or embarrassed for them. You may wonder why they just don’t own up to the mistake. This behavior may feel particularly egregious when the CEO does it because s/he is supposed to be a model of good behavior, and the blame is often deflected to everyone below the CEO level or to uncontrollable events.

But what about when you are the one who has made the mistake? And let’s say the mistake is nothing that will bring down a company, the US economy, or your family’s budget. Let’s say, for instance, you were asked to personally contact six clients at work to give them the bad news that their orders are not going to be finished in the time your company had estimated. Delivery will be delayed. You make five of the calls, then are distracted by another problem and forget to make the sixth call. The client later calls your boss and rails at her because the order is late. He swears no one called him. When your boss comes to you and asks you about it, you can either tell her the truth or you can tell her something other than the truth.

Let’s say you tell her something other than the truth and you are immediately uncomfortable with what you have done. You’re not a sociopath, after all. Apart from not wanting to be on the receiving end of her wrath, apart from fearing you might lose your job (even though you’re confident you won’t for this relatively small infraction), what might be going on? Why did you lie?

When I was ten or so, I lied to my mother when she asked me to do something. It was rare for my mother to ask for help. She usually behaved as if no one but her could do anything she needed done correctly, so she did things herself. But she must have dropped her guard just a little one day, no doubt because she had plenty to do for my sisters, who were three and four at the time. She asked me to ride my bike to a neighborhood grocery store and buy some simple item in the particular brand and variety she wanted. She gave me the money for it. I set out on the mission, very aware of how unusual it was for her to give me this kind of responsibility.

But once in the little grocery store (these neighborhood grocery stores were not much bigger than your neighborhood coffee shop is these days), I couldn’t quite remember the details of what she wanted. I went home without buying anything. When she asked why I didn’t have the item, I lied and said they were out of it. The look of frustration and disgust on her face were harder to take than being struck by her would have been.

So why had I lied? I certainly didn’t want to disappoint her and I certainly didn’t want to be chastised for failing my mission. But there was more to it than that. I lied because I didn’t want to prove her right. I didn’t want to be the living example that no one but her could do things correctly. I lied because I didn’t want to be shown to be the dreamy ten-year-old I was (often lost in the meanderings of my mind). I lied because I didn’t want to be proven incompetent. I lied because I didn’t want to be a failure.

Did I understand all of this at the time? Well, I know I was extremely uncomfortable. And because I was a terrible liar, the lie was probably written all over my face. I felt shame. But I doubt I could have given words to my discomfort and shame. It was only later, with maturity and insight, that I began to address the fear that I would be discovered to be what I desperately didn’t want to be: incompetent and a failure.

Lying was definitely too uncomfortable for me to make a habit of it, but I spent a lot of years hiding out. The fear of being seen as incompetent and/or a failure became part of my shadow.

Most of us have a shadow self. Most of us have repressed and denied some things. And those things are often our deepest fears about ourselves. Shadowland has a large population.

To be continued.

Copyright 2013 by Melanie Mulhall

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Getting Out of the Cocoon, Part 2

August 25, 2013

What kind of questions do we begin to ask? Many of us—maybe most of us—don’t begin with broad, sweeping questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What is the nature of reality? These are not the questions that usually first confront us when we finally pause and pay attention. No. The questions we begin to ask ourselves are often much narrower, much closer to our everyday lives: Why did I snap at her when she said that to me? What now (that I’m divorced/have lost my job/have retired)? Why am I sad/angry/empty/unfulfilled/anxious right now (or all the time)? Who am I trying to please by doing this? Where should I look for an answer to this problem? When will I finally find some peace?

These are the kinds of questions that begin to plow up the soil in the field of your life. But whether you just scratch the surface or plow deeply depends, in part, on whether you return to the same defensive strategies you’ve been using as you pursue the answers to your questions.

Why did I snap at her when she said that to me? The answer might be one of the following: Because she’s an idiot. Because this is really none of her business. Because she keeps nagging about that. Because she’s wrong. Because I know more about this than she does. Because she just doesn’t know what I’m up against. Any of those might be perfectly rational answers on any given occasion. Or they might have seemed perfectly rational at one time, but not now.

You may begin catching yourself in the act of responding in all too familiar ways that are predictable and either feel more defensive than rational or don’t feel representative of your best. And when you catch yourself recognizing something old and a little bit putrid in your answers, you can bet that there is at least one dead body in that field you’re beginning to plow—probably more than one. And however many there are, they are all you, versions of yourself it’s time to heal and integrate in the bid for power (in shamanic terms) that is a movement towards wholeness.

There is gold in that field you’re plowing, but it is probably not sitting close to the surface. You may have to plow deep. You may find yourself beginning with a timeworn answer, one you’ve trotted out again and again, probably with different people and in different circumstances. Then you stop. You discern a sense of futility to the answer, or discomfort, or hollowness. You may even have a sense of déjà vu. The answer you begin to give may feel true, in part, but shallow. Something in you is no longer satisfied with the same old answer.

If your skin begins to crawl and you realize you don’t actually have an answer, that very sense of “no answer” may feel like a black hole. And actually, that’s not a bad way to look at it.

At the risk of mixing metaphors with abandon (the field of your life with astronomical black holes), consider the black hole for a moment. I’m no scientist, so this is going to be expressed in the simplest of terms. A black hole is formed when a huge star is “dying.” It collapses and its matter gets squeezed into a small space. It becomes very dense and has immense gravity. It has such gravitational force, in fact, that its escape velocity (the speed needed to break away from that gravitational pull) is faster than the speed of light.

Well, sort of. You see, scientists talk about event horizons with black holes. The outer event horizon is at the edge of a black hole. If you were there, you could escape the gravitational pull. But the inner event horizon, which is in the middle layer of the black hole, has a gravitational pull too strong to escape. So we have the outer layer and the middle layer. “What’s in the center?” you ask. Thanks for asking. The center of a black hole is called the singularity. It is that very dense collapsed star. There’s no escaping that.

What does this have to do with the field of your life you’re beginning to plow with those questions? Everything, actually. Think of the center of the black hole, the singularity (a beautiful term when used as I’m about to), as your authentic self, the core of your being, your essential self without all the pain and unhealed issues. In short, you minus the baggage. That core has a gravitational pull that, once you have stepped beyond the outer event horizon, is inescapable.

When you begin to ask questions, you have arrived at the outer event horizon of your personal black hole. You can still escape the gravitational pull, but to do so, you will have to return to the same defense strategies that ultimately gave rise to the questions. If you begin to challenge your usual answers to those questions, you are mighty close to stepping beyond the outer event horizon. And when you do that, everything begins to change. You’re pulled right into that black hole. It’s scary, but you’re heading towards . . . the singularity.

To be continued.

Copyright 2013 by Melanie Mulhall

Staying on the Old Road, Part 1

April 28, 2013

If you should not leave the old road for a new one, does that mean you need to spend years in therapy rehashing your past? And do we really spend the first half of our lives becoming dysfunctional? What do I mean when I use the word “dysfunctional” anyway?

The three blog posts on not leaving the old road for a new one elicited comments and questions, some on the blog, others on my Facebook page (to which I copy my blogs), and still others in e-mails and conversations. One reader asked if “dysfunctional” was the correct word to use. She suggested that you live your life and realize at some point that it isn’t working quite the way you planned. You may even feel as if your life is falling apart. You build a road with the wrong materials, keep adding to it with the wrong materials, and even go back and repair potholes with the wrong materials.

Are “the wrong materials” the equivalent of “dysfunctional”? Well, I believe we build the road with the materials we have on hand. And those materials on hand include everything that has gone into making us who we are. We develop strategies to help us navigate our way through life. And some of those strategies become barriers between the persona we create for ourselves and our authentic selves. And that, in my vernacular, is dysfunctional.

If our future becomes our past unless we do something other than keep repeating it, why aren’t a few years in therapy a good idea? They may be for you. My attitude is this: whatever works. But my preferences are clear, based on how I’ve lived my own life. I’m educated in the field of psychology. I have respect for it. I even worked as a therapist for a while during and after graduate school. But I found my way to shamanism and stayed there because I found it a more useful approach . . . for me.

The work of becoming a shaman is very much about working your way back to your authentic self by staying on the road you arrived at to “here” rather than simply leaving the old road for a new one. It is the work of courageously facing yourself as you are, accepting it, healing whatever needs to be healed within you, and making a choice to live a life of integrity—and by “integrity” I mean the kind of completeness you achieve with harmony of mind, body, spirit, and emotions. As it happens, that kind of harmony seems to support “integrity” as most people think of it—a fundamental incorruptibleness.

We so effectively keep ourselves wrapped in the comfortable cloak of our persona that it takes serious excavation to face ourselves as we are. And if you go looking for something buried somewhere other than where you buried it, what do you suppose your chances of finding it are? Exactly. So you stay on the old road.

I’m not going to delve into shamanic practices like recapitulation here. At least, not yet. It’s helpful, I think, to take a look at how we construct a road that takes us away from our authentic selves in the first place. And to do that, I’m going to borrow a concept from Buddhism as I, a non-Buddhist, have come to understand it: the cocoon.

To be continued.

Copyright 2013 by Melanie Mulhall