The journey from darkness into light. This is the last installment on our series ‘The Hero in the Mirror,’ and it is fitting that we have saved the hardest for last. In previous weeks we’ve learned that we can leave the unfamiliar, say yes to the unknown, and find the power to imagine, envision, and give birth to new opportunity. This time, I want to talk about the darkness we all carry within and how that darkness can lead us to the light.
Facing Our Secret Demons
Today we face the most terrifying demons that will ever be in our path. These are the demons that we create and carry inside, unknown to anybody but ourselves; the secrets we carry within ourselves, about ourselves.
When we face the darkness within and embrace it fully, we can ultimately come to realize that this shadow side is yet another voice in which God speaks to us. It is the voice of our fears, our brokenness, and the vulnerabilities we take pains to hide from each other. We also often hide them from ourselves. It is not until we can face them and integrate them into a picture of ourselves that is both flawed yet perfect, human and divine, that we can reach what mystic Thomas Merton called “that hidden wholeness.”
Perfect or Whole?
We think that being divine means being perfect. It doesn’t. Our journey is toward wholeness, not perfection – toward accepting and taking the lessons from those parts of ourselves that we have been taught to reject.
If we are waiting to be perfect before we can accept ourselves, if you’re like me it will be a very long wait, because we are not here to be perfect. We are here to be whole. It’s a truth that we don’t begin to face our own shadows until life forces us. We are creatures of comfort – we are not going to jump out of that boat until someone pushes us or it springs a leak.
One of my inspirations today was author Debbie Ford’s The Dark Side of the Light Chasers. If you haven’t read this book, I recommend it highly. Ford teaches that the shadows we carry contain lessons we need to learn in order to become the whole beings that we are here to be.
She writes that at the age of 28 she realized her life of drug addiction had to change if she was to survive. She entered a period of rehabilitation that lasted five years, at the end of which she had different values, different friends, and a new life. Everything looked wonderful — at least on the outside.
According to Ford, the problem was that despite having made such a huge change in her life and healed herself from her addictions, she still wasn’t happy with who she was. She writes:
“. . . it seemed unbelievable that for 11 years someone can go to group therapy, codependency treatment, and 12-step meetings, visit hypnotists and acupuncturists, experience rebirth, jump off mountains, attend transformational seminars, Buddhist retreats and Sufi retreats, read hundreds of books, listen to visualization and meditation tapes, and still hate part of who she is. All that time, all that money, and I knew my work was still not done.”
Does that sound familiar? How often do we continue to buy those books, attend those seminars, listen to that expert, so that we can somehow lift the feeling from our hearts that we are not good enough, so that we can get rid of those parts of ourselves that shame or pain us?
Ford’s own history sounds common to us. As she was growing up, she was told there were two kinds of people in the world, good and bad. The most important thing was to be a good person, and not display any of those qualities that all those bad people had. Don’t be selfish, don’t be angry, don’t be greedy, don’t be mean. The best way to be accepted, the only way, was to hide all those undesirable parts of herself, and so she did. She lied, putting on a face that didn’t include any of those bad qualities.
She shoved them so deep even she couldn’t find them. But that didn’t mean they went away – they never do. But they impact us, in huge and significant ways.
“The Person You Would Rather Not Be”
Carl Jung called our shadow “the person you would rather not be.” He wrote that integrating our shadow would give new depth to our spiritual life and a peace we could not find otherwise. “To do this,” he wrote, “we are obliged to struggle with evil, confront the shadow, to integrate the devil. There is no other choice.”
Debbie Ford tells the story of a woman named Audrey, who came to her in incredible emotional pain. Audrey was terrified to admit what she was feeling because she knew it just made her a bad person. After many tears and with much hesitation, she finally said softly, “I hate my daughter.” She had feelings of hatred for her daughter, and what is worse than that?
Ford writes that she worked with Audrey for a while, urging her to take a look at the feelings of hate that she was expressing. She told Audrey that she needed to accept them. This exchange occurred during a seminar, and Ford asked the others in the room who had children, and many raised their hands. She then asked if they could remember a time when they had felt hatred for their children for even just a moment. Most of the hands stayed up.
She then asked them all to imagine if their feeling of hatred had been a gift in any way. Some said patience, some said release of emotions, but everyone saw that, although they had no control over the feeling of hatred, with that feeling had come gifts of insight and growth.
So Ford writes that Audrey began to accept and examine her feeling, and try to learn how it had arisen. She finally understood that her feelings protected her, and in some ways gave her a boundary around the people that she loved. When she realized that she could simply examine this feeling and accept it, and stop judging herself on it, a huge weight was lifted.
Two weeks later Audrey’s daughter called her. Audrey took a risk and told her how she had been feeling. To Audrey’s amazement, her daughter started crying and admitted all the hate she had felt for her mother over the years. They met and talked, and reached a whole new level in their relationship based on honesty, full disclosure, and acceptance. It all happened because Audrey it had the courage to stand up and admit to these feelings that she could no longer handle.
It Is Not Until We Can Face Our Feelings and Integrate Them That We Ourselves Become Whole
How can we be happy as our true selves? How much energy do we expend? Too much. And, as we spend so much time and effort propping up the outer shell we have constructed—our game face—we never come to know and love who we really are.
She tells the story of the Golden Buddha. In 1957, a monastery in Thailand was being relocated and a group of monks were put in charge of moving a huge clay Buddha. In the middle of the move one of the monks spotted a crack in the Buddha and started examining it with his light. He noticed something reflecting back at him, and started chipping away at the crack to see what was there. As the monks continued to knock off the clay, they realized that inside this huge shell of clay was a solid gold Buddha! They discovered that years ago the Buddha had been covered with clay by Thai monks to stop it from being stolen by an invading army. However, those who knew the truth had eventually died, and so the truth of the Buddha became that it was a large clay Buddha, with the fact of its beautiful interior was hidden for decades.
The shell had served a purpose—it had saved the Buddha from theft by the invading Burmese army. However, its utility was now gone and it was time for the beautiful golden Buddha inside to be found.
As illustrated in the Buddha story, it is by breaking apart our own shell, uncovering and examining our own shadow, that we examine those parts of ourselves we need no longer fear. It is not our evil self, but our denied and rejected self. It is our ego self that dismisses these aspects of ourselves; it is our divine self that reaches out in compassion and understanding and integrates these into our own wholeness. Not only do we deny those parts of ourselves exist, those tend to be the very qualities we condemn in others.
How do you find your own shadow?
One of the best ways is to wait and see what punches your buttons.
Those who have not come to an awareness of their dark side will always find someone else to fear, hate or judge. It’s so much easier than looking within. We project our own hidden attributes, those aspects of our shadow, on others, and that is what we judge.
Ken Wilber points out that such projections are easy to identify. Our experiences are a huge mirror, always reflecting back at us those parts of ourselves we refuse to examine. As Wilber says, “If it affects us, chances are that we are a victim of our own projections.” However, if something in our environment is informing us, we probably aren’t projecting.
Ford gives an example of how she used to ask those around her how often they meditated and for how long. She would remind them how important it is to meditate, how much it could help them, and would stress that they needed to continue this practice on a daily basis. Suddenly, it struck her that her own meditation practice had fallen off. She was telling others what she really needed to tell herself!
She started listening to her own projections, and realized that the advice she was giving others really was the guidance she needed for herself.
In her seminars she used to say “attend your own lectures.” How true is that?
The noise we make pointing at others prevents us from accepting and integrating those parts of ourselves. I am good, I am acceptable – what’s wrong with you? Our judgments create false barriers between ourselves and others. We take those attributes found in ourselves, we place them onto others, and then we judge to make ourselves feel superior and safe.
The world’s faith traditions teach inclusivity, compassion, and forgiveness. Remember that Jesus taught, “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew Ch. 7, v 3). We don’t examine the log in our own eye in order to judge it; rather we look in order to realize that we are all human, with flaws and faults.
It is not until we reach peace with our own darkness that we can extend our hands out to others. And when we take the time to discover our shadow and its gifts, we finally will understand what Jung meant when he said: “the gold is in the dark.”
Blog by Rev. Melanie Eyre
Spiritual Leader, One World Spiritual Center