The Whole Enchilada: Acknowledge Your Shadow Through Creativity.
Yes, I’d like to order a Self please. But could you hold the insecurity, the shame, the resentment and the jealousy? Oh yeah, and that fear stuff, I think it’s also called anxiety — none of that, please.
If you have the mild anger that’s just spicy enough to help me get what I want without upsetting things, that’s okay, but if it’s that hot anger — rage — you gotta leave that shit out too. I almost threw up the last time I tasted that crap. Oh, and most importantly, tell the chef I am dangerously allergic to grief. If I even smell grief, my throat will close and I’ll fall down dead right here, thanks.
Hmm, I see this Self comes with joy, kindness, beauty, sunshine and unicorns too! That sounds delicious! Can I get extra joy? I’ll pay double for that. Oh, and if they’re in season, I’d like a side of illuminations please.
What? The chef says he can’t make a Self with extra joy unless I take the grief? Huh? What does he mean illuminations can’t be served fully without tasting fear? What kinda shithole is this? I’m leaving!
If you want your whole Self,
You gotta eat your whole Self,
Not just the parts that taste good.
Let me explain:
A little over five years ago, I quit my job, stuffed what I loved into my little convertible bug, and headed West. My dream of dumping this dried up desert life and living juicy in San Francisco was spreading itself out in my waking life, and I was some intoxicating variety of happy that accompanies the immature belief that this kind of happiness can last, and key to making it stay is the requisition of certain experiences.
While I was following a conscious dream by moving to California, it was a subconscious dream that brought me back to the desert. The recurring dream that had me hightailing it back to Phoenix woke me up with its urgency, but left no clues for my analysis other than a feeling of overwhelming dread and a knowing that I had forgotten something incredibly important.
I would bust out of sleep in a panic, digging through my memory and also my day planner and my notebooks, scrambling to find this thing I had forgotten. I had misplaced something precious and vital, something akin to my breath — a baby I didn’t even know I had — maybe I left her in a closet in Phoenix. The dream kept happening, but I was never able to remember anything. It was just blackness and dread.
“In each of us there is another whom we do not know.” ~ Carl Jung
I came home and the dream stopped, but it had left a deep impression. I kept waiting for this dark thing to jump out of the shadows and tap me on the shoulder to say Hello. Some part of me knew I wasn’t off the hook.
I so wasn’t off the hook.
Last year, following a cascade of loss, I found myself in grief counseling. I’ve been a die-hard navel-gazer since I was hatched, so imagine my surprise when I was introduced to a whole new self I didn’t know I didn’t know. I thought I had dealt with my loss. Wrong. I thought the dark storms that were always blowing through were just part of my mercurial nature. Yes, but acres of unprocessed emotion also lay waiting for me in the shadows
I was uncovering bits of forgotten self and feeling into the bottomless pain that I had been carrying around for years. It felt like dying and being born all at once. I let it have its way with me because through experiences I won’t detail here, I had been worn down to a nub, and so had my weapons of repression and projection.
It was hell. If given a choice… feel this completely, or die… I would have gladly chosen death. I have lots of training and deep experience with lots of healing modalities. I used them, but it was grace that kept me here. I spent hours walking alone in the desert and rolling around on the floor drowning in a sea of snot and sadness. I screamed until I was hoarse. I wrote letters to my dead parents. I told them everything I didn’t know I needed to tell them.
I made timelines of loss. I heard in my head the voice of my inner child begging for attention. I let her write letters. We played the guitar and sang silly songs made up on the fly. We drew pictures and we colored and we scribbled incoherencies and we danced. Lots of dancing. Still lots of dancing.
And so began the process of destruction. The crumbling of my big idea of Me and who I’m supposed to be.
This was just the beginning.
My friends started disappearing. Friends I thought of as family were suddenly gone. Not just one or two — four of them fell away in just a couple of months — and a few more were to follow.
It was devastating and shocking and necessary.
I had been studying the work of Carl Jung and the shadow for a while, and I became fascinated with my scary bits, aka my shadow. The parts of myself I found unsavory, unacceptable, and un-Me, were also the parts I couldn’t stand in others. These abandoned dark jewels needed to be known and accepted and loved.
According to Jung, the process of individuation, or becoming whole, includes reclaiming your shadow. The shadow consists of the disowned parts of ourselves that we cast out into the world as other. The parts that don’t match our idea of who we think we’re supposed to be. This explanation is simplistic, but the process is profound. Our dreams are how the unconscious mind speaks. In your dreams, all characters are you.
The ones that you don’t like that are of the same sex? Your shadow. Opposite sex, whether you like or dislike? Your anima or animus — inner feminine or masculine. Dream work is about making the unconscious conscious. So is Yoga, meditation, writing practice, inquiry, and lots of other stuff. It’s about bringing the darkness into the light. The concept is neat. The experience will shatter your ideas of what’s what and who’s who.
It also seems true to me that this waking dream is also how the unconscious mind speaks, and when you begin to see everything and everyone as a reflection of you… that’s being conscious. It seems we’re not fully conscious just because we’re alert and oriented to self, time, place, and situation as agreed upon by the majority.
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” ~ Jesus of Nazareth, The Gospel of Thomas
Oh yes, about my dream…
I was able to bring something back from the black eventually. A box in my right hand. Through an incredible series of events, I was brought to a Jungian analyst.
My analyst helped me work out the startling message of my dream through active imagination (a specific technique where one takes part of a dream — the box — and allows the imagination, the unconscious mind, to weave together another dream while awake… it’s like a guided meditation where your imagination is the guide. You let go of control, and let your soul drive.) which allowed me to discover what my subconscious mind had been screaming.
The parts of me that I had cast out as unacceptable and dangerous had gifts too, unfathomable treasures that I couldn’t own if I wasn’t willing to be blasted wide open by the unknown.
Consider consuming your whole Self. Know that you don’t have to eat all of You in one sitting. Maybe not even in one lifetime. Be gentle. Be patient. Be relentless. Ask for help.
Consider expressing your dark side through dance, watercolors, crayon scribbles, music making, baking, even just all-over crazy freestyle body-shaking. Acknowledging the shadow through creativity and play is a yummy and safe way to dig in to your density. Otherwise this density will find an expression, and if your darkness is obsidian like mine, the expression will scare the f*ck out of you, maybe even sabotage all your good intentions.
“If you don’t eat yer meat, you can’t have any pudding! How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat yer meat?!” ~ Roger Waters (Pink Floyd), Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)
If we keep running from what scares us, our goodies can’t catch up with us either. The darker the shadow, the brighter the light. I now know I need to welcome All of me here — especially the Me who’s been hiding in the dark.
Kate Gotis is no one special. She brings home the bacon by tending to the chronic illnesses of those fortunate enough to be cared for at one of the most prestigious hospitals in the whole entire world. She also sometimes helps people die and can tell you with absolute certainty, that there is such a thing as a soul, though she can’t tell you what that thing is . She writes simply to stay alive, as her thoughts are so plentiful, she must dump them out on a regular basis in order to keep the pressure low enough so her skull does not explode. She is a Yoga, meditation, and nature junkie, whose motto is: “To hell with grammar, I shall have my say any frickin’ way!” You could contact Kate via her website.