Why the World Needs Your Light More Than Ever, and What to Do About It.
Lately I’ve been paying a lot of attention to my own toxic thoughts, behaviors and emotions, and the toxic aspects of human nature.
I’ve always spent a decent amount of time investigating this space, but in the past few years especially, thanks to practices like Yoga, meditation, qi gong, and writing, I’ve been able to engage with it with new awareness.
Intellectually I know that my own shadows and the shadows of humanity are not separate (though the stories may vary), but the practice of feeling that truth in my body remains a struggle. Sometimes I relax into it and can access self-compassion, and sometimes self-flagellation and shame win out.
I haven’t been consistent with my Yoga practice for months now. In that space of mindful breathing and exploration of my body and senses, I encounter both joy and despair, pleasure and pain. I’ve noticed times when I avoid practicing because I don’t want to fully feel the pain of my physical and/or emotional body.
I know that I pretty much always feel better after practice, but that moment of anticipating feeling it all has lately been winning out more than the desire to move toward the feelings, and I choose not to practice — instead choosing distraction or to just sit in my mind and my stories. Usually when I do that, the story that comes up is that there is something wrong with me and I need to improve in some way.
Tonight I stepped onto the mat, and within 10 minutes I felt my heart open and negative thought patterns subside. The message came through: practice, not perfection.
I realized it’s not about needing to change or improve anything about myself, or that the feelings of jealousy, pride, arrogance, greed, and hate that arise are a result of something being wrong with me. They do not belong to me, or have any permanent status as part of my being.
It’s simply that when I am not practicing, I am a more vulnerable vessel for these universal negative emotions and energies to implant themselves. They are all around us, and they are looking to go somewhere. When we are completely filled with the light of our own being, there is no space for them to enter.
When I practice, I come into contact with a field of love and light that is always present and available, around me and inside me. When I’m lucky, I can breathe that into my body, and love and acceptance flow in. I can find the place where that light always lives inside me, even if it’s just a tiny flicker somewhere deep in my heart or womb; it never goes out.
Attention and practice are the fuel that makes the light grow. I don’t have to seek anywhere to find it — it’s always there, it just gets covered over sometimes by the shadows. Instead of trying to
run away from or beat the toxicity out of me, I can choose to turn my attention toward the light and breathe into it, allowing the love to grow, even just a tiny bit, with each breath.
The light doesn’t say to the shadow You’re bad, go away now, but instead envelops it in a warm embrace, and the shadow naturally dissolves into the light.
Our task isn’t to rid the world of shadows, but instead to cultivate our inner light until we shine so bright that they naturally fade into the light. Many people would call these aspects Darkness. In fact, I have been using that language until the very moment of writing this, but that’s not it at all.
Darkness gets a bad rap, when it is simply the space between the light — the space where death occurs and new life germinates. It is the necessary contrasting energy, without which we wouldn’t see the light. The darkness is the feminine, the womb, the fertile soil, the night, the cosmos. All beauty, all love.
Many of us have been raised in a culture that ostracizes and fears the dark. This tendency is intimately connected with the rejection of the feminine and shadow aspects of humanity, which has led us into some very dark times indeed. When the dark side is pushed into the shadow, it grows and grows until we can longer ignore it. This is true in our individual selves, and for the planet as a whole.
I believe we have reached a time when our collective human shadow has grown very large and is demanding to be looked at. In connection with this, I believe that we are all more susceptible to experiencing toxicity in ourselves, and practice helps keep us vigilantly surrounding our vessels with a protective layer of light and love.
Now, more than ever, we need to feed our light and send love out into this suffering world.
Some emotions/aspects of self that we consider dark — grief, anger and fear — are useful and necessary. We must love and embrace these, and not push them into the shadow, because there they fester and transmute into toxic energies — energies like unfounded fear, greed, hate, jealousy, arrogance, and the myth of I’m not enough. These toxins are not useful or necessary.
They are simply energies that are lost and in need of love and acceptance. They are parts of ourselves that became detached during trauma, and distorted beyond recognition. They are our unexpressed fear, grief, and anger. They may be energies that we pick up from other people or other times. They may not be useful, but they are not evil, only desperate for love.
Once they receive our recognition and love, they will integrate back into the light of our being. Sometimes it’s really fucking hard to love these parts, but for me, Yoga really helps. Any practice of love and mindfulness helps.
Even when I can’t find a full experience of connecting with the energy of love (some days the inner dialogue is too loud or external shit is just too hard), I still find a greater capacity to encounter the challenging thoughts and emotions with compassion and understanding that it’s not me, it just is.
Even when I can’t reach that place, my muscles are more relaxed, which helps my nervous system to relax, which eases the edginess of the pain enough to make it bearable. Qi/prana/life energy/love moves more freely through a well-stretched-out and lubricated vessel.
We are not our negativity. If we find that arising a lot, it doesn’t mean we are bad people, it may just be that we are out of practice, and that our life force energy is a bit stuck. Yoga, or any mindful, creative, loving practice is not about reaching a particular goal. It’s about loving and taking care of our own mind/body, soul, and spirit — our vessels that allow us to experience the full, vibrant spectrum of this life.
We are simply vessels for life energy to move through, and we are empowered to make choices that increase our receptivity either to toxic energies, or energies rooted in love.
These practices are akin to gardening (also a great love practice). We are preparing to plant seeds, and creating fertile ground that will increase the likelihood of healthy growth of life. If we put toxic food/chemicals in our body/soil or forget to water it (everything needs water to survive and thrive), then what will grow (if anything even does) won’t be the healthiest nourishment.
But if we feed the soil/body with nutrients, and water it with loving attention, then the conditions will be ripe for life/love to grow.
Even if our bodies have limited function, or our life circumstances are beyond unjustly difficult, as long as we are alive, our breath is always available as a tool for practicing mindfulness, and our heart is always beating and capable of practicing love. There is nothing wrong with me. There is nothing wrong with you. Sometimes we just get out of practice, but the light never goes out.
Feed it today by doing something kind for yourself and your body. The world desperately needs your light, and anyway, you deserve it.
Ashley Berry is simplifying her life to create ample space for the existence of the complex range of human emotion and creative expression.On resume paper, Ashley is a certified Yoga instructor, seven-year social work veteran, bartender extraordinaire, and holder of a BA in Psychology. In her paper heart, she is a lifelong writer, curious photographer, adventurous world wanderer, gracefully spasmodic dancer, and passionate food lover with a penchant for potatoes in any form. She has a lot of gusto for life and the myriad joys of the universe, and in looking for a lens through which to focus her energy, has discovered the freedom in writing, which allows her an outlet to explore a million potential paths through words. You can follow her work on her blog.