I love seeing people cry. Not in a Schadenfreude way, but more in a wow-we-are-all-human-sort-of-way. There is something about seeing another’s pain that reminds me of my own fragility. As humans we obviously have a lot in common with each other – we all look relatively the same and our inner world/psyche is equally similar. Most importantly, we all have wounds or specific places where we feel incomplete or insecure. While we may all cope more or less differently with our pain, it soothes me somehow to know we all have it. Truth be told, I fall in love with people’s wounds – it’s as if they are the knots and imperfections (which of course paradoxically is our perfection) in a beautiful piece of wood making me love it even more fully.
Growing up I wanted to be a nurse helping people heal their physical bodies, and now I want more than ever to assist with the healing of the soul body. Something incredible happens when we stop pretending we don’t have pain, fear, or loneliness and it’s called intimacy. Even though what we crave most as humans is intimacy, it is absolutely terrifying. Although what terrifies me even more is the ability to disassociate from yourself so that you can’t even admit to having pain. This split between the person we think we should be and the parts of ourselves we try to hide to uphold shows us our wound. Often referred to as the shadow, darkness, or soul we rarely allow its existence full expression.
The truth is that we see each other’s wounds all the time and yet somehow we believe we hide them from others. We all know the man who doesn’t believe in marriage and thinks people always cheat, has experienced heart break, or the woman who so desperately wants attention from men and we sense that her father wasn’t around much. I meet women who want to please people all the time, and know she thinks the only way to get love is to earn it (gulp, this one is I). It is so much easier to see what is “wrong” with others than to look at ourselves. Our entire society encourages us to focus outwardly and not inwardly. No wonder it makes it so much less complicated to see issues in others and naturally avoid them within ourselves.
I’ve spent a lot of time “noticing” (and sometimes annoyingly pointing out) other people’s issues. I want to help them, show them what is possible for their lives when the wound isn’t running the show. After years and years (did I say years?) of my righteousness of knowing what other people need, I now know it isn’t my job. Just because I see a wound, doesn’t mean others are ready for it to heal, or see it. My job consists solely of healing myself and others only with their permission or curiosity. What my spiritual and psychological practices remind me over and over again is that healing the inner always affects the outer. In the words of Michael Jackson, “I’m starting with the man in the mirror.”
Unfortunately, until more people are willing to look in the mirror, the world will continue to be wounded. Hurt people actually hurt people (and also the planet). The environmental destruction mirrors our own inner terrain of pain. In the process of healing ourselves and confronting our darkest parts, we in turn, heal others, Earth, and the universe. In this we acknowledge that there may always be a scar from our painful wounds, but that it is no longer a gaping, open bloody gash. By bringing the unconscious to our consciousness, we create a bridge into wholeness that allows for more love and transformation.
Somehow after years of ashrams, sanghas, yoga, and prayer I didn’t feel any closer to “enlightenment.” There was a piece missing in my self-inquiry that I unconsciously avoided – it was the realm of my emotions and a mysterious place inside me I still didn’t quite understand. Once I started at the California Institute of Integral Studies and met people in the psychology programs I began to realize what a deep inner soul expression I was missing. As Jung said, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” I had been so focused on cultivating my light; I hadn’t taken any time for the polarity within me that sought darkness.
The past few years have been about finding the wounds in me that needed healing so that I could move forward to help others and the planet. We need each other to heal because it is only through relationship (I don’t just mean the romantic ones) we can recognize our wounds. Only in relationship to a perceived outside “other” do we catch glimpses of our shadow through projection. The things we can’t face about ourselves get reflected onto others around us in the form of anger, annoyance, or even fear. Specific people show up in your life and drive you crazy for a reason – they are here to teach and heal you.
We are here to heal each other and assist in a collective, conscious return to wholeness. The gaping holes in our lives give us great gifts, but only if we are willing look at them. Without another person around we are able to avoid parts of ourselves we don’t want to see. Only in the presence of others, especially in close relationships, do we have the opportunities for the most growth.
We all deserve people in our lives who can sit with our wounds and love us for what makes us human. The things we try so hard to hide from others, it is time we admit they can see it. Be willing to show others and yourself the not-so-pretty parts of your being. Make friends with the part of yourself that gets angry, thinks you aren’t good enough, are unworthy of love, or doomed to be lonely. Admit it exists and it will stop unconsciously ruling your life. Spend time with it and it won’t waste so much of yours.
It doesn’t mean your entire life is just exploring wounds, but phases of digging into our unconscious are something I believe all of us must go through. I’ve spent the last few years doing this and finally feel it has unraveled enough that now I can live with my own pain without becoming identified with it. So, how do we begin to explore these parts of ourselves that seem hidden? Here are some questions to get you started (and this way if you are still reading this post you must be open enough to exploring your shadow for yourself and therefore I don’t need to point it out to you).;)
- What things don’t you like about yourself?
- Are you prone to being really busy? Is there something you are avoiding?
- What are your biggest pet peeves?
- Where do you hold uncompromising beliefs?
- Whom do you judge and why?
- Do you ever feel sad, lonely, or angry for no particular reason?
- Do you experience stronger emotions than fit for the circumstance?
If those questions made you uncomfortable, then good. Here are some things you can try if you are ready to dive in deep:
- Therapy. Many schools, such as CIIS offer great discounted rates for access to high-quality therapy.
- Join a womens’ or mens’ group with a psychological focus, group work has the added benefit of getting “triggered” by other members of the group helping you see even more quickly where you project your pain.
- Read a book or take a class on dream work or active imagination that attempts to bridge your conscious and unconscious mind. My favorite book on this topic is Robert Johnson’s “Inner Work.”
- Make it a daily practice to notice the circumstances where you feel strong emotion or experience pain and take the time to look at how others reflect parts of yourself you don’t like.
Our culture has a tendency to avoid these sorts of inquiries. Therapists are for people who are depressed or crazy. Dream work is for crazy people. Most people on a path of spiritual inquiry tend to focus more on the positive, inspiration parts of being alive rather than how to deal with their emotions. In psychology it is called “spiritual bypassing” where there is an avoidance of pain or anything negative. Exploring darker parts of ourselves doesn’t require that we get lost in them. They are great additions to balance out other spiritual practices such as yoga, prayer, or meditation. Having too much of one kind of practice or the other creates an internal imbalance. Seeing a therapist, doing dream work, and studying astrology have all greatly enhanced my yoga and meditation practices.
Since having a therapist I have become enamored with the ability of a trained professional to help reveal my blind spots that I couldn’t quite see even with a lot of yoga or prayer for insight. Dream work allows the symbols found in most spiritual traditions to show me how to engage with messages from my unconscious. And finally astrology has been very useful in noticing how my natal birth chart contains deep archetypal patterns that show up in my personality and psyche as a way of noticing my patterns and then being more able to release them.
I may always have remnants of an insecure little girl afraid of abandonment within me. My healing doesn’t get rid of her for good; it softens her pain so that she becomes an owned part of me instead of disowned and unconscious. Through curiosity and a willingness to sit with my “dark side,” (cue Kelly Clarkson here) I have found more of my light. Ultimately, time doesn’t heal our wounds — we do through the willingness to explore them.