Monday, July 11, 2011

Embracing the Shadow

I came across this blog post today, which is serendipitous in puzzling out a significant quandry I am facing:

"What would happen if we looked at our lives right now – every one of us – with all the things we love about them and all the things we know we want to change, all our strengths and our neuroses, all the places of confidence and the fears and stresses and what-ifs that we carry, and trusted that the unfolding of all of it is good?

What if we trusted this to be true for other people, too? Even, yes, the person on skid row. Even the addict, the terminally ill, the suicidally depressed?

Could it still apply? (I feel shy and audacious even asking!)

What if we trusted that the exact pace we’re all going is right, and that if any of us were inspired to speed up or slow down, that would be right, too?

What if we trusted that our screw-ups fit into the big picture well?

What if we knew that nothing has been or is being or will ever be wasted or lost, and that even where we could talk about waste and loss on one level, the feelings that get evoked by such things – grief, despair, embarrassment, shame – and the actions these inspire, are important parts of our story, and are working their own magic to take us to important next chapters?

Could it be true? In the face of horrendous loss? Natural disasters? War?"
Kirstin Noelle

I am in the midst of a big lesson in acceptance and trust.

As an empath, I can feel the emotional experiences of others. This means that I can experience someone else's joy and their heartache.

Another aspect of my intuition is the ability to see the shape of light and shadow in people. I can see people's gifts, the unique combination of qualities that they shine into other people's lives. I can also see the corresponding darkness, the unique challenges that lie in the shadows of their gifts (there is a direct correlation between our gifts and our shadows) and their past (our life experiences shape our wounded stories). I can often feel the motivation in people's choices, whether they are expressing their light, a choice from love, or shadow, a choice from fear.

I can also feel potentials, which sometimes are experienced as precise premonitions (they have always come true to the exact detail). I can sometimes see and/or feel what will happen if someone chooses to express their light, or if they choose to express their shadow.

These are all gifts I have to offer as a counselor/coach. But here is the quandry - I am attached to the choices people make. I desire for people to choose the light and the deepening of love and joy that will come into their lives when they do. I have a difficult time when people choose the shadow and I know I will witness - and possibly feel - the painful consequences.

The closer I am to someone, the more I can see and feel in them. The pattern that I'm recognizing is that when I've had an intimate relationship with someone and it ends at least partially because they choose their shadow, and I can feel the potential of where they are headed if they continue making fearful choices with painful consequences, I want to withdraw so that I don't have to see or feel their pain, and the pain of others impacted by their choices. I want to shut them out of my heart, not because they've hurt me, but because I don't want to experience them continuing to hurt themselves and possibly others.

And here's why - I watched my mom die from living in her shadow. I watched my mom struggle with addiction most of my life - from age 11 when I was putting her to bed because she couldn't walk straight till age 35 when she died of an accidental narcotic overdose. I watched my mom suffer from severe depression because she would not transform her wounded child stories of abandonment and worthlessness to experience her own empowerment. I've witnessed firsthand what happens when someone keeps choosing shadow and their sense of worthlessness till the day it kills them. I don't want to ever have to witness that again. I don't want anyone in the world to experience that. I want everyone to truly know how bright they shine and how deeply loved they are before they die.

And yet I have to admit that I see the beauty and meaning in my mom's life and death. I see it in how she inspired me to claim my own mental health and be a good mother to my children. I see it in how she inspired my sister to work in art therapy with juvenile offenders. I saw it in the friends from one of my mother's churches who attended her funeral and expressed how they were impacted by her capacity for love and service. Although my mom let shadow drive most of her life, she also brought light and love into the world.

I wonder if I can find the trust that Kristin speaks of. I wonder if I can learn to the see the beauty and meaning in other people's shadow stories the same way I have my own. I know that every painful experience I've had has led me deeper into myself, into a deeper relationship with Life, and into a deeper experience of love.

I can see how powerfully we shape each other, but not always in love. The shadows shape us in ways the light can't.

I did the dance with resistance for years before choosing to make a change I knew I needed to make (ending my unhealthy marriage and my own pattern of emotional violence) - and every one of those years brought amazing experiences into my life that wouldn't have happened if I'd been anywhere else. When I think about those whom have caused me pain or harm, I see that every single one of them also brought me profound transformation into deeper love and joy. Being raped by an abusive lover gave me my daughter, catalyzed my journey to empowerment, and inspired an art project that touched thousands of lives. Being abandoned to single parenthood gave me tremendous strength and a life shaping experience of service and unconditional love that touches every relationship I have.

Most recently, I gave my deepest vulnerability to someone who preyed on it and objectified it rather than treasured it and I experienced a lot of heartache. I also discovered my own desires, new depths of tribal and self love, a trust in my capacity to manage emotional triggers in a healthy way, an ability to communicate my needs, and so much more that I may never even be able to put into words. I needed the experience exactly as it was to learn that I am truly invincible - I can lay my heart bare to a predator and not only survive, but thrive in the revelations of my own power.

Is it possible this must be true for every woman who is preyed on? For every child who is abused? For every man who goes to war? For every person living with cancer? If my heart and spirit is invincible, doesn't that have to mean everyone else's is, too, if only they believe it is so?

Whether I am a spiritual being having a human experience or just a skinsuit capable of consciousness and emotion, I am invincible right here, right now after surviving more traumas than most people experience in one lifetime. I am not invincible because there is something special about me or I am somehow more resilient than others. There are many people like me. I am invincible because I have an unshakable faith than I can survive and thrive in anything that doesn't literally kill me. I believe the resilience of others comes from the same faith, whether it's faith in God or faith in our capacities as humans.

Instead of letting life happen to me, I consciously use my life experiences to transform my wounded stories and grow my psychological, emotional and spiritual health. And this is what I think I have to offer others. This is what I want to help others do - be empowered to transform themselves and their lives by choosing to consciously express their love and light, as well as work with and integrate their shadows so that they don't act unconsciously out of fear. Our shadows are a part of us and need to be explored and expressed, but we have the choice to do so in unconscious, self-destructive ways, or conscious, self-empowering ways.

Of course like all coaches I desire to assist people in seeing and expressing their light. However, I also desire to assist in embracing their shadow, which will give them greater capacity to hold space for and embrace the shadow in others, which is really the only way we'll ever experience peace. We need to accept our own and each others darknesses and hold space for each other express them in non-harmful ways.

"Guess what: God created beings not to act in a morality play but to experience what is unfathomable, to elicit what can become, to descend into the darkness of creation and reveal it to him, to mourn and celebrate enigma and possibility. The universe is a whirling dervish, not a hanging judge in robes." - Richard Grossinger

It's vital to both my personal relationships and my eventual practice in counseling/coaching others that I make peace with the shadows and resulting heartaches in others, even when I can feel it in my own heart. I need to extend the trust I feel in the Universe to everyone I encounter, no matter how tragic their story is or may become. I must keep my heart open (with appropriate boundaries) to the addict who chooses to stay addicted because it's easier to be continually numb and distracted rather than face the pain; to the woman who continues to take the abuse because she believes she deserves it; to the man who preys on others because he doesn't know his own true power or lovability. I have to trust that everything is unfolding exactly as it is meant to for everyone - the addict and their loved ones, the abuser and the abused, the predator and the prey.

If my heart is invincible, then I can love anyone. If my heart is invincible, then I can make myself vulnerable to anything emotionally and empathically. I know that I need to have boundaries if I desire to be conscious and healthy in the expression of my love and vulnerability with others, but I also know from experience that every story is potentially a life-changing love story, no matter how imperfectly or painfully it unfolds. I just have to live it that way.


Image Source: Kumi Yamashita

1 comment:

Michelle Medina said...

Hello April,
I've been reading your blog for a couple of months, but this is the first time I've ever responded to one of your posts.
I'm filled with a jumble of emotions at the moment, I have my own tragic story, that I'm working to turn into something not tragic.
I'm wondering if your coaching already, or if your only "working on becoming a coach", because I would like to have a consultation with you if possible. Please feel free to check out my blog "Michelle's Story", (
The short of my story is that I was born with a super rare birthdefect, I've had 66 surgeries due to this birthdefect, called a Tessier Cleft, and I am currently working on my autobiography, which I'm sure will be volumes, not just one book. The first part has a working title of "The Messenger Unveiled".
Thank you for sharing your story and inspiring others!!