Karuna Counseling’s Newsletter Articles

October 28, 2009

The Shadow: Misunderstood and Maligned Ally

shadow trees

by Metta Sweet Johnson Edge, MSW, LCSW

I’ve been afraid of the dark as long as I can remember.  As a child, even with my nightlight on and my sister sleeping in the room after I pleaded and bargained with her, letting go of the light of day and allowing the night to fall with its shadows was scary.  I know it didn’t help that when as a pre-teen I felt peer-pressured into watching a horror movie before I knew they even existed—how I managed to run home in the middle of the night after that still amazes me (it was only five houses down the street but it seemed like five miles).

It’s taken me a long time and a lot of in-depth personal work to realize that there is light in the dark.  That the dark is, in fact, rich with gold.  That the dark that I face in my own life is always the place to go to find what I need to move into the light.  I get it now, that night is a time of rest and replenishment—and sleep key to health.  That the night’s cloak of darkness can be comforting and cozy instead of threatening and scary.

But I have been a hard sell.

Ten years ago, I attended a conference by Omega Institute (eomega.org), an educational organization “dedicated to awakening the best in the human spirit.” In my enthusiasm for the weekend of seminars, I had pre-registered for an extra day-long workshop at the end of the weekend called Spiritual Partnership by Gary Zukov.  While I was participating that weekend, though, I noticed another workshop option called The Shadow.

Just the workshop name gave me a bit of a shudder: The Shadow.  Who would volunteer, much less pay good money, to spend all day talking about the dark side of human nature and the human experience?  Not me, I instantly insisted.  But in the next moment, I wondered if I should, in fact, attend it because I had been learning that going into “the places that scare you” was important to one’s healing and growth.  And wasn’t that what I was here to do and learn about helping others do as well?  Quickly, images of the workshop filled my mind with detailed accounts of people inflicting pain on one another.  Not to mention the horrors in the world and in our heads and hearts.   Another shudder.  Then relief washed over me as I recalled that I had already pre-registered for another workshop.  Surely it was too late to switch, I justified.

As I shuffled my handouts, brochures, and notebook into my bag and started to head back downstairs from my hotel room for another break-out session, I was stopped suddenly by a very strong statement coming from some part of me: “Metta, if you really want to know about healing and growth, go into the dark.”  I stood still.  Blinked.  Cringed.  But knew in some deeper place in me than my fear resides what I had to do: meet the Shadow—my Shadow.  Ugh.  As if I hadn’t already…well, we obviously hadn’t been formally introduced.

Going into the Dark to Discover the Light

That day was a pivotal point in my personal healing and growth and key to my becoming a therapist.  People most often come into therapy, as I did, in some kind of darkness: of uncertainty, pain, shame, confusion, betrayal, addiction, anxiety, depression, anger, fear, etc.  And they come searching for help out of the darkness.  Ironically, the key to getting out is going in.  But, this time, being in that dark consciously by processing and owning that very darkness.   By mining for the gold hidden there in that cave of darkness.  To then use the intensity and power of it to fuel one’s Light Shadow and truly transform one’s life experience.

By denying, dismissing, diminishing, or disowning one’s own “dark side,” one’s life simply becomes that much darker because those aspects of self won’t and can’t be denied.  They cannot not be.  Energy is energy—it cannot be created or destroyed as the first law of thermodynamics tells us.  Pretending and defending simply will not work.   In fact, it will just cause these denied aspects to come at you as “the way of the world” as Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung asserts.  In your family, your work, your relationships, your health, your world.

Just as your shadow follows your every step on a sunny day, your Shadow is an unconscious aspect of self that has loyally and lovingly walked behind you all of your life.   It was born with you for the purpose of picking up what you discard and drop along the journey of your life until you were ready in your adulthood to “pick up the pieces” of yourself again.  The negative pieces you dropped may have been because of family, friends, and cultural influences, shameful experiences, constricting beliefs, etc.  In addition, you may have dropped positive qualities for fearing that if you succeed too much you may be cut off, be seen as or become arrogant, or feel obligated to achieve.

Clearing Up Some Misunderstandings about The Shadow

My biggest misunderstanding about The Shadow was that it is scary.  That it is only horrific stuff that would lead to nightmares and negative self-talk.  That it is to be feared and avoided at all costs.  But the true cost of avoiding it is much scarier: 1) it puts me at risk of living an unconscious chaotic life where my shadow aspects comes “at me” in uncontrolled and unexpected ways and 2) that I live a life as only fractured adapted parts of who I am instead of an integrated whole.

In his book Working with Your Shadow, the metaphysical teacher Lazaris speaks about how there have been some key misunderstandings about The Shadow that can get in the way of truly owning one’s shadow.  In order to work to clear up these misunderstandings, the following truths are offered for consideration:

1.       The Shadow is Born with You
Your shadow is born when you are to collect and hold what you cannot about yourself.  It protects these aspects of you—your shame, greed, hostility, motivation, talent, creativity, until you can deal with it as an adult.  Then, it starts returning the negative, the “litter”, that you discarded so that you can clean it, glean its gifts, and dispose of it properly.  And the Shadow returns the treasures that you let go of so that you can now own and celebrate them.  Far from wanting to hurt you, like the monster that some fear it to be, your Shadow is there to help you to become integrated, whole, real and give you the possibility to become who you were meant to be.  To live the life you were born to live.

2.       Owning is Not Imprisonment
Instead of pushing them away, owning your shadow involves bringing the shadow aspects of you, dark and light, so close to you that you can feel the intensity of the emotion.  That firey burning of hostility, for example, so that you can then free its intensity in a direction of your conscious choice and in order to the energy for healing and growth (instead of pain and violence).  It’s about harnessing and then freeing with direction, not containing.

3.       Making Peace with Your Shadow Brings it Closer
While this is unappealing to many: “you mean my hostility/anger/selfishness etc. will be closer to the surface?”  Yes!  But the good is that by being there you can manage it.  Think about it: if it’s buried deep, it’s also out of your reach and unsupervised will ultimately pop up when you least expect it (often when you are are on the brink of some success).  So, yes, though counter-intuitive, you do want to bring your shadow aspects into full view so you can monitor, manage, and direct their energy in constructive ways.
Once you clear up your misunderstandings about The Shadow, you can begin the true work of owning Your Shadow.  And it’s worth your while because “your Shadow holds your ability to be free of the past, to be, with dignity, self-determined.  It contains your full capacity not just to be loved, but to love.”

Moths in Shadows instead of Butterflies in Sunshine

One final childhood story that comes to mind: I had collected caterpillars who lived in my room in a basket on my bookshelf.  One day, I noticed they were no longer there, but that fluffy gray cocoons had taken their place.  I learned that they were transforming into butterflies and I excitedly awaited the day they would be flying about my room beautiful in the sunlight coming through the windows.  One night, though, I was lying on my bed leaning back over the bed upside down as kids do sometimes, letting my head hang and my hair reach toward the floor.  As the blood rushed to my head, I noticed on the wall in front of me a huge gray moth just inches from my face.  I screamed and scrambled back up.  I then realized with an exasperated shudder that instead of butterflies in rays of sunshine, I got moths in shadows of night.

This was not only unexpected but disappointing and frightening.  Moths have been misunderstood and maligned in my mind since that day.  But they were a part of my story of darkness being full of the unexpected, ugly, and scary—a story that led me to a strong reaction against changing it.  That led me to realize that that’s just what I wanted and needed to do.  And I am grateful.

And I’ve tried to express that by being more open to the beauty and mystery of moths.  A few years ago, I became interested in the Luna Moth.  In early August this year as I was writing this article, I witnessed a Luna Moth doing a circular dying dance in pine straw in the moonlight outside my home.  I gently slid some straw out of the way, clearing her a path to ease her process if possible.  I was honored and saddened and struck that my disgust and fear of moths had transformed.  Turns out, too, that the Luna Moth is a symbol for spiritual transformation.

Turns out, too, that far from fearing and fleeing from this Shadow work, I’m drawn to and fly toward it.  And, as a result, have birthed powerful, creative change.  After all, as Julia Cameron points out in The Artist’s Way, “creativity—like human life itself—begins in darkness.”

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September 1, 2009

Heaven and Hell and the Evolution of Human Consciousness in One Short Article

 

 

 

Yin Yang

by

Claire N. Scott, Ph.D.

The mind is its own place, and in itself
can make a heaven of hell and a hell of heaven.

 

This is a quote from John Milton’s Paradise Lost. I use it at the beginning of my auto-biographical statement on our Karuna website.

To tell the truth, I’ve had concerns about it ever since I posted it because it can be perceived as harsh and blaming depending on how you look at it.  For example, the quote can be taken to imply that if you’re in pain about something, it’s only because of how you’re looking at it – if you’d just look at it differently, it could be heaven instead of hell.  But is that true in every situation?  Shakespeare suggests it is in his line: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” But what about the death of a loved one, or a crippling accident caused by a drunk driver, or physical assault?  Doesn’t the sentiment in the quotes seem like “blaming the victim” in those incidences?

Given these issues, I’d like to talk about why I chose that particular quote and what it means to me.  My primary intention in choosing the quote was to emphasize (1) the importance of perception on reality, and (2) the importance of the meaning we ascribe to the events of our lives, and (3) to highlight how powerful our thinking is in terms what it can create.

Most people are familiar with the two images below that emphasize how perception can change with perspective.

vase face young old

In the image on the left, can you see the chalice?  Can you also see two faces looking at each other?  The chalice appears in white against a black background.  The two faces appear in black against a white background.

In the image on the right, can you see the young, attractive woman?  Can you also see the old lady?  To see the old lady, focus on the young woman’s necklace and let it become the old woman’s mouth. Let the young woman’s ear becomes the old woman’s eye.  Can you see it now?

Try going back and forth quickly between the two versions in each picture. Can you get to the point where you can see both images equally at the same time?  (Do you have a headache yet?)  Most people have trouble with being able to see both images at once.  They can shift back and forth very quickly, but it’s difficult for the mind to hold both images at the same time.

Let’s bring this concept of differing perspectives to the mental level.  Think about a time a friend of yours let you down – say, they didn’t return your phone call in a timely manner, or forgot an appointment with you.  What meaning did you give that event?  Some possibilities are:

1.     “What a jerk. How rude. Some people have no manners.”  In other words, you blame the other person.

2.     “Oh no, did I something that offended her.  I bet she’s upset with me.”  In this case, you blame yourself.

3.     Ambivalence. You vacillate back and forth between who’s to blame.  “I can’t believe she forgot me like this. How rude. But maybe I’m expecting too much.  Everybody forgets once in a while.  But she really should keep up with things better – especially if they matter to her.  I wouldn’t do this to her.  She really is so rude.”  (This can go on for days, weeks, months, and in some cases even a lifetime.  Like going back and forth between the images above, it will probably give you a headache.)

4.     “I wonder if ____ got my message.  Maybe she’s just busy.  I’ll call her again in a day or so if I don’t hear from her.”  Here you attribute a neutral meaning to the event so neither one of you has to be the bad guy.

Consider what feelings might come as a result of each thought.  If you tend to think more like #1, you’re going to spend a lot of time angry, self-righteous, and critical of others.  If you think more like #2, you’re going to spend a lot of time worrying, blaming yourself, and reinforcing your negative self-image.  If your particular flavor of hell is ambivalence, #3, you’re likely to drive yourself crazy going round and round in circles.  An unenviable by-product of 3 is that you’re also likely to drive everyone around you crazy as you try to get 100 reality checks from other people to decide who to blame.  If you think more like #4, you’re going to spend a lot of time getting on with your life with feelings of peace and equanimity because there’s nothing to blame anyone for – what a heavenly mindset.

So what about you?  Do you tend to create more of hell or heaven with your thoughts?

full empty question rainbow

I could now go on to tell you about how our childhoods set us for this kind of dualistic thinking.  I could explain how the fear of being wrong/bad leads to the defense mechanisms that make us want to project the blame.  I could explain how ambivalence, though often agonizing, is actually a step in the right direction because ‘staying in the tension of the question’ at least keeps the mind open. The mind tends to close once we think we have the answer.

A  LARGER PERSPECTIVE

I’d rather talk about this issue from a larger perspective, i.e., how the penchant to engage in more hellish than heavenly thinking is not totally our fault.  We are, after all, also a product of our evolutionary stage of existence.  The physical plane of existence into which we (humans) were born forced us, for the sake of our survival, to make dualistic distinctions between danger and safety, friend and enemy, life-enhancing and life-threatening.  This plane of existence also had opposites to which we had to accommodate ourselves:  day and night, summer and winter, wet and dry, hot and cold.  Dualistic thinking was necessary to cope successfully with life on this plane of existence.  Our tendency to see things dualistically has keep us safe and well for millennia  — even lending itself to the invention of the computer which employs a binary operating system of zeros and ones much like our own dualistic mind.

Our dualistic thinking is such a part of our current state of being/thinking that we hardly notice it.  Black/white, good/bad, right/wrong, success/failure, smart/dumb, ugly/pretty, top/bottom, pleasure/pain, true/false, win/lose.  Our level of consciousness, evolutionarily-speaking, has been fraught with dualistic distinctions.  This plays out in small things and large.  Either the friend in the example above is bad, or I’m bad.  Either she is at fault or I am.  If we alter our thinking at all it is likely to vacillate back and forth between the two.

Dualistic thinking can be found at the global level, too, often in ways that no longer serve us well on our island home.  Christians good, Muslims bad.  Straight people good, gay people bad.  This political party good, that one bad.  This skin color good; that one bad.  This kind of thinking can often lead to a literal hell on earth – divisiveness, judgment, disconnection, separation, conflict.

Does a higher, more “heavenly” level of consciousness exist, and if so, how might we participate in actively ushering it in?

PROACTIVE  EVOLUTIONARY  THINKING

or

UPGRADE  YOUR  OPERATING  SYSTEM

 

You probably know that a dog’s ability to hear and smell exceeds that of a human.  You probably also know that there are ranges on the light spectrum (e.g., ultraviolet) that the human eye cannot see.  Did you also know that the human eye can only perceive ¼ of what it sees?

What if there are levels of consciousness that we can’t apprehend yet either – levels that exist outside the bandwidth we can recognize?  Or said a better way, levels of consciousness that lie as undeveloped potential inside us.  Many of the great avatars of the past stressed the importance of transforming our minds, transcending the usual dualistic mindset of the times.  Consider Buddha’s non-attachment to outcome, Jesus’ “love your enemies”, Gandhi’s passive resistance.  Perhaps avatars were so misunderstood in the past because their level of consciousness exceeded the current level of human consciousness.

Kabir, a well-know 14th century Indian philosopher, poet and songwriter, suggested that:

We have subtle subconscious faculties we are not using.  Beyond the limited analytic intellect is a vast realm of mind that includes psychic and extrasensory abilities; intuition; wisdom; a sense of unity; aesthetic, qualitative and creative faculties; and image-forming and symbolic capacities.  Though these faculties are many, we give them a single name with some justification, because they are operating best when they are in concert.  They comprise a mind, moreover, in spontaneous connection with the cosmic mind, the total mind we call “heart.”  (Quoted in Bourgeault, p. 36; italics mine.)

Buddha believed that our usual human approach to thinking led to “dukkha” — meaning suffering, struggling, chronic dissatisfaction and just plain misery.  Many “new thought” Christians and students of mystical Christianity consider “sin,” as it originally translates from the Greek, to mean missing the mark or missing the point.  Eckhart Tolle suggests that “to sin is to miss the point of human existence.  It means to live unskillfully, blindly, and thus to suffer and cause suffering.” (Tolle, p. 9)

Some teachers from the wisdom school of Christianity assert that heaven is not a place you go to after you die, but rather a state of transformed consciousness.  They suggest that Jesus’ phrase “the kingdom of heaven” is his own favorite way of describing a state which today we would call a non-dual or unitive consciousness.  Contemporary mystic, ex-monk and public policy attorney Jim Marion suggests that it is “not a place you go, but a place you come from — a whole new way of looking at the world, a transformed awareness that literally turns this world into a different place” – into heaven.  (Quoted in Bourgeault, p. 30.)

Ken Wilber, who is one of the most widely read and influential American philosophers of our time, postulates nine levels of consciousness.  Consider this quote from him:

Are the mystics and sages insane? Because they all tell variations on the same story, don’t they?  The story of awakening one morning and discovering you are one with the All, in a timeless and eternal and infinite fashion. Yes, maybe they are crazy, these divine fools. Maybe they are mumbling idiots in the face of the Abyss…. But then, I wonder. Maybe the evolutionary sequence really is from matter to body to mind to soul to spirit, each transcending and including, each with a greater depth and greater consciousness and wider embrace. And in the highest reaches of evolution, maybe, just maybe, an individual’s consciousness does indeed touch infinity—a total embrace of the entire Kosmos—a Kosmic consciousness that is Spirit awakened to its own true nature. It’s at least plausible. And tell me: is that story, sung by mystics and sages the world over, any crazier than the scientific materialism story, which is that the entire sequence is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying absolutely nothing? Listen very carefully: just which of those two stories actually sounds totally insane?  Wilber, A Brief History of Everything, p. 42-3.

One way to try to advance our level of consciousness beyond the dualistic stage is to learn to consider the nature of our reality from a different perspective.  To some this means trying to eliminate all forms of negative thinking – to insist on the triumph of good over evil.  But consider this response to that approach by Cynthia Bourgeault.  A student had asked how God could allow human atrocities.  Bourgeault replied:

Can’t you see that judging only makes it worse. By trying to stop the black – to make it all white, all good; by saying that this we can accept and this we must reject, you keep empowering that cycle of polarization that creates the problem in the first place…. (T)he orientation that cleaves to the light by trying to deny or reject the shadow…only ends up empowering the shadow and deepening it.  The resolution doesn’t lie in collapsing the tension of opposites by canceling one of them out.  Something has to go deeper, something that can hold them both.  (Bourgeault, p. 123; italics mine.)

So what will help with this evolution of consciousness besides not participating in dualistic distinctions?  My favorite choice of the moment is meditation.  Why?  Because it lets us experience how our “monkey mind” jumps around all over the place without our permission.  Because it teaches the observation of mental events (thoughts) as opposed to identification with them. Because it teaches us enough mental discipline to realize we can become the container for our thoughts rather than the victim of them.  Because it teaches us how to practice staying in the moment which is the only place reality can happen.

In his bestselling book A New Earth:  Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, Eckart Tolle asserts that humanity is on the cusp of an evolutionary shift in consciousness:

What is arising now is not a new belief system, a new religion, spiritual ideology, or mythology. We are coming to the end not only of mythologies but also of ideologies and belief systems.  The change goes deeper than the content of your mind, deeper than your thoughts.  In fact, at the heart of the new consciousness lies the transcendence of thought, the newfound ability of rising above thought, of realizing a dimension within yourself that is infinitely more vast than thought. You then no longer derive your identity, your sense of who you are, from the incessant stream of thinking that in the old consciousness you take to be yourself. (Tolle, p. 21-22)

But who are you then, if you are not who you thought yourself to be – not that voice in your head, not your thoughts?  You can learn to become the one who sees the thoughts, the one who has awareness over and above thoughts.  You become the space in which thoughts happen.  You are, indeed, the vehicle through which Life is lived.

Suggested reading:

Bourgeault, Cynthia.  The Wisdom Jesus:  Transforming Heart and Mind – a New Perspective on Christ and His Message. Boston:  Shambala Publications, 2008.

Hollis, James.  What Matters Most:  Living a More Considered Life.  New York:  Gotham Books, 2009.

Ladinsky, Daniel, Ed.  Love Poems from God:  Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West.  New York:  Penguin Compass, 2002.

Marion, Jim.  Putting on the Mind of Christ:  The Inner World of Christian Spirituality.  Charlottesville, VA:  Hampton Roads, 2000.

Muktananda, Swami.  Play of Consciousness:  A Spiritual Autobiography.  South Fallsburg, NY:  SYDA Foundation, 1978, 2000.

Tolle, Eckhart.  A New Earth:  Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.  New York:  Plume, 2005.

Wilber, Ken.  No Boundary:  Eastern and Western Approaches to Personal Growth.  Boston:  Shambala Publications 1979, 2001.

Wilber, Ken.  Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World.  Boston:  Shambala, 2006.

Williams, Mark; Teasdale, John; Zindel, Segal & Kabat-Zinn, Jon.  The Mindful Way through Depressions:  Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness.  New York:  Guilford Press, 2007.

Yogananda, Paramahansa.  The Autobiography of a Yogi.  Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1946, 2000.

August 13, 2008

Allowing Animals into our Awareness

by Metta Sweet Johnson, LCSW, MAT

Imagine for a moment this Earth without animals.  Forests, oceans and rivers, sky, plains and caves, empty of all the creatures that inhabit them.  No songs of birds, nor chirping crickets, nor barks of dogs, nor trumpeting elephants.  No laughter at their antics, nor respecting their power, nor interest in their unique view and interaction with the world.  No Animal Planet programming.  No zoos, safaris, or museum sections educating us about them.

How does it feel to imagine a world like that?

Even if you’re not an animal lover, you’d probably not prefer a planet without them.  In addition to providing a unique addition to the experience of life, animals have much to teach us about the human experience.  Looking to nature is often a great place to start when trying to achieve some kind of personal healing or growth.  Noticing particular animal attributes can be a fun and deeply moving way to add to your wisdom and experience.

You may have noticed on www.karunacounseling.com that each Karuna therapist has a symbol—some of them animals—associated with their philosophy on therapy.  Mine is the frog.  I draw inspiration and guidance from the energy of frog in my approach to therapy:

Frog reminds us that life is a process of changing and evolving.
Of swimming through the watery currents of life and making our way to shore.
Of starting out as gray swimming tadpoles and forming into colorful leaping frogs.
Frog’s rapport with rain and water reminds many of cleansing and healing as well.

To me, therapy echoes these aspects–
providing the possibility of change that can cleanse and heal. 

There are many ways to determine which animals you may have a strong connection with and/or that may be helpful to you at a given time.  Here a few:

  1. Strong Connections:  Did you connect strongly to certain stuffed animals as a child?  Did you dream of one day working with animals? Are you drawn to art depicting certain animals?  Books and films? 
     
  2. Feedback from Others:  Has anyone ever told you that you have remind them of a particular animal?  That bear-like hug, that eagle-eye, that owl wisdom?
     
  3. Sightings/Experiences:  Have you come across animals in your daily routine—that hawk you noticed sitting atop a light pole across the street while you ate lunch?  That owl that you know inhabits a tree a in your yard and hoots at night?  The deer that crossed your path?  Have you ever been attacked by or bitten by an animal?
     
  4. Stories:  Is there a story in your family of origin and/or family of choice about a special pet or a sighting/experience of a wild animal that is told over and over again?
     
  5. Fears/Joys:  What animals most frighten you?  Which bring you to the most joy?  Paying attention to strong reactions on both the “dark” and “light” sides can give you clues to look further.
     
  6. Dreams:  Do you dream about a certain animal more often than others?  Do the dreams you have with a certain animal seem particularly powerful, meaningful of vivid to you?
     
  7. Cards:  There are decks of cards that can be used to help you.  The Native American “Medicine Cards” book and deck by Sams & Carson is especially well done.

The Native American tradition has deep respect and reverence for what they call “animal medicine.” What they mean by medicine is “anything that improves one’s connection to the Great Mystery and to all of life,  …includ[ing] the healing of mind, body, and of spirit, [and]…also anything that brings personal power, strength, and understanding.”  Since psychotherapy is a healing process with the intent to also empower, integrating animal medicine can be insightful, inspiring, and transformative.

Here’s an example: 

I was driving to the mountains using the same route I’ve driven for years.  On this long valley road on the way up the mountains, I spotted a turtle crossing the road.  I stopped the car to move her to the side.  This was the first time I’ve encountered a turtle on these roads and so the experience stood out to me.  Over the weekend, I wondered how the turtle was and if she had safely arrived at her destination.  On the way home down that same road, there she was again!  She was off to the side this time, so I didn’t have to stop.  I did stop, though, later that night to flip through my animal books to look up the symbolism of turtle—Mother Earth. I was deeply moved by the insight and guidance it provided for me at that time in my life around issues surrounding maternal experience.   It led to further personal healing and exploration and was a delightful addition to my process around this issue.

Here are some other animals and their “key note” energy:

Ant = Industrious, Order, Discipline
Armadillo = Personal Protection, Discrimination, and Empathy
Fox = Camouflage, shape shifting, invisibility
Mouse = Attention to Detail
Snake = Rebirth, Resurrection, Initiation, Wisdom
Spider = Creativity and the Weaving of Fate
Squirrel = Activity and Preparedness
Tiger = Passion, Power, Devotion, and Sensuality

Gratefully, we do live in a vibrant, alive world with a wide variety of amazing and interesting animals.  If you choose to allow their presence to interact with and support you on your life journey, you may find that your life becomes more amazing and interesting as well!  And, in turn, your gratitude and appreciation for animals helps support them on their journey here also.

You can draw from many resources to explore further what your particular “animal medicine” might be. One website: http://www.starstuffs.com/animal_totems/index.htm contains a wide range of animals, including questions at the end of each animals’ section that you might ask yourself about why the animal came to you – such as giraffe asks “are you becoming complacent and losing track of your goals?”.   Also, here are a couple of great books:

Animal Speak by Ted Andrews
Medicine Cards by Jamie Sams & David Carson

June 11, 2008

Turning Toward Our Shadow

Filed under: 2008 Articles,Darby's Articles,Dreams & The Unconscious — karunacounseling @ 2:45 pm
Tags: , ,

Darby Christopher, LMSW

We all have a preferred way of viewing ourselves, which includes owning the personality traits that we believe will serve us best in the world. Often, cultural values that we uphold, such as loyalty, optimism or courage, will fall into this category. Many of us want to see ourselves – and for others to see us – as loving, giving, considerate and self confident. Sometimes, qualities like wild, out-of-the-box, rebellious and counter-cultural are also characteristics that we are happy to claim.

 

But what about those parts of ourselves and experiences we have that we don’t want to claim? What about the traits that others might see in us, but which we have a difficult time seeing in ourselves? These are the parts that Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung named our “shadow.” Traits that comprise our shadow often include qualities that our communities have disowned, such as fear, anger, selfishness, destructive words, thoughts or actions and various desires and addictions. Experiences of abuse or shame that have affected our self concept also fall into this category. On the other hand, if owning our talents or loving nature doesn’t feel safe, then these traits too will comprise our shadow.

 

Our natural human tendency is to run from our shadow. After all, the reason we don’t like certain qualities or recalling certain experiences is because they bring us pain, and our natural response to pain is to get as far away from it as possible. 

 

However, what works in the physical world – “don’t touch that fire!” – does not translate well in the psychological world. If avoiding the things that bring us emotional and psychological pain were the answer, this whole business of growth and healing would be simple, linear and formulaic.  The journey toward wholeness, rather, is circular, containing elements of mystery, and often takes place in relationship. This is why our efforts to “just not think about it” or “just don’t do it” sometimes fail us.

 

Why is this the case? Why doesn’t avoidance work? I don’t have the definitive answer for this, but one thing seems to be clear: The harder we work to push some aspects of psychological life away – including our painful problems and symptoms – the harder they work to make themselves known. It’s as if they contain a message for us, and, in terms of the big picture of our lives, this message is more important than our comfort.

 

Paradoxically and somewhat counter intuitively, turning toward our painful problems, symptoms, personality traits, and memories is what helps begin to loosen them and move them along.

 

 

How To Recognize The Shadow

 

In order to turn toward our shadow, we must first be able to catch glimpses of it. This is not easy, as our defenses are sometimes good at keeping it out of view. However, finding our shadow might be a little like bird watching, or finding shark’s teeth at the beach: If the intention is there, and we know what to look for, it may be elusive, but it is also ultimately knowable.

 

One of the best ways to catch a glimpse of our shadow is through our body and emotions. While we may be adept at keeping certain thoughts at bay, our bodies and feelings often will not cooperate. Depression, anxiety, disturbances, addictions, compulsions, physical pain and other physical or psychological symptoms are sometimes the result of disowned  parts of ourselves trying to get our attention. (Note: If a medical condition is suspected as the source of a painful condition, a physician should be consulted.)

 

Another sure way to spot our shadow is to look for it in what we project onto others. Jeremy Taylor, Unitarian minister and author of several books on dreams, refers to people as “projecting machines.” Taylor emphasizes how, in order to see something in ourselves, we must first project it outward onto someone else. For example, if a man sees and is frustrated with the passive or aggressive nature of another man, he may not yet recognize his own passive or aggressive qualities.

 

Another way to find the shadow is to look for it in our dreams. Because, on one level, everything we dream is an aspect of our own self, the potential for shadow-finding in dreams is immense. One predictable way in which this occurs is when an individual dreams of another person of their same gender. For example, if a woman is invested in seeing herself as serious and responsible, and she dreams of her free spirited sister allowing the bills to pile up while she lounges around, she may be seeing a disowned part of herself.

 

Most of us encounter our shadow in hundreds of ways every day, such as in our dreams, the people we come into contact with, movies, books, plays, work situations and primary relationships. Even what we day dream about could show us disowned parts of ourselves or repressed memories, if only we pay attention.

 

                                   

How To Turn Toward The Shadow

 

Finally, in the journey toward growth, wholeness and self-discovery, we need ways to get to know and integrate our shadow material. The following list includes a few ways to do this:

 

When a disturbing thought or feeling arises, take time to turn toward it, welcome it, and be still with it. If possible, go to a quiet place. Breathe deeply. Focus on the disturbing or painful feeling/experience. Hold it in awareness, and let go of any negative thoughts toward it. If possible, welcome it and put forth an intention to listen to it and learn from it. Breathe into it.

 

Journal, using “Active Imagination.” Choose a dream image, and ask it questions. Write down both the questions and the answers. The idea here is to allow the answers to arise spontaneously from the unconscious. Write down whatever shows up. Resist the temptation to force a question or answer, or to judge it. Sometimes, the sillier or more off the wall the answer is, the more right on it turns out to be. Ask: “What is here? What is going on? Who or what are you? What do you like or dislike? What are you afraid of?”   Insights will come sometimes, but not always. The practice of being still, asking, and listening is what counts, and will make a difference over the long run.

 

Practice taking back projections. When strong feelings of like or dislike for another person show up, make a list of what you like or dislike about that person. Then ask, “Where does this quality show up in me?”

 

Practice “I am that too.” Jeremy Taylor adopted and advocates this practice from the Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Whenever the urge to judge another is present, practice the thought “I am that too.”

 

If possible, do the work with a therapist or spiritual director. Something powerful occurs when we confess (or, “own”) a part of our self to a trusted other, and learn that all of our parts, even if painful or undesirable, are ultimately acceptable and make sense. Often, deep healing occurs in relationship.

 

Remember SOS, which can stand for “See it, Own it, Say it.” Recalling SOS may help us remember to stay alert and watchful, own what is ours rather than projecting it on others, and then to invite the healing power of relationship to work for us as we share our journey with a trusted other.

 

 

Conclusion

 

Shadow work requires persistence, patience, and sometimes, the ability to be present with pain. Like many endeavors in life, the reward – including a greater sense of wholeness, a sense of waking up to our lives, and ultimately an increased capacity to love – is worth the effort. For many of us, our well being depends on this work, and, as our own inner light shines brighter, our efforts will benefit the people whose paths we cross. And ultimately, we can be deeply gratified to know that our work is transforming the world we live in, one step at a time.

 

 

Recommended Reading:

Romancing The Shadow by Connie Zweig and Steve Wolf

Jung To Live By by Eugene Pascal

Inner Work by Robert Johnson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 18, 2007

Using the Soaps to Explore Your Unconscious

Filed under: 2007 and earlier,Claire's Articles,Dreams & The Unconscious — karunacounseling @ 6:40 pm
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by Claire N. Scott, Ph.D.

Using soap operas (or movies or books) to learn about the contents of your unconscious mind is not as bizarre an idea as it first may sound. We all probably can appreciate the fact that certain characters or themes are timeless and ageless, like the seemingly eternal appeal of Superman, Tarzan stories, Romeo and Juliet, Cleopatra, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

If we stop to ask why the appeal, I think we may quickly arrive at the psychological theory of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung and his work on “archetypes.” An archetype can be thought of as a pervasive and enduring idea, character, pattern or theme, which appears universally across many cultures. It is often revealed in art, literature, stories, and myths … and in the popular culture in movies and soaps. Admittedly characters in soaps and movies may be a diluted version of an archetype — perhaps more like a stereotype than an archetype, but the underlying archetype is usually discernible. Some easily recognized archetypes are:

The hero

The martyr

The seductress

The maiden

The mentor

The student

The warrior

The witch or wizard

The hermit

The clown

The healer

The rebel

The villain

The monk (or nun)

The judge

Perhaps you can think of popular characters that capture the energy of these archetypes. One reason movies and books are so compelling is that they portray these archetypes in their various incarnations. Another reason is that archetypal energies live in each of us.

Jung believed that archetypes reside in our unconscious, and that events in our lives pull up or ‘activate’ archetypal energy. Archetypes help us know what to do – how to fight when being a warrior is called for, how to be a free spirit and indulge our wanderlust when that’s what’s calling us, how to put our own needs aside and help others when that’s what’s needed, how to be soft and caring, how to strike out on our own, how to get up and try again when we suffer defeat. Archetypes are also part of why most everyone tends to go through some predictable patterns in their lives, e.g., separation from parents, developing an individual identity, making our own way in the world, learning to meet and deal with challenges, forming relationships, parenting, going through losses, etc. In her book The Hero Within, Carol Pearson suggested that we need to progress through the energy of six different archetypes during our lives in order to be able to come into the “magician” archetype, usually thought of as being the most evolved and well-integrated of the archetypes. The six she explores in her book are the innocent, the orphan, the wanderer, the warrior, the martyr and the magician.

Here are some questions I came up with to help you explore a bit about your archetypal energies.

1. Who is your favorite soap or movie or book character? Describe what you like about him or her.

(If your first answer contains references to a body part, try again and dig a little deeper.)

Your answer to this question might be representative of where you are on your life’s journey and what is important to you at this stage – either in yourself or in others. For example, if your favorite character was chosen from a “romantic interest” perspective (someone you’re attracted to), you might have chosen that person because you would like to form a relationship right now. You might also ask yourself what partnering with a person like that would mean to you. Would you then be complete, cool, important, cherished, safe? The answer to that question might speak to what’s missing in your life, or in you – what your unmet needs are or what you’d like to grow in yourself.

If, to give another example, the character is just entertaining or different, perhaps you need more fun in your life, or perhaps your life feels boring or lackluster to you. Could you need to develop the part of yourself that is able to play and enjoy life? Ask yourself what it is about that energy that appeals to you.

2. What character would you most like to be like? Why?

This question is particularly important because it speaks to what Jung called one’s ‘bright shadow.’ The person you chose is likely to be a manifestation of potential in yourself that you may not have recognized yet. If the characteristics were not in you in some form, you could not appreciate them in the character. The attributes you admire could represent some undeveloped aspect of yourself which you could develop over time.

3. Answering as honestly as you can, what character do you think you are the most like? How are you similar to, and different from, that character?

If your answers to 2 and 3 are the same, then you are ahead of the game. You are as you would like to be right now in your life. If your answers are different, then take a good look at this one. Is it okay with you to be like you are for now? Do you think you are in an understandable place for your age and stage of life? What do you like about being as you are? What would you like to change? Perhaps the #2 character is what you are hoping to grow into. Remember that life is a journey. You won’t always be as you are now. You can and will change.

4. Which character do you like least? Why?

There are two possible ways to interpret your answer to this question. One is from a values perspective, and the other is from a ‘dark shadow’ perspective.

The values perspective goes like this: This character may have offended some deeply held value of yours. For example, if you chose someone who is dishonest and deceitful, your dislike may be simply because those qualities are so abhorrent to you. If this is the case, you can use your reaction to gain insight into what your values are. It may also be worthwhile to examine the ‘dark shadow’ perspective. It could shed additional light on the matter.

The ‘dark shadow’ perspective goes like this: this character may strike a dissonant chord because it is similar to an unattractive part of you that you are not able to see in yourself. You may recall my mentioning the ‘bright shadow’ as our undeveloped potential. The ‘dark shadow’ is our unknown, unowned, and unacknowledged negative side. When we are not aware of our shadow side, bright or dark, we are likely to project it onto others and see the characteristics in them but not in ourselves. In dealing with our dark shadow projection, it takes courage and introspection to realize we actually may be somewhat like the character or person we dislike. You probably have noticed this ability to not see oneself clearly in other people. You may have heard someone complain about another person, and you think to yourself, you’re the one that’s like that, not them.

A clue that a dark shadow projection may be going on is the intensity with which you dislike the character. The more intense your reaction, the more likely you are dealing with your own unconscious material. A caution: this information is not meant to induce shame. It is meant as information to help you take a deeper look at yourself. Remember, that which is unconscious has more power over us. The more we can bring the unconscious to consciousness, the more power we can exert over it.

Interest in archetypes has been around for a long time, but it seems to have come into popular vogue again with Caroline Myss’s book Sacred Contracts, published in 2001. She devoted an entire book to discovering the archetypes active within you, and gives some excellent strategies for exploring how those archetypes work for, and sometimes against, you. If you are interested in this topic, I recommend that book. Be prepared to spend some serious and intense time journaling and talking to yourself.

Another useful book for therapists and clients alike is Rent Two Films and Let’s Talk in the Morning by Jan and John Hesley. It was published in 1998 so some films are a bit dated, but others, like It’s A Wonderful Life, have become classics. In addition to archetypal characters, films can be useful in depicting modern versions of archetypal themes or journeys. Castaway, for example, is a wonderful ‘rite of passage’ film. For an excellent exploration of that film, see Saying Yes to Change: Essential Wisdom for your Journey by Joan Borysenko and Gordon Dveirin.

January 2, 2006

The Parts Inside

Andrea J Schrage, MA, LPC, CMT

adapted from Dr. Richard Schwartz

Have you ever thought of yourself as a person with many different parts, or aspects of yourself? Thinking of yourself that can be a little anxiety provoking. You may even remember the movie “Sybil” and feel a desire to back away from the topic.

However, I am asking you to bear with me and trust that this has nothing to do with the type of personality disintegration that was happening for that character. So, for the brave souls left, this is an introduction to a way of looking at different aspects of yourself that will allow you to take better care of you.

I have been practicing as a counselor for almost 15 years. My experience includes studying different modalities that include psychology, body-centered psychotherapy, and spiritual practices. The most profound teachings on my journey have been my personal experience with healing modalities and the art of mindfulness. What feels consistent in all of these modalities is that we all have different parts of us inside, almost like personalities. These parts have been given different names, such as, the Id, Ego, and Superego and the Inner Child. I have also found that when clients identify them, they find that they have a clearer understanding of themselves and their behavior.

Have you ever seen someone who gets angry and starts to act like a kid? One example of this is when they are being told that they did something to hurt someone and they quickly retort with, “Well, you….” That’s what kids do

Another example is the part of you that jumps in and tells you all the ways that you are bad.

The parts vary and most have benefits if used properly. At different times, the parts may function as the self, child, teenager, perfectionist, overachiever, depressed part, worrier, focused only on happy, other focused, withdrawer, addict, playful, artistic, manager, parent, critical, voice, dreamer, or arrogant part/ego.

When you are not aware of these parts, it is easier for one of them to take over so that you are acting from that perspective only. You can imagine that when only one aspect of you is making decisions, you may be seeing a small portion of what is really happening. This becomes the crux of all communication problems.

A way to start understanding your parts is by looking at the categories that they may fall into. This will help you get an idea of the job that they are doing and help you to distinguish when is appropriate for them to display their talents. This will also help you reduce the habitual nature of parts that originated as a defense.

Exiles

These are often our most sensitive, innocent, open, and intimacy-seeking parts that contain qualities like liveliness, playfulness, spontaneity, creativity, and joi de vivre. They are the parts that were most sensitive and therefore most impacted by the painful events.

These parts could arise from trauma, but they may also be parts that embarrassed your parents, parts that held unspoken family rules or peer group norms, and parts that learned how to not feel.

Managers

These are the productive parts that are responsible for our day-to-day safety — often the voices that we hear most often. They are the aspects of us that want to control everything and are sure that they know best. They come from a place that will “never again” be hurt like before. They are the authors and enforcers of your stories and are created for protective reasons. They create your reality. They serve to block things from touching or hurting the exiles. They are the parts of us to try to make sure we are being externally seen in a positive way so that we can get that approval we did not receive in childhood.

Firefighters

These serve as the 2nd line of defense when the managers don’t work. They are our addictions and distractions, such as TV, eating, relationships, sleeping, alcohol, drugs, denial, rage etc. Over the years the firefighters pick less socially acceptable items because the first line of distractions stop working. Some people use physical distractions, such as illness or sudden pains. Some of the firefighters favor an impulsive retreat; they will leave the room or push the other person away. They are the parts that can make you feel fat, addicted, hostile, sneaky, sick, insensitive, and compulsive.

Managers often hate firefighters, though they have the some goal. Firefighters often rebel against managers by becoming more destructive. This can be seen as a parent (manager)/child (firefighter) relationship.

I hope this will help you begin to look at your parts and get support, as you need it. Feel free to email me with any questions about this process.

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