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The Shadow Knows

Posted in Personal Growth.

          Fear… Abject despair…Anger, tilting toward rage… Then fear again – terror, really. Numbness, then another stream of anger and indignant righteousness. A virtual kaleidoscope of negative emotions triggered not because I am being held hostage at gunpoint, or because I’ve just been told I have a life-threatening illness. No, these feelings have emerged out of the seeming calm of my psyche as I sit safely in front of my computer, reading a few exceptionally well-written emails. These messages have been forwarded to me from caring and intelligent friends whom I love and hold dear.

          The emails are about Sarah Palin.

          And the information they contain, for a peace-minded animal-lover like me, is profoundly sobering. The essays are written by some of the great thinkers of our time, and they paint a stark and horrific picture of our future, should McCain/Palin be elected. They describe a woman who admits to not knowing what a Vice President actually does, a woman who shoots 40 caribou at a clip on the ground and hundreds of wolves from the air, a woman who has tried to ban books from the library, a woman who does not believe in global warming, a woman who is not open to good-faith negotiation on challenging issues, a woman who wants to drill for oil in the Arctic and a woman who has referred to the Iraq war as a “task from God.”

          I have to be honest here – this is not a woman I would want as a friend. Or as a Vice-President. And certainly, emphatically, not as a President. She…scares me.

          And so I decided to write about it. But I’m not writing to try to influence your vote in November. I’m writing to call attention to the immense power we can so easily give to our fear and hatred and anger. And in doing so, we give up our power to create the peaceful and loving world we long for.

          As I sit with my reactions to the various emails, I realize there is something far more troubling about them than the description of a woman whose values are so vastly different from my own. As well-researched and eloquently written as the essays are – as truly helpful as they might be in providing useful information to deepen our understanding of Palin and the issues - they contain more than a few whiffs of condemnation and judgment and fear-mongering. The authors are witty and sharp and cleverly humorous as they wrap useful information in a cloak of sarcasm with phrases such as, “I imagine her daughter was practicing abstinence and we know how many babies that makes.” They implore us to vote for Obama as a vote against Palin and all she stands for, using their considerable writing talents to remind us, viscerally, of all the terrifying things that are in store for us if we don’t.

          And therein lies my concern – the urgent, strident, almost desperate appeal to vote against Palin so we can live in a better world. I, too, want – at the deepest level of my being – to live in peace and harmony on this beloved planet of ours. I want to live in an abundant and diverse universe where it is recognized and respected that all peoples, countries and species are a unique and essential part of the whole. I want to live in a world where we are safe and free to follow our dreams. I want what these writers want. The difference in our views lies in the how – how can we realize this vision of peace and harmony and personal empowerment?

          The answer, I believe, is revealed in one of Einstein’s most famous quotes, which I’ll paraphrase here: We cannot solve a problem at the same level on which it was created. I would expand that to say, We cannot solve a problem at the same level of consciousness on which it was created. Our impulses to blame, to judge, to hurt, to kill, to hide, to rape, to limit, to take revenge, to make wrong, to be right – these impulses come from fear. Sarah Palin has these impulses. And so do we, each and every one of us.

          These impulses live in what is known in various healing modalities as the shadow. It is called the shadow because while we can see and decry its outward expressions in others, we can rarely see the shadow – and all that it contains - in ourselves.

          These hurtful shadow impulses come from an ancient and profound fear of not being enough, a fear shared by humanity even if most of us are not fully conscious of it. The fear of not being enough gives rise to immense pain, a pain we will do almost anything to avoid facing. And one of the ways we seek to avoid the pain is by trying to somehow prove the fear wrong. We try to convince ourselves we’re okay by transferring our very identity from who we are – which we believe is not enough – to what we do or what we have. In this artificial reality, if we can just keep doing and doing, and if we can accumulate enough stuff, we can prove that we are enough.

          Let the games begin! We compete and cajole and grasp and grab and push and pull and hustle and maneuver so we can get our share. We memorize and regurgitate and debate and opine and criticize and blame so we can amass the thoughts and beliefs that prove others wrong and establish our “rightness.” We work and work and work some more to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt how productive and valuable we are, all the while compromising our health and our relationships.

          It’s easy to see this how harmful this dynamic is in the world around us. It’s easy to see it in, say, the short-term focus on drilling to extract a finite resource such as oil rather than aiming our attention, our creativity and our brilliance on developing alternative fuels for the longer term. It’s easy to see it in a bully who uses aggression to take what he wants – creating enemies and holding himself apart from true connection and intimacy – to hide the deeply held fear that he wouldn’t get it any other way because he is unworthy. It’s easy to see it in the gargantuan compensation packages some corporate executives have negotiated for themselves, while the companies they run languish or die. What else besides fear could drive such life-defeating behavior?

          Yet we keep going and going, because if we stop then we might come face to face with the fear we’ve been running from all this time. The fear of not being enough.

          And this fear lives within each of us, even if we’re trying hard not to notice it. We’ve become quite good at ignoring all the little ways fear runs our own lives. But it’s there. It’s there every time we cut someone off in traffic, or angrily dismiss someone’s opinion when it opposes our own, or silently curse that woman ahead of us in line as she slowly writes a check for groceries. It’s there every time we roll our eyes at someone’s seeming incompetence, or criticize a screenplay we’re sure could have been better written, or cast jealous eyes on a coworker’s promotion. We’re critical and impatient and demanding because deep down we’re afraid that if the world doesn’t conform to our particular view of how it should go, then we won’t be okay. That we’re not, in fact, okay.

          We cloak these impulses and behaviors in a mantle of self-importance and self-righteousness so they’re socially acceptable – and so we don’t have to face the deep fear they are so valiantly trying to conceal. But the fear is still there. It is vibrating and pulsing and easily triggered by, say, an insult to our intelligence or an unexpected letter from the IRS or an email about Sarah Palin. And when we react to the trigger from that pulsating energy of fear, we participate in the very dynamic that creates the things we are afraid of: the dynamic of fear giving rise to despair and suspicion and anger and blame and judgment and righteousness. Round and round we go, tackling each other – and ourselves, when we project our reaction inward - on the same level at which the problem was created.

          It’s time to find a new level. It’s time to “Be the change we wish to see in the world,” as Ghandi so simply and eloquently stated. What if we stopped pushing against what we fear, and began aligning our energy with what we desire? What if we paused before reacting to what upsets us, and rested in the stillness from which inspiration arises? What if we focused our vision on higher ground?

          In this energetic, vibrational universe, energy follows attention; what grows in our lives is what we attend to. So if we continue to give energy and attention to what we despise and fear in each other, what grows in our lives is hatred and fear. If we continue to give energy and attention to blame and criticism, we attract more things to blame and criticize. If we continue to feed our abject despair, what expands in our lives is hopelessness.

          What we resist, persists, as the saying goes.

          And so if we really want to effect positive change – if what we long for is authentic healing and transformation, not just the temporary high of being right and victorious - we need to focus our energy and attention differently. We need to ask different questions, and make different choices. And we need, paradoxically, to acknowledge and accept the shadow in ourselves – our fear and all of the defenses we’ve constructed to hide it. It is only in facing it, rather than running from it or damning it, that we can transcend it.

          I’ll share with you how this is unfolding in my life. When I first started getting the emails about Sarah Palin I mentioned at the start of this column, I was tempted to forward them along to friends, clients and colleagues with an eloquently worded introduction that, in essence, would have been a thinly veiled battle cry to join forces so we could defeat her. Instead I paused. I took several deep breaths. And then I read the emails again, slowly. I allowed all of my emotional reactions to rise up within me – the fear, the despair, the outrage and righteous indignation. I recognized them as the same emotions that were likely driving some of Sarah Palin’s actions. I cringed. I took a few more deep breaths.

          I reminded myself that forwarding the emails would serve only to reinforce the very dynamic I am seeking to shift, and so I did not forward them. I gave myself some time and space to contemplate the question, “What is mine to do here, if anything? What might I do if I’m holding a clear intention for peace and unity, rather than judgment and divisiveness?” An idea came to me that perhaps I could facilitate a healing ceremony, one in which people come together to give voice to their fears and anger and frustration with the express purpose of acknowledging and releasing them – and then, in the newly created space, jointly affirm our intentions for peace.

          As I was playing around with that notion, I received an email from a friend and client who had an idea for my next Living.Well column. She suggested I write about something I’d shared with her that she’d found helpful in dealing with her own angst and anger about the election. Well, this is timely, I thought! I recognized her email as a reflection back from the universe of my desire to offer something useful in these emotional and somewhat chaotic times.

          I decided that writing this article for my October column was mine to do. (Although I may still offer to facilitate that healing ceremony!) I decided to try, to the best of my ability, to illuminate the ultimate futility of our conditioned responses to things and people and political parties that anger or frighten us. And I decided to share the practice that my friend has found so helpful in shifting her own energy and attention toward what she wants, rather than what she doesn’t want.

          So here it is: Bless and release. And yes, that means blessing and releasing anyone or anything who triggers the not-so-nice impulses in your own shadow. For me it means blessing and releasing John McCain and Sarah Palin. Not because I agree with their worldview, but because I want peace. And as long as I am allowing my fear and anger and frustration to fester within me, I am not at peace. As long as I am pushing against what they stand for, I cannot stand in my own truth. As long as I judge them as bad, I cannot recognize or enjoy the inherent goodness in this universe.

          And so as I bless and release them, I release myself from the heavy bonds of judgment that constrain me. I free my energy and spirit to soar toward that new level I seek. I open myself to the blessings of friendship and support and creativity. And I remember that no political party or government is more powerful than the innate and loving intelligence that created the universe. And that power resides in each one of us.

          So let’s not give it away. Let’s reclaim this awesome power from the miserly clutches of fear and create a world we really want. Let’s step out of the shadow and into the brilliance of our true and magnificent nature. Let’s walk off the battlefield and climb to higher ground. Let’s be the change we wish to see in the world.

Copyright © 2008

Suzanne Eder

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