Have you ever felt like every corner you round, there’s a shadow creature crouching there? Another person shot, another hard conversation to have, another hopeless-feeling piece of news, another thing that makes you want to turn on your heel and run? These times give us plenty of opportunity to interact with shadow. Shadow is anything in our lives that we don’t want to look at. The ugly, the daunting, the shameful, the uncomfortable. For months I’ve wanted to start every newsletter with “How are you holding up?” We’re all being called on to function in a shitstorm. This particular phase will surely come to an end, but new and different challenges will follow, and it’s possible that general chaos may never let up in our lifetimes. It’s a grim soup we’re being served, because we planted grim seeds, and as a collective human family we haven’t successfully changed the crop plan. It’s ok to not be ok. If you find yourself unraveling, being lost, being unable to meet the expectations a former you had of a former life, there’s nothing wrong with you. This is the moment we’re in. Personally, I’m finding it helpful to embrace the discomfort of it all. I’m inviting the shadow creatures to tea. If heartbreak is the new normal, I’m interested in what life looks like from inside this broken heart. Because there is beauty, delight, and aliveness to be found here too. I’m grieving, I’m mourning, I’m fumbling, I’m filled with doubt. I’m listening. When I listen, the shadows slowly transform. We can spend our lives running, changing direction every time a shadow creature confronts us, or we can meet them, become familiar, and walk down the same path together. Maybe one day, they’ll disintegrate.
I see a cultural theme among us, a collective unwillingness to be uncomfortable. We avoid bringing things up with family and friends. We fill the ocean with plastic and the atmosphere with fossil fuels as we run from inconvenience. We drown in drink and drugs, because it’s less heartbreaking than feeling our hard feelings. We continue to perpetuate harm and oppression, because it’s uncomfortable to examine and admit the ways we’ve harmed. (Of course all of these phenomena are also perpetuated by the money and power they generate). If we want to leave this place of discord and violence, we need to meet our shadows. To know the parts of ourselves we wish weren’t there, the inner jealous, the inner greedy, the inner oppressor, the inner racist. Yes, we all have an inner racist, because systemic racism is the water we swim in. And admitting that takes a little bit of the shame away, makes the shadow a little bit less threatening, is the first step towards its dissolution. When we confront our shadows, we need not be afraid of grim truths. We don’t need to turn away, deny, distract. We can stand in flames while standing in our power. We can look the darkest shadow in the face. We will grieve. We will mourn. We will allow ourselves to be touched by the deepest sorrow, we will be changed by it, and we will still know Love. We will still know our blessings when we see them. We will still spread our Love around. We will do our part to heal this world.
A Quick Guide To Partying With Shadows
1) Notice the sensations your body experiences. Describe them. Heart racing. Stomach churning. Palms sweating. Breath quickening. More chronic kinds of discomfort that might come from say, long-term quarantine, could look like fatigue, inability to focus, constant searching for distraction. Name these types of things, be aware when you’re in them.
2) Once you’ve acknowledged it, you can work with it. You can say “Hello, heart pumping in my throat, I see you, and I’m going to stay right here. I don’t need to run from this difficult conversation. This shadow cannot hurt me.” “Hello, overwhelming sense of doubt, I see you, and I’m going to stay right here. You won’t make me abandon this goal. This shadow cannot hurt me.”
3) Honor your limitations. Practice discerning when discomfort is worthy of your energy, i.e. helping you create the life and world you want, and when it’s unnecessary. For example, I have a very sensitive nervous system, and I know that large crowds, loud sounds, and bright lights make me really uncomfortable. Instead of fighting the way I’m built and trying to acclimate to these challenges, I skip them, and save my energy for honest, authentic, difficult conversations instead.
Play to your natural skills. It takes all kinds, we all have different strengths and constitutions for a reason. Your particular flavor is needed here, so know yourself and choose your shadows wisely.
4) Watch out for “shoulds.” Shadows can be sneaky, and sometimes they show up as the voices that tell us what we “should” be doing, and thus creating guilt, shame, and stress. “I should be working out right now.” “I should be finishing that project.”
Confronting shadow does not mean being hard on yourself and never allowing yourself to rest. All that drive to constantly be doing and accomplishing is the inner capitalist shadow. Again, this is about knowing what kinds of uncomfortable are nourishing your growth, actively creating the world you want to live in, and what kinds of uncomfortable you can let go of. Telling the difference often means being in touch with the core of your being, consulting your authentic self for the answers. I’ll be talking about how to do that in the next newsletter, you can expect it at the New Moon.
A note of clarification: the kind of shadows I’m referring to here are the ones we create ourselves, by being ashamed, afraid, avoidant, etc. I’m NOT talking about demons or other malicious spiritual entities, I definitely don’t recommend inviting those shadowy creatures over for tea ; )
Herbs For Partying With Shadows
I end up writing about Rose a lot. Maybe I'm drawn to the subjects that Rose is so good at helping us with, often the emotional ones. Rose offers medicine for the heart. They're that friend who you want to sit with you in your deepest grief. Rose is a balm to heartbreak.
You might be soothed and drawn in by their intoxicating scent, but they bare an armor of thorns to anyone who gets too close. So while Rose will open your heart and hold you while you feel your feelings, they'll also help you know where your boundaries are, and enforce them. A perfect combination.
Enlist the help of Rose in the form of tea, tincture, flower essence, being in the presence of the living plant, or putting the dried petals in a muslin pouch, for its aromatic and energetic medicine, to carry in your pocket or around your neck.
Note: I'll be launching my next online mini-course, Herbs for Boundaries and Protection, in October. Something tells me we may be needing extra boundaries and protection this fall, so subscribe to my newsletter to stay updated.
Resources For Confronting
Your inner racist shadow:
Me and White Supremacy, a brilliant book by Layla F. Saad for white and white-passing people
The systemic racist shadow:
Scene on Radio Podcast, Season 1, “Seeing White”, and Season 4, “The Land That Never Has Been Yet.”
Throughline Podcast, Episode entitled “American Police.”
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, book by Ibram X. Kendi
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