Transitions


by Lisa Anyan Smith, Ph. D.

“I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence and
So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same”

~ David Bowie, “Changes”

Change is an inevitable part of life.  Transitions are all around us – births, deaths, graduations, anniversaries, moving to a new residence, marriage, divorce.  Beginnings and endings are occurring constantly.  Some are small and mundane:  the ringing of the alarm clock to signal the start of a new day, or the finishing of a good book.  Some are major and catastrophic:  the destruction of the World Trade Center buildings, or the recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile.

Some changes are initiated by us, while others are imposed upon us by outside forces, or seemingly fall from the sky out of the blue.  Some transitions feel more welcome and comfortable than others.  Some feel downright unpleasant.

What can we learn from change?  Perhaps the answer, in part, lies in chaos theory.  While musing about various changes I have experienced over the past year, I came across a book entitled “Seven Life Lessons of Chaos:  Timeless Wisdom from the Science of Change,” by John Briggs and F. David Peat  (New York:  HarperCollins, 1999).  The scientific term “chaos” refers to an underlying interconnectedness that exists in apparently random events.  Briggs and Peat deftly relate some of the complexities of chaos theory to everyday life, and I would like to share some of their lessons with you.

Lesson One:  Being Creative In each moment, we have the opportunity to let go of prejudices and automatic habits.  This letting go frees us to be open to the power of uncertainty, and thus creativity.

Lesson Two: Using Butterfly Power Chaos theory suggests that each one of us possesses the power of “subtle influence,” much like the idea of a butterfly flapping its wings on one continent that leads to hundreds of thousands of tiny interconnected events that culminate in a hurricane on another continent.

Lesson Three:  Going with the Flow Consensus decision-making models involve much deliberation and discussion before an agreement is reached.  The process can feel chaotic.  However, when a decision is reached, all parties claim ownership and are committed to the decision.

Lesson Four:  Exploring What’s Between Chaos theory holds that life is both simple and complex.  When life seems most complicated, a simple solution may be just around the bend.  Conversely, what appears simple on the surface may be incredibly complicated.

Lesson Five:  Seeing the Art of the World Chaos is as much about art as it is about science.  William Blake urged us to …”see the world in a grain of sand, and an eternity in an hour…”  While observing birds, squirrels, and chipmunks at your backyard feeder, you may notice that although there are repeating patterns, something unexpected and random occurs that keeps you engrossed.

Lesson Six:  Living Within Time Rather than thinking of time as a one-dimensional line running from past to future, chaos theory allows for elasticity in time.  I especially enjoyed the story of monk who stops to listen to the beautiful singing of a bird in the woods.  Upon returning to the monastery, he discovers new faces.  While he was listening, all his friends died and an entire century passed.

Lesson Seven:  Rejoining the Whole To live deeply and fully, we seek awareness.  Yet as soon as we sense that we are seeking, awareness escapes our grasp.  Chaos theory, as applied to change, requires that questions remain unanswered.  Perhaps we learn more from the journey, than when we reach the destination.

So how can chaos theory impact our everyday life, and what does it have to do with change?   Well-known to those participating in recovery programs is the Serenity Prayer, which asks  “…grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.“   While we strive to effect positive changes from within, and struggle to adapt to changes that appear from without, we can remind ourselves that chaos does not necessarily need to be tamed.  Sometimes the path of least resistance is the way we are meant to follow.  Yet “least resistant” is not synonymous with “easy.”  Although we may not be able to make order of chaos, we can find calm within the storm.

“When we can no longer change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

~ Victor Frankl

Posted in 2010 Articles, Career Planning & Life Direction, Lisa's Articles | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Five Love Languages

By Molly Keeton, Ph.D.

The information in this article comes from a book by the same title “The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts” by Gary Chapman.

As I was reading this book, I found myself going back and forth in my response. One second I was thinking “this seems to be surface level sort of stuff – how profound of an impact can it really have?” The next minute, I was truly blown away by the depth of what could be communicated and healed by speaking one another’s love language. In the end, I found the concepts to be meaningful, relevant, and useful. While no one thing is going to be the solution to making love last, I believe this could be a valuable contributor. Learning one another’s love language (and actually taking the time to speak that language) not only offers love to one’s partner in a way that will make them feel the most loved, most secure, and most taken care of but also will convey investment and commitment to the relationship.

When I have come upon earlier editions of this book, I noticed that a very specific religious context was put upon the concepts. This is not the case in the most current version, which I read for this article. If you are looking for Christianity to be incorporated, you may enjoy the earlier edition. I am not certain what this might have added, but I can say that I did not find the book lacking in any way without this lens.

One final observation – I found the language in this book to be disappointingly heterosexist. The author often used the word “spouse” but mostly referred to “marriage”, “husband”, and “wife”. He made no mention of same sex relationships. It is never my preference to recommend a book that does not acknowledge and celebrate same sex relationships; however, I felt the information was valuable and wanted to share it. I also firmly believe that it applies to all people and relationships equally.

Falling in love, falling out of love

Human beings require love and affection. It is one of our most basic needs. The need to feel that we belong and are wanted is essential to the human experience and to our overall emotional health. This begins in infancy and childhood but does not end there. As adults, when we have that all consuming experience of falling “in love”, this need appears to be met in a very fulfilling way. When this happens, we feel as though we have met our soul mate. It is like heaven on earth – we could spend all day together and never run out of things to say. We have more in common with this person than we ever dreamed possible. They are a perfect fit to our best selves, our quirkiest selves, our truest selves. We hardly ever disagree, but when it happens, we are able to move on quickly. In dreaming of the future, we know bigger obstacles will come but are confident that we will triumph over them. Together we can work through anything because our love is special and we are truly committed.

Although our need to be loved is temporarily satisfied by early love, over time the euphoria begins to fade. Studies show that this infatuation stage of early romance can last up to about 2 years (it may last twice that long in the case of an affair) but does ultimately come to an end. “Welcome to the real world”… of partnership… “where hairs are always on the sink and little white spots cover the mirror… where shoes do not walk to the closet themselves… and socks go AWOL during laundry. In this world, a look can hurt and a word can crush. Intimate lovers can become enemies and marriage a battlefield” (p. 30).

We ask ourselves if we were wrong, was our love not the real thing, was it not meant to last? The truth is that it wasn’t meant to last – not the obsession of early love, during which nothing else seems to matter (work, housekeeping, paying bills, seeing friends and family). It is virtually impossible to keep any balance in one’s life during that initial and overpowering stage of love. As such, it is a good thing for the world that it does not go on forever.

The sense of connection during the early “in love” stage gives us a false sense of intimacy. It also gives us a false sense of ourselves – in this phase, we are truly selfless. Giving to our partner is the most gratifying thing on earth. Their faults are easy to overlook. This is made easier by the fact that our partner feels the same way towards us – truly loving and altruistic. However, as life goes on we inevitably return to our own interests and needs and so does our partner. We realize again that we are two people, not one. Two people with different goals, needs, feelings, preferences. We may feel we are falling out of love, and in a way this is true once that all consuming “in love” feeling begins to diminish. At this point, many couples may split. They may believe their only alternative to moving on and hoping to find “the one” is to settle into a life of disappointment with this person who so clearly does not understand their needs. However, one other option does exist – to recognize that the “in love” experience was meant to be temporary and to learn how to have a truly intimate long term relationship with one’s partner. True love cannot really begin until the obsessional love phase has come to its conclusion.

“True love’ …is emotional in nature but not obsessional. It is a love that unites reason and emotion. It involves an act of the will and requires discipline, and it recognizes the need for personal growth. Our most basic emotional need is not to fall in love but to be genuinely loved by another, to know a love that grows out of reason and choice, not instinct… if, once we return to the real world of human choice, we choose to be kind and generous, that is real love” (p. 32-33).

Love Languages

People speak one of five different love languages, usually the language of our caretakers, which we can think of as our native language. Each of the five basic love languages can contain a number of dialects. This means that there are countless ways to express love to one’s significant other while using their love language – the language that will truly make them feel loved. Over time, we may acquire new or different languages, but typically other languages will not come as easily as the primary language we were taught in our family of origin. One’s primary love language is likely to be drastically different from that of their spouse or significant other – possibly as different as English and Chinese. In order to communicate our love more effectively, we must be willing to identify our own love language, the language of our significant other, and to learn to speak one another’s love language.

Love Language #1: Words of Affirmation

Words of affirmation are words that build another up. These are words that express love verbally. They may be complimentary or express appreciation. They are as varied as one’s imagination and may speak to physical appearance (“Wow, are you looking hot tonight!”), a character trait (“You always go above and beyond for the people you love”), or encouragement (“You have both the talent and passion required to become a great artist”).

Encouraging words

This literally means to “inspire courage”, to help build up our partner’s sense of security and self-esteem. This does not involve harassing your partner into doing something that you want them to do but helping them find the courage to pursue what is meaningful to them. It comes from a place of empathy and being able to see the world through one’s partner’s eyes.

Kind words

To truly communicate love verbally, one must use kind words and a tone that matches. This is especially important in the face of an argument. When spoken with kind words, even sharing a disappointment (“I was really hurt that you did not make it on time to dinner tonight”) can build connection.

Humble words

“Love makes requests, not demands” (p. 45). We need to know and understand one another’s desires in order to develop intimacy. Stating those desires as an order, a threat, or an ultimatum will not lead to connection. Sharing our needs and giving our partner a choice in meeting those is a way to guide them. Making a request of your partner indicates that s/he has something to offer, which affirms their worth.

Love Language #2: Quality Time

Quality time involves giving someone else your undivided attention. “When I sit with my”… partner… “and give her twenty minutes of my… time… and she does the same for me, we are giving each other twenty minutes of life. We will never have those twenty minutes again; we are giving our lives to each other” (p. 56).

Focused attention

This is more than just being in proximity or doing something together while paying attention to other things. On the contrary, it is not limited to sitting quietly and looking into each other’s eyes or having hours of conversation about our hopes and dreams. Focused attention may involve an activity that one or both of you enjoy, but the activity itself is almost irrelevant because our intention in doing it is giving our attention to our partner.

Quality conversation

This is a very common love language that involves a true sharing of thoughts, feelings, and opinions in a loving and uninterrupted manner. We are focused on listening and truly hearing from our partner, encouraging them to share more of themselves. This is not likely to involve offering solutions or analyzing what they are saying but being attuned to your partner’s feelings.  You may have to learn to listen to offer this love language, and you also may have to learn to talk – to share openly from your heart and let your partner see inside of you.

Quality activities

These include any activity in which at least one of you has an interest, but again,the emphasis is on the why and not the what of the activity. The meaning behind the activity is to experience something together, to express love by doing this thing together, and to add to your memories of meaningful time spent together.

Love Language #3: Receiving Gifts

“At the heart of love is the spirit of giving. All five love languages challenge us to give to our spouse” (p. 82). A gift is a tangible thing that can be given, a symbol of one another’s love that can be seen and felt. Giving someone a gift involves thinking of them, and the gift becomes symbolic of this thoughtfulness. For people who speak this love language, having a visual symbol of their partner’s love is incredibly meaningful. Gifts may be bought, made, or found. The value of the gift or the money spent is not the key component here. It rarely matters what the cost of the gift is unless it is thought to be very far outside of what one can afford (in either direction).

If receiving gifts is the primary love language of your partner, you may have to alter your beliefs about how money should be spent. If gift giving seems frivolous to you, think of creative ways to give that don’t involve too much money. And when it comes to the times that money needs to be spent, think of it as an investment in your relationship.

Also, be aware that the gift of self can be powerful, especially for those who see love in visual ways. Giving of yourself by being present during a special event or a time of difficulty may speak volumes to your partner.

Love language #4: Acts of Service

To do an act of service is to do something for your partner that you s/he would like to have done. Acts of service “require thought, planning, time, effort, and energy. If done with a positive spirit, they are indeed expressions of love” (p. 92). Acts of service could include doing the dishes, getting the tires rotated, hanging a picture, cleaning the litter box, paying bills, or making a call to the mortgage company. Oftentimes, this doing for one another is a regular part of the “in love” phase but fades out once a long term relationship begins.

Doing acts of service does not mean to become a slave or a doormat. It is not to become a servant or to give in to manipulation, coercion, guilt, or demands. It means giving to our partner through taking on some of the tasks of daily life and expressing one’s love by relieving your partner of that particular burden. Getting comfortable with giving acts of service may require re-examining what you learned about what it is to be a man or a woman in a relationship and letting go of some outdated stereo-types (you may find their effect whether you are in an opposite or same sex relationship).

Love language #5: Physical Touch

“Whatever there is of me resides in my body. To touch my body is to touch me. To withdraw from my body is to distance yourself from me emotionally” (p. 112). The sense of touch is incredibly powerful for human beings. Many studies have shown that babies who are affectionately touched more often are physically stronger and more resilient and grow up to be emotionally healthier.

Unlike the other senses, touch is not limited to one part of our body.  Physical touch can communicate a variety of things – love, hate, tenderness, aggression. For a person who speaks this as their primary love language, touch may communicate far more than words ever can. The dialects are also infinite in the language of physical touch – what one person finds meaningful may do little for someone else. You must learn to speak each other’s dialect when it comes to physical touch and never assume that what feels good or loving to you applies equally to your partner.

Loving physical touch can be explicit or implicit. Explicit touch requires effort and attention (a massage or sexual interaction). Implicit loving touch may take less time and effort but does require thought and intentionality. This could be sitting close to one another, touching them as you pass by, giving a quick kiss when saying hello, or holding hands as you walk together.

Sex may be a primary dialect within this language, but not all need for physical touch should be assumed to be sexual. Also, a strong and frequent desire for sex does not necessarily mean that physical touch is one’s primary love language. If you find little meaning or interest in being physically affectionate outside of sex, then physical touch is not likely to be your primary love language, even if your craving for sex is quite intense.

Identifying your love language

Just reading the brief descriptions of the five languages may have clearly illuminated to you what your primary love language is. You may or may not be able to guess the language of your partner as well. If you would like to do a more formal assessment, there are questionnaires in the book. Another option that Chapman recommends is reflecting on the following questions:

  • How do you most often show love to others? When you want to express to someone that they mean a lot to you, do you find yourself doing nice things for them (acts of service) or writing them a note to tell them how much you care (words of affirmation)?
  • What have been your typical complaints to your partner within your relationship? Do you find yourself expressing frustration over not spending enough time together (quality time) or wishing s/he would do more to help around the house (acts of service)? These complaints will shed light on your unmet needs. And if you are not sure of the answer to this question, ask your partner. They are very likely to know your complaints.
  • What do you ask your partner for most often? Do you find yourself asking for a backrub or hug (physical touch), for a token of their feelings (gifts), or for encouragement when you want to pursue something (words of affirmation)?
Posted in 2010 Articles, Molly's Articles, Relationships & Intimacy | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Forgive to Live

forgiveness

By Micky O’Leary, PhD

Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better past.
~Lily Tomlin

A man convicted of several random murders was recently executed. The media coverage around this event was extensive. Among the reports were interviews with survivors of the victims.

One survivor was planning to be present at the execution – his way of seeing that the man who killed his loved one suffered in some measure for his deed. However, another survivor stated that he did not plan to attend and, in fact, was not interested in the details of the execution. He said he had forgiven the murderer and felt no hatred or animosity toward him.

I have heard stories like this before. Each time, I tried to put myself in the place of the survivors. Would I, could I, offer the same level of generosity that the second person showed? Or might I be like the first person, looking for some retribution to satisfy my hurt, anger, and overwhelming loss?

While few of us (thankfully) experience the pain associated with the murder of a loved one, none of us escapes this life without at times feeling hurt or betrayed in our relationships with others. What gives some of us the ability to forget these hurts and go on with our lives? And what keeps some of us in bondage to the injury we have experienced and the grievance we have created?

To forgive is to set a person free and discover that the prisoner was you.
~Louis Smedes

Forgiveness means different things to many people. I have often heard quoted the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” example from The Bible. Others have expressed their feelings about hurt and betrayal as “Don’t get mad; get even.” In a culture that uses weapons to settle the score, forgiveness is often equated with weakness. Dr. Fred Luskin, a well known researcher in the field of forgiveness, notes matter-of-factly that “Forgiveness is a tough sell.”

Indeed, forgiveness can be a tough sell if we see it as a gift we give the person who offended us. Framed in that light, forgiveness may seem like an insult (to ourselves) on top of injury.

But what if we could see forgiveness as a gift we give ourselves? For example, have you ever found yourself reliving and rehashing an injustice you have suffered? As you play the scene again and again in your mind, your anger and resentment continues – and often grows. You feed the memory by giving it “air time” on your own personal station and, in the process, create a grievance story which takes time and attention to keep alive. In other words, we take the memory of our injury – and the person who injured us – and let them live “rent free” in our head and heart.

Everyone gets hurt. It’s one price of living. What is the point of prolonging the hurt? Yet that is what we do when we make the choice to hold on to a grudge. And as we relive and revive the hurt, we also re-inflict the physical and emotional stress that we initially felt.

Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It is a permanent attitude.
~Martin Luther King, Jr.

Researchers studying forgiveness have found that people who are able to let go of resentments and thoughts of revenge (Remember the earlier example of the man who had forgiven the murderer?) benefit in numerous ways. Among the many ways are reduced stress levels, less depression, less anger and hostility, a reduction in chronic pain, more satisfying relationships, and improved emotional and psychological well being.

The fact is: Stress hurts. It takes its toll on our bodies as well as our general enjoyment of life. And there are few things as stressful as continuing to experience and focus on the bad things that have happened to us in our lives.

If you know the process of healing from a physical wound, you can understand the experience of healing from an emotional one. In both cases, the hurt is not forgotten, but it ceases to interfere with our daily life. The power that it once held over our thoughts and feelings recedes and we are free to focus on the present moment.

However, one of the reasons that forgiveness can be a “tough sell” is that some of us may confuse it with forgetting what happened, condoning what happened, or reconciling with the person who hurt us. None of those things is necessary for us to forgive. What is necessary is that we make the choice to release ourselves from the emotional tether that keeps us feeling connected to the past.

When you hold resentment toward another,
you are bound to that
person or condition
by an emotional link that is stronger than steel.

Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.
~Catherine Ponder

While forgiveness takes time (and a commitment to personal freedom), it also requires that we be able to step outside our own experience to see the ways in which we may be contributing to keeping our own pain alive. For instance, if we are hurt and angry because a situation did not turn out as we had expected/hoped (e.g., our partner decides to end our relationship), we keep the pain alive when we tell ourselves that our life is not turning out the way it should. In other words, we are angry because we cannot control what has happened. We have an “unenforceable” rule about the way we want others to behave or the way we think life must look.

Losing a partner, like many other experiences in life, is usually painful. But blaming that person for our unhappiness also means that we are giving them control of our happiness. If I attribute my unhappiness to another person, then I am simultaneously giving them the key to my own well being.

Equally important as forgiving others is the ability to forgive ourselves. As we grow in acceptance of life’s disappointments, imperfections and losses, we learn that we also make mistakes. We realize that we are not perfect. We understand that sometimes we make bad decisions. Being human means that sometimes we fail and cause other people harm.

As I mentioned before, forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves. When we choose to let go of our anger and resentment toward ourselves or another, we are also choosing the peace that comes with being free of those negative feelings. We are choosing to take back our personal power, assume responsibility for our own feelings, promote self healing and be the hero of our story instead of the victim. We are choosing to construct the story of our grievance in such a way that we can acknowledge the pain without getting stuck in it, recognize that life gives us both positive and negative experiences, and know that we can hope for the good and forgive the bad.

We are choosing to release our past in order to heal our present.

You will know that forgiveness has begun
when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well.

~Louis Smedes

feather forgiveness

Posted in 2010 Articles, Micky's Articles, Mind-body-spirit Integration, Relationships & Intimacy | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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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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.

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