We All Are
I’m working with a lot of people knocked down by illness, or struggling with the confrontations of mid or late-life right now. These have been issues I’ve also had to reflect on and learn from in recent years. There are periods in our lives of letting go (even as new things are gained) where the blessing can be a kind of undoing and cracking open into the light, but where the risk is a redoubling of our efforts to build a new, but still faulty castle of self-esteem. I’ve also been reflecting on the epidemic of ‘shame about our own shame’, and the way in which even the wellness and spirituality spheres can be overrun with lopsided declarations of attainable perfect-health, self-radiance, and abundance – without much room for understanding the role of ordinariness, enoughness, and one’s life remaining a very mixed (if still magical) bag. Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability, and those Budhist teachers like Tara Brach who open themselves up to us in raw honesty are bright sparks in this landscape. These two women demonstrate that when we allow ourselves to share our vulnerability and shadow openly, we lead our own shame out of the shadows to be softened by the light, and we give others permission to do so also.
Marianne Williamson was right when she said that inhabiting our great Light gives others permission to shine too; but it’s also true to say that loving our own shadow, allows others to do the same. And when we can love both, we are moving towards some kind of completion…
If you’ve lived long enough you may have already developed quite a close relationship with your shadow and imperfections. You will have played the fool and probably embarrassed or humiliated yourself at least once or twice, if not a multitude of times. Told a lie and been found in a tangled, exposed web. Had something stupid, unkind or unthinking slip out of your mouth, worst of all, in good company. Failed to honour your promises to yourself and others. Continued to battle with your vices and demons. Never accomplished most of what you once hoped you would. Realised that the very things you’ve spent a lifetime ferociously judging in others are your own dear bedfellows. I know I have.
We try and escape ourselves and mask ourselves and pretty ourselves and improve ourselves – endlessly. Our psychological, spiritual, career, health, and relationship ventures can all be hijacked by the romance of feeling we are at least moving uphill, towards some kind of accomplishment. And yet somehow most of us, at least while we keep trying so hard, keep finding ourselves back in the mud of this messy human life, with our messy, half-broken selves. If we’re lucky, and we’ve found some kind of a path, relationship, or process for looking at ourselves more honestly, then maybe even more of our mess will show up and we’ll be able to bear to see small bits of it. And even luckier still, it might show up smack bang in front of those we respect and who have enough grace, experience and goodness to love us right through it. (I appreciate that such experiences do not indeed ‘feel’ like luck at the time!). And it’s not to diminish the genuinely loving and resilient qualities that we have also built over time – indeed without them, it’s unlikely we would have the strength to allow ourselves to start to see ourselves come undone. And it’s also important to say, the insight I’m speaking of is not the self-attacking sting of self-reproach or striving, but rather the calm, if cringing, acknowledgment of our imperfection and sometimes lack-of-love.
What’s the gift of all of this embarrassing insight? Humility. And with real Humility, real Gratitude for the miraculous things and people we are still Graced with. And perhaps then more Compassion for each other and ourselves, and the Courage not to keep trying so hard to hide. Then we might stop feeling so ashamed, and then we might even begin to like ourselves. Imagine how much psychic energy that might also free up – to Live Life.
So this is the journey, as Pema Chodron describes, back down into the valleys, and the dwelling places of being incarnate, real human beings. Keep opening and keep holding your own hand…in good Faith. Use self-encouraging words, and hear them, as you would an Angel on one shoulder, urging you on when you need it the most. It’s not that we don’t make progress. It’s that the progress comes from our very undoing and re-integration towards wholeness, rather than from climbing towards an illusion of perfection.
We’re all children at heart – and children are of course innocent and kind-of-perfect as well as really sometimes quite cruel and often confused. We’re all mistaken, and we’re all somehow still loved. You might think not, but I will stake my All on it. We are all still Loved… though it’s true that we may very well not yet be able to recognise it. One drop able to be received of such love is surely worth more than all of the tops of ladders our egos might ever have wanted to have climbed.
Sending this to you with a ray of Love, straight to the trembling and naked goodness in your Heart.