This time of year has always made me think about the kind of person I want to become. Someday. Who doesn’t want to be a better person? More knowledgeable, healthier, wealthier, reliable, accountable, and dependable. I’d like to be all of those things and more. And I’d like to be that way yesterday. I’m not a lazy or unmotivated person, so why am I not all of those things already? I’ve been giving that a lot of thought these last few weeks.
Carl Jung wrote, "Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is." Basically what this means is that we all have our dark sides; the characteristics of our personality to which we are usually blind. The more we suppress and deny our shadow, the more it can actually rule us. (Think Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, without the potion.) These shadows of ours are impulsive, irrational, and quick to judge others. The interesting thing is that the shadow will take our own personal insecurities and inferiorities and project them as shortcomings in other people or in society. It’s an odd soothing technique of the ego: I’m fine. It’s you who has a problem. (I never do that, by the way. But you always do.) In short, the shadow is our destructive side.
Instead of really inspecting myself for why I haven’t gotten as far in life as I have hoped, I’ve cast a lot of blame through the years. If only my childhood had been different, I would have more confidence and self-esteem. If only the Ex hadn’t turned out to be so lousy, I wouldn’t have wasted ten whole years of my life just spinning my wheels. Give me enough time and paper, and I could give you a long list of reasons why I am who I am. “Others have excuses. I have my reasons why.” The trouble with all those comforting reasons is that none of them actually give me comfort, they just anesthetize me and keep me from moving in any meaningful direction. Well, enough of that.
Let me say upfront that this is not a resolution. Maybe making pacts with one’s self works for others, but, well…. I stink at them. If I can’t keep a promise to myself in May or August, I seriously doubt making a promise in January is going to make any difference.
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” Hmmm… that’s a tall order Mahatma. When would I ever sleep?
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?" Hmmm… I’m just a product of my experiences, Marianne, and the brilliant and fabulous ones are outnumbered by the less-than-fabulous experiences. However, I’m in the mood to chase a rainbow. Maybe even do a little shadow boxing if that’s what it takes.
I grabbed a few favorite ‘feel good’ books and began reading with new eyes, paring down the mountain of advice into a hill of suggestions.
Step 1: Identify the most common projections that I place on others or on society. For me, the two most common are ‘injustice’ (the thought that bad things which happen are unfair and somehow my fault) and ‘defensiveness’ (shutting down on others who seem to be attacking me somehow and looking for the chinks in my armor which would expose my weaknesses).
Other shadow projections may include, but are not limited to: arrogance, blame, idealizing of others, jealousy, superiority, paranoia, and prejudice. *
Step 2: Figure out how the projected feelings relate to situations from our past. Usually they are rooted in childhood – the time when we are most impressionable. This is a slam dunk for me. The past was nothing but a petri dish for growing these projections. This could be scary, but I’ve been to this garden patch before, and have tended to these memories on many an occasion. The trick now is to find these overgrown, thorny patches and prune them back into a manageable shape. Don’t waste time trying to rip them out by the roots; they run too deep and are too large a part of the psyche. Attempting to remove or deny them would be an attempt to deny one’s own self. Not recommended, Dr. Jekyll.
Step 3: Making peace with the past. I want that more than anything. It would be just dandy to look back at the past and feel numb to it, but that’s not very practical. I know all too well that those memories aren’t going anywhere. Better to accept that all I have, all any of us has, is RIGHT NOW. If my life (or more accurately, my attitude about my life) is going to improve, I have to let go of yesterday and stop deluding myself with the notion that I have an endless amount of tomorrows. I can choose to dwell on the ghosts of hurt, fear, and anger, or I can choose to have peace. Yes, the choice really is that simple. No, I have not been drinking the Kool-Aid. I can “Yeah, but…” til the cows come home, but not a single one of those has ever made me feel any better.
We remember the things that hurt us because that is the way of the mind. We remember so that we can avoid the cause should we be faced with it again. It is a survival mechanism, and the urge for self-preservation is an innate and powerful force. But remembering is not the same as reliving, just as forgiving is not the same as forgetting. There is no benefit to recycling the same old emotions. That’s the one prospect about a new beginning that I can get behind: out with the old and in with the new. (Unless, of course, the new stuff sucks, too, in which case I would be S.O.L.)
These three steps are just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot more work to be done after this, but at least I’m in a position to begin on the other stuff. After a year of letting go of a lifetime’s worth of hurt and anger and worthlessness, I feel surprisingly at peace. I had expected to feel a lot more guilt for having dropped so much baggage because dropping the baggage also required that I let go of the people who helped create it.
Phase Two of this personal overhaul may prove to be a bit trickier than this first phase. A friend of mine, for whom I have a great deal of respect, recently told me, “Love is everywhere you look. It’s all around you. You just have to learn how to recognize it.” It felt like I was standing in the middle of the Sahara, on the brink of certain desiccation, and was being told, “Water is everywhere you look. You just have to recognize it.” Really, my friend? Because all I’ve been able to see for miles are endless drifts of sand.
I’m not trying to be brash. In fact, being brash all these years is what has led to this forlorn way station in the desert. But I am and always have been a black sheep; a broken branch. And old habits die hard – even habits that have long since outlived their purpose. This is me swearing an oath to make every attempt to follow the sage advice; to learn how to recognize what I need and to actively look for it. It’s not a resolution, it is a revolution.
What comes next? Putting down my expectations for tomorrow, and getting to work on today. If I can move away from the things which have paralyzed me for so long, then I can begin putting one foot in front of the other. There’s surely lots more to do, but I'll be creating the path as I go along because I’ve never been one for outlines, graphs, charts and all that mind-numbing organization. That stuff makes me wanna take a hot bath with a warm razor, which would probably defeat the whole purpose.
*I’m not making this stuff up. Head on over to your local library or check out Amazon books, and look for the works of Carl Jung. If you want to better understand what he meant, and hear it presented in ways that are applicable to daily life, look for books about ‘the shadow’ by other authors, such as:
~The Shadow Effect – Deepak Chopra~
~21 Day Consciousness Cleanse: A Breakthrough Program for Connecting with Your Soul's Deepest Purpose – Debbie Ford~
~Why Good People Do Bad Things: How to Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemy – Debbie Ford~
~The Gift of Change – Marianne Williamson~
~Spiritual Partnership: The Journey to Authentic Power – Gary Zukav~
I couldn't have said it better myself Alisa. I hope people are able to slow down long enough to really read this blog entry and take it in because it's rich with excellent advice and good points. Make peace with the past. It takes TIME. Personally, I have been into psychology my whole life. I was just too impatient to pursue a degree in it. I fizzled out after a few semesters because i couldn't sit still long enough to study. I find I analyze the human psyche all the time and try to be aware of how I am acting in response to my surroundings.
(I TRY, not always successful)
A couple of points I want to make since you are on the topic of the past AJ. None of us can deny, our past is part of us. Our roots are who we are. Be it ugly, abusive, pretty and perfect and everything in between. We cannot control that. After we grow up and become adults, our reality is more in our control to try to overcome the negative. BUT i think anyone who assumes they will never have ghosts of the past is kidding themselves. It is not reality. I think it is ok to take the good with the bad and eventually accept it. It makes us who we are. None of us is perfect. Give yourself a break and accept that already.
These days so many of us are "broken branches". Family no longer has to be blood relatives. If you come from a close family, you are blessed (will you adopt me?) but some of us do not have close families. Friends become family and we work with what we are given.
I also think that TIME and maturity plays a big role in becoming a better version of ourselves. I am better now in my 30's than i was in my 20's and better than my teens. In my later years I hope to become an even better version of myself to. (that remains to be seen!) I do recognize the ego and how our past plays a role in how we act in the present. Some people do not recognize it. Some do. Looking back, some of the things I did in my 20's makes me shudder. I know I put my daddy through some cringe worthy moments and for that I am sorry. I am a work in progress. I am sure my own little girl will give me a run for my money as she grows up. I will have to allow for her to go through her own up's and down's and mistakes. It'll be a bitter pill for me to swallow.
As for the books you mentioned AJ, I have a few on my bookshelves as we speak. For the naysayers who don't like the idea of self-help or personal empowerment- i feel bad for them. We can all use some polishing. Wake up. There's so much we can learn and do on our own to be better people in the long run.
I try to keep both feet firmly planted in reality. "Love is all around us" your friend said AJ? This is true. But with the good, there is the bad. Light and Dark, Ying and Yang. I try to be positive, but there is also the darker side that is there looming in all of our worlds. Just do not dwell on that side. It's not a nice place to be.
Sometimes I think we expect perfection with our expectations. I see people get caught up in who drives the best car, has the nicest house, the most money, etc. Personal possessions being of the utmost importance over inner happiness. Don't get me wrong, I love all of those things to. There just has to be a balance between the two. I can spot a materialistic fake person a mile away like a heat seeking missile. Try a serious health scare like cancer or heart disease-that'll snap you back to reality real quick.
It is hard not to project when we carry a "shadow" but I try to be really aware of why i do what i do. I don't trust most females for example. I realize it stems from my first failed relationship with my own mother and so on and so forth. Am i healed from it? Only to a degree. I think it will always be there. I may never really trust most women, but I'm self aware enough to recognize it. Sure it occasionally bothers me still, seeing women who have good relationships with their mothers. But by now I need to wake up and know that is not MY reality and move on. It is a painstakingly slow process, but every year gets easier.
I blame my ex husband for making a decision that changed the course of all of our lives forever. Then again, i play a role in it all as well for making wrong and impulsive choices that lead me to that situation in the first place. In any relationship, if there's strife- it's easy to point the finger at the other person, and your points may be very valid- but what role did you play in the whole situation? Those in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.
In 2011 treat people in a way that they feel BETTER about themselves than before they met you. Leave them with a good feeling instead of anger. I promise you, it will make a big difference in your life. I know so many people who are caught up in drama and hate. It is toxic. Steer clear. I have been sucked into it to. People irritate me. It's life. But indulge in as little of it as possible.
Here's to an amazing 2011. It's not a resolution, it's a REVOLUTION.
all my love, kim