Me and My Shadow

Nice Kingdom Hearts Iphone Wallpaper the shadow knows t shirt by lamontcranstonSometimes my shadow side takes over and I get angry and vindictive with those I interpret as acting against the social good. In this case, with several atheists who set out to attack anyone expressing any sort of religious thought. I am not against atheism. I see it as a perfectly reasonable position to take in this world. I counted myself as an atheist for about a decade between the ages of 25-35. My journey has taken me somewhere else, but I still find atheism a legitimate claim worthy of attention and respect.

But I don’t like bullies. (there’s always a “but,” right?) I don’t like people who set out to discredit others based solely on their beliefs, unless those beliefs are demonstrably harming others (I include animals and the environment in this). This was a case of going after anyone who was trying to discuss nuanced philosophical understandings of the divine and conflating them with fundamentalist ideologies of Christianity and Islam. The shadow side of me decided a smack down was in order in some sort of crusade against religious intolerance!

But first, some perspective is needed…

Atheism SymbolIn our history, to be a self-declared atheist could be a death sentence and often it was. Even after the Enlightenment, one could face social and financial ruin if they admitted their atheism in public. And today in America, while atheism is more accepted and mainstream, there are still consequences that go with it. One only need to look at how many vocal atheists hold public office in the executive, legislative or judicial branches of government today for evidence. There aren’t any. At least none that admit it. And it’s one thing a political opponent will dig through first; what religion are they and when did they establish ties to the church they claim they attend? Obama went through this when his opponents wanted to frame him as a Muslim in the eyes of the public. Just imagine if he was an atheist!

EvolutionAmong the academic and scientific communities in the nineteenth century, atheism rose up in the ranks and became respectable. This was largely accomplished through the publication On the Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin. Many intellectuals saw Darwin’s theory as a means to put God to bed once and for all. God wasn’t needed to explain the world anymore.

But many atheists in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, especially those who were not shielded by academia, felt isolated, ostracized and condemned for their beliefs. This still goes on in many communities in America. A number of my friends that grew up as atheists in communities that were overtly religious often felt threatened and afraid to speak their truth. In this respect, I do understand why some would take a position of attack against religion, as religion was the vehicle for attack against them at some point in their life. Was it religion or the intolerance of the community they lived in that led to the abuse and bullying? Likely both. Especially if it came from a person in religious authority.

My reflection of the history of atheism doesn’t excuse someone who had a bad experience with religion from attacking someone with religious convictions, but it does open up my ability to have more compassion for them. My need for a “smack down” says more about me than it says about them. I was ready for a fight! I wanted to show them that they were as irrational and dogmatic in their thought that they accused others of being! Basically, I just wanted them to feel stupid by showing them how little they understood religion and spirituality outside of Christianity.JungShadow

I don’t know if they were bullied by intolerant religious folk in the past or if they’re bullies themselves who like to harass people for disagreeing with them. I don’t think it matters. I wanted them to feel stupid for their actions. This is about me, not them. Could it be if I don’t make a solid defense and tear them down first, maybe my own set of beliefs won’t stand up to the scrutiny either?  Yeah, I think that’s part of it.

Psychologically, humans are messy creatures. My core beliefs are solid, but I’m still formulating what I believe for myself on this life’s journey. Not everything is on solid ground as I sort it all out. The need to lash out is strong when I feel attacked, because everything is still raw. I feel a knee-jerk reaction to protect it. When an animal has a wound, it will lash out if anything comes near it, even if it’s potential help because all the animal can feel is the pain.

In our society, I think a lot of us are feeling the pain right now. We’re trying to protect ourselves in irrational ways to make it stop. This is not productive. Lashing out only creates more tension and more lashing out. It also aggravates the wound we carry. It can’t heal this way, it only becomes more of a problem.

The main purpose of this blog is shadow work. I write to figure out what’s really going on in my head. There’s a lot of fear – when I get down to it – that needs exorcised. My answer to this is to transmute it into compassion. There is a Buddhist meditation that asks participants to rephrase what they are experiencing from their ego perspective to a universal perspective. So, for instance, instead of saying, “I have fear” or “I am suffering,” say instead, “There is fear” and “There is suffering.” This raises the person out of the individual mindset and to the understanding that all of life experiences this. We’re not alone. There is no duality; no, Us versus Them. We’re all connected. With this connection comes a greater understanding and compassion for ourselves and others.

Buddhism

Worthiness

Over the past few months, one of the most difficult realizations I’ve had to come to is that I am worthy of good things in life. I never actively thought that I was unworthy of anything, but through a lot of soul searching and meditation, what I found is that I have an ingrained unconscious idea that I don’t deserve anything. I am not wealthy and I struggle for almost everything that I have. At some deep level, I did think that I reaped what I sowed. That there was something wrong with me that kept me from success and that I was the architect of that failure.

I was correct about being the architect of my own failure, but not because I was inherently unworthy of anything. My early childhood was spent struggling with illness and bullying. I internalized both of these things and they became a part of my early psyche. I believed that it was my lot in life to struggle as the outsider. I didn’t believe that worthypart1.2I’d ever be accepted because I had poor physical coordination and I didn’t always understand what someone was trying to teach me due to my learning disabilities. My mother went above and beyond to find help for me — for which I am eternally grateful — but even that left me with the notion that I was a bother. Just dealing with me was to be put upon in my mind. I was embarrassed by that. I spent so much time trying to hide from the fact that I needed help, because I feared that I was too much of a burden. Every time I had to go for physical therapy or cognitive therapy for my learning disabilities, I felt extreme anxiety. My childhood and teen years were rife with internal feedback loops of negative thought energy.

One cannot simply breakout of these feedback loops without doing shadow work (perhaps the theme of my next blog entry). In short, our shadow selves are all the things Jung-Quote-5we repress from our conscious minds because they represent our dark selves; the things we don’t like to acknowledge in ourselves or share with the rest of the world. It’s not always bad that we keep these things about who we are quiet (for instance, if one is filled with thoughts of violent behavior). However, it’s not a good thing to be unaware of our shadow. By being aware of the shadow side, we can actually confront it and deal with it constructively. We can incorporate it in ways that are useful to us. When we keep this side repressed, it will bubble forward in unexpected and (typically) unintended ways.

My shadow side can be rather nasty. When I feel cornered, I can lash out in incoherent anger and frustration. So often in the middle of an outburst I can literally hear my mind screaming, “STOP! What are you saying?!” I am not quick to anger, but I do bottle things up so that explosions are the only outlet I have. I’ve learned through shadow work that I howSqbottle things up because I feel that to express myself openly about – anything really – is to bother someone. It is due to feeling nullified in my past. Shadow work is helping me to find small outlets for expression so that I cease the endless loop of suppression and explosion.

But those explosions were part of my problem of a deep seated unconscious belief that I am unworthy of happiness and a good life. Other things like the fact that I move slower and I’m more prone to physical illnesses because of my compromised immune system, have left me with an internalized feeling that I don’t work hard enough and that is why I am struggling so hard.

I’ve started to be conscious of how I physically feel whenever I start to think that I am lazy and just don’t want to do something. Sometimes I am actually being lazy. But about 75% of the time, I am now aware that what is causing me to avoid a task is the physical pain or discomfort I am in due to real physical constraints. It’s difficult for me to admit the real mental and physical reality I live with every day, because I so thoroughly internalized those early childhood bullies (not always other kids, but also many adults). This will be a struggle for me. Just yesterday I slipped back into the thought, “What is wrong with me? Why can’t I do this when everyone else can!?” My wonderful partner caught me and brought it to my attention, and I was able to correct the thought before it started to turn itself on me in a more significant way.

I am worthy of a good life and good things flowing into my life. I believe we all are. But we have to be open to it. We have to allow it to flow into us. I’m not pretending that there aren’t external obstacles to our happiness. There are, and they can be insurmountable depending on one’s circumstance. The external world can be unrelenting and swallow us whole, which is also another blog entry for a different time. But often, WE are the obstacle. We don’t believe we’re worthy of goodness and good things. The internalization of our demons keeps up down and we begin to believe, consciously and unconsciously, that we are undeserving. It follows us.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Cycle of Negative Thoughts

My current project is to eliminate the cycle of negative thoughts from my mind. Or more precisely, I don’t wish to be controlled by these negative thoughts and emotions any longer. I began this process back in April when I had my moment of clarity. I realize then that much of my depression and anger was due to painful events in my past that I never addressed. I didn’t even realize how much of my past I carried with me every day. I started to see that many of my friends were going through a similar experience and working through them in various ways – some more successful than others. But I read an article by Johann Hari in the Huffington Post that triggered me, The Real Causes Of Depression Have Been Discovered, And They’re Not What You Think. I cried when I read this article. I realized that many of my behaviors that were keeping me from living a more productive, healthy life were tied to bullying and abuse during my adolescent and Screen-Shot-2017-10-06-at-4.02.31-PMteen years. And much of that stemmed from earlier childhood health problems (a duration from age 3 to 5 years old) which made me stand out more as a target. I developed learning disabilities and had severe coordination issues from that illness. I was also an introvert. I don’t know if I would have been so introverted had I not had such serious health issues, but I do not remember a time when I wasn’t an introvert.

I was in the second grade when I started to notice there was a problem. My best friend in school stopped talking to me regularly. She began hanging out with the cooler girls and would barely acknowledge me. Most of the boys made fun of me. I didn’t understand why. My best guess is that I must have behaved awkwardly. Or at least I gave the impression that I did. Enough for it to have social consequences. Though a few years ago, my sister, who is three years older than me, told me that she had some of the same issues because we didn’t live in the same neighborhood as most of the kids in our class. We e855c3dc9d625b713948fbbef643e98flived in the suburbs and they in the city. Part of it may have been due to lack of proximity and that they viewed us as snobs (or perhaps their parents did and that perception transferred to the kids). My mother confirmed this was a problem she ran into at the school as well. Whatever the actual reason was, I was bullied from the age of 7 to 14. I was thrilled when I left that school behind and went to an all-girls high school. I remember those three years with much love, because I was finally able to have peace away from that abuse. Unfortunately, the school closed and I had to serve out my senior year with some of the same grade school kids that bullied me. One in particular was so bad that I occasionally still find myself thinking of ways to humiliate him.

I didn’t connect all of the negative behaviors I developed to this time in my past until I read the article. Now I see it as obvious. Little things I do to sabotage myself from breaking out of the cycle I am in are very clear to me now. This year on my birthday, the universe gave me a powerful download that made me realize that I’m carrying around painful baggage and I don’t have to do that. I never had to do it. The coping strategies that I developed to survive bad situations are no longer needed. I can let those go and choose something different now.

So, I set about changing my thoughts and ending the negativity cycle that I often get trapped in because of inertia. It’s easier to live on autopilot, but there are great consequences to that way of life. Growth doesn’t come out of that. The first step I took was to embrace my past and to start connecting parts of it with behaviors I developed. I needed to visualize the negative situation, the behavior I developed to cope with it, and then to see how the behavior was specialized to that situation. I could then see that today, that situation was no longer an active part in my life, so the behavior no longer served me.

I started to meditate daily and question everything that I said and did. I actually started to see some of the positive things that came out of my past in shaping who I am today. That was the real breakthrough step. As difficult as my life has been emotionally and physically, I cannot deny that much of it lead me on my path to discovery. My work in philosophy and religious studies is a direct result of my turn inward. My ability to think critically and to question the world and authority around me came out of a dissatisfaction with the mainstream world. And it is because of my spiritual journey that I can now pull myself out of the mental rut I’ve been in for decades.

benefits-of-meditation-600x315

It’s also clear to me now that I developed a lot of insensitive and hypocritical tendencies that were rather self-serving and dismissive of others. I believe this is because I was so nullified as a child. So now, when I’m annoyed or find the actions of someone questionable, I first ask myself how I would act in the same situation. Do I do this myself? Are they being reasonable and am I annoyed or angry because it’s an inconvenience to me? Am I being unreasonable because my hormones are in flux? I run through a complex series of questions in my head. But here is the most important thing – if my answer is no, I listen to my inner voice now. I don’t make the assumption that I am wrong or invalidate my own experience, but rather I make room for the possibility that I am wrong and then I assess the situation.

Daily meditation allows me to be an observer of my thoughts. I can see them. I can see the little buggers that cause problems and I can opt to follow a different line of thinking. This has given me the ability to start the process of removing what no longer serves me.

Since I’ve been doing this, I’ve found that my depression is lifting. My interactions with my partner are far more positive and less contentious. I can actually see a positive future ahead of me with so much more to discover. It is early in the game. I do realize that it’s only been four months. But I also feel that my spiritual quest to eliminate the cycle of negative thoughts has given me new tools to cope with what life throws at me.

 

c20e2c29-179b-4d9b-933f-436b0aaefbf0-Capture21.crop_734x551_11727.preview

For more information on stopping bullying, go to: https://www.stopbullying.gov/