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Urgent Call for Shadow Work!

Another mass shooting. Another unnecessary loss of life–of young people’s lives, no less. Another great trauma. Another outpouring of outrage and grief.

When children die, our hackles are raised. Our protective instincts come full force to the fore. We are like a mama bear and our rage is enormous. What can we do? Who can we blame?

We seem to need to blame someone. It makes sense that we want to try to discover what caused the tragedy and what we can do to prevent more of them. This pointing of fingers is an understandable human reaction.

Could it be that we also have something to learn?

There is a spiritual and psychological belief that when certain events repeat themselves over and over in our lives, there is something we need to learn. When the lesson is learned, the experiences cease.

I recently found myself with a huge lesson to learn. After a lifetime of being a rather calm person, dedicated to peace, a few months ago I discovered that, surprisingly, I had an enormous well of rage within me.

Last autumn I found myself embroiled in a dysfunctional relationship with a man who sometimes behaved in such irrational ways, accusing me of such ridiculous things, that I often found myself screaming at him at the very top of my lungs–something I had never done with anyone else ever in my life. After a couple months of this pattern of becoming enraged and then shrieking my outrage, I came down with a painfully sore throat that lasted a full ten days. It wasn’t strep. I think I injured my vocal cords.

I did, of course, leave this man a couple times; but then, like many abused women, I remembered “the good times” and allowed myself to give him another chance. But at day 100, I finally realized he had been not just paranoid and jealous, but lying to me and cheating on me as well.

As I began the long process of healing, I knew I needed to learn why this all happened. I didn’t necessarily feel like a victim. I knew I had subconsciously chosen this experience because it had something to teach me. Eventually it occurred to me I’d been presented with a prime opportunity to do shadow work–something I’d never felt called to do before.

Many Americans have noticed the collective shadows of racism, misogyny, and sexual abuse, assault, and harassment which have arisen front and center for us as a nation to acknowledge. But acknowledgement is only the beginning. To truly learn and heal from our shadows–those traits that we all have but which lie beneath the veneer of our consciousness–takes real work. We have to be willing to understand that those undesirable traits we see in others also take up residence within our own psyches.

Many of us balk at this. We will say indignantly, “I’m not a racist! I’m not a sexual predator!” That may (or may not) be true, but be willing to look deeper. Have you ever not trusted or liked someone based on their appearance? Or have you ever thought less of someone because someone had told your something negative about him or her? Then you are not that different from a racist. The root behavior is the same.

Conversely, have you ever felt sexual desire for someone you considered attractive or sexy? Have you ever fantasized about having sex with that person not knowing whether or not they had any interest? You might think you would never act on that fantasy, but the fact that you have it indicates that the root of sexual predation exists also in you. Remember that interview with Jimmy Carter many years ago? He said he’d never committed adultery but he did admit he’d sometimes had lustful thoughts. This good man was willing to acknowledge that he wasn’t completely innocent; the seeds for adultery existed within him.

When I was in the full throes of my end-of-the-relationship revelation, what incensed me the most was the lying. I felt so disrespected and so used. My trusting nature had been violated. Only recently did I finally realize that I, too, have lied in my life. Ohhhhhhh. The light bulb went on. The very behavior I most hated about him was something I also was guilty of.

We get triggered the most by the very traits we ourselves have. Once we acknowledge these characteristics in ourselves–even in the most tiny way, we take a quantum leap in healing.

Once I accepted the fact that my companion was imperfect just as I was imperfect, I could begin the process of forgiveness. (I hasten to add, this doesn’t mean I am willing to trust him again. I am simply ready to let go of carrying around all the bitterness and anger. It only makes me feel lousy. At some point, enough is enough.)

This is the work I think our country needs to do.
Yes, absolutely I believe reasonable gun control measures should be enacted immediately. And yes, I think it’s sad that so many politicians get huge campaign contributions from the NRA. And yes, of course we need better mental health care. AND, I believe the reason these shootings keep happening is because we have some important shadow work to do.

If a gunman is motivated by anger, at the base of which is often fear, can we have the courage to look at how we, too, are sometimes so furious at times that we can imagine wanting someone dead?

The impetus may be very, very small and buried very deep, but if we are courageous enough to be ruthlessly honest, we may see the same germ of violence within ourselves. I have seen on Facebook the fury around the lack of gun control and the rage toward the politicians leery of angering the NRA. I have also noticed the hatred which our current president inspires. Even though you may be a “good person,” can you acknowledge that there is a part of you that sometimes wishes these people–the gunmen, the politicians, the president–would just “go away,” just “disappear.” Even if you could never see yourself actually pulling a trigger, can you imagine yourself being so angry that, even momentarily, you could wish someone dead?

Shortly after discovering my boyfriend naked in bed with another woman, I got in my car to drive away. Then I saw him by the driveway, mere yards in front of me. Feeling absolutely furious, I called out, “I could run you over right now.” I seriously doubt I would ever actually do such a thing, but at that moment in time, the thought occurred to me. I was that angry.

We all have both light and darkness within us. We may like to think we are all light, but we are human, and as such, we are, by nature, imperfect.

Reading The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, by Debbie Ford, was very helpful to me. I recommend it for everyone. If we can start to acknowledge the angry gunman hidden within us, we will come a long way in eradicating this epidemic.

The solution to our problems, including our poor health–as both individuals and a nation, is never purely physical. There is always emotional and spiritual work to do as well.
So yes, absolutely call and write your congresspeople. Yes, express your outrage. Yes, urge change. But do the deeper work, too.

I believe with all my heart that when we learn to stop hating, when we learn to stop blaming others, when we learn to stop being so self-righteous, when we learn to stop yearning for revenge, then there will be a huge shift in consciousness on the planet.

We are being called to do the deeper work of healing. We are being called to the work of transformation.

May it be so.

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