And if the dam breaks open many years too soon
And if there is no room upon the hill
And if your head explodes with dark forebodings too
I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon
I got bitch-slapped on Facebook last week. I was in one of those on-going, soul draining never-gonna-go-anywhere heated discussions with someone I am FB friends with, regarding LGBT rights.
Every once in a while, I am deeply triggered by this whole equality thing, particularly when the perpetrators of righteous discrimination are centered in my cultural roots. So I found myself upset and riled up. At the end of the evening, a stranger stepped in, and basically called me an agent of darkness. She urged her friend to ignore any and all things that upset her, and to step out of the darkness (me) and only focus on the light. It was a huge bitch-slap moment for me, and I thank her for it. It stung, as those moments do, but it brought me right to awareness of why I felt so triggered.
And it has everything to do with the dark.
There has been many times of struggle in my life when my father has told me this beautiful metaphor. He talks about how the Self is an ancient holy temple, filled with rooms. Some have windows and sunlight, and we allow people to come into those places. But inside each temple there are also windowless rooms, places that sit dark and locked up. There is one room at the center, the inner most sanctuary, called “the holy of holies.” It is the center of the temple, and of Self, where we store our most secret and dark parts of who we are. It takes courage to open the door to these dark places, shine a light inside, and find out what we have stored there.
I have always loved this metaphor, as it validates a deep yearning in me, and makes me feel brave. Because I am a person who wants to look inside those places. And see what is there, to name it, to own it. It has been my personal quest, to become more aware, more conscious. My drive to peer into the dark was emphasized enormously by becoming a mother, and leaving my religion. I have been bravely opening those doors and peering inside, flashlight in hand, an act that directly defies the teaching to “only be in the light.”
What I have found there has been… unpleasant. All my darkest thoughts. My ugliest feelings. Monstrous and powerful fears that I thought were gone, but were just tucked away in hiding.
The opening of those rooms has sent me deep into depression. Riddled me with anxiety. Caused terrible, tear-filled clashes with people I love most.
I am realizing now that this temple story has to change a bit. I have been at war with my darkness. There are hard and unpleasant emotions stored there… jealousy, anger, selfishness, immaturity, bitterness, loathing, rage, unbelievable sadness. No one wants to feel those. No one wants to see those stored up in their innermost spaces. Shining a light in there has made me feel tremendously ashamed and panicked to the point of blindness.
We are so conditioned to keep ourselves in the light. To be scared of the dark. To run from the “bad emotions” and deny they exist at all. In the culture I was raised in, this teaching is so powerful, people are encouraged to never read anything that opposes their point of view, or makes them feel uncomfortable. To never allow someone to challenge their ideas or discuss things that bring fear or uncertainty. There are good feelings, and bad feelings, and people are supposed to avoid those bad feelings.
AT ALL COSTS.
And the costs are untold. We are denying ourselves. We are cut off from who we really are. The whole range of human emotions must be acknowledged in order to experience what we all long for as human beings… love and belonging and meaningful connection. To ignore/deny/negate/make taboo all of our human emotions that are not joyful and uplifting is devastating. Either we become so cut off from ourselves, we feel depressed and hollow, or we label every “dark” emotion as “bad” and become crippled with self-loathing and guilt for our humanness…. and judgmental of everything.
What I am starting to understand, is that I don’t need to shine a light in my dark places. I need to open the door, step into the darkness, take a seat, and get to know it. Welcome all of my Self to exist and be acknowledged. When I enter these dark places, I now work to become fully present. A terrifying endeavor after a lifetime of fighting against these unpleasant emotions. I sit, and step into my body. Draining my mind, which is constantly operating in the past or the future, and bring full awareness to my body. Attention to the physical sensations forces me into the present moment. I notice how frustration makes my throat throb, and anger makes me hands clench and my stomach burn. I feel how shame makes my toes curl and my eyes close and my body collapse in on itself. Rather than deny it or fight it, I just acknowledge that it is there, inside of me. Manifesting in ways that I was unconscious of before. These dark emotions are asking for allowance. The awareness gives it permission to be there, and I am finding that once permission is given, the intensity of the emotion dramatically drops, but it doesn’t disappear.
Following the recognition, comes a question.
“What do you need?”
The idea that I should welcome these emotions has changed me. I have been spinning and sinking in a deep swamp of self loathing, feeling that I only had two choices:
1. to completely deny the existence of the dark.
2. willfully explore the dark rooms, condemn the darkness as bad, and fight like hell.
There is another way. Radical Self-Acceptance. Which begins by understanding that those scary places have something to say. When I give it a voice, and permission to exist, I am finding that there is not a good and bad, just wholeness.
As I begin to sit in my dark rooms in welcome rather than judgement, I realize the scope of this practice. As a mother of three girls…being capable of modeling self acceptance, showing them how to love themselves, to feel welcome in every room, embody all of the human parts, not just the light ones. Their beauty lives in the dark places too.
There is a reason the innermost sanctuary, the holiest of holies, is a perfectly dark room.
The most sacred work is done in the dark. The answers to the simple question, “What do you need?” are the real reasons we are here.
YES. What a beautifully written post. You have expressed my thoughts and feelings about what I refer to as my “Shadow Closet” so perfectly, it’s almost as though I had written it about MY Self.
It’s taken me many years to be able to sit in the darkness with my shadows and accept them as parts of me, and although I’m used to it now, it’s still sometimes painful. There are some great books out there that have been written to help people do this, but as you say, most people are taught to either lock the door and pretend it’s not there, or to fling open the door, shine in the light, and burn the place down to “defeat” it. The fact is, most shadows cannot be defeated; they can be acknowledged, accepted and/or compromised with, but they are part of who we are, and to attempt to destroy them is to attempt to destroy our Selves, and then we are no longer whole. And the people who claim they have NO shadows (and I’ve met a few) are either liars or are in total denial. I wish you the best in your shadow work!
Love your post Megan, my soul sister! The way you bravely explore places that most of us don’t want to go. I believe the act of sitting with the dark shadow emotions is actually how we bring them into the light for better viewing and acceptance. It is the recognition and acceptance of shadow emotions that move them from the unconscious to the conscious where they can be held skillfully instead of with ignorance and acting out…. bravo. Can’t wait to see you! xx