Dancing in the Dark
In our living, there’s a dance partner we’ve often ignored, or worse. Sometimes, we’ve attempted annihilating this partner. Certainly, we’ve confined it to the dark (often called the unconscious). This partner goes by many names. Here, we’ll call the part of ourselves we’ve discounted, hated or ignored, our shadow. It is our unlived life.
Our shadow is the part of our self, which is incompatible with who we take our self to be. Frequently, “shadow” is narrowly interpreted to mean those “negative” parts of ourselves we hope never come to light – the parts around which we feel shame, guilt or regret. Actually, any part of ourselves we refuse to bring forward, our brilliance or generosity for instance, or our innocence or vulnerability – any part that we do not wish to see, or acknowledge becomes our shadow.
Roger Housden says in introducing Risking Everything
“…Yet it is precisely the crack in our lives that can let the light pour through. We do not spring from life perfectly formed. We each have our fault lines, and it is not by turning away from them that life suddenly takes on its full glory. No, I believe that we come to our fullness not in spite of our darkness, but in the embrace of it.”
When we do not see parts of ourselves, we cannot integrate them. Worse, we cannot release the creative energy trapped there. Our failure to integrate these parts limits our vitality and power. This shadow partner then controls the dance by limiting our steps, holding us back, even shouting, “No,” as we attempt new moves.
Last night, as I was sleeping
I dreamt – marvelous error!–
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.”
– Antonio Machado
When our shadow keeps us from stepping onto the dance floor or moving freely, creatively, constraint, stiffness step in. Unable to live fully into all of ourselves, our authenticity suffers. We then have to devise strategies to compensate for the moves we cannot make. Our potential for creativity and inner power is diminished.
How can we move towards being fully ourselves? How can we integrate our shadow- often wily, usually mysterious, sometimes fiercely tenacious? Can we embrace all of ourselves? What does it take to move freely and creatively in our lives?
This process is symphonic – having several movements infused with reoccurring themes. To begin we must notice when and to what we have strong reactions. Both strong positive and negative reactions hold clues. While unable to look into the depths of our own shadow, we often see it reflected outside of ourselves, in others.
When our response to others is strong, we have an opportunity to investigate what about them “triggers” us. Whether our response is positive or negative, it is useful to
extrapolate the qualities that we notice when we are galvanized by another..
Listing these, checking them out carefully and then using our list to find these qualities in ourselves is a useful first step in shedding some light on our shadowy dance partner.
In coaching we often speak of the need to be open and curious. Curiosity allows engagement, dynamic interest, movement towards lightheartedness. .Joy.discovery, openness -an awake state – exuberance. and Innocence are present in curiosity. We are inherently experimental and playful as infants – ready to “taste” the world. Curiosity brings forward our potential which transforms into “hope”. It is a movement towards freedom.
Our assumption, as coaches, is that we are curious when we ask questions. On one level this is true, yet curiosity is a much deeper inclination and often illuminates some part of our shadow.
What are we not curious about? What questions will we refrain from asking? And beyond the asking of questions, where does curiosity lead us? Can we feel the exhilaration of it arising or is the questioning mechanical, stilted? How willing are we try new practices with clients? Or devise fresh self-observations? Do we do our own inquiry? How often will we continue to read something that at first doesn’t appeal to us? Are we willing to attend a training in an area that doesn’t light us up?
When we have blind spots around our curiosity, there are subjects we avoid entering into fully – for ourselves and with clients. Sometimes this happens because “we already know” – that is we make assumptions from a very limited sampling or insufficient evidence. Or, we touch into a topic that brings up strong somatic resistance and so we deal with it superficially – blind to the fact that we are shutting down an important vein of inquiry.
The shadow side of curiosity can show up around issues of money, abuse, pleasure, relationships, rage, eating habits, child rearing, power or any of life’s intricate events. For each of us, it develops out of our own unique experience. Yet, to fully serve our clients, we need to bring light to bear on the very dark side of our limited curiosity.
The issue is further complicated by how we hold curiosity. Is it solely a cognitive experience, a sort of intellectual inquisitiveness? For many of us acculturated into intellectual curiosity, it remains at that level. We disown sensual curiosity, not willing to engage with textures, scents, sensations or tastes, perhaps.
When we get really curious about the emotional responses that arise in us, when we are listening deeply, or when we develop enough curiosity for a nuanced understanding of how we are reacting to our client’s narrative, we are experiencing emotional curiosity. Can we hold strong emotions – our own and that of others? Or do we avoid certain emotions, shutting down the curiosity of our hearts? When we become skillful in staying curious about our feelings, we serve both the client and ourselves.
(to be continued)