Sometimes I’m moving through life sure of who I am and feeling contented and then suddenly the bottom drops out. Stunned, I find myself in a very dark and rocky inner terrain.
I’m just emerging from one of those episodes. You know the kind when one misstep, mixed with the right combination of hormones, work or family drama, and the alignment of certain stars tips the balance from, “I’m okay, I can do this thing called life on planet earth “ to “I am a complete and utter failure as a human and, I will never get it right.” Does this ever happen to you?
I haven’t made that kind of trip to the shadowlands in quite some time. But when I do arrive it often feels like I’ve never left and it is my true home.
This visit started with a day of feeling guilty about everything. Triggered by a small but costly ice related parking accident the guilt tripped me into the mental state of “terminally wrong”. That snowballed into a series of losing and forgetting things. My favorite earrings – lost. My materials for a class – put in someone else’s bag. My phone – left across town and an important conference call is only minutes away. Then rushing to make that call and leaving important papers at the meeting I just left. Already feeling utterly inept a trusted guide points out how my behavior and response to my daughter will likely perpetuate one of her blind spots and impede her growth in some important ways. Having sought out her advice that chat, while illuminating, left me nearly drowning in guilt and remorse as it ushered in the granddaddy of all guilt, “I’m a horrible mother and have permanently screwed up my kid!”
Whoo, that is some heavy s#*t. Can we say perspective? Nope, not yet, it took a few more days to get there. First, I passed through agitation, irritability and impatience sweeping my husband and daughter into the maelstrom. You know, those fun times spent reinforcing all our worst fears where we share the wealth of bad feelings with the ones we love the most. Yes, it was just like that.
While I recognized the state I was in it took some time to turn the tide. My journey out of the shadows began when I reached out to safe and supportive people in my life and let them know I was struggling. I asked for help and let my frantic, fretful state be soothed by their kindness, humor and support. Once I moved beyond red alert status and felt calmer in my body I could begin to get perspective and see everything in a more balanced way. I could let in the love and acceptance of my supports and the Grace that was holding me all along. I began to access my humor and see my exquisite humanness with some lightness. This freed me up to make amends for my hurtful behavior, which brought me more love, support and compassion. I could remember and reclaim my intrinsic value and worth, which seemed utterly lost in the shadows. Lastly, I could open to my own self-love, acceptance and compassion.
Free from the shadowlands at last!
There are keys to finding our way when we enter the shadows:
- Reach out for support. Let trusted friends and love ones know you’re having a rough time and need help. It may also help to find a trustworthy guide who knows the terrain.
- Soothe the stress hormones coursing through your veins. You might need something active like taking a walk, or moving to some music. Or you might need something more sedate like a bath, or TV or crawling under the covers. Or you may just need a good cry. Just find something you can do to decrease the internal sense of pressure.
- Find humor in the absurdity of it all.
- Let yourself off the hook. Practice self-forgiveness. You are after all simply human. Exquisitely flawed and beautiful all at once.
- Start with one small step towards self-soothing, comfort or love. Make sure you’re well fed and rested. Focus on anything that softens your heart or perspective. For me it’s the beauty of nature.
- Reclaim your self worth. Even as you discover seemingly unloveable or unacceptable places within yourself you are still worthy of love, kindness, respect and support.
- Make amends if you left collateral damage in your wake. However, it’s best to wait until you have ownership of your dignity and sense of humor.
As uncomfortable and painful as it is, trips to the shadow lands can also be freeing. When we can see clearly into our blind spots and worst fears of who we are while cultivating perspective, humor and dignity we are freed from the bondage of our unique version of ideal perfection. We are empowered to be and express all of who we are and know it’s sacred.
I know this won’t be my last trip to the shadowlands. But I’ve come to realize each journey there allows me to reclaim vital but hidden pieces of myself. And if I can apply a measure of compassion and support for myself my stay will be easier and won’t last nearly as long.