Mind: Projecting the Shadow

I have been enthralled with the Shadow as of late, and I devoured The Shadow Effect: Illuminating the Hidden Power of Your True Self by Deepak Chopra, Debbie Ford, and Marianne Williamson. The shadow is an idea that keeps resonating with me, and I am continuing the exploration of my shadow and beginning to understand when I am projecting.

I often sleep walk through life, unconscious of the many motives that drive me, and in this state the shadow thrives. I have stuffed down all those undesirable things and have denied their existence. I have covered over my anger, my fear, and my desires, and I have gone on with life as normal. Though buried in the unconscious, the shadow manifests in many ways in my everyday life, and it finds way to sabotage my peace of mind. I just need to pay attention to these moments so that I can begin to embrace and disarm the shadow. Only then can I find peace and bring a sense of wholeness to my life.

How do I know when I am projecting?

Projection is actually quite easy to spot, and I am amazed at how readily the shadow shows itself when you know what to look for. However, when I am not mindful, the shadow easily stays disguised, but I am learning to recognize its disguises.

I am projecting anytime my temper flairs for the littlest reason and I lash out. I am projecting when I get defensive and I make others wrong so that I can feel right. I am projecting when I blame someone else and feel that it’s “us vs. them”. I am projecting when I am repulsed and disgusted by others or when I feel good at another’s suffering.

It’s all too easy for me to see these reactions as justifiable - as merely reactions to bad situations or bad people. But this is how the shadow stays hidden. It cloaks itself in reasonableness. But these outbursts and gut reactions are indicators of my shadow lashing out and projecting my fears and my anxieties onto others. When I get angry and lash out at others, I am really angry at myself for certain failings and certain feelings. When I get defensive and see the world as “us vs. them” I am justifying behavior that is probably hypocritical. I seem to say, “It’s not me. I’m not that way. It’s them. It’s their fault.” But it IS really me. I AM really that way. When I am repulsed or disgusted by others, I am only projecting my own revulsion and disgust at myself. In all of these cases, I see something of myself in others - something about myself that I do not like, something that I am ashamed of, something that I fear about myself. These are the dark and negative aspects of my shadow.

The shadow’s projection, however, is not always negative. As Robert Johnson says in Owning Your Shadow, we bury a lot of gold in our shadow. We bury a lot of our strengths and a lot of our potential in our shadow afraid to be seen as bragging. We have learned it’s better to be humble, it’s better to dim our brightness then to shine. “Who does he think he is?” and “Don’t get too big for your britches!” are the sentiments of society that often echo in my head. So, I bury these strengths in my shadow afraid to shine, and whenever I am enthralled, inspired, and overwhelmingly drawn to another, I am projecting. Like the negative projection, these are times when I see something of myself in others, but it’s a much more positive. In The Shadow Effect, Debbie Ford says, “Whatever inspires you is an aspect of yourself.” If I am inspired by someone’s amazing creativity, then I see a glimmer of that creativity in myself even though I may vehemently deny and downplay my creativity. If I am drawn to someone who is spiritual and compassionate, those are qualities that I, too, possess even though I may feel myself to be cold and apathetic. If I am inspired by someone’s charm and charisma, I have these same aspects buried inside of me even though I may believe myself to be socially awkward. All of these qualities that attract me and inspire me are aspects of myself that I see in others. I may need to coax them out of my shadow. I may need to develop them to their fullest potential, but they are there. I possess them, and I can shine brightly if I can only fully embrace them.

The key to embracing the shadow is to catch myself at those moments when I am projecting. Then I can shine a light into my shadow and begin to recognize what’s triggering the projection - the darkness and the light. Only then can I become whole.

Mind: Owning the Shadow

I’m an angry person.

That might be a shock to those of you who know me. I have been described as boisterous, loud, and exuberant, as well as quiet, to myself, and shy. I’ve even been described as cerebral and outright goofy, but angry is not something that readily comes to mind when others describe me, and that is simply because I hide it, except occasionally when I lose my temper with my students. I hold in the anger, and unfortunately it gets vented when I am by myself as my temper flairs at the traffic around me, idiotic things that I read on the Internet, and even at my animals at times (though I never kick them). But while I’m around people and until that anger can be released, I boil and seethe. Here lately that anger has been a growing part of my imbalance.

Anger and frustration are part of my shadow - the dark side of my persona where I hide the socially unacceptable parts of myself. Carl Jung first came up with the idea of the shadow when he developed his archetypes. The shadow is where we hide the violent tendencies, the sexual desires, the impulses, and the thoughts that society deems inappropriate and taboo. We all have a shadow, but many of us deny and repress it. We push down this darkness and wear a mask that we present to others. This mask is what Jung called the Persona. It is a flat projection, and it is not who we really are. It is how we want others to see us.

My mask is one of joviality, humor, and good heartedness, but in my shadow is a lot of anger, frustration, fear, and resentment. I hide it there. Bury it there. But as long as I deny it, I can never be whole. I will only be the mask while all these negativities bubble under the surface threatening to crack open the mask.

A few years ago, I read Robert A. Johnson’s Owning Your Own Shadow, and it resonated with me. But in my unbalanced state as of late, it is clear that I do not own my shadow as the anger and frustration have been boiling to the surface more and more. It is a negativity that is wearing on me, and it is clear that with such negativity and hostility, I am not happy. I don’t want to be an angry person whose temper boils over, and I need a change.

I have just begun reading The Shadow Effect: Illuminating the Hidden Power of Your True Self by Deepak Chopra, Debbie Ford, and Marianne Williamson, and like Johnson’s book, it is really resonating with me. Though I have just begun, one idea has caught my attention. It is the idea of PROJECTION. In the first part of the book, Chopra talks about the shadow and how we live in a “fog of illusion”. He states that the only way to become whole is to acknowledge and accept the shadow. He describes how the emergence of negative emotions such as anger and anxiety are signs that we are projecting our fears and our anxieties onto others. So, when my temper flairs, usually at the selfishness, shortsightedness, and lack of consideration of others, I am projecting the anger that I feel towards myself for those same things.

And to be honest, I can be very selfish, shortsighted, and inconsiderate of others. I am a very solitary person, and it is hard for me to rely on others. I keep to myself, bottle up so much, and cringe when I am imposed upon. Not the best attributes for someone who, at the same time, longs for connection and human contact. And here is where I seek balance and wholeness. This is what this entire Change Initiative is about - a way to become whole.

In my quest for this balance, I must be honest with myself. I must confront these darker aspects of myself. I must learn to see the signs when my shadow lashes out. It is OK to feel anger, frustration, fear, and anxiety, but if I allow them to dominate my thoughts, I cling to feelings of righteousness and superiority - feelings of “us vs. them”. I give into the shadow and perpetuate my suffering. The shadow takes over, and I forget the joy, the happiness, and only resentment and the feeling that “they're out to get me" remain.

I don’t want to be the angry person. I don’t want to feel the negativity, the contempt, the paranoia. I want to be vibrant and vital. I want to exude joy. I want to be content and at peace. I want wholeness and balance I am tired of the shadow running my life. I want to beam with light - not grow dim with the darkness.

Mind: Enter the Stillness

I need a time out, a moment to myself, a quiet and undisturbed moment.

I am surrounded by so much noise from chatting people to the beeping, buzzing, and chiming of cell phones, from background music to the flickering images from the TV. So much commotion envelopes me no matter where I go. I need to get away - not a long vacation on a secluded beach (though that would be great). I need a vacation of the mind, a moment here and there to really listen to myself. I need stillness.

I firmly believe that the audible clutter keeps me from connecting to myself, from really hearing that inner voice that keeps me on track and balanced. The noise is a distraction. It’s easier to pay attention to something blaring in my environment than to hear that quiet, inner voice. It gets lost in all the commotion. I also believe that I often distract myself from the stillness purposely when I turn on the TV, crank up the music in the studio, or tune into the conversations of others. And sometimes, I need that distraction. I need a break from my inner dialogue. But at other times, I need the quiet.

Moments of stillness connect me to my inner voice, and allow me to remember the important things and to put things in perspective. These moments allow me to come back to center, and I can be more proactive as I figure out what needs immediate attention, and what can wait a while. When surrounded by the hectic day-to-day, it’s much more about reacting to the loudest thing demanding attention although it might not be a priority. Quiet times also allow me to figure things out and to reflect on all that is going on in my life.

I do take some time for myself, and I have built in some small habits that bring me to a quiet space. But it’s not nearly enough. I need more stillness. In our workshops, Dave and I always use the words of artist Jeanne Minnix, “Get still, get quiet, and go inside.” This simple saying is a mantra for finding the stillness to connect with the inner voice.

So how do I get still, get quiet, and go inside?

I have built in two very simple and purposeful habits into my daily life that are a good start. First, I have a time of about ten to fifteen minutes in the morning where I sit in silence and simply reflect. After I eat my breakfast, check my email, and check through some of the day’s headlines, I close my eyes, sip my coffee, and dwell in the stillness. I do have to be careful not to fall asleep though. This quiet time is not any type of formal meditation, but it allows me to fully wake, prepares me for the day, and sets my intentions. Second, I have the habit of driving to and from work in silence. I don’t carpool, so it’s just me in the car, and I leave the radio off - no talk, no music, no news, just silence. This allows me to sort through my thoughts as I drive to work making a plan for the day, and it allows me to decompress as I drive home at the end of the day. Unfortunately, the quiet is often disturbed by my own erupting temper at other drivers (that is something to tackle in due time).

But beyond these moments, I have very little time in stillness. I need be very deliberate about building in those moments to enter stillness, to sit with no noise, no electronic devices, no TV, no pens, no pencils, no paintbrushes, and to dwell in the stillness. I need to be comfortable with the quiet and with myself and simply listen to my quiet inner voice. I need to reconnect with myself.