“Know yourself” sounds trivial but asks for the truest devotion to the process of learning who you are, including the Shadow Self. It is necessary for personal growth and, in my opinion, it is necessary for a meaningful life.
Knowing is recognising and accepting yourself, your both sides. There is one that comes from “light” and there is the other one that comes from “darkness”. What is “light” and what is “dark” is based on your own moral judgement.
Striving to be good
I used to think that my goal in life was to become spotless. As a young adult, after years of teenage rebellion, I finally come tot he point where I wanted to become honest and moral, living in praise to God. I spent years to approach the ideal, yet I was far from it.
What surprised me was this. The more pure I strived to be, the less holy I was.
How could it be? I could not understand it at all.
I did my best to improve myself.
I spent hours on internal practices.
I put all my heart in.
I dearly cherished the intention to love and do good to others. But …. there was a basic dissonance in me, an incongruence which led astray.
How could it be? I could not understand it at all.
It has taken me countless hours of reading, thinking and testing ideas. Until … one day …. I finally got it.
I “saw” the fault in my reasoning, which was this. I wanted to live by highest morals, but I chose to do it either by fighting or rejecting the shadow in me.
It did not work.
The answer seems to be a paradox. But … let me explain.
Our world is co-created by polarities. The duality is ever present.
Day and Night.
Work and Rest.
Heaven and Earth.
Fire and Water.
Individuality and Commonness.
Similarity and Difference.
Do you reject a night and decide to accept a day only? Can you choose not to rest or not to sleep? Can you work 20h a day? You can pretend you are doing it for some time, of course, but it will not work long term. Day and night define a rhythm and the natural way is to live in agreement with it.
There is a duality in us. As a start. The problem begins when you and I choose to fight it.
Shadow and the fight
Every Saint, every Holy person describes the fight with his or her Shadow. And again, the more holy they attempt to be, the more temptations they have. Read any of their texts and you will see it clearly. The Shadow (or Sin, or Alter-Ego, or however we name it) exists, whether you and I like it or not.
Yes, many years ago I used to think that I was called to fight the Shadow and conquer her. But with years and experience I’ve understood that Shadow is a part of me and I cannot truly defeat my Shadow, hence myself.
What Shadow needs is understanding not a fight.
Shadow is part of me and contains all unprocessed fears, expectations, imaginations and wishful thinking. It also contains disapprovals, dislikes, disappointments, perhaps also anger, hatred, social conditioning or traumatic experiences. Or more.
Shadow is part of me which is ugly and I don’t like it.
Shadow only grows in power because I have casted her away and marked as bad.
The truth is that Shadow is a part of me and needs recognition. It does not mean that I need to accept wrong doing that Shadow feels attracted to, perhaps. Instead, I need to give permission to my own negative feelings (as judged by myself) and outlooks, without extra emphasis or importance.
This is the key.
I simply notice and observe that, say, I am angry or furious at a given time. I allow my unholy thoughts to be there without any unnecessary excitement. I allow emotions to flow. I give permission to myself to find safe ways to let go of whatever comes.
Every emotion is healthy when it flows in a proper way. Sometimes it is necessary to shout and show anger. Sometimes it is necessary to cry. Sometimes it is necessary to be super sad, or furious.
As a therapist, I can testify how emotions (which often contribute to the Shadow) tense the physical bodies. I know how digestion is impaired because of grief, disappointment or stress. The emotions that are either repressed or in overflow. I know because I palpate the body and find the knots, stagnation or blocked valves (say between stomach and duodenum). Once I release the tension, the body fully relaxes. The person extends, smiles and often falls asleep.
It is a powerful moment when healing begins.
The paradox is this.
If you want to know yourself, you need to see who you really are. From the tiniest level to the grandest perspective. This includes accepting yourself from all the angles you may pretend they do not exist.
Say, accepting the one who is afraid and small.
The one who is jealous or nasty.
The one who sits in the self-pity pit, mumbles and complains all the time.
The one who is constantly anxious what others would think of her.
The one who constantly blames others for her lack of progress.
So, the paradox is this.
You cannot fight your Shadow.
You cannot reject your Shadow.
You cannot neglect or cast away your “bad” part.
You cannot work on improving yourself by focussing on doing the “good” only.
Similarly, like you cannot pretend the night does not exist, by pretending there is only a day available to you.
You accept both a day and a night and live in congruence to what they bring. You live actively during a day and you calm down and rest at night.
Similarly, you accept both your (Light) Self and your Shadow Self. You choose to become your best active Self, but you also give a calm attention to your Shadow Self.
Shadow and Light
If you want to grow, if you want a lasting change, you need to shine light (which is conscious attention) on your Shadow Self to help her integrate with the Self.
Shadow lives in ignorance and kicks because she demands attention.
The attention is acceptance and understanding.
When this happens, the Self relaxes because she becomes an integrated Whole.
Who shines Light.