Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life.
Awareness and compulsion cannot coexist, since the latter depends on obliteration of the former…The beginning always involves noticing where you are and what you are doing. Not trying to be anywhere else.
When I started doing yoga a few years ago, I learned something valuable. Our teachers would sometimes put us in a pose and keep us there. Some of these poses became uncomfortable after a short while, and my body would beg for release. The teacher would remind us that our bodies were capable of being in the pose far longer than we thought. What was most interesting was the way my mind reacted (something the teachers also spoke about). Sometimes I found myself checking out mentally, thinking about the day ahead or the delicious smoothie I would have after class. Sometimes I found uncomfortable emotions coming to the surface, ones that intensified the longer we stayed in the pose. The challenge, we were reminded, was to stay with the discomfort: physical, mental and emotional, breathing through it while staying present to it, to be a witness to what was emerging.
This was new for me. The idea that I could stay present to something uncomfortable, without trying to change, analyse or conquer it, was a revelation, and a challenge. It was the start of a journey into myself, to the parts of me that I really didn’t want to acknowledge. I had spent years learning about my fears, anxieties and motivations. I was slowly building up a picture that was starting to make sense. What I hadn’t done was to open myself up to real awareness of the power of some of what lay buried inside. I needed to sit quietly as it rose to the surface, without judgement and without trying to fix it.
I had done a lot of work by then, important work: learning to reorder my thoughts, reducing stress by eating right, getting rest and exercising, reading lots of helpful books and practicing vulnerability, learning to be honest and sincere with others, about who I am and how I feel. All good things, and valuable parts of the process. But I did not know how to be angry or scared without trying to distract myself or overcome these “negative” emotions. I had not yet learned that our emotions are information, ways that our body communicates with us, wise messengers. I just thought they were imperfections to be avoided and ignored.
I wanted to be good, and uncomfortable emotions didn’t fit with my definition of good. I wanted to rise above them, be full of light and sweetness. But the deep places of my heart knew better, and kept reminding me of the shadows lurking behind my attempts at perfection. In The Cry of the Soul, Dan Allender and Tremper Longman remind us that our emotions “connect our inner and outer worlds'” and “open the door to asking hard questions…” They point out that without an honest engagement with these darker parts of ourselves, we will not be able to make sense of our lives.
I am learning to make friends with these feelings and sensations. I am beginning to see them not as unwelcome guests, but as pieces of myself that need tending. I must listen to what they have come to teach me, and value them as guides that help me to live a life of greater integrity and wholeness. This keeping company with shadows is not easy, but it is worthwhile.