A Seasonal Approach to Life
Mother Nature certainly likes her routine. Global warming aside, she cycles through the same processes, in the same order, doing things the same way they always have worked.
Within that cycle, of course, variations exist—a dry winter or a mild fall—but we always can rely on the rhythm. One season follows the other. It’s a comfortable predictability in a world that often seems to be wildly unpredictable.
Luckily, it is possible to tap into that natural cycle, to bring into our lives a greater sense of flow and order.
As you read the suggestions below, keep in mind that we all have our own rhythms as well. What works for one person might not work for another. Take the ideas as ways to get you thinking. If a particular suggestion won’t work for you, is there another seasonally inspired activity that might?
In spring, everything is glistening, green and new. There is a feeling of expansion, and a sense of renewal and reawakening. Seeds start to grow. People get outside more, becoming reacquainted with their gardens. We take on spring-cleaning projects and clear out clutter.
A few activities that align with spring:
• What have you always longed to do? Perhaps you want to write a book or teach a class or foster a child. Let this be the year you take action on your dream.
• Notice, as well, if the seeds you’ve already planted are starting to sprout. Tend them carefully, giving them ample time to grow.
In summer, the landscape is lush and colorful with fruits and flowers. The air is warm and growth is everywhere. Summertime offers opportunities for family adventures, camping and exploring. We’re also busy in our gardens, working hard to ensure a good harvest. Long days lend a feeling of abundance.
A few activities for summer:
• Use the longer days to tackle home improvement and other projects you’d like to do. Enlist the help of willing partners or children, and you’ll feel like a winning team.
• Allow yourself a much-needed vacation and other breaks. Spend more time with friends and family.
• Think about what you’re about to harvest in your life or work. Are you ready for it? What else can you do to support your own abundance?
The fall offers us golden rich colors and crisp, cool air. There’s a feeling of transition and that “back to school” energy we never outgrow. A new school year keeps whole families busy. The harvest of fruit and vegetables is in full swing.
A few activities for fall:
• Look back over the year and consider your harvest. Are you satisfied with its size and quality? What might you do to improve it for next year? Did you spend enough time with loved ones? Did you take a vacation (or two)? Did you get enough rest?
• Prepare for the end of the year by compiling your records. Are there any last-minute tweaks you can make that will improve your yield?
Winter brings frigid air, frosted glass and, in some areas, a white blanket of snow. Many plants and some animals slip into hibernation and get ready for their springtime rebirth. Wintertime sports and holidays distract us from the sometimes uncomfortable temperatures and drastic blasts of weather.
Here are a few activities that align with winter:
• Ask yourself what within you would like to be born. Let yourself imagine that birth taking place. Write out what you picture and put it in your vision box. Then watch the universe start to bring it to you.
• Consider what is “hibernating” in your work or personal life. Is it almost time for a dormant phase to end?
By tailoring some of what you do to the natural rhythms that allow, sustain and renew all life on earth, you might just find that your life and work are likewise supported, as they deepen, grow and prosper.
Think about your transition from fall to winter. Have you accomplished all that you set out to do? If not, there is still time to finish things up. Do you have things that you’ve filed away in the “someday maybe” pile? Do some of them come up in your mind again and again…but you just don’t have the time, the money, or the space in your life?
Don’t worry…this is natural. Most people have a fairly long list of fulfilling projects and soul-nourishing fantasy trips… but they have to wait until XYZ is complete.
Unfortunately, XYZ never gets complete. There is always something that will demand your attention if you let it. The car needs to be fixed, the kids need braces, emails need to be read and the house would just fall apart if you weren’t there to tend to it…right?
As I’m sure you know by now, life moves pretty fast, and every day things change. You only have so much time, and then it’s gone…seeming to have sneaked up on us.
In order to die having truly lived, start LIVING today. Write out a list of the things that matter most to you, go after them, and check them off as they are accomplished. Don’t let the distractions of life get in the way of what you really want to do.
And do it quick, before you lose another minute…
Self-Responsibility Starts With An I
Asking Questions and Making Choices
“Take your life into your own hands and what happens?
A terrible thing: no one to blame.”
In the following three scenarios what do the people have in common?
Josie is a woman in her twenties. She still lives at home with her mother who makes all Josie’s important decisions: how to spend her money, who to go out with, even what clothes to wear. Josie is anxious and depressed.
Matt ordered a new printer for his office. When it arrived he discovered it wasn’t compatible with his computer. “Those idiots,” he ranted, “why didn’t they tell me this was the wrong printer.”
Sally and Jerry had a big fight. Now Sally’s tossing and turning in the bedroom while Jerry beds down on the sofa. Neither one is getting any sleep and both think the other should make the first move to apologize.
If your answer was “Hey, no one is taking any personal responsibility here,” you’ve got a good eye for human behavior.
Because what Josie and Matt and Sally and Jerry all have in common is a lack of self-responsibility that leaves them dependent, impotent and victimized. They’re caught up in blaming others for their problems and waiting for somebody else to come along and make their life right. Unfortunately, they’re going to have a long wait because, in the words of self-esteem expert Nathaniel Branden, “No one is coming.”
This is the good news. Your life is in your hands. You get to make the choices, elect the options and take the actions that come with self-responsibility. It’s through the door of self-responsibility that personal power and independence enter, often hand-in-hand, bearing gifts of confidence and self-esteem.
Be clear though, self-responsibility is not the same as feeling responsible or accepting the blame for bad things that have happened or situations that are painful. We don’t all enter the world with the same trappings, and people, events or circumstances have wreaked trauma and caused wounds from which many are recovering. Self-responsibility means that when you have worked through your grief or anger or other issues, you can ask yourself: Now what am I going to do? What options do I have?
At the other end, self-responsibility doesn’t mean becoming so self-reliant you don’t ask for help when you need it or seek others’ opinions or points of view. And it certainly doesn’t mean you have to know everything, make every decision alone or take on the world single-handedly.
Rather than a heavy burden, self-responsibility can be a source of joy. Knowing you can create the life you want by accepting responsibility for yourself is a great freedom. Even saying the words aloud can produce a feeling of power and strength. Try it.
Hoping is Not a Hopeless Endeavor
“Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible and achieves the impossible.” —Anonymous
Having a healthy dose of hope can be motivating and inspiring. It keeps people focused on what’s ahead instead of what’s in the past. It can also help keep the focus on possibilities, and reframe obstacles as opportunities.
For some, however, being hopeful goes hand-in-hand with feeling naïve or foolish when things don’t work out as planned. They would rather not have hope at all if it means later disappointment.
But for others, having hope doesn’t mean living in denial of life’s difficulties; it simply reminds them there are better times ahead.
The definition of Hope is the feeling of wanting something to happen and thinking that it could happen. Any person may hope for themselves or another in a multitude of situations concerning safety or compassion to success. The key is to how to have hope when one is not sure what type of future to think about. When one is motivated and inspired to have hope, one can focus on the future and not dwell in the past.
The cultivation of hope (a work in progress for some since it is a learned skill) brings the belief that change can happen for the better and one can better accept the present circumstances.
The Benefits of Hope
Research indicates that it’s more beneficial to have hope than not. Hopeful people tend to show more resilience when faced with difficulties. They have healthier lifestyle habits and, on the whole, are more successful, personally and professionally.
According to the Mayo Clinic, having a hopeful, positive attitude has health benefits as well. These include:
Increased life span
Lowered levels of distress
Increased resistance to the common cold
Greater emotional and psychological well-being
Decreased risk of death from cardiovascular disease
Improved coping skills during difficulties/stress
In addition, people with hope typically have:
Meaningful long- and short-term goals
A plan to achieve those goals
Flexibility to find alternate ways to achieve goals when faced with obstacles
In other words, hope is good for well-being.
We humans are sometimes too inventive for our own good—we can envision a future course of action along with every potential catastrophe that could occur along the way. Don’t try to control the unknown. Being aware of everything that can go wrong often makes doing nothing—in an attempt to avoid failure or pain—seem like a viable option.
Cultivating hope, on the other hand, helps activate creativity and inventiveness and prompts us to solve the predicaments we face by taking action in spite of our fears.
Hope brings with it the belief that things can change for the better. Regardless of how dire things may seem, there is potential for a positive outcome.
An older definition of Hope is that of a feeling of trust. Trust that a hopeful presence will help yourself and others be hopeful and be the best they can be. Learn to be in the present moment.
“Only love and the power of presence heals.” Jack Schwartz
Is It Possible to Be Too Hopeful?
It could be said that optimists have a healthy dose of hope while “extreme optimists” suffer from blinding hope. They want nothing to do with bad news.
Researchers at Duke University found that extreme optimists (you could call them “high-hopers”) don’t save money, don’t pay off credit cards and don’t make long-term plans, but they are more likely to remarry if divorced.
Moderation, as usual, is the key. The researchers also found that “moderate optimists” tend to:
Work longer hours
Make more money
Save more money
Pay off credit cards
Being a moderate high-hoper doesn’t mean keeping your head in the sand when it comes to life’s occasional unpleasant circumstances. It just means keeping a positive attitude—believing the best will happen, not the worst. It is all about the mindset!
In other words, whether you expect the best or the worst from life, chances are that’s what you’ll get (P.S. Law of Attraction). Studies seem to suggest that being hopeful is a skill that can be learned. So whether you’re an extreme optimist, an extreme pessimist or somewhere in between, there is hope for us all.
People will understand that with hope they will gain Healing, be able to Overcome obstacles, see Possibilities and be Empowered! Having Hope is a human strength.
Think Positively for Maximum Growth and Proper Mindset
Turn on the news and you’ll get an earful of how bad things are—not only in your community but around the world. Head to the coffee shop and conversations will battle for your attention as folks around you discuss their woes. It’s enough to make you want to bury your head in the sand. Not good for your mindset.
Yet, when you can harness a positive mindset, the sky is the limit. A positive mindset not only helps you get through the tough times, it helps you profit from them and continue to grow and succeed.
The trick, of course, is actually being able to think positively in tough times. Here are a few tips and ideas to help.
Gratitude is one of the most powerful emotions human beings are capable of. It’s right up there with love as a potent and significant emotion. It can transform the worst experience, erase a negative mindset and set you up on a path of continuous positivity.
One of the easiest ways to stay in a state of gratitude is to create a gratitude habit. Start or end each day by listing the things you’re grateful for. Also consider turning to gratitude when you feel negative emotions sneaking in and taking over.
Focus on What Is Working
If something is always going wrong, rest assured something is also going right. The trick is to focus on the things that are working. So make a list. Right now, make a list of the things that are going right in your life, in your business and in your relationships. Print the list and hang it in a place where you often feel overwhelmed. When negative thoughts begin to creep in, take a glance at your list. Read it aloud if it helps. Absorb it and change your thoughts.
Create Positive Surroundings
Surround yourself with things that you love and people that support you. Emotions are contagious. When the people around you are negative, it’s easy to become negative, too. However, the contrary is also true. When you’re surrounded by positive people, it’s much easier to feel positive.
When you’re surrounded by things you love and things that make you feel good, it’s easier to focus on the good. Make your home comfortable. Place personal pictures on your desk. Buy pillows and blankets in colors that you like. Paint your room or office a color that makes you smile. Change your surroundings and change your life.
Taking care of your mind and body makes a huge difference in your ability to stay positive. Exercise, eat well, get plenty of sleep and take time during the day to meditate. A little self-care goes a long way.
When it comes to maintaining a positive attitude, it can be a real challenge during the tough times. Small things matter and can make a big difference. Take care of yourself. Surround yourself with people and things that make you smile and remember to focus on what is good in your life. If you have to, make a list and keep it handy.
To read more about the growth mindset check out: https://namastenourished.com/growth-mindset/
See previous newsletters for more reading: https://wandadavis.ca/newsletter/previous-newsletters/
Bounce Back: Developing Emotional Resilience
Major disruptions are a “gotcha” we all experience at one time or another in our lives. We get fired, laid off or passed over; a loved one dies, leaves or gets in trouble; a project stalls or gets cancelled. The list, unfortunately, is endless.
For some, the impact of these hard times is overwhelming. Recovery, if it comes at all, can be painfully slow. Others show resilience and are admirably able to glide through these times fairly easily, bouncing back to a normal life again quickly. Resilience—the strength required to adapt to change—acts as our internal compass so we can resourcefully navigate an upset.
When unexpected events turn life upside down, it’s the degree to which our resiliency comes into play that makes these “make-or-break” situations an opportunity for growth. The good news is that each of us has the capacity to reorganize our life after a disruption and to achieve new levels of strength and meaningfulness. Though it’s easy to feel vulnerable in the midst of chaos and uncertainty, life disruptions are not necessarily a bad thing because they help us grow and meet future challenges in our lives. It’s a lot like a bone that was once fragile or broken, and is now strong from being used.
So how can you become more resilient? Here’s a look at seven key characteristics of people who demonstrate resilience during life’s curve balls.
A Sense of Hope and Trust in the World
Resilient people rely on their belief in the basic goodness of the world and trust that things will turn out all right in the end. This positive attitude allows them to weather times when everything seems bleak and to look for and accept the support that is out there. This approach toward the world gives them the ability to hope for a better future.
Interpreting Experiences in a New Light
The ability to look at a situation in a new way (a skill called “reframing”) can minimize the impact of a difficult situation. Resilient people take a creative approach toward solving a problem, and don’t always use an old definition for a new challenge.
A Meaningful System of Support
One of the best ways to endure a crisis is to have the support of another person who can listen and validate your feelings. Knowing that others care and will come to our support decreases the feeling of isolation, especially when tackling a problem alone. It’s important to choose people you trust. Don’t be surprised if it takes several friends, each of whom can provide different kinds of support. Resilient people aren’t stoic loners. They know the value of expressing their fears and frustrations, as well as receiving support, coaching or guidance from friends, family or a professional.
A Sense of Mastery and Control Over Your Destiny
You may not be able to predict the future, but you can tackle a problem instead of feeling at the mercy of forces outside of your control. Resilient people know that ultimately their survival and the integrity of their life values depend on their ability to take action rather than remain passive. Tough times call for you to tap into your own sense of personal responsibility.
Self-Reflection and Insight
Life’s experiences provide fertile ground for learning. Asking yourself questions that invite introspection can open a door to new understanding and appreciation of who you are and what you stand for. Giving voice to your thoughts and feelings leads to insight and helps transform the meaning of a problem into something useful. Resilient people learn from life situations and do not succumb to punishing themselves because of decisions made in the past.
A Wide Range of Interests
People who show resilience in the face of adversity are those who have a diversity of interests. They’re open to new experiences and ideas. Because their lives are rich and varied, it’s easier for them to find relief from the single mindedness and worry that often accompany a crisis.
Sense of Humor
Have you ever had a wry laugh during a difficult situation? The ability to see the absurdity, irony, or genuine humor in a situation stimulates our sense of hope and possibility. Humor has both psychological and physical benefits in relieving stress because it encourages a swift change in your perception of your circumstances—and when your thoughts change, your mood follows.
When you look to improve these seven areas now—rather than when adversity pays a visit—you’ll be able to bounce back more quickly.
Also, people who hire a coach are looking for change and if you are looking for big change, sometimes things will be quite different in your life. If you are resilient you are able to navigate the new waters with much more ease.
And as a teacher it is often observed that teens and children are not necessarily taught the skills of resiliency at home any longer. Too often parents are quick to solve any problems for their kids and give them anything they ask for. Technology has made it an instant gratification world. Kids today need more coaching in the skills of resiliency.
When life throws you a curve ball rely on your inner core strength to get you through things. Whether that curve ball is a small hiccup in your day or a bigger life event, you need to be flexible and adjust your sails so that you keep on sailing. More than likely, as you reconsider your plans and goals you will be presented with a lot more possibilities. You may need to let go of your original expectations, not resist and accept the new changes. But in the long run you may find that the new changes surpass your original expectations.
How Much Joy Can You Stand?
Everyone has a dream. It may whisper to us in a still, small voice or it may have the volume and intensity of Martin Luthur King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The problem is that not many of us are actually living our dream. But as Suzanne Falter-Barns says in her book, How Much Joy Can You Stand?, if we begin to nurture and pursue that dream, if we can manage to leap off the cliff and trust ourselves to fly, we will experience a fine, effortless joy like nothing else. “It may take a while to wade through all your resistance, fears, misperceptions and basic disbelief in yourself,” she says. “It may take far longer than you think it should. But if you can just keep going through the process, and trust yourself in a basic way not attempted before, the joy will be yours.” Test your joy quotient with this Thriving quiz.
1. Creativity doesn’t just belong to artistic types living in loft studios. It belongs to me and to every human. I AM creative!
2. I think of myself as someone who doesn’t just want what I want, but as someone who is going to get it.
3. I keep blank notebooks in several places for jotting down my ideas and inspirations, and a tape recorder for recording observations.
4. No matter how “uncreative,” sensible, logical and otherwise unimpulsive I might consider myself, if I have a pressing idea—a core desire—I’m going to express it.
5. My family, my community, my world all benefit from my pursuit of my dream.
6. Feeling vulnerable and insecure is part of the process of creating any dream. To see me through those times, I call on those who I know support my project, not those who might discourage my efforts.
7. I quiet my mind regularly, and when I do, creative ideas and inspirations often show up unannounced.
8. I look around my world—city streets or nature’s paths—for creative inspiration and sources of joy.
9. I anticipate unexpected twists of fate, chance encounters and unorthodox solutions.
10. It isn’t up to me what the world thinks of me. My job is to work on my dream and send it out there.
11. I make a regular habit of connecting with my wishes, and I’m not afraid to wish for too much. But rather than wish for personal success alone, I link my wishes to how they serve people.
12. I use affirmations—positive statements phrased in the present tense and repeated often—to calm any fears I identify as holding me back.
13. I know that false desires are accompanied by feelings that are anxious, grasping and withholding, whereas true heart’s desires are accompanied by feelings that are joyful, releasing and generous.
14. I make it a habit to do one scary thing and to do one thing differently every day.
If you answered “false” more often than “true,” you may be plugging up your joy channel.
Please don’t hesitate to call if you would like help clearing and reconnecting to your joy. Coaching can help you align with your joy and dreams. Or get an energy session to help release those blocks that are holding you back or can increase your creativity. There are so many possibilities. Make a choice.
What is Vulnerability? According to Vocabulary.com Vulnerability comes from the Latin word for “wound”, vulnus. Usually it is defined as being exposed or at risk to injury or attack. This may show up as fears as shown in the following examples.
Leslie is terrified of getting older, of her children leaving home, of being alone. These feelings scare her so much, she invents ways not to face her fears. Mostly, she lashes out at others for “making” her feel bad. She wonders why she has so few friends and can’t find a mate.
Tom doesn’t walk, he swaggers. He doesn’t talk, he commands. When his children and friends head for the exit, he figures they just don’t have the guts to handle such a big man. But he has an ulcer and he can’t sleep. Lately, he’s been having nightmares about being trapped. Deep, deep down, he’s afraid he’s really a little man after all.
It hurts to admit we are vulnerable. For so many of us, it means we are weak, helpless and open to attack by others or by whatever life throws at us. Our culture demands that we be strong, so we try our best to hide our fears and cover up our weak spots. We don’t want to be seen as failures.
However, I like to think of vulnerability as the quality of being exposed to possibility. There can be beauty in vulnerability and value in exploring so-called weaknesses. By exploring our “dark” side, we can turn our fears and vulnerabilities into strengths. To paraphrase author Matthew Fox, “Our demons aren’t in the way; they are the way!”
Often, we believe that keeping a stiff upper lip will keep us strong. We hold a tight lid on our fears and pain, but in doing so, we also cover up and lose touch with our feelings. This, in turn, shields our hearts and separates us from our connection to humanity. We do not want to lose our heart connection through shielding.
Instead, imagine the worst thing that can happen and explore your fears. It is often helpful to work with a therapist or a coach to face what it is you believe you are defending yourself against, and then to help you understand, accept and let go. This is a journey that can be long, but it’s only by facing our vulnerable places—not covering them up or running from them—that we come out the other side.
Being vulnerable is empowerment. We all have a wound, and when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we accept that wound and then we can move forward. Our wound is our blessing.
Being vulnerable hasn’t been very popular in our society, but this is changing. Words such as “humility” and “gratitude” and “forgiveness” are being used more frequently. They are terms that show a cultural shift towards accepting all human traits, negative and positive, strong and weak.
Author and therapist Beth Miller takes this one step further. In her book, Resilience: 12 Qualities to Cultivate, she calls vulnerability “falling apart” and urges that “it is time to bring falling apart into fashion.”
Brene Brown defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. She says that to be human is to be in vulnerability. “Vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.” Brown states that, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”
Being a student of life means being vulnerable—open to life, to learning, to experiences, to yourself and to emotions. Most of all, it means being willing to accept things as they are. And then open to changing things when you want to do so.
Being vulnerable comes easier to some than others. Here are some ways to explore being vulnerable:
- Be honest with yourself.
- Look for deeper reasons or motives for your own behaviour. Take responsibility for your behaviour.
- Take a risk. Start by letting someone you trust know your weak places.
- Be willing to listen to honest feedback.
- Accept the fact that you have anger, and find words to talk about it.
- Let go of guilt and resentment. The past is past. Make amends if needed.
- Accept that you make mistakes. That’s part of being human.
Author’s content used under license, © 2008 Claire Communications
As winter turns to spring things start to stir, move and wake up from the long winter’s sleep. As Nature’s
cycles continue to turn from one season to another, a person’s life can also follow these patterns.
Winter is a time for stillness and dormancy and going inwards for self-reflection. In the northern
hemisphere we go into the darkness in the winter. While in the darkness we nourish ourselves, recharge
and plan what we want to accomplish.
As we approach the spring and the days are getting longer and warmer we emerge from our winter
hibernation. In the spring we stretch and get ready to move into action on the thoughts planned during
the winter season. It’s a new beginning. Just as a seed begins to grow and reach for the sun, new
interests can activate and begin to root in your life. Or perhaps it’s an old hobby that has laid dormant
over the winter and now re-emerges and takes on a new existence. Spring is the time for new learning
as education is cultivated. Hope abounds as new opportunities are explored. Spring is the time for
So what action are you going to take this spring? Are you going to learn some new skills and habits? Or is
it a change in mindset for personal growth? Usually change means getting out of your comfort zone. Just
take a deep breath and go for it with your renewed confidence. In this time you can clarify what you
want. And you begin to believe in yourself. Continue to reflect on your actions and redirect when
needed. Acknowledge your new accomplishments and own them. You are a potent creator so
understand that you can be at the helm of your transformation, although sometimes you just need to go
with the flow and ride the waves in the direction the energy takes you.
And once you get moving, let’s do some Spring Cleaning!
Spring Clean Your Life
Everything good in life is attracted to things that feel positive.
Is your home in order? Your body? Your mind? Your relationships?
As you move into your next level, you must do some pruning, purifying, preparation and positioning!
It’s time to do a deep clean for 2018.
If you want your life to radically change, you must radically change who you are, who/what you are connected to and what you are doing.
It’s impossible to BE the same and HAVE different.
Friendships may need to come to an end. Closets may need some cleaning out. And your body may need to go on a juice cleanse (or ketone cleanse). Trust me, the more you release the things from your life that no longer serve you, the quicker you will manifest your next level.
Now is the time to give your life a good scrubbing.
You must ruthlessly remove all poverty in your life to attract prosperity.
When I say poverty – I mean low-level frequency, toxic and negative – people, places, activities and things!
Your assignment for the next few days:
Step 1 – Write down any “poverty” in your life and make a choice to let it go.
Step 2 – Write down what action steps you will take to remove it.
Step 3 – Write down the replacement.
Here’s an example:
Low frequency (poverty): Messy Closet
Action : De-clutter Closet
High frequency (prosperity): only bring into my closet that which I need or love.
Positive energy likes to flow, so remove all of the roadblocks between all of the good things in life and you!
If you are in business for yourself, I highly suggest you not only organize your home, but also your business. It will save you so much time and improve your efficiency and effectiveness 100-fold.
Will you commit to cleaning out the old, to make room for the new?
Imagine a résumé for your “shadow”—that unconscious part of us that holds all the stuff we deny, discount, disown, bury or pretend does not exist:
Vengeful, easily victimized, lazy, bad, untrustworthy. Excel at hopelessness and rage, expert on greed. Not creative. Never finish what I start. Stupid, a loner, damaged goods. Nurture murderous thoughts. Definitely unlovable.
No one likes to admit to a dark side—it can be a frightening and shocking experience to our self-image. We spend huge amounts of energy denying and repressing this unwanted inferior self.
What many of us don’t realize is that the shadow can be a helpful aspect of ourselves that holds the key to transformation—a loyal friend bearing the gifts of depth, integrity, vitality and wholeness—if we choose to meet it and love it.
“Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once, beautiful and brave,” said poet Ranier Maria Rilke. “Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something that needs our love.”
How the Shadow Develops
Many forces play a role in forming our shadow selves: parents, siblings, teachers, religious leaders and friends all have their part.
When little Elsie’s mother entered the hospital before the birth of twins, Elsie was suddenly left alone with a new nanny during the day and put to bed by her distant father.
When her overwhelmed mother and the newborn twins came home two months later, the toddler was not-so-subtly encouraged to “be independent” and a good big sister. Anger that erupted was quickly reprimanded.
Afraid that her parents would leave or stop loving her, Elsie learned not to rock the boat. She took care of herself, became a pleaser and kept her needs and feelings to herself.
The Shadow’s Gift Revealed
Today, the single mother still prefers to depend on herself, struggling with the amount of intimacy she is able to experience in her personal relationships. She smiles a lot and has trouble saying “No” to requests for help, works late into the night, and rarely takes a day for herself. She doesn’t “do” anger publicly, but at home, she sometimes explodes at her children.
Working to integrate these painful shadow elements into her conscious life is challenging, Elsie says. But doing so is helping her to stay in a deeply nurturing relationship, from which she would have fled earlier in her life.
“I’m realizing how much energy it has cost me to keep this stuff underground,” she says. “What I’m working on is saying ‘Yes’ more often to myself—and teaching others by example. And I silently cheer when my children tell me how mad they are!”
These, then, are the gifts of shadow work that can benefit each of us—and the world:
- more genuine self-acceptance
- fewer negative emotional eruptions during our daily lives
- less guilt and shame associated with our negative feelings and actions
- a clearer and more accurate picture of others (uncolored by shadow projections)
- the opportunity to heal relationships through more honest self-examination.
What’s in Your Shadow?
Awareness of the shadow is always the first step towards the treasure box that lies within your shadow. But the elusive nature of the dark side can make it tricky to discover the content of your personal shadow. Here are some effective detective tools:
Examine your exaggerated negative feelings about others.
Look at the characteristics of the people in your life whose behavior pushes your buttons, at people you dislike or hate, at what irritates or angers you the most. When we are blind to our own shadow traits, we often “project” these traits onto others. We see in the other person something that is a part of ourselves, but which we fail to see in ourselves. It’s like a mirror.
Notice what you really admire in others. Perhaps, growing up, it was not acceptable to be powerful, creative, intelligent or empathetic. When we relegate these aspects of ourselves to the dark, we project this “greatness” onto others, not realizing that it is actually our own.
Examine others’ perceptions of you. When two or more people independently perceive a shadow trait in you, it is worth deeper exploration.
Examine your impulsive and inadvertent acts. A slip of the tongue or of behavior can sometimes be very revealing. So can “forgetting” to do something you agreed to or getting sleepy when it’s time to talk over a fight with your mate.
Consider your humor. Humor is often much more than meets the eye; in fact, what is said in humor is often a manifestation of shadow truth. For example, what hidden, inferior or feared emotions do dirty or racist jokes express? We can also use humor to shake loose repressed fears and feelings and take the bite out of embarrassment and shame.
Study your dreams. The shadow often appears in our dreams as a figure of the same sex whom we react to with fear, dislike or disgust. Observing this figure’s actions, attitudes and words can offer helpful identifying information.
Examine situations in which you feel humiliated. When we are possessed by strong feelings of shame or anger, or when our behavior is off the mark in some way, the shadow is erupting unexpectedly. Keep an “over-reaction diary.”
Observe your distractions. Do you work too many hours? Overeat? Numb your feelings with drugs or alcohol? What feelings are you avoiding?
Track down the inner critic and victim. Try writing the internal dialogue between the powerful, critical part of you that demands change and the weak part that apologizes and makes excuses. Both are voices of the shadow.
Ultimately, as author James Hillman says, the cure of the shadow is rooted in love. “How far can our love extend to the broken and ruined parts of ourselves, the disgusting and perverse?” he writes. “How much charity and compassion have we for our own weakness and sickness? How far can we build an inner society on the principle of love, allowing a place for everyone?”
So embrace your shadow and learn from it. Be aware of your reactions to people and events and know that you can change things. The shadow brings gifts. Receive them gratefully.