The Valley of Shadows

When I worked with dementia patients years ago it was sad to see how individual’s personalities changed as their dementia progressed and for their loved ones the changes could be quite shocking.  Perhaps the religious minister who lived a life preaching kindness all of a sudden started to swear and become unruly, the prudish matriarch was now talking about sex all the time, or the rich philanthropist would start accusing people of stealing his money.  As soon as the filter had become damaged with no ability to control, it was surprising what would come from the deep recesses of the mind.  The person they once knew slowly started to fade and what was left were fragments that were alien and uncharacteristic.  All the attributes that the person rejected or didn’t want to acknowledge for fear it was bad or inappropriate or negative, emerged.   In Jungian psychology they refer to it as our ‘shadow’ self and I will delve deeper in to that later on.

First let’s discuss hypocrisy:  hy•poc•risy is a noun; the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform; pretense.   We reside in a world engulfed with hypocrisy. The teacher who encourages equality yet categorizes  students,  evaluating which one will be successful and which one is destined for failure;  the doctor who saves lives yet smokes cigarettes and drinks;  the parent who discusses another person’s child as a bad influence while blind to their own child’s behaviors ;  the priest who proclaims celibacy and molests a child; the politician that exemplifies an outwardly appearance of perfection and is corrupt; the corporate employee who lecturers about work life balance yet works an 80 hour work week.  The list goes on and on.

Hypocrisy to me is simply an imbalance, the denial of an innate part of us that then becomes distorted, fragmenting the mind in to parts when it should be whole.  Children are born with no filter; they are a blank canvas, authentic.  Children have an innocent, truthful mind; they speak with curiosity not prejudice, openness not censorship, love not hatred.   They might say something to the effect  ‘boy you have bad breath’ or ‘why are shorter than me’ or ‘stop squeezing my cheeks, I don’t like it’.   The parent or authority figure will pounce on them informing them they are being rude or unkind, or inappropriate which then creates a belief in the subconscious mind.

When children are tired or hungry and start to ‘cry’ the adults around them try to make them stop crying, teaching them to suppress their emotion and create a belief that showing emotion is a sign of weakness.  Crying or having a temper tantrum is incorrect or embarrassing behavior.  They scrape their knee they are told to suck it up, quit being such a baby.  If they get ‘angry’ we ask them to get control of themselves, teaching them that anger is a loss of control.  If they act ‘uninhibited’ we might tell them to quit being silly, associating being playful as foolish.  Coloring ‘outside of the lines’ is considered unstructured, disobedient; rebellious behavior… everyone else is coloring inside the lines and doing such a great job.  Do as you’re told, not as you feel…I think you get my drift.

We teach children to disguise their emotions, rather than embrace and acknowledge them.  We ask our children to suppress their curiosity, their creativity, and their sexuality. We teach them to deny their intuition, their direct expression and authenticity.  We teach them that one way is correct and the other way is incorrect.  We teach them what to value and what not to value. We categorize male and female qualities and the behavior or perception related to our gender….and again create imbalance.  Hence we have generations of men who don’t know how to express grief or sadness because they were taught ‘boys don’t cry’.   Generations of women who were taught to be nice to everyone, polite to everyone then have skewed boundaries and don’t know how to say ‘no’.   We help create their internal belief systems about themselves and the world they live in.  We ask them to ‘divide’ themselves internally into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ traits/thoughts/actions/ideals.   Accordingly we create ‘shadows’, parts of ourselves that we perceive as erroneous.

We become aware of our shadows when we see the characteristic we don’t like or appreciate in another person.   Perhaps you notice your friend and are frustrated because she never takes anything seriously, always goofing off, being silly,  so then I would ask ‘do you deny yourself fun, playfulness, creativity?’  Perhaps you fear losing control because that would be considered embarrassing or bad? Or you look at another person and comment  ‘ they are so irresponsible, flipping from one job to another’, conceivably you may have a fearful belief around change or finances?  There are countless other examples, these are only a few to get you to start considering the root of your beliefs.  Observe the things that bother you in others then ask yourself ‘why’, ‘where did this judgment come from’ ‘why do I feel that way’ ‘when did it start’ ‘who instilled this value or belief’?

I personally have always spoken in a direct, matter of fact way, I have never been one to speak inferentially or filter my content.  For the majority of my life I received flak from family or friends, comments or a disapproving glance.  As a young person I was constantly in trouble for speaking my mind and I felt really bad about myself.  I once tried to speak the truth about a very dark situation as a child and was put in my place in no uncertain terms. That suppression of my voice, of the truth, caused unnecessary pain for another member of my family.   But I grew up in an era where the belief was children should be seen, not heard.

I did try to change the way I communicated thinking others opinions and beliefs might be correct, but it felt very unnatural.  I was trying to deny or betray a part of me that felt right. So I went back to being a straight shooter and asking the questions everyone else was afraid to ask. I now know that my direct expression has saved lives, changed lives, made others ‘think’, encouraged them to pursue a path to better health, gave them counsel when in grief, and dissipated their fear(s).  I have kept every card, letter and email over the years that has identified that my path, my way of communicating is correct for me.  The characteristic, the shadow which my family felt was inappropriate and wanted me to suppress, was actually one of my gifts or talents.   My spirit understood that truth and frankness are antonyms to hypocrisy!

In this life I have learned we are all going to be the victim, the victor, the villain, the judge, the jury, the saint and the sinner at different times. There is a potential for growth and understanding in all the roles we play.  The worst thing we can do is dismiss an aspect of ourselves, who we are, what we feel, what our soul longs to express.  We all have a shadow; it’s simply something we were taught was not the proper way, it’s still a part of the whole. Had we assimilated the feeling in the first place, rather than forsake it, had we not created a belief surrounding the feeling it wouldn’t be a shadow.   Anytime we try to suppress or rebut a part of ourselves it has the potential to become distorted or unbalanced.  We wouldn’t call it jealousy if we weren’t taught to compare ourselves to others.  We wouldn’t call it hatred if we weren’t taught that we were different from others.  We wouldn’t call it guilt if we had been taught to listen to our intuition in the first place.   I would encourage you to think about what bothers you in other people, this is what you have been taught to deny or suppress in yourself.   Perhaps you are denying the very thing that you are supposed to contribute to the world?

‘When walking through the ‘valley of shadows,’ remember, a shadow is cast by a Light.’ Austin O’Malley

Love and light


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