I procrastinated like no other when it came time to write this article. I think it’s because since I returned from a spiritual retreat in Kauai a few weeks ago, I’ve found myself feeling both deeply grateful and in a weird funk.
I was hoping that I’d be able to write an inspirational article about all the happy, lovely things I learned while reconnecting with myself on a magical island. But as I sit here, what begs to be shared isn’t all sunshine and rainbows.
Kauai is certainly known for both, but even amidst its awe-inspiring beauty I was reminded that we live in a world of opposites, of polarity. With sunshine comes shadow. With rainbows comes rain.
Whether we like to admit it or not, we all have two sides: light and dark.
In the spiritual community, I’ve often seen this darkness referred to as the Shadow Self. It’s the part of us that judges, criticizes, self-sabotages. It’s the part that many of us repress or disown because to peer into it causes great discomfort.
We don’t like to look at the forbidden feelings and parts of ourselves that don’t fit into our carefully crafted self-image—the person we portray ourselves to be. We much prefer to look the other way when we think a “bad” thought or feel “bad” emotions that conflict with who we think we should be.
After all, we’re supposed to be kind, loving, supportive people who are always happy, positive, optimistic, hopeful and grateful. Right?
So when life throws you a shitty curveball, accept it and forge ahead with gratitude.
When someone is cruel towards you, forgive them and send them only love.
If you’re having a crappy day, don’t be grumpy, raise your vibration.
Basically, be good, feel good, do good at all times no matter the circumstance. At least that’s one of the messages I’ve seen repeated throughout the spiritual community and my life in general.
And while I whole-heartedly believe in being a force for good, we must not cut ourselves off from the not so fun feelings that naturally arise within us.
Many of us, myself included, force ourselves into this box of always being the good girl (or boy) who attempts to never feel, think, say, act, or do anything unkind or “inappropriate.” And if, heaven forbid, we slip up, we shame ourselves for simply being human.
Case in point:
On my last morning in Kauai, I woke up feeling like Sadness from the movie Inside Out (whomp whomp), and I couldn’t figure out why. I walked down to the beach to see if I could unfurl what was going on. As I sat on a log with the wind whipping through my hair and salt spraying my face, the tears just poured out of me.
I meditated on the thoughts going through my mind—all of them harsh judgments and attacks against myself for having some silly wine-induced fun the night before. My Shadow Self leapt at the opportunity to bathe me in shame, to knock me down a few pegs and put me back in my place…all for having a good time being the slightly buzzed girl on a spiritual retreat. How dare I!
As I continued to listen to the tirade of “you fraud, you fool, you should be embarrassed…,” I had a moment of clarity.
I realized I’ve been judging my Shadow Self my entire life. I’ve been judging the judger.
Instead of letting my Shadow Self have a place in my life to express itself, I’ve stuffed it down to a place where it can only hurt me. (And hurt me it has.) Some part of me believed that doing this was the responsible and perhaps noble thing to do, but it isn’t. It’s caused me a lot of unnecessary pain.
What I know to be true
All sides of us—good and bad, positive and negative, light and dark—deserve to be acknowledged, respected, and embraced.
It’s okay to give your darkness a voice. You can give it space to simply be present without unleashing it on others or turning it against yourself. You simply need to notice when it pops up, observe, listen, and make a conscious, loving choice about how to proceed in a way that honors your truth.
You can’t appreciate and enjoy the richness of life without experiencing both light and dark. You can’t have one side of a coin without the other, and to pretend that one doesn’t exist does yourself a disservice. It strips you of being your whole, beautifully flawed self.
I’ve spent my entire life trying to suppress what basically equates to half of my humanness and I can tell you that it ain’t fun. It’s exhausting.
It took me 31 years and one incredible trip to Kauai to decide that it’s time to make friends with my own darkness. What that means, I’m not fully sure yet. I don’t know where this journey is going to take me, but I’m finally ready to go.