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WHAT IF? (Part 3a: What if we owned our shadows?)


       Holding Onto the Shadow Self.   ¬© Loretta Mae Hirsch   Used by permission of artist.

This is not the post I planned to write today.

I thought I was going to write about something else, but after about an hour at my computer, I hit a dead end. I have a bunch of ideas, an outline, pages of notes, but I can’t fit the pieces together. The harder I try, the more stuck I get. And as I get stuck, I get more and more frustrated. So of course, I do what I know best—I keep trying harder.

As I am struggling to find a path through this confusion, I hear a motor start up outside and an intermittent hissing sound. I step out the door to see two people swathed in yellow hazmat suits, complete with full headgear and respirators, spraying a young hazelnut orchard planted in recent years next to Tom's parent's house.

As I watch them driving their cart filled with metal tanks, dowsing the trees in God-knows-what just a short distance from our trailer, I am livid. Any thought about loving my neighbor or accepting the world as it is flies out the window in my fury at the utter arrogance of our approach to this planet. At how everything is geared to efficiency and appearances. That anyone could think that there was anything healthy about a field of bare dirt in someplace as lush as the Willamette Valley. Or about spraying something all over our food that requires a hazmat suit to apply. Or that our perfect nuts are worth destroying every insect (and the chain of creatures that feed on them). I feel sick. MY home has been invaded, my little island of privacy and safety and peace, and it is no step at all to imagine how all the other creatures in that field feel. And worst of all, I have no voice—it’s someone else’s neighbor’s property and they can do what they want with it. What I feel like doing—running screaming at them to STOP IT—would get me nowhere.

Gone is any plan I had for the day to continue writing about good will and tolerance. This may be nature expressing itself as a pest-control service, but I am having none of it.

The irony of the timing of this is not lost on me.

The day goes on and they continue their work in the field—the silver mist of spray floating out in the breeze, the psssst of the nozzle, the rattle of the engine. A series of other unfortunate events doesn’t help my mood and late in the day I break down crying and ask Tom to help me sort through my feelings. What I discover as I talk about the day is that I am using the same words to describe the men in the field as I am using to describe my own behavior this morning trying to write this post.

“We get so focused on achievement or efficiency or perfection that we aren’t attending to the real needs.”

This is my first clue to the deeper layers of what is happening.

Just the night before, I had read that when conflict arises, the first work to do is inside ourselves. In this case, the first thing I am finding in my intense emotional reaction is something that I didn’t see in myself. In Jung’s word, part of my “shadow”— all the things I haven’t accepted or admitted to in myself.

When I was writing this morning I was not paying attention to what I needed (time to think, a calmer brain, perhaps some help) I was just focused on meeting the deadline I had set and how to construct a rational argument. I was ignoring the real needs, like honesty or connection.

So part of the shadow was that what I was reacting to “outside” myself was a mirror for what was inside.

But the deeper shadow work is not just about sheepishly admitting to my behavior, as though it was a fault to apologize for and improve on next time. This is just as much a quest for perfection as the original projection. Claiming my shadow also means recognizing that not only do I possess whatever I am condemning outside of me, but that I actually “need” those qualities to be a whole human being. That I need access to my arrogance, my thoughtlessness, and my will to power in order to be a whole person. That claiming my anger, my fear, and my violence is necessary. If I don’t acknowledge all these things as existing in me, and existing as a part of a full spectrum, then my choice about how to behave is actually no choice at all. It is just repression of everything that I don’t like, as though I could choose one side of a polarity and live there. And things that get repressed, tend to come up sideways eventually.

What if I claimed my own capacity for destruction? Or the ways in which I am thoughtlessly efficient? Or just my own basic will to live, which always comes at the expense of other life?

What if I owned my fear?

I started writing these posts as a response to my fear. I am concerned about wildlife habitat, the health of the earth, the future of human society. Most of all, I am concerned about the polarizing nature of much of the conversation surrounding these issues. The primary question on my mind is: how do we address the issues we face without creating more “us and them” energy?

Owning this part of my shadow helps me to address the “us and them” division that lives inside my own head.

But though I am less reactive now, I honestly feel no closer to knowing how to respond to the hazelnut sprayers than when I started.

As I am wrestling with this, trying to figure out how to finish this post, I find myself getting frustrated again—I feel that familiar "pushing" stance where I try harder and harder with fewer and fewer results. This time, though, I notice. And I do something different.

I stop.

Let’s go do something else for awhile, I say to myself, and decide to go cut up an old sheet for a rag rug I am making. Cutting a long straight strip of cloth is the perfect mind relaxant, and as I focus, my thoughts settle and the path forward clears.

I began this series with the idea that help can appear when least expected. And what I realize is that this small invasion of my life in the form of the hazelnut sprayers is actually the help I need right now. Getting triggered into my own “us and them” thinking is not a distraction from these posts; it is a real live test case for the ideas I am working out. It is the perfect opportunity to learn by doing.

I don’t have to have all the answers; I can just stay open, follow my responses to this event, and see where they lead me. And this basic trust—in myself and in the process—opens up some ideas to try next.

       Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow.    Used by permission of artist Amy Bogard

Knowing this is enough for today.

(to be continued...)

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