There’s a pond across the street from my apartment. It’s like a little oasis in the middle of the city, with a tree-lined path that wraps its way around the entire perimeter. Even though the pond is small, the path around it spans two zip codes. One half of the loop is in a fairly prestigious neighborhood, with lots of million-dollar houses and fancy cars. The other half of the path is in a less prestigious area, where, if you travel a few miles, you’ll come across low-income housing and streets that you wouldn’t want to walk on at night.
I walk around the pond a lot—it only takes around fifteen minutes—and it’s a great way to get my nature fix. I’ve noticed that the side of the pond that’s located in the prestigious zip code is always well kept. The lawn is manicured, the flowerbeds are mulched, the path is paved, and benches provide a lovely view of the water. The other side of the pond, while still picturesque, is not as well maintained. The grass is a little longer, there aren’t any flowerbeds, the path is gravel, and there are no benches.
I’ve also noticed that when people from the fancy zip code go for a walk, they don’t actually walk around the entire pond. They stay on their side—even in the middle of the day. Instead of completing the entire loop, they walk back and forth in a line on one side.
Here’s a lovely photo I took of the pond:
I recently realized that this pond provides a perfect analogy for our inner lives. Most of us have aspects of ourselves that we take good care of.
We feed these parts of ourselves in the same way that a gardener might fertilize her flowerbeds. However, most of us also have parts of ourselves that we neglect. These are the weeds of our psyche, knotting around each other in the jungle of our unconscious.
I think that in order to maintain optimal mental and physical health, we need to walk around the entire pond.
In other words, we need to pay attention to the parts of ourselves that we would rather neglect (or forget). For example, something might have happened in your childhood that you are refusing to work through because it’s too painful to bring up. Or you might be extremely narcissistic but completely oblivious to how your behavior affects others because you’re too afraid to acknowledge your faults.
Philosophers and psychologists have used various terms to describe the parts of our personalities that we ignore (or actively suppress). My favourite term is the shadow. That is, we all have a shadow side that lives just beneath the surface of our conscious awareness.
Left untended, our shadow can wreak havoc on our personal and professional lives. For example, your childhood trauma might be replaying itself in your romantic relationships, or your self-obsession might be getting in the way of you making good friends.
Personally, I found that it wasn’t until I started to acknowledge—and embrace—my shadow side that I really started to heal.
I used to wear a lot of masks. I wanted everyone around me to think that I was perfect—the perfect student, the perfect girlfriend, the perfect daughter. I would put on whatever mask I needed to wear to make the people around me happy. I didn’t want anyone to know that I struggled with anxiety and depression. I didn’t want anyone to know that I was extremely insecure. And I sure as hell didn’t want anyone to know that I popped antidepressants every day to feel sane.
At the time, I saw my shadow side as a monster, lurking beneath my well-kept facade, waiting to come forward to destroy the image I’d worked so hard to maintain. However, after years of therapy, I realized that my shadow was the key to my transformation. I needed to make friends with my shadow, to acknowledge it, to invite it to dinner and have a long conversation over a glass of wine. Only then would I begin to heal myself and, therefore, be able to help heal the world.
The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas asserts,
“If you bring forth what is within you, it will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, it will destroy you.”
By bringing forth my shadow, I’ve been able to save myself and others, too.
What does this look like from a practical standpoint? As an example, in the past, I was terrified about feeling sad or anxious. I thought that these emotions meant that I was going crazy and that I needed to be on medication. Now, I try to give myself permission to actually experience my anxiety and sadness instead of pushing these feelings out of the way. I try to have compassion for myself and realize that it’s ok to feel how I feel. I’ll have a good cry or let myself worry for a little while, and, eventually, the feeling just passes through. When I try to suppress these feelings, on the other hand, they tend to pop back up with a vengeance far stronger than if I had just allowed myself to feel them in the first place.
By acknowledging my shadow, I developed the courage to write a book about my experience with antidepressants. This book has helped many people deal with their own anxiety and depression and get off medication that has held them hostage for years.
I encourage you to take a moment to think about what aspects of your personality scare you. What parts of your being are you suppressing? What aren’t you admitting to yourself? What aren’t you allowing yourself to feel? As Gabby Bernstein often says, “You have to feel it to heal it.”
Are you afraid of failing? Of not being good enough? Of being fat? Skinny? Whatever it is, invite this part of your personality to the table for a glass of wine. Dim the lights and get comfortable. Then, start asking questions. Ask your shadow,
What can I learn from you?
What are you trying to teach me?
How can you help me heal?
Listen to what your shadow has to say. Your shadow is a deep, wise part of yourself that has been neglected for a very long time. She has battle wounds, scars, and a vast knowledge of the most intimate aspects of your personality. Let her in. Pay attention.
And don’t be afraid to walk around the entire pond.
Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, researcher, and yoga teacher who helps people create a life they love. Check out her book, The Antidepressant Antidote, follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and join her whole-self health revolution.
If you’d like tips on the topic of manifesting your dream job, plus some personal instruction from Bethany, check out her online course, Creating A Life You Love: Find Your Passion, Live Your Purpose and Create Financial Freedom.
*Photo Credit: www.ilivewithjoy.com