There came a point in my path where I realized that my previous methods of healing were not working. My anger did not want to become joy, my pain did not want to become bliss, my inner violence did not want peace, and my fear did not want to be calm.
I realize that I talk about this a fair amount, but the way that emotions (or anything deemed “shadow” or “bad”) are largely dealt with in mainstream spiritual circles is to change everything to light– and by this is meant a sort of arbitrary light deemed by the individual to be acceptable and in line with social morals of the day.
There are huge difficulties with allowing our egos to determine what is acceptable or not, or having it determine how our healing should go (or even what healing means). By “ego” I simply mean our identity– our fixed beliefs and understandings about the world and ourselves.
Our egos have a vested interest in things remaining exactly how they are, for us to remain exactly as we are. And one of the ways that it can accomplish this is to create an illusory healing paradigm in which anything that is deemed unacceptable, shadow, or unhealed within us needs to emerge in so specific of a container (or by very specific rules, basically) that there is no way that anything will actually ever be healed.
There is a quote by Gabor Maté that illustrates this perfectly: “Intensely held beliefs may be no more than a person’s unconscious effort to build a sense of self to fill what, underneath, is experienced as a vacuum”
Amongst other things (and in relation to this blog) this dovetails nicely with the idea that our beliefs, especially ones that we consider to be TRUTH (with a capital “T”) are frequently not truth, but a showing of our wounds… or what we need to most work on.
We consistently show one another our wounds by our greatest convictions– the things that we get into heated, emotive debates about, the rules that we create for others (and ourselves)… what we accuse one another of is often little more than something unhealed within us begging to be healed, to be noticed, and to be worked with.
We also often are rather unconscious about our unhealed emotions, and will try to project or have them “land” on whatever we can. If we have a deep source of anxiety within us, our minds will search for things to be anxious about until we find them. If we are angry, we just need to hop on Facebook or other social media in order to try to vent our anger, or find something to be angry about.
The difficulty with this, of course, is our ego. We need our ego, we need an identity. On the spiritual path the ego is gradually (or sometimes, not so gradually) released and “dies” so that we can, time and time again, realize that we are not, in fact, the center of the Universe.
This shift is what the spiritual path is all about, and it is a choice (whether subconscious or conscious) to decide to let go of our own ego that is crying out from all of our past woundings and pain and creating illusions of superiority, significance, and truth out of those wounds.
But gradually, on the spiritual path, the realization that the ego is simply part of our “human” and physical aspect, and that we are in fact intended to have separate personalities and ideas and realizations and cultures, and that is what makes being in a physical body so wonderful. The paradox of also realizing oneness and of being in this state of recognizing individuality is simply hard to describe in mere words to anyone who has not gotten to that point of their spiritual journey yet.
So what does this all have to do with fear?
A lot, actually. All of our emotions break down to fear. They may simply be expressed differently, however. For example, let’s talk about anger. Anger energetically pushes people away. It is a way to establish boundaries and protection. In our distant memory, we understand this concept, and can still see this in the wild– a mama cub gnashing her teeth to protect her young from a predator.
Anger can be an incredible tool to understand boundaries. If we become angry, it is typically because someone has (or is attempting to) broach our boundaries. The energy of anger pushes outward– in Chinese Medicine it is a “yang” emotion because it vents outward. It releases and pushes people away. The next time that you are on the subway or other crowded place spot someone who is angry– they likely are given wider berth by the people surrounding them.
But if we look at anger, and really see it, we must wonder what is underneath. We are establishing our boundaries, protecting, and pushing the “predator” away… but we have learned this not only as a tool of survival, but because our boundaries have been broached significantly before.
This means that below the anger there is fear– the fear of an unhealed portion of ourselves who has been in some way brutalized or taken advantage of… and of that experience being on repeat because it is unhealed.
When we have something unhealed within us it repeats on a loop. We are constantly looking for completion, for closure.
Most of us are walking around with many experiences and instances that did not find that closure. Our inner children, so to speak. Of course, things get more complex when we start talking about the unhealed needs of our family, our ancestry, past lives, and the wounds of society and the world… but the sentiment is somewhat the same.
We repeat ourselves again and again, our wounds and inner unhealed selves seeking the same instances, the same types of people (or even the same exact people), and sometimes the same lands in order to heal, to finalize a process that created wounding but has remained incomplete and unhealed.
Earlier I mentioned that when working with emotions, the solution of changing things into “light” isn’t terribly helpful. The difficulty with this is that it is helpful– but only to a certain point.
Parts of ourselves want healing, they want that light, they want to be hugged and consoled and held and reunited and told by their parents and loved ones that they are okay and protected and to be deeply listened to by whomever initially was unable or unwilling to do such things for us.
But past these experiences, past this closure and the “story” changing and clearing, there is a need for the emotion to simply be what it is. To express itself. To be heard.
And not to be condemned or changed into something else.
Our anger is useful– it tells us when our boundaries are being broached. Our fear is useful– it tells us when something may not be intuitively right. We need fear when walking down a dark alley to contract our energy and to tell us that the person in the corner of the supermarket looks shifty and may be out to harm us.
Our joy cannot tell us when we are about to be mugged. Our bliss cannot tell us when our relationship may have unequal energies in it. Our grief allows us to deeply feel, to empathize, and to really feel the depths of our soul (and the souls of those around us).
All of these are functions– important functions… the difficulty is that most of us have such a stockpile of unhealed “stuff” incomplete stories seeking resolution, and so many experiences of anger that we can no longer discern why we are angry. We may also not be conscious enough to do this, or not in a place to look inward and start accepting responsibility for our own emotions.
There is a frequent difficulty on the spiritual path that we are more than willing to be conscious of ourselves as victims, we are more than willing to “grow our light”, and we are more than willing to shove away or “clear” difficult emotions like fear, anger, violence, aggression, and any sort of pain.
We can talk about karma and healing the persecutor, but when we dive deep into our healing path, we must work with our fear, violence, and other “negative” emotions in another way.
Everything is a part of us, and we can have compassion for everything within us. This is how fear can be best worked with and healed.
Of course the individual instances of fear, that stockpile of emotions, and careful discernment of where that fear comes from and how to work with it with a competent spiritual or psychological professional is helpful. A certain amount of hugs and love and light is really quite necessary in healing our inner selves.
But at a certain point, our fear does not want to be shoved aside. It wants to be recognized as a powerful, helpful, and vital force within us.
Our fear is protective. It serves a vital function. It may be misguided in its efforts– it may be preventing us from moving forward in our lives because the egoic safety of the known is preserved. It may be protective and enacted when we were a wounded five year old being abused and our body-mind-spirit, after having such a split as a five year old, does not recognize that the person is now forty-five and doesn’t need the same amount of protection.
Our fear is a powerful messenger. It can tell us when our safety is being threatened, when we are being violated. Whether this is actual or perceived violation or threat are two different things, but it is not the fault of fear that it created mixed messages when we have so many inner selves within us all with different compounded fears, all vying for attention and healing and closure.
Our fear does not need to be released, shoved away, ignored, scraped off, pushed off, or told it is “shadow” or “bad”. It needs to be understood, listened to, and given compassion.
Working with Fear
I do a similar exercise/work in my Spiritual Awakening Guide book. I will say, as a sort of caveat, that if you are at the beginning of your path, or have a lot of fear, that working with someone who knows how to properly discern as well as work with such things is extremely helpful to lessen your load so you can have some clarity before you proceed solo. In some cases it is essential to do so, as when we have a lot of patterns all coinciding (a lot of “fear” baggage from many different sources) that it can be difficult, if not impossible, to do so alone. And quite frankly, there is no need to.
But this work is so simple that people often won’t try it. The idea of complex meaning advanced is a whole blog in itself, but the things that are often the most powerful are often the most simple.
- You will simply visualize your fear– if you have done work with archetypes this is somewhat similar. You will visualize it as an external presence from you. This is not to abdicate any sort of responsibility, but to understand this part of yourself in a significant and memorable way.
- This visual can be anything– you, a monster, a plant, a character from a movie… anything that comes to mind is correct. This visual may change in time, or every time that you do this.
- You will simply sit with this image and see it as clearly as you can.
- When it seems somewhat clear, you will then say “hello” to it and ask it if it has anything to say.
- A journal can be really helpful for this to write down things after.
- You will now ask it what it is offering you protection from
- You may also ask it what would happen if it was not protecting you
- You can also ask what age it is from (this may not result in an answer if it is a bunch of different ages)
- Be compassionate to this fear. It is protecting you, even if it is misguided in its efforts, or you no longer need its efforts
- Once you understand the fear, you can negotiate a bit. Let it know if you no longer need protection, or as much protection, as it is giving. Let it know that you appreciate its efforts, but if it could back off a bit (say this nicely) that you would appreciate it
- Most of all, say thank you. The highest embodiment of love and compassion is being loving and compassionate towards everything within and without. This does not mean that this fear becomes “love” or something deemed acceptable, it means that we are willing to listen and regard every single aspect of ourselves with the highest regard. We are willing to listen and accept fear as much as the joyful parts of us. This is true shadow work, and it will allow for significant inner (as well as outer) transformation when done over time and with some patience.
Mary Mueller Shutan is a spiritual healer, teacher, and author. You can find more about the exercies listed above and many other helpful tools for managing spiritual awakening in her books, including The Spiritual Awakening Guide or The Body Deva: Working With The Spiritual Consciousness of the Body.