We carry the Universe within ourselves.
We are multi-layered beings, composed of stars and constellations as well as the stories and experiences of our ancestors and family.
While this concept may seem abstract, it is not merely poetic intellectualism but an important consideration to any of us doing a deep, soul level dive within ourselves. This is because the health of our society, of our world, of our communities, lives within us.
If our society is out of balance, if our community is sick, if people are increasingly fractured and out of touch with reality, we carry that within ourselves.
Looking at reality as a mirror outwardly is an important part of shadow work. In the world we can see the faces of the people who show us what we do not wish to see about ourselves: our own self-hatred, our own disillusionment, our ignorance.
When we see patterns in what we call others, we can do the important task of reclaiming those shadows. Robert Bly would call this “eating” the shadow– we take back the projections, the pain that we cast out into the world.
By reconciling our projections and ignorances we have placed out into the world, we not only heal ourselves, but create a ripple effect. We heal our family, our community, our world.
We heal the divisions within ourselves and our outer reality in some small way.
You can always tell someone’s inner relationship with themselves by how they treat others; by what they claim in others, and by the endless egoic competitions of superiority-inferiority that we are all subject to (until we break this tendency down within ourselves and realize that we are worthy enough as we are. No need to be in competition or to be superior or inferior then. It is a profound release in recognizing our utter ordinariness. We can be free to simply be ourselves if we let go of the desire to be anything other than human and ordinary in that humanness. No need for perfection, superiority, inferiority, or the endless games we occupy our lives with and waste so much time on).
In observing this mirror we can also recognize that it reflects both inwardly and outwardly. Put more simply, we project outwards, both individually and collectively to create our reality. Our traumas and stories and ways of being all combine to create our collective reality.
But we also are holographic creatures; within us are the traumas and stories and history of humanity, of society, and of the world that we live in. These can be seen clearly and rectified within, coming into a place of harmony and acceptance within ourselves despite what is occurring in the outer world.
This harmony does not mean apathy– we should feel angry at a world that is unjust, or that creates power imbalances and the general soullessness that we call normality. But in clearly seeing what is going on in the world we can recognize that what we carry is not singularly our own. In that clarity there can be reprieve, and a recognition that living a balanced life in an imbalanced world is a difficult thing to do.
So few recognize that what they carry are the pains of thousands living within themselves, and that when the world is in tumult, it is natural for us to feel that chaos within our individual lives.
We are living in a world that is increasingly fracturing. These fractures allow for us to see Others (not us) as dehumanized, different, wrong.
These fractures only heal when we look inwardly at the parts of ourselves that have been made to feel dehumanized, different, and wrong.
When society is sick, each of us individually is also sick. I meet so many people who over the past few years have had declining health– physically, mentally, spiritually– who wonder why they cannot create, why they do not feel like themselves, why they feel spiritually empty.
While it is typical in my work to work with disconnection (this is, in fact, the core of my work to consider how a person is disconnected from themselves, from the world, from family, ancestry, nature, earth, sky, the divine, etc), even those with steadfast connections and stability of energy have experienced the difficulties that the past few years have brought.
If we can clearly see that a society is sick, and that as a member of that society that that sickness lives within us in some way, we can move into a type of awareness that allows for acceptance to occur.
We can offer ourselves a break when the pain of the world becomes too much to bear.
This is not the acceptance of an idealized world, a whole world, or a world in which we ignore the pain and division that is so evident in our reality. It is not putting a positive spin on things, as any lessons learned or healing offered only comes after the pain and division has been clearly seen and excised as the wound that it is.
I see this so often in my clients on a personal level: they wish to offer forgiveness, or feel as if they should, when they have not experienced the pain yet. As I describe to many of them, this is like an equation of A + B = C where they are attempting to skip from A to C.
Things do not heal if we skip B, the pain and emotions that require unearthing, that require telling of their story in order to feel just and validated.
Forgiveness is overrated, anyway. We do not need to forgive in order to survive or in order to heal. Acceptance of what has happened is far more important. Working on healing to see with adult clarity and responding to life from a place of initiated adulthood is a healthy goal… not forgiveness.
Some things cannot be forgiven, they can only be seen for exactly what they are.
In that seeing, the load lessens. This is as true as for individual healing as it is for collective healing.
We do anything to not feel the pain, to not see clearly. We so fear these two things that we make our lives and realities much worse than they need be. Sometimes we need help to face our pain– it is too large for us to carry singularly. But facing life and society and anything else with clarity turns our oversized, ignored pain into something that can simply be felt and understood.
Whatever pain we carry lessens and loses its power over us when we learn to face it.
We may need to journey through despondency, anger, or fear to find eventual acceptance and clarity. This clarity and acceptance does not mean that things are okay, that any type of hatred or division or ignorance is okay. It doesn’t mean that what has happened to us individually or collectively is okay. It never is.
In shadow work we typically begin on an individual level. We see in another person what we do not wish to see in ourselves. This may be our hatred or ignorance. It may be our joy or success or light or charisma.
We may be at the very beginning of understanding our shadow fill our lives with projecting our hatred and inner divisions onto every news story, politician, celebrity, or social media personality we can find.
There is a purpose to this, and a healthy one at that. If we begin to have the light of awareness within us, we can see what we are doing.
There is, in fact, the purpose of thrusting our pain outwards. By observing it we can heal it within ourselves, we can notice it more clearly than if we were to look within. Our largest divisions within ourselves we can observe within the world and the people who we decide to tear down.
By becoming the observer, we can see our inner divisions play out in front of us more clearly.
If we remain in ignorance, we remain in a state of disassociation, never really living our lives and shoving all of our pain outwards in an attempt to escape it. We turn to drugs or social media or anything else as anesthetic, to keep our pain out there.
This never works, as we cannot escape our pain. We cannot thrust our pain outwards or drown it, as that pain if not rectified never truly leaves us. It simply lies in wait. Even with drug or drink or endlessly scrolling of Instagram the pain will remain in the background, and we will continue to feel the need to escape. The cycle then continues until we can recognize that our pain can clearly and simply be faced, and that in doing so, it stops ruling our lives.
In doing so, we can begin to live our lives, instead of living a life of fearful disassociation.
On a collective level we can see our divisions even more clearly, if we are willing to look. We each have a tribal consciousness that lives within us, a part of us that genetically carries the idea of Othering: of creating division between groups of people.
In simplicity, this allows for black and white thinking. We are the moral victor, superior in every way, and the Other is immoral, evil, and inferior.
This level of shadow work is difficult to ask people to do because it requires for them to acknowledge within themselves the hatred that they cast onto those that they Other, and how there is a dark place within us all that seeks to group others and cheer against them like they are from a rival football team.
The need to be morally superior, to participate in the sort of schadenfreude that shames and dehumanizes those around us, is intoxicating. It is the very thing that the circuits in our brain and the most primitive aspects of our being reward.
We are not inferior, the person who didn’t return their shopping cart is inferior (and that person is truly a monster. Small joke).
This gets much harder when you get to true ignorance and hatred, as we may not carry those things as overtly within us as people spewing hatred for views, or conspiracy theories out of a disconnected, imbalanced way of being do.
It is difficult to see clearly that we live in a world that rewards ignorance, that has threatened our attention spans to the extent that we can no longer pay attention for longer than fifteen seconds, and that actively destroys the health and sanity of so many to benefit so few.
One of the most difficult things to accept about this world is that it is simply not fair, and that those who have trespassed against others frequently do not get the punishment that they deserve.
Such truths perhaps may have you wishing to argue, or to move on to a blog that announces that societal structures that keep people stuck don’t matter if you are the right vibration or think positively enough. I certainly wouldn’t blame you for doing either.
But in facing such realities with clarity and acceptance we can move beyond the righteous indignation, the living out of the Othering and division in the world (within society, within our communities) within ourselves.
When we do this, we can on an individual level see where we have Othered individuals, groups, and communities and resolve those fractures within ourselves.
We can decide to love, instead of hate. We can see that what others do out of pain and hatred and ignorance is unfortunate, but we do not need to respond with our own pain and hatred and ignorance. We can stop placing our own self-hatred out into the world. We can accept that the world does not need to act in accordance to our faith, to our ardent wishes, or in line with our personal sense of morality.
There is nothing more destructive to the energies of division: hatred, ignorance, and untended to pain, than the light of clarity.
If we do our personal work, we can move beyond simply volleying pain and Othering around and begin to respond differently. We can see this pain and fracturing as it is, and in that, we can have a range of options on how to respond.
This is what I teach people in my work continually. We should have all responses available within ourselves consciously. We can ignore, respond diplomatically, or punch someone in the face if need be. We cannot make those choices consciously if we have not accessed these parts of ourselves within.
We cannot decide how we wish to act out our anger if our anger is a stranger to us, or an unwelcome or feared foe. If we have fully embraced our anger it becomes a friend, instead of it being a monster that relegates our lives and how we act without thinking, holding power over us.
It is much different to know that we hold power over our emotions– that they are simply messengers, telling our nervous systems how to act and react in any given situation. They are simply energy that we can learn how to consciously wield.
It is much different to choose peace when violence is also an available option. It is much different to choose kindness when clear, incisive straight-shooting brutality can also be chosen.
Otherwise it isn’t a choice, it is a default… and not one that has been consciously chosen or decided upon. Most likely it is a strategy to appear kind or nice or good in order to appease (the self or others).
The purpose of doing this work is not so oblique that we announce our inner Nazi, or sympathize with people who murder kittens in their spare time.
It is to see that we harp on those things in our outer world for a reason. There is a reason why collectively we have a fascination with serial killers and sociopaths, for example. While we can look to understand their psychology to understand something about the human condition overall, the answer to our collective fascination is much simpler than that: if we point to something so large, we can ignore the disquieting smaller hatreds and ignorances that populate our heart and that divide us from one another.
In understanding this we can begin to see celebrities and political figures not as individuals to condemn or applaud but as the creation of thousands if not millions– their ideas, ways of being, pain, and rejected shadows (including shadows of light, such as creativity, beauty, etc) being played out by that individual.
We can begin to understand that what separates us is not some notion of superiority or moral goodness but of the choices that we make– small and large– each day.
In seeing this, we can begin to resolve to make choices that connect us more, to root out the divisions that we respond to with hatred or othering (dehumanizing). So often we Other not out of malice, but out of a simple ignorance. We know not what we Other, so to speak.
Seeing how we Other individuals and groups can allow for us to heal in the largest ways possible, and to do our part in taking back some portion of the pain and ignorance that is making itself so known in our reality right now.
This may seem like a complicated task, but it is in seeing clearly the humanity of others, as well as the pain and ignorance and division in the world and how we participate in it, that we can begin to heal individually and collectively.
Mary Mueller Shutan is a spiritual teacher and author of several books, including The Spiritual Awakening Guide and The Body Deva (suggested for those who wish to do shadow work. You can ask where your hatred of a celebrity lives in your body, or your neighbor, or of a specific group of people, and heal these divisions within yourself).