The light of the shadow, delving in


The wheel has to turn but I’m not sure I’m ready for autumn yet; summer has just been too much fun and I’m grateful that the sun continues to shine easing the transition!

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed taking a break from working and spending my time playing with the children instead. We’ve managed our first festival as a family of four in the UK (and finally got to visit the uplifting Stroud) and a camping trip to Sark, plus daily sea swimming, visits to the beach and many Guernsey adventures. 

I’ve also made the most of the extra time to myself to delve a little deeper into the shadows and indulge in some inner healing work - I’ve enjoyed receiving Reiki, massage and a couple of sound baths, and to have the opportunity to practice lots of yoga through Yoga International and at Wilderness too. I’ve also rested to some Yoga Nidra and enjoyed some Vedic chanting too.

This all helped to support the monthly work that I’ve been doing with the wonderful Jo de Diepold Braham. Jo is by far the most intuitive and gifted healer I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. She helps us to see, feel and potentially release the ‘stuff’ that we’re holding in our body and energy field that no longer serves us, and which is potentially (and negatively) impacting on our relationships (with self and other) and in our daily lives.

I’ve also been taking Ayurvedic herbs for a little while now (prescribed by my Ayurvedic doctor), initially focusing on healing the solar plexus following hernia surgery at the end of last year, but continuing on from there (there’s always another layer!). I managed to get to the Ayurvedic clinic for a healing and transformational Pancha Karma session back in March, which resulted in me spending the whole of May consumed by writing, as the old stuff poured out of my solar plexus and onto paper. 

A rather bemused E didn’t see much of me during the month (I don’t think I saw a single friend either, apologies!) as I spent every evening writing, ending up with a whole manuscript. Whether I publish it here or elsewhere remains to be seen, but my solar plexus feels better for it, not so clogged up with all the stuff that I hadn’t been able to digest or process at the time, and that had been weighing me down ever since (it gets awfully tiring dragging our past around with us). 

Despite having worked with Ayurveda for over 12 years now and having undertaken a few Pancha Karmas over that time, I’ve been blown away recently by the healing and transformative nature of the Ayurvedic process. I am reminded that we just never truly know our potential, and that we limit ourselves repeatedly through fear of change and stepping into the unknown (lack of trust and faith essentially).

Shadow work has been the focus these last few months and I’ll admit that this is never easy because we have to come to terms with parts of ourselves that we’ve kept hidden in the dark, those parts we’ve denied and those parts which we have found hard to accept so we pretend that they are not a part of us. Thus the work can get messy, and I’ve certainly shed a few tears and experienced a couple of outbursts of rage and anger as some of the pent up energy has released and things felt like they got worse before they got better, a healing crisis then.

Still, this is all part of the process, and after many years now of working on myself (how indulgent, I know, especially when you think of the Syrian refugees who are merely trying to survive, but that’s a whole other story for another time) and trying to shift old patterns that no longer serve me, and negatively impact on my life and relationship with self, I am aware that you do get to a point where it’s more painful to avoid the pain then to dive head first into it.

It’s important to do this work too. The more we ignore the shadow, the more it plays out in the world, affecting our relationships, not only with others but with our selves. Further, the more fragmented and discontented we feel, the more the world will feel fragmented and disconnected too – we are a reflection of the bigger picture.  Thus I believe that we have a responsibility as citizens of Planet Earth to do what we can to be as whole (all parts in union) and inwardly peaceful as possible so that this is reflected in the outer world too (and positively effecting everyone, including Syrian refugees).

Perhaps this was one of the most revealing aspects of the recent healing work; the recognition that it boils down to loving and accepting the self, because this alone totally shifts our vibration and therefore the vibration of the world (if you’re new to all this, I appreciate this sounds a bit ‘out’ there but have a think about it).

This is not just those aspects of self that we like (that’s the easy bit), but the whole package, allaspects of our self, the good, the bad and the ugly – because let’s face it, it’s only us who define in this way anyway, and that’s on a subjective basis so has no weight. What’s good to one, is bad to another, what’s ugly to one, is beautiful to another and so on.

It’s a sad and dark world we live in though, not least when we become desensitised to the plight of others (think Syrian refugees again) but when we have little respect for the self. I was shocked (and yet not) to recently read that a fifth of 14-year old girls in the UK self-harm. The Children’s Society report (as reported by the BBC) said that gender stereotypes and worries about their looks were contributing to unhappiness and those who felt boys should be tough, and girls should have nice clothes, were least happy with life.

On the one hand it seems utterly crazy to me that at the age of 14, teenagers have already decided that they are not good enough, and that they loathe themselves and their lives to the extent that they will self harm. Yet on the other hand I was only two years older when I also felt a deep loathing for the self. 

I know only too well, therefore, that self loathing messes with your mind and makes you feel pretty crazy fairly much all the time. At itscore it means you don’t really like yourself very much and there’s this voice running through your head constantly telling you that you’re not good enough, that there’s something fundamentally wrong with you. The inner critique runs wild; the narrative is always negative. 

You loathe the way you look, loathe the way you feel, loathe your body, feel inadequate and loathe absolutely everything about your life. It’s all consuming and at times terrifying with the manner in which it takes over your life and keeps you shackled, playing over the same story in your mind and creating a life that’s fairly much always hard going and lacks any joy (anxiety and depression go hand in hand).

Like so many of us, the seed of “I’m not good enough” has likely been laid in childhood, and been growing a little ever since.  But now, at the age of 16, after a trigger event where I didn’t get the boy I fancied (the skinny popular girl in our year did instead) it was as if the sun shone brightly on it, and the seed started flourishing.  Within six months I had developed an eating disorder as I attempted to become skinny because maybe then, or so I thought, I might be good enough.

Only that you can never be good enough.  Not really, not once you’ve started playing that silly game. Having an eating disorder is a terrible thing, an extreme expression of self harm.  It is utterly exhausting and all consuming and absolutely never creates the intended result of feeling worthy and liking yourself again.

While 18 and when at university, I started smoking and polluting my body with nicotine and tobacco, another way in which we harm ourselves and create a smokescreen. I also discovered that drinking alcohol helped to quieten the destructive voices and numb the insecure feelings inside, at least while I was drinking. Of course I always felt worse the next day, but the momentary relief was enough to keep me wanting to drink more cider or wine or blue curacao or whatever it may have been at the time.  Smoking pot helped enormously in numbing out too. 

After graduating I returned to Guernsey and fell into my first full time job in the offshore finance industry that I hated from the first day and the self-loathing became even worse, as I tried to fit into a world that didn’t fit me. One night I tried to cut myself. I didn’t like that feeling much, so I hit myself with my fist instead.  I was so full of self loathing that I actually hit myself!  I also hit my head against the wall once too, as if to knock the sense back into it!

Another night I was so repulsed at what I felt was a fat tummy, that I grabbed the flesh and squeezed it together and reached for the scissors and thought that perhaps I’d just cut it off there and then and teach my tummy a lesson. I was acting insane! But actually I was just very depressed and desperately unhappy and loathed myself to the extent that a few years later I actually thought life was no longer worth living. 

There was no where left to go. Fortunately, though, my desperation and the thought of truly ending my life that fateful evening, and my Mum’s intervention, woke me up from my madness of mind. I was desperate, the pain was deep. Fortunately, the magic of the angels ushered yoga into my life shortly afterwards, which truly saved my life as the practice helped me to slowly come to appreciate and accept myself just as I am. 

Of course this process hasn’t happened overnight, it’s ongoing and I shall always be grateful to the practice. Sometimes its difficult to truly know the impact that it has because it’s such an integral part of my life, and I don’t know how life might be without it, nor do I have any intention of finding out as I suspect it would lack a certain strength, nourishment and vibrancy. 

It’s become a cliché recently this whole idea of self care, and rightly so at times because in many circles it’s an opportunity to avoid responsibility, but I do believe that we need to look honestly at the way we are living our lives. We need to figure out what is truly working and what is not working, regardless of what society is telling us and whether it is deemed ‘normal’ or not. We need to care for the self. 

The trouble is, sometimes we blindly follow like sheep even though we know that the current speed of life and the way we exploit Mother Earth is not sustainable and that our lives can become so busy with meaningless distraction (think overworking, too much social media, filling our children’s lives with activities so that we don’t even get to embrace our inner child and play with them) that we forget to care for ourselves – meals become hurried, our yoga practice happens once a month (but in our head it happens regularly) and before we know it we loathe ourselves all over again because we’re totally out of balance and out of synch with nature’s flow. 

It’s hardly surprising that so many suffer with depression and anxiety and as a yoga teacher I see it show up all the time. Still, it came as a bit of a shock recently to talk with a friend and find out that anumber of her twenty-something friends are taking antidepressants to deal with their anxiety and depression.  I had no idea! There’s a whole generation numbing their pain via pharmaceuticals. 

Mind you there’s a whole generation numbing themselves out on alcohol, and a whole other generation numbing out on legal highs, let alone sugar. Numbing out can be subtler than that though.  We can numb out on TV, and on working too much, and on anything that distracts us from ourselves and from our pain, that gives us an excuse to never have to go there, because we’re too busy doing something else. 

I’m not a fan of ‘blame’, but I do feel that the media hasn’t done humanity any favours in giving us the idea that life has to look a certain way, or that we, as people, need to physically look a certain way. As if to prove this (as I was mulling it over), I recently came across a podcast interview with Jameela Jamil which really caught my attention (what an incredible lady she is by the way!

I’m a company secretary by profession so I tried to transcribe a part of what she said but there’s value in listening to the whole recording -

I had an eating disorder. I didn’t eat a meal between the ages of 14 and 17. I didn’t menstruate for three years because I was starving myself to fit into an ideal... I had all these different talents and gifts none of which I thought were important, none of which I remotely cared about because I felt that I would never be good enough unless I weighed six and a half stone.  

I was bombarded with a narrative that had no alternative. There were never any women who were celebrated for their intellect. They’re not given any attention in the Press. I wasn’t reading about wonderful astronauts or great scientists or musicians. I was just seeing highly sexualised popstars who were very, very skinny on my TV. Or I was seeing skeletal actresses who were obsessively…their weight was obsessively spoken about. And all of my magazines were selling weight loss products or telling me to be thin otherwise I wasn’t worth anything”. 

It’s so true, that so many feel a deep sense of dissatisfaction with them selves simply because they are comparing themselves with the media’s superficial and warped perception of what it means to be to good enough. Furthermore, there is this underlying idea that we must continuously seek perfection, whatever that means, as if we need to embody our own utopia, which of course never truly exists, it’s just a concept in our heads that can create so much inner disharmony and dissatisfaction.

A few week’s ago I was swimming far out from shore on my own at high tide at Petit Bot, and I looked back at the beautiful Guernsey south coast cliffs and just thought, “Wow! This landscape is stunning, absolute stunning!”.  I was so moved by the moment and the beauty of it all that I couldn’t resist literally shouting out, “You’re so beautiful” to the cliffs, to the land, to the sea, to the sun, to the rocks as I tried to soak it all in! 

I thought to myself, “That cliff over there, it doesn’t question its beauty, doesn’t give itself a hard time, just is what it is, it’s accepting of its everything”. This made me think again how crazy we are, to give ourselves a hard time for being anything other than just ourselves, fully accepting of all aspects of ourselves, even those bits that we’ve decided that we don’t like for whatever reason.

All this conditioning, so much of it so insidious in our society and culture that we are unconscious of it, lurks in the shadows shaping our reality as we play out the unconscious time and time again. It’s often subtle and yet sometimes not so subtle too. It’s always so much easier to see it in someone else than in ourselves.

That’s the joy of this work though, because we start to see the mirrors all around us, in those with whom we come into contact – especially those who we find challenging, who mirror back to us some unresolved side to ourselves. Irritated by your princess friend? Yep, then perhaps you’re a princess too, but don’t recognise it because it’s not a side of you that you’re comfortable accepting, ‘better’ to think of yourself as humble and without needing attention, less ego then right?!

Shadow work may be tough, but it’s also very enlightening (you’re bringing in the light) and amazingly liberating because all of a sudden (once you’ve done the integration), you stop pretending to be someone that you’re not. You don’t need to say ‘yes’ when really you want to say ‘no’, Your boundaries become tighter and you’re OK being all the things you didn’t think you were. 

Inevitably things will shift for you and perhaps relationships that once resonated won’t resonate any more as the dynamics change and you stand firmer in your sense of self.  You’re less likely to give yourself away, and less likely to give yourself such a hard time – or at least you might catch yourself when you’re triggered and about to give yourself a hard time. It’s all good and it’s all a process, a never ending one I suspect, as we do our bit to step further into authenticity and cut the cr@p!

This is one of the many reasons I love yoga, not least because a regular and dedicated practice will help to make us stronger, more flexible and more balanced in body and mind, but it will also help us to develop a healthier relationship with self. The practice will also allow us to sit with our pain and allow it to transform into something that no longer has a hold over us. 

We need to learn to love ourselves, however tough that might be, because maybe then, the world will finally start to be a more loving place for everyone to live.  It may also help the younger generation to stop harming themselves, and start to recognise their beauty –there is beauty in everything!

So remember that there’s always a bigger picture to all you do in your lives. You’re not just practicing yoga for yourself, for example, and while I joke about healing work being indulgent, this is merely because I think of all those who don’t have the space/money/time/support to do this, but therefore it becomes even more important for those who can, because it does make a difference to the bigger picture of life. 

What we do does have an impact on others and please never forget that.  If you’re reading this, then it’s likely you already recognise this, or maybe you’re just starting out and will always remember this.  We need to heal ourselves to heal the world, the more we do the inner work the more the outer world benefits. 

Have a fabulous end of summer and beginning to autumn, the wheel is turning and we’ll soon be retreating further into the darkness!