Undertaking shadow work is an act of love. It is an act of self-love that then translates into compassion for the world. If that sounds like something that packs a real punch, well, you're right! It does!
“Shadow” is a term coined by Carl Jung, a psychotherapist who worked alongside Sigmund Freud. Jung was highly spiritual and pioneered work around psycho-spiritual healing by recognizing the power of our early years to create many of our limiting beliefs. (Ever hear of “inner child healing”? That’s Jung!) He also introduced the concept of archetypes for creating our ego, and he helped us understand our unconscious, an area of our psyche that he referred to as “shadow.” Essentially, one’s shadow is anything about ourselves that we are not consciously aware of, but still plays a large role in shaping our day to day choices. Shadow work, then, helps us to bring our shadow into the light by becoming conscious of it; when we are conscious of our shadow, we are less likely to make choices that keep us locked into fate; doing so, frees us to step into our destiny.
What kinds of things might be in our shadow? The gifts that you suppressed because they might not meet with parental approval. Your inner rescuer who seeks a partner to save and so keeps choosing people who have addictive tendencies (but you just can’t understand why you keep falling for the same type of person…). Your inner perfectionist who thinks that your value is based on how well a task is done because deep down, being perfect will be what makes you good enough in your hard- to- please parents’ eyes. Struggles to make the “right” choice could be derived from having few choices honored in one’s childhood. The point is that these “shadow” elements born within our childhood and adolescence are often responsible for making many of our choices that aren’t always in our best interest. It’s almost as if our development is flash frozen and our choices are influenced by the survival behavior or belief we adopted to fit in and survive our childhood.
Not to oversimplify shadow work, but it does have levels of work. The first step is to become aware of the behavior or the feeling that is troubling us. For example, when you hear someone say something that makes you irrationally angry, and you really don’t understand why it made you as angry as it did. That moment, when you recognize you may have gone a little (or a lot) too far, and you decide you won’t only blame the other person, but wonder what it is in you that got triggered. That’s only step one. From there, it becomes work to uncover the shadow trigger – the root of the issue. You may uncover a memory of a painful moment from your past. But that is still only the beginning. The healing takes place when we can work to forgive ourselves, or another person from that memory. It also requires an honest look at what kinds of choices we have made because of the way we chose to react to that painful event from the past. Shadow work is finding all the threads connected to that one, past, moment. Then, we must choose a new response when that behavior is triggered. No longer can we just become irrationally angry, instead, we are able to recognize what has been triggered and we can slow down and choose to respond to it differently. But by doing the shadow work, excavating what needed to be excavated, we finally get to make choices in that area which we originally got triggered that are enlightened and responsive, not reactive and potentially harmful.
How can undergoing the work of shadow be anything but an act of love? The mere process of digging in and working through our shadow helps us to heal many childhood wounds. We have an opportunity to see ourselves in a new light, with compassion and love, not judgement, not guilt, and not shame. We give ourselves an opportunity to feel emotions we have suppressed so that they can be released. We see ourselves in our fullest truth, and it is nearly impossible to see that without having some compassion and love for ourselves. The best thing about this work, however, is that when we learn how this shadow has shaped our choices and behaviors, we can also recognize it in others. It is much harder to judge others when we recognize how shadow may be manifesting in their choices and behaviors. And this, this! This is how we meet a world full of pain with a little more compassion.
Every time we shift out of shadow behaviors, the vibration we send out into the world only gets amplified. Not the vibration of more anger. Not the vibration of more hate. Not the vibration of more division. It is the vibration of love we raise. By bringing our shadow out of the dark and filling more of ourselves with light, we not only heal ourselves, we heal the world.
You know, I work really hard to stay in the present moment. I have spent so many years of my life worried about the past, worried about the future, that rarely did I stop to realize just how powerful the present moment is -- it really is all there is. My mind can wander back and forth, but to do so wastes the opportunity presented by the “now.” So, going back to the past - and not just any past -- a past life -- seemed incredibly counterintuitive to "living in the moment."
And there is the great paradox of awakening. To live fully in the present so that you can create in each moment your best future, sometimes you have to go back. In my case, I was thick in my own inner child’s past, working on bringing into awareness unconscious, repressed, and rejected aspects of myself that needed to be accepted so I could propel my life forward consciously and purposefully. (Sounds fun, right?) But I was stuck in a loop. I wanted to become more confident, I wanted to feel worthy of my dreams, I wanted to do a lot of things but felt completely powerless to grab what it was I wanted. The truth was, I was terrified of failure. I was terrified that I would be made fun of or laughed at. I was terrified I would go broke, perhaps lose everything I had worked for. So, when the opportunity arose to do a past life regression, I jumped at it -- what a lovely distraction from all of the fears and doubts plaguing me!
All of the confusion I talk about above, I wasn’t thinking about any of it when I went in for my regression. I just wanted to know what past life I might have had. The idea that I could learn anything helpful for my current situation was not even on my radar; however, my past life regression was such a pivotal turning point for me and to this day, I see it as one of the greatest gifts I have given myself.
First, hypnosis is nothing like it shows in the movies. You are just really relaxed and it is almost like you are watching a movie in your head. For me, the details came in slowly, but as they rolled in, the images became crisper and more details opened up.
I was in an office. At first, all I could see was a wooden bookcase that spanned across the back wall. Before it sat a wooden desk in a deep cherry stain that echoed the shelves behind it-- neat and tidy. The room had an ornate carpet -- cream and with soft red flowers. I could see the tips of my black shoes peeking out from under what looked to be a muslin skirt. The windows on the other wall were tall and rounded at the top, and dusty. I could see the upper portion of a building across the street -- I must have been on the second floor.
My hands were gloved and I held a small clutch in them. I was very nervous, very anxious. Diana, my hypnotherapist, asked me to step away from being in myself to looking at myself.
I could see myself from the back. My entire dress, muslin, corseted, a simple ruffle at the base. My hair was an auburn, more red than brown, and it was pulled up neatly, rolled fashionably like a crown around my head, and I wore a hat, the same color as my dress.
Diana asked why I was there. I didn’t know, but it was important. So much depended on it. This man I was going to see held my future in his hands. Diana asked me what year it was. Early 1900s, perhaps 1902 I think. I am in a city, but I know not which one. I am perhaps 19 years old. The man I am waiting for never arrives.
Diana directed me to move to another memory.
I was in a dimly lit, spacious bedroom. A large four poster bed sat centered against the back wall, a dark carpet beneath my feet, huge windows with rich velvet curtains and a massive fireplace with a chair at its side. Sharp sunlight forced its way through the gaps in the closed curtains, allowing just enough light in to see how opulent the space was. I was pacing. My long, thick hair flowed down to my waist. I was in my undergarments - a loose corset and bloomer type pants. One hand covered my stomach, the other nervously cupping my chin, covering my mouth, as if rubbing my face would ease the nerves. I was sick with anxiety. Young. Miserable. I felt destitute. Diana asked who was with me. No one. I was completely alone. I sense I am about to lose everything. I sense that my family is gone and that there is nothing left. Diana has me wait a few moments to see if anyone joins. There is no one: just me. And that, I fear, is the problem. I am utterly alone and utterly broke.
Diana then fast forwards me to my death. I am old. I am in a little one room wooden cabin. There is a small cast iron stove, the kind that heats the house and cooks the food, a table with two chairs and doilies on top, and my bed. Small, very neat, very tidy. I wore a nightdress and a bonnet. And I am so happy. I look around the space and I eye it with humble pride and joy. I did this. Everything in this space is mine. It’s not much, but oh, what pride and contentment it brings me. I walked over to the twin bed, pull the quilted bedcover back and slide in. I can see my wrinkled, hands with crooked fingers pull the blanket up to my neck. I take one last look around. The stove. The table. The chairs. My blanket. And a smile curls my lips and warms my heart. I am fairly certain I die in my sleep that night- and I die happy.
Diana asked what message or lesson this life has for my current one.
The thought that rises in me: Empowerment.
Afterwards, I couldn’t get over this young woman: nineteen, single, female, early 1900s, miserable in the constraints of society, but dies on her own terms. She didn't cower; she didn't have children; she didn't fall into a marriage to save her -- she saved herself! That same fire in her to defy convention, to take life on was also in me. All of the dreams I wanted to do were completely within my power. Even though I only met this version of myself once, her fighting spirit awakened in me. It was exactly the message I needed at that point in my life. Comparatively, I had no obstacles to my success in this life, just the ones my mind created. This past life reminded me of all I am and all I can do. Its gift to me was a reminder that I can empower myself, chase my dreams, and live the life I want to live, and I can do it on my own terms. Her fire and spirit are in me because she is me and I am she. And, damn, what a strong woman we make!
If you are feeling pulled to try a past life regression, run with it. Your soul knows what you need and the answers you seek just might be found in your past -- your past life, that is.
I am not going to lie: when I awoke this morning to see that the election was nearly tied, my stomach sank. I feel like so much is on the line. I feel like if my candidate doesn’t win, the fate of America is doomed. I feel like evil will win.
Here’s a question for you: who is my candidate?
I would argue that both Democrats and Republicans are feeling the exact same way.
I am going to reveal a little secret: I am writing this because I needed a reality check. In life, there is who we are and there is what we are. We tend to confuse the two and that’s what I was doing this morning.
What we are are the roles we play: mother, father, wife, teacher, brother, writer, healer, singer, republican, democrat, etc. These things change over time. A mother may always be a mom, but eventually, her children grow and leave the nest and her role shifts. A writer may always write, but once retired, may not publish works anymore. And both republicans and democrats have been known to jump party lines. So, what we do and what we associate with is not who we are.
Who we are is much bigger and much deeper and has nothing to do with anyone or anything else. Who we are is a reflection of what we value. These things do not change. For example: I value love, and compassion, honesty, knowledge, and integrity. Notice that my core values do not attach to any other person or institution. They sit wholly inside my heart alongside my soul and God. Knowing these values means that I know myself. When I live my life in accordance with my values, I am operating at my absolute best.
The beautiful thing about knowing my core values is that decision making becomes much, much easier. There are times I see a Facebook post and my ego really wants to make a snarky comment, but I ask myself if it aligns with my core values. Is the comment a loving or compassionate one? Does it do harm or good? I cannot say I value love if I act unlovingly. I may feel the comment is a reflection of honesty, but I would be lying to myself because sarcasm is inherently edged with cruelty.
When I voted, I voted with my core values in mind, and then, I walked away. I made a choice (an action) that reflected what sits in my heart.
This morning, however, I was making a choice to attach to “what I am” by identifying with the belief that my candidate losing would somehow make life…. Miserable? Horrific? The truth is, my candidates in the past have both won and lost and not once did it change who I am or what I value. This is my reality check: my reaction to this presidential outcome can fall short if I choose to forget my values. I could feel bitterness, anger, rage, even contempt -- and suffer for them (anger and bitterness never feel good in the body), but, because I know who I am, I know that this presidential outcome will not change me, and therefore, I can let go of the illusions of any catastrophe that may accompany it. Might I feel disappointment? Yes, but I will be able to let that go much easier because I will attach to what I value and not the illusion that the outcome will somehow change me. Holding on to such negativity (whether through gloating or anger) does nothing to help the country I love. Nothing at all. Acting in accordance with my core values means that what I put into the world is good.
I can almost hear readers saying, but if my candidate loses, it could affect (insert nearly any topic here). To this I will say: Yes, how I access different "things" may change after this election (healthcare, for example, could look different), but will that change me? How I react to life’s circumstances is a direct reflection of who I am. The mystics all agreed: the goal is to not lose yourself to the chaos of the world. They knew that the world could be in disarray, but that in their hearts, their very soul knew the truth -- the truth of who they were and what was real.
And what is real you ask? That at the end of the day, it is not who I voted for for President. It is not about who won or who lost. It is about how I proceed in life in response to what happens around me. Let’s say the world does fall apart -- am I just going to fall apart with it? Or will I make choices that are congruent with my values. If the world does fall apart, my challenge then becomes to find ways to become more loving, more compassionate, more integral, and more honest and to work to bring more of that into the world.
The only thing I can really lose today is myself.
Regardless of the outcome, I will
I think this is where people get lost. They identify with a party or a cause or a movement (or a conspiracy theory) and they get swept up in believing that this is who they are, and then, sadly, will do things that are in direct opposition to what they value. They confuse their preferred political party with their identity.
So today, I may feel the highs of victory or the lows of defeat. But I will not let those feelings turn into something ugly and incongruent with who I am and what I value. I refuse to add any more negativity or divisiveness into the world.
If I stop and really think about it: every reader here probably has similar core values to my own. Even if we cannot agree on a political candidate, perhaps we can extend grace and courtesy to each other because we can agree that love is a value we both share, and that will always outshine any division we “believe” exists between ourselves and our neighbors -- politically or otherwise.
So today, win or lose, I wish you love and I wish you peace.
God bless you and God bless America.
If you would like to explore your core values, please, feel free to download the Core Values document provided here.
My heart is heavy today. I don’t want it to be, but alas, there it is. I am learning to let go of the myth that the transformation of awakening is one that leaves you “above” the fray of the world. Actually, that’s sort of a lie...I am lamenting that awakening is not a transformation that leaves you “above” the fray of the world. The books by all the gurus (like Chopra, Tolle, Ruiz) -- they paint a picture of awakening as this moment where clarity hits you square in the third eye and suddenly your world is transformed from utter chaos to tranquil zen. They always footnote that they still have to deal with their human emotions, but they bounce back quicker.
I want to shout: LIARS! They lie, they gloss over, they paint a picture that is so photoshopped I want to rip it up and burn it. And yet, when I am in the thick of doubt, of despair, of feeling utterly lost, I go right back to their works: show me, I ask, where am I going wrong?
They don’t write about days like today. They write platitudes about being non-judgemental, loving each other, living in the moment-- but they don’t describe the torturous mirror you have to look into first, about how intense dropping the beliefs and opinions you’ve held about so many stupid little things can be. The mind games that your ego will play with you in its effort to cling to the comfortable reality of the past. That’s my awakening. It wasn’t a flash. It didn’t hit me between my third eye. And I am still waiting for zen. No, awakening has been a daily commitment to digging deep, looking in that awful mirror of my own myths, my lies, my judgements, my contempt for anything that doesn’t play into what I thought or believed was “right” or “good” because those things don’t exist. No, my awakening has been filled with doubt and fear, guilt and shame, and learning to forgive myself and love myself despite the terrible things I’ve done, believed, or thought about others. The gurus tell you what life is like after awakening, but they don’t tell you about the process.
They say that awakening is to come to the truth that we are all connected, that all there is is love. They are not wrong; they don't lie. What they leave out is that there is often a LOT of backtracking -- the need to revisit what we believe so that we can let those beliefs go. We build them based on myths we’ve been told about what is right or wrong, good or bad. And we will defend your myths mightily -- we will use the Bible, religion, God, good ol’ fashioned traditional values, or common sense and we will fall on that sword because we are RIGHT, dammit!
The gurus don’t really talk about the messy process of dismantling that fervor, of just how deep you need to go to love your neighbor -- especially the neighbor you most disagree with. But if you are in the process of awakening (not just spiritual living) -- truly awakening -- you are in the process of wanting to and working to love that person as much as you love yourself and God, to not allow “opinion barriers” to pull you apart. You are in the process waking out of the illusion that you have built your life around. That illusion is strong and it is filled with many, many little lies, including the ones we tell ourselves about the groups of people who disagree with our fundamental beliefs, be they political beliefs or personal relationships with family members with whom you no longer speak, coworkers you vilify for their cruelty or cowardice, or children who don’t appreciate you the way you think they should. The process of dismantling the attachment to defending what you believe is “good” or “bad” is, in essence, dismantling everything you've built your identity around. To let go of your opinion means to let go of a version or definition of yourself, and when you do, what’s left? Who is left?
(with less baggage)
And then, once you’ve dismantled one lie, one illusion, another one rears its ugly head. You learn to recognize them quicker because, often, you feel the familiar tug of intense judgement inside of you in the form of anger or frustration and your need to be right. And the process begins again. Perhaps this is why a spiral is a symbol of awakening: you go round and round and round, slowly uncoiling the illusions from the truth. And the truth really is simple: God is love; our task: be love.
In case you haven't noticed, the world pretty much feels like it is on fire. People are railing at injustices (real and imagined). It is as if God is holding up a mirror for us to really look at a lot of issues that are uncomfortable to deal with. These issues raise our defenses; they create moments where we feel threatened (my rights, my opinions, my wants, my entitlements). And there it is. The real challenge of awakening: If you could truly look at someone or some group who is the exact opposite of you in your opinion about any issue that makes your blood pressure rise with anger and frustration, and not only look at this group or person, but love them fully as they are, reach out to them, honor them, listen to them, embrace them with a full and loving heart absent of all judgement, to see them fully equal and loving and wonderful as you see yourself, or as you believe yourself to be -- could you? What would you have to release in order to see them and love them in the same way God does? Because He does, despite however hard you rail about why your beliefs make more sense than theirs.
That is awakening. That is your mirror. That is what you must release.
No, the gurus never really talk about days like this.
When I was growing up, my parents sent me to a private Christian school, and we were often told that God lived inside each of us, that we were all God’s children, that we were all connected to each other, that we were brothers and sisters in Christ, and that God was in everything. As a child, this concept was too big for me to really comprehend.
As an adult, however, this concept did not elude me, it plagued me. I was not living in a way that honored the notion that “we are all connected.” Quite the contrary. I had my tribes: my political tribe, my cultural tribe, my family tribe, even my tribal college and professional sport teams. I had my flags and I planted them firmly in the ground, and I clung to them as if they were the breath of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness itself, and everyone else was an outsider who didn’t “get” how wrong they were in **their** opinions, beliefs, and tribal affiliations. The deeper I dug my heels into *my* opinions and beliefs, the harder my heart grew. My heart would race, my blood pressure rise, and a wall would begin to erect around compassion and grace in my heart, and only rage and righteousness, pride and arrogance flourished. And the people in my tribes agreed with me, encouraged me, validated me. We raged about our rightness. We threw our fists in the air at everyone else’s stupidity and ignorance. And we celebrated how wise we were. And then at night, when I would pray, I would pray that *they* would figure it out, that *they* would wake up, that *they* would come to their senses because, oh dear Lord, how could they not see how wrong and misguided they were? And these prayers were sincere because I believed my way was the only way to true peace.
Have you ever felt that intense, burning rage at the ignorance, stupidity, or blind arrogance of someone else and their tribe? Conservative or Progressive? Guns? Abortion? School mascots? Race? Police? Statues? Flags? Face Masks? LGBTQ+?
We have lots of tribes.
Looking in the mirror
Carl Jung postulated that everyone we meet is really a reflection of ourselves, that that which we do not like in another is but a reflection of the same issue that has not been addressed, acknowledged, or integrated in ourself. If this was true, I thought, I was in big trouble because there were a lot of people I didn’t want to be a “reflection” of.
In spiritual circles, there is the concept of dualism, a notion which states that we feel separate from the creative force which made us. We see this separation echoed in our tribal affiliations. To cling to our tribes is to cling to our separation from God. This was a tough concept for me to comprehend: to know that each time I took a side (in particular, a side that was grounded in indignation, pride, or arrogance -- which all of them were) was to keep myself separate from God.
Allow me, for a second, to explain. I could defend every belief, every concept, with something: a biblical quote, a governmental, fundamental right, a historical precept, but when I would bring this belief or opinion to the light -- to God -- and ask for a defense, I was met, again and again, with the same answer: Love more.
I didn’t want to love more. I wanted to be right.
How could I love my neighbor as myself when I couldn’t even handle their ignorant opinions? How could I learn that to love my neighbor was to love God? And, not only in word, but in deed, thought, and action. Honestly, many of my deeds (like Facebook posts), thoughts, and actions -- had they been said to the face of God -- would only bring shame: terrible, terrible shame.
When I sat back and really looked at why I dug in my heels, I could only accept that it was not for any other reason than I wanted to defend myself...but defend myself against what? A different opinion or belief? This was not bringing me closer to God. This only took me further away. To get closer to God, I needed to let go of the illusions I held about right and wrong and look only for that which would bring me closer to love. To love other people -- especially those who were diametrically opposed in every way to everything I stood for -- was a tall order, and I was being directed to love them more.
God issued a challenge. He held up a mirror. Could I look into it?
Every vehemently held belief that I had, they had one too. Their passion was just as passionate as mine. Their justifications were just as justified as mine. Who was right? Who was wrong? When I looked into the mirror -- how could I not see myself in the same way they saw me: was I not the exact same? Just as stubborn in my beliefs as they were in theirs? How different was I, really, from *them*.
The truth is that we were (and are) one in the same. Two sides of the same coin. And God, well, God sits in the middle. The only way to bridge the distance between me and *them* would be through love, because, yes, God loved *them* as much as He loved me, and the only barrier to that Truth was my egoic pride.
That is a hard mirror to look into.
So what happened after three or so years of deep reflection? Well, I buried my tribal affiliations, my “flags.” I look for the higher good now. My choices are choices based on what would benefit as many of ALL my brothers and sisters in Christ as they can. I look for what benefits humanity as a whole. It’s not one or the other, this or that, left or right -- it’s love and prayer that drive my choices.
Don’t get me wrong -- I am not perfect, by any means. The choice to move away from my opinions, my beliefs, my “tribes” is one that I must renew often. This is choice: a choice to love more, and many days I fail miserably. But when I pray, I no longer pray for **them** to see, but for me to see better, clearer, and with wisdom and grace. A painful truth is one in which you realize how wrong you have been. To neutralize a tribal affiliation -- that is an act of courageous love.
Since the early days of the COVID-19 shut down, the world has fallen into what feels like chaos. I see it on Facebook, in the faces of family and friends: everyone is trying to get their bearings, trying to determine which “tribe” to attach to. I am not. And I am so grateful for that. But, we are all feeling the shift. We know God is calling, trying to tell us something. We want to believe that there is a “reason” to all of this. What that reason is, I could only begin to guess, but I have a strong suspicion that part of it is God holding up a mirror for us, issuing us a challenge:
Move past your tribes.
Open your hearts.
Will you accept?
1 Corinthians 13:4-8 NIV
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
About ten years ago, my husband bought a Jeep Wrangler. Typically, I don’t drive anywhere without a map and clear directions on how to get from point A to point B, but in this Jeep, I was an explorer. I would take the top off and boldly turn down roads I never would have turned down before. I loved who I was when I was in it-- in control, adventurous, never knowing the destination but always arriving back home a little lighter, a little easier, a little more at peace. This vehicle made me feel fearless.
Looking back now, I am awestruck at the little box I built around myself. When we owned that Jeep, my children were in high school, I was a few years into a career as an educator, we were living in a beautiful home, and by all means, life was pretty perfect. Yet, the only time I felt free was in the Jeep, and that only lasted a summer; we sold it and my little adventures down obscure dirt roads came to an end. Those paths just wouldn’t be the same in the minivan.
For the past few years now I have been on a new journey, a new adventure. Perhaps something in me stirred that summer years ago, stirred my spirit, and pushed me to begin looking for that feeling again. And thus began my spirit quest. A quest to rediscover long forgotten parts of myself, parts that used to bring me joy or lightness or peace -- or even parts I never knew existed. A journey whose destination was ultimately back to me. I have learned a lot during this time, but perhaps the most shocking to me has been the awareness of just how fearfully I was living life. I described it as a “passivity” in another post, but it ran so much deeper. Fear of judgement, humiliation, embarrassment, making a mistake -- I used all these fear-filled illusions as excuses to not take risks -- their possibility terrified me. And fear is a very big feeling.
And fear is (most of the time) a lie.
That’s right. A lie. A lie we tell ourselves because we think it keeps us safe. A lie we tell ourselves because it is easier to sit back and let life happen to us than it is to face the unknown and make the life we want. And we lie to ourselves all the time. Every time we say things like when I lose weight, then I’ll be happy. When I retire, then I’ll be happy, or when I win the lottery, then I’ll be happy. When I got my teaching degree, I thought my whole life was going to change. Now, I thought, I will be happy. But teaching never felt like the Jeep made me feel. What was the difference? I’ll tell you. I was living with the belief that something outside of myself was going to bring happiness to me, that somehow happiness was an outside event that would fill me with joy. But that’s not how it works. Nothing outside of yourself will ever bring you joy. It’s true.
The truth of the matter is that we already have everything we really need inside of us. It’s there! Look for it behind the fear. Beneath the lies. You see, the driver of the Jeep was no different than the driver of the minivan -- no more free, no more adventurous, no more fearless, no more in control. But this was the story I told myself, the story I chose to believe despite proof to the contrary. Looking back now, too often I put my fear ahead of my faith: faith in myself, faith in the adventure of life, faith in unknown destinations, faith in my own power. Instead, I wanted the map. I wanted guarantees. I wanted to know that I wouldn’t get lost if I went down a strange road. Isn’t that what most of us want? A guarantee we won’t get hurt, that we won’t suffer? And here’s the irony, choosing fear causes suffering anyways because the result may bring security, but rarely will it bring the same satisfaction and fulfillment as the choices that align with our God given gifts. For that kind of joy, you need acts of faith.
You want to know you’re alive? You want happiness? Take a risk. Make a choice that honors your gifts and talents and interests, a choice that challenges you to face the very things you may fear the most. Choose a risk that takes you outside of the box you’ve put yourself in. It was never the Jeep -- it was me; it always was. I turned down obscure roads by choice, by faith, not fear. I chose to drive forward with no guarantee that I would not get lost, and I did it by faith, not fear. Faith requires so much more courage than fear ever will! Now, I write a blog. I read Tarot. I interpret dreams. Not really the “typical” choices of a one time stay at home mom or English Literature teacher. But I took a leap, I chose that which stirs my soul and my spirit, and no, none of it really makes “sense” -- this is certainly one obscure road. And where will this take me? I don’t know, but what a ride! What a ride!
A funny thing occurred as I was working on this post. Coming upstairs, I noticed my husband was looking at Jeeps for sale on his computer. I couldn’t help but find this to be an extraordinary coincidence because he didn’t know that I just happened to be writing a post about our Jeep from years before. I asked him what he was doing. He told me he was thinking how nice it might be to have a Jeep to take on long drives and not worry about our car getting ruined on dirt roads. It might bring us more adventure, he thought.
I smiled. How sweet. For years all he heard me talk about was how much I loved that Jeep, how it was the only vehicle I ever really loved, and now he wanted to bring one back.
But I don’t need it anymore.
I’ve chosen faith.
Have you felt it? That uneasiness within that whispers something isn’t right? You think: I have so much to be grateful for, what am I complaining about?
Well, if something has felt off, you're not alone. This pandemic has forced many people to begin taking stock, and some of the biggest questions a lot of people are asking are who am I, what is my purpose, why am I the way I am, or why do I make the choices that I make?
These questions are terrifying to face because they require an authentic response free from all of the stuff we’ve been conditioned to believe is true. Such as, you may ask. Everything. What it means to be “good” according to society, religion, family, genetics, sexual identity -- you name it! If it provides a description or expectation of what you should be, or how to “properly” operate in this world, it’s an attitude or behavior founded on a limiting belief that is probably not true, and that’s preventing your soul from singing and your spirit from soaring.
What do I mean? Here’s an example.
Growing up, I learned that there was a hierarchy of order and control, and my father was at the helm. I lived with a very traditional family and what my father said went. There is nothing inherently wrong with this; however, what I came to understand was that I had no power, that men held the power in relationships, that men had the control, and that peace was maintained by doing what I was told. Because I was young and didn’t understand the world, to make sense of mine, I adopted a behavior that lasted well into my forties: I became passive in life because it kept the peace. Except, it didn’t. (Almost) everything from what we ate for dinner to what movies we watched and how we saved and spent money was decided by my husband, and not because he wanted to -- it drove him crazy that I would not make decisions -- but because I had adopted a behavior that worked when I was six years old and I had never let it go. Instead, whenever a decision had to be made, my six year old self (who was on autopilot, apparently) would leave it for my husband to decide because, unconsciously, I believed that to keep my husband happy and to keep the peace, it was better to let him have control. In the process, I would feel frustrated because, surprise, I felt powerless. Ha! I wanted control over my life, but I wouldn’t make a choice. I wanted to be heard, but I wouldn’t speak up.
The truth is, in adulthood, I was so wrapped up in conforming to the role of being the wife and the mother and the teacher, that I never really took the time to pay attention to the core of me. And, any opportunities to honor my self, I would give away to others because I consistently chose passivity over action. The COVID-19 pandemic amplified my need to answer the question: who am I and why am I like this? Why did I feel like I was settling for less than I was worth? (And, how terrible of me to want more!)
When I started trying to answer these questions, I was forced to dig deep. This is how I came into shadow work and really began unlocking aspects of myself that prevented me from living an authentic, empowered life. Part of this process helped me to uncover those behaviors and attitudes I described above and start taking responsibility for them. The other part forced me to own and honor that which fulfills me, that which makes my soul sing. For me, I love all things mystical and supernatural. I always have. But honoring such woo-woo aspects of myself went against all the traditional structures of my life -- what mother, what wife, what teacher does Tarot? Sees psychics? Goes to an energy healer? I feared judgement and humiliation. I came to a crossroads: live authentically or die with regret.
I had strayed so far away from that which brought me joy because I saw those things as frivolous, as unimportant, as side interests or hobbies, and most certainly nothing to pursue except only occasionally, and most definitely in secret! Believing these were unworthy of my time and energy (as compared to all the other people and responsibilities in my life) was the first step I took in dishonoring my spirit, and dishonoring my self.
Does this mean that to make your soul sing, you need to dig deep and identify your wounded inner child? No, of course not. That was my path -- but even to type these words and say, “Hey, world of strangers: I dig the mystical and the spiritual” is a leap of courage that overcomes every (imaginary) boundary that held me back!
My journey is still very much in progress, but if I could offer you a temporary shortcut to making your soul sing, it would be to honor your passion, that which makes your spirit come alive. Identify it and bring more of it into your life, even if -- especially if-- everyone else thinks its woo woo. This will bring you more joy. But it won't make your soul sing.
To make your soul sing, you must share your passion with others.
Love art? Do more of it -- then, volunteer online to teach it to others, or throw a virtual painting party with your friends, just for the fun of it! Take your children on a virtual tour of the Louvre and recreate a masterpiece together! And if your kid hates art? I guarantee there is a child (or adult!) somewhere that would love to try! Is sports what makes you come alive? Join a team, and then coach one or create one for disadvantaged youth. Love music? Play more of it and then share it. Do a concert in your backyard for the neighbors! Worried people will think you’re crazy? That’s the fear talking, but you need to decide -- you need to choose whose voice you want louder in your life: fear or faith.
We don't have to quit our jobs. We don't have to turn our world upside down. But when we share our gifts with others -- not for likes on Instagram or YouTube -- but as an authentic extension and expression of our truest self and our greatest joy, well, that is how to make a soul sing.
(Your inner child will probably dig it, too.)