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What Shadow Work Meditation Taught Me About My Dark Side

If you really want to grow, you have to take a hard look at the dark parts of you, too.

Inspiration

It's hard to come to terms with the messed up parts of other people. But it's even harder to come to terms with the parts of ourselves that are weak or wrecked. During this time of self-isolation, it's brought me to the point of soul-searching. I began to dig deep and unfold the parts of me that didn't seem to be evolving or were simply untapped into. When we take a look back on our lives we always place our focus on what has gone good for us and the parts of ourselves that are most likable, but that's surface level understanding of who we truly are. If a person really wants to grow, then you also have to take a hard look at the parts of yourself that are least desirable and possibly even dark.

In psychology, the term "shadow" is defined as the hidden parts of self or the unconscious aspect of personality. I took it upon myself to dive deeper into the parts of me I didn't like to face because they may have scared me, made me feel uncomfortable or I just didn't have a clear understanding of those emotions. Using a technique called Shadow Work, I began to reveal the darker side of my thoughts and feelings to help me gain a better perspective of who and what I'm capable of. It's not all sunshine and roses diving into the eerie parts of self but, I was looking to bring myself to a healthier understanding of what things play a fundamental role in the way I respond, engage, and live my life.

I struggled with trying to understand why I'm always putting forth effort into my relationships, friendships and work and often not receiving reciprocity from the sources I gave my all to.

I realized that my upbringing had a great influence on the woman I am today and the core values I've held onto throughout my life. My identity was halted at five years old when I began to take on the burdens of an adult as a young child. My mother and father have been married for 35 years this coming July, but when I was a young child my father got sentenced to prison for 17 years over a physical altercation that turned deadly. The pain that my mother endured from my father being imprisoned and taken away from the lovely family environment they built brought us all great grief to the point that it was nearly unbearable. I decided then that I had to be a strong girl for my mother so that she could get throiugh these 17 years my father would be away with ease. She had enough on her plate and I never wanted to be another source of worry for her. I only wanted to bring her joy and relief. I adapted to emotional detachment and an ideology that showing fear or emotions only made me weak.

The technique of shadow work is simply about asking the hard questions we may be afraid to face. Unfortunately, that's not always an easy task to tackle. The answers won't necessarily flow to you right away but, it's about exploring the depths of self that may not be knowingly present. No one is perfect and we all have flaws, that's what makes us unique. Those flaws however need to be tended to just the same as the parts of ourselves that we nurture.

Starting the process of shadow work through journaling, I wrote down 10 things I liked about myself and 10 things I disliked about myself. Once I read over them, that's when I began to analyze the Who, What, Where, When and Why of both sides of myself. Good and Bad.

This technique of meditative journaling revealed what my dark side was trying to teach me about myself:

The WHO

Diving into the WHO of my life showed me who made an impact on me and how it caused me to form other relationships with people. Because I saw things through an adult lens, I felt pressure to take on the role of authority very young.

I made decisions based around what would make other people happy throughout my life, often neglecting my own feelings and needs.

I morphed into what other people projected onto me, thinking I could handle more than the average person could, but never reciprocating that same energy back.

The WHAT

The WHAT dealt with the battles I choose to fight in my life and what I deemed necessary to prove a point on. I've always had a rebellious nature. I was trying to prove that I could handle things on my own because other people have always depended on me and I've always come through. Freedom is extremely important to me and I didn't like being told what to do because I felt as though I had things figured out. That, in turn, made me go out of my way to prove a point when anyone doubted me or what I was capable of. It made me feel exhausted many times to the point that I couldn't enjoy myself or I'd avoid engagements just so I wouldn't feel depleted if I had to make a point. I was always protecting the well-being of others but who really was there looking out for me. I chose to be of service to many when I should of chose my own sanity.

The WHERE and WHEN

Asking the question of WHERE and WHEN allowed me to see where I was willing to draw the line between right and wrong. I had adopted many of the beliefs, thoughts, and logic that I absorbed from my environment. My environment growing up impacted the person I am today deeply. Having boundaries in many of my relationships, whether it be personal or business-related, has always been an issue. When it came to family, friends or lovers, I'd be willing to do almost anything within my power to help them. Seeing the good in everyone, I struggled with knowing when to walk away at times because I could see the potential in people. In business, I'd take on a workload that was oftentimes extremely excessive, leaving me feeling stressed.

Growing up, I saw every woman that looked like me going the extra mile to make ends meet or please their loved ones, so I believed that's what I had to do as well.

I lacked a clear understanding of what boundaries I need to set for myself and oftentimes let people cross the line. Once the lines were blurred, it was hard to recognize what was actually right or wrong. I couldn't make clear decisions if I couldn't decipher what was necessary (or unnecessary) in my life.

The WHY

The ultimate question of WHY I am who I am was based around the simple fact of my unchanged behavior. All the fear I kept inside, self-doubt, and lack of understanding was often expressed in manic behavior. The shadow or hidden parts of myself, especially surrounding my upbringing, never truly had a light shone on them. I had to get the courage to see which aspects of my life made me feel conflicted. I could never understand why certain events would continue to arise in my life repeatedly. Once I realized that areas of myself were blocked from the opinions and outlooks I adapted, I began to allow myself to see from other viewpoints and perspectives. That ultimately led me to realize that I lacked power over my circumstances when I put the well-being of others before myself.

Taking a look back on the pieces that make me who I am,is a complete eye-opener. Such simple questions being asked dug deep into the things that I believed were healed and whole. It's a process of discovering self. In order to achieve goals and obtain the self-love I desire, I had to accept the parts of me that aren't always praise-worthy.

Understanding that I am not everyone's keeper but instead my own keeper was the essential lesson I learned through the shadow work process.

I carried the burdens of others way too long and I had to learn to set clear boundaries between what deserves my energy and what doesn't. My strength was never tied to how much I could take on or handle, but how much love I shine into other people's lives.

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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