Shadow does not exist by itself, it is cast, by a real physical body. … shadow is shaped by presence. Presence comes a priori to the flaws and absences that we say cast a shadow… shadow is a beautiful, inverse, confirmation of our incarnation. Shadow is intimated absence; almost a template of presence. It is a clue to the character of our appearance in the world. It is an intimation of the ultimate vulnerability, the dynamic of being found by others, not only through the physical body but by its passing thoughts and acts; and even its darkening effect on the world of others; shadow makes a presence of absence, it is a clue to ourselves and to those we are with, even to the parts of ourselves not yet experienced, yet already perceived by others. Shadow is not good or bad, only inescapable.
– David Whyte; from Readers’ Circle Essay, Shadow
Becoming present in and with our self, as described in the first chapter, really isn’t that hard to do. It invites an embracing of the subtler sensing in ourselves, and the barriers to doing this turn out to be far from insurmountable – only somewhat countercultural here in the West. Expanding our awareness to the outside, to the pro-verbal other, we get into the area of relationship. We will see that becoming more present and aligned in this domain asks for something else, something that can be hard to accomplish – at least, so it seems.
In our little Flemish women’s circle, we would spend a lot of time figuring out or cleaning up the relationships between us. After all, we were all psychotherapists, so that was what we were trained for and experienced in! Our purpose was very clear: we wanted to come to a point of continuously open awareness with no emotional attachment at all. But, oh boy… how difficult was that!? Was it not ‘the other’ who was unfriendly, inattentive or harsh? Was it not ‘the other’ who was wrong and didn’t see things in the right way? Was it not ‘the other’ who hurt me? It was sometimes a long, tough ride to clear the space of our projections onto one another and return to a point of open heart and unconditional love. We spent hours and days on this work of untangling emotions, judgments and projections. Clearing the space of projections didn’t mean that we would always agree with what the others did or said, but – as Rumi said – there is a field beyond right-doing and wrong-doing and that was were we wanted to meet.
When we want to learn to become more present in relationship with others, we can’t skip the topic of shadow, which is, for many, related with the concept of ego. A deeper understanding – in the sense of a lived experience and real embodiment, not just a cognitive knowing – of this crucial piece of psychology would solve many conflicts in our daily lives, as well as on many larger scales, even globally. The expression ‘doing shadow work’ points to this being a process: simply put, it involves recognising hidden aspects of ourselves in order to re-integrate them into our sense of ourselves.
Here, too, we will apply the four movements of inner alignment: observing, accepting, honouring and living what is – only this time in connection with an outer alignment, like on a horizontal plane, with others.
Ego isn’t bad. Neither is shadow.
In a lot of spiritual literature and personal development work, the ego is to blame and one should at all costs avoid acting from there. In some networks and communities, this is accepted as a core truth and one that is deeply ingrained in those subcultures – although people don’t have a clear, shared definition of exactly what an ego is and is not. Having practiced for decades as a psychologist and a professional psychotherapist, I have developed a more nuanced view on ego that goes beyond just judging or blaming it and seeking to eradicate it.
In this world of time and space – the realm where we actually live, and which is probably different than the realm our souls came from – we all need an ego in order to grow up. We need a vehicle, a structure that enables us to be here on Earth and in our society, to ground ourselves in and deal with the context in which we live. This structure is our unique way of dealing with the world around us; after all, ego means ‘I’ in Latin. So there is a healthy and necessary aspect in this kind of ego building; it allows us to deal with the physical and social world, it is a healthy sense of self. It is primarily a drive to do all sorts of things and to express who we uniquely are. I learned a long time ago that people who haven’t developed enough of this kind of grounding need ‘ego-strengthening therapy’. So we see ego as a sense of self, a locus of selfhood. In short, we can’t get rid of ego, nor should we. But… and…
In the journey of growing up, some parts of our selves get rigid and ossified. Patterns or habits are formed that were initially needed for our emotional and/or physical survival. They were formed long before we began consciously acting in the world, while we were babies, toddlers and small children. These habits become ingrained in how we think, in what we feel and in how we act. They account for a substantial part what people tend to call ‘personality’. Because they are charged with a great deal of unconscious emotional energy, these patterns are sealed or blocked. For our purposes here, I call them habitual patterns. Often, our sense of self – what we call our identity – is closely enmeshed with these patterns of behaviour. This explains the confusion between ‘ego as sense of self’ and ‘ego as habitual patterns’. Despite what it may look like it at first glance, these patterns are not what defines us; they are not our essence – far from it! They are survival patterns, and were needed for survival in our own unique context. Now that we are older, as adults we can learn to disentangle our identity from them. We are vastly more than these patterns of habit.
If you notice that you are not flexible in your ways of dealing with others and life in general, then you are – in the language of Scharmer – ‘downloading’. In my psychotherapeutic language, you are acting out of your habitual survival patterns. This is the shadow. It relates with Scharmer’s concept of the blind spot: not realising where your thoughts and actions originate from. The personal shadow is that part of us that was not allowed to live in the full light, not invited to be expressed and so, because nothing else was possible, it retreated into the shadows – what psychology calls the subconscious. Later in life, we are fully convinced that it is the other who carries this shadow, not us. They are angry, not me! He hurt me! She didn’t listen! The litany is endless. Our shadow parts are fully out of sight of our own eyes and so we project them onto the other(s). Later in the book we will see that, beyond the personal shadow, there are also cultural shadows and even shadows at the level of humanity.
To do shadow work is to take the projection back. This means we need to re-integrate something back into our healthy sense of self. Most likely, we feel some shame or guilt around whatever it is, it is hidden somewhere deep down inside us, we are not even aware of it. The shame originally arose because our childish, spontaneous, lively expression was met with some kind of negative response: we might have been ridiculed, blamed, not seen in our needs, not allowed to express ourselves or punished for being who we were. Because the expression came and felt totally natural to us at that time, the only ‘explanation’ for this negative response we got as a baby, toddler or child, was that there was something wrong with us. Better to hide that part in the future! Thus is the shadow born. Habits are installed and become ever more ingrained over time.
As adults, we now need a high dose of inner sensitivity and courage even to begin recognising our shadow part(s). This is quite difficult because, as we said, it is completely hidden to our own eyes and there is a tendency to avoid it – at least the strong and painful emotions that are connected with it. After recognising and acknowledging it for our selves, the next step is to allow it out of the closet and to share it with others. When we can do that, what we see is nothing awful or shameful, simply a hurt child who only needs some care, some space and attention to be welcomed and recognised. That’s it. In this sharing and expression – that wasn’t possible in childhood through a lack of support – the re-integration of the shadow part is done and we become more whole. This re-integration process also has a huge influence on how we look at others: we become more humble, because we realise how blind we were to our own ‘stuff’; our hearts can stay open to them, and we can see them as fellow human beings with their own characteristics, wounding, patterns and gifts.
Leadership begins when we stop blaming others or making excuses. Leadership is not a role, it is an attitude.
– Peter Hawkins, www.now-here.com/talks/talks/necessary-leadership
One dark winter evening, I was on the phone with Geert. We had seen each other a few times over the last months and I hoped a partner relationship was sprouting. “You always want to be the boss.” he said. I immediately felt a contraction in my stomach. “Oh, my god, here we have it again!” flashed through my mind. I knew it too well. Many times my women friends and a previous partner had tried to explain that, on many occasions, I would put myself outside of the mutual relationship and behave as if I knew better or didn’t have needs like others did. I knew there was ‘something’ in this, but I didn’t understand it at all. However, being trained as a psychotherapist, it had dawned on me: this is my shadow!
That’s what I shared with him, immediately and on the spot, and I asked if he was willing to describe to me – in full detail – what it was that I did and said that made him come to this conclusion. And he did. To this day I am grateful that he made the effort to explain it all to me. That evening it finally dawned on me how my shadow expressed itself in my life. Emotionally, it was very unpleasant and extremely intense: a real dark night of the soul. I curled up on the sofa under a blanket and saw the many, many instances in my life where I had indeed taken myself out of the equal relationship and – very hidden and secretly –saw myself as knowing better, being wiser, more developed, having more clarity and so on. In this way I distanced myself from my best friends, again and again. This behaviour was totally in contrast with the values I espoused and truly thought I lived by! It felt like watching a real horror film. Every scene called forth fresh tears and I wept from the bottom of my heart because of the unintended outcomes and the distance I myself had unwittingly created,. After some hours I fell asleep on the sofa; I had finally come to grips with the feedback that friends and partners had been trying to give me for over 10 years.
When I dared to feel that far into my inner depths, I found that I always thought of myself as knowing better, as knowing more, as having more personal growth than others. Acknowledging this felt deeply painful. I had a mother who had always put her self above her own pain and needs. She had shown me a (catholic) definition of love that looked as if it was ‘beyond selfishness’, but what I got was a mom who wasn’t really present, who hid her needs and her vulnerable parts, even when she was very sick and dying. Only when I was able to share this part of my childhood with my best friends, acknowledging and really accepting (not judging) the mistrust I had in others and the pain of my childhood, could I integrate my own needs into my sense of self. Through this episode, my secretly held opinion of “I know better”, changed into a conscious knowing that “sometimes I know something that others don’t”. The gift of authentic leadership, now in a more humble form, became discernible in me. Welcoming our selves, our projections and our pain – instead of judging them or feeling guilty or ashamed – is of utmost importance when dealing with shadow material.
At the level of embodiment and emotional energy, in this process of reclaiming the parts of our selves that have been concealed in our subconscious we need to learn to hold a lot of emotion, much of it painful. Taking back our projections will always open up some blocked, unexpressed emotions from a long time ago. You are invited simply to accept these emotions and their expressions as yours; feel the pain and cry; feel the anger and shout; feel the sexual energy and dance; feel what you missed and share your needs. If we are not at ease with doing this, the shadow material will stay were it is – in the shadow – and will keep on pushing us into our habitual patterns of reaction. Again, this calls for ongoing practice: any kind of practice that trains our ability to hold energy and/or intensity will help us not to be taken off guard when these emotions seek their natural expression in the sharing with others.
Wherever and whenever you notice that you are inflexible and always react in the same way – when you are downloading – this is part of your repertoire of habitual patterns that you may want to change. Most likely it is your partner, your friend, your colleague or (your) children who will point out your shadow to you. Because, as we have said, we ourselves are blind to it. Most, if not all, people will at first defend this part of their habitual self by saying “this is how the world is” or “this is how I am” or “that’s not true!” It takes a big dose of self-awareness to suspend this defense, ask for more explanation and look deeply inside. It is worthwhile, however, because the gift is in the trauma. In other words: your shadow will reveal your unique contribution to life, the unique ways in which you are called to express who you truly are.
It is so easy to blame others – or circumstances – for what is not working well or for ‘causing’ your deep emotions. But unless we can act flexibly (having a broader repertoire of responses than just blaming or making excuses), we are basically stuck in our patterns and not present. When I say ‘flexible’, I really mean flexible: having a wide range of options to choose from: we can use humour, or we can play it the other way, or we can choose to not answer… above all, we don’t take it personally. Instead of having a single, habitual reaction, we have a range of responses, depending on the circumstances. There is always – and I do mean always – a way of opening yourself to other ways of dealing with any situation, even when it really, really looks as if you are right and the others are wrong; or when the circumstances really do seem to be the cause of your suffering. There are always more and different options for how you can act and respond – instead of reacting and downloading – that are healthier and cause less suffering to yourself and others.
From my experience in many groups and gatherings, I am surprised by how little most people understand this process of projection and the concept of shadow. They keep on blaming ‘others’ for their own emotions, or use them as excuses. Those ‘others’ can be a real multitude of actors: their partners, the system, the hierarchy, their friends, the facilitator, the teacher, their children, the design, the neighbours… We would be well advised to lend an open and attentive ear to the feedback coming from our closest friends and partners, look at it, and contemplate it… let it sink in, even ask for more specific and detailed examples. Look and listen for recurring patterns in the feedback you get from different people. They are all offering you something you can learn from and it will enhance the quality of the relationships in your life.
I want to state this very clearly: doing shadow work does not mean getting rid of something bad or wrong about you! Many people understand shadow as something that is to blame, but the truth is that this hidden aspect of your self actually holds an essential gift of who you are. In my dark night of the soul, the crucial point was not to get rid of the mistrust and bossiness towards others, but to integrate the more vulnerable, needy and equally human part in myself. In my story, the essence was not that I got eradicated my habitual pattern of creating this gap with others deep in myself; rather, it was about recognising and sharing my own needs and longings, and acknowledging my pain that my mom had always kept her vulnerable part away from conversation and communication with me. Shadow work is simply about integrating something in yourself that has been prevented from living fully in the light. The purpose of doing this work is to become more whole, and to be ready to express and share your full self with others and the world.
When you notice lingering shame or guilt around certain part(s) of your self, you are not looking at this part as it is. Instead of witnessing, observing or acknowledging, you are downloading and judging. It is good to realise that every human being – without exception (as far as I know) – has shadow parts. So there really is nothing special about yours, although it usually feels like that: I have a secret, ugly part that I have to hide, otherwise others won’t accept me. This is the childlike belief that persists, with no grounding in the reality of today. The point now is to accept these parts in yourself, by yourself. Then you are ready to share them and be open about them: that is the re-integration.
This aspect of becoming more aligned and present in all relationships is not easy. It asks for a deep commitment to consciousness, again and again, over and over, in all manner of situations. The hurt child will hold on to its survival pattern and is scared to drop it for fear of not belonging or not surviving! The commitment can be seen as a heroic journey. As Thomas Hübl said in an interview (with Sergio Baroni on YouTube): “We need to be a hero of our own consciousness.” Once you have realised that all your inflexibility and charged emotions are yours (including the so-called positive, highly-charged emotions like falling in love), there is a huge release! No more fighting, discussing, blaming, hoping, trying to get something, holding back, expecting… All that liberated energy becomes fully available to create something, and is open to an ever-expanding vista of possibility and opportunity. The rigidity is gone, and others are seen in a new light: just as they are, as authentic human beings, nothing more and nothing less.
Quote from blogpost:
We speak of ‘holding the shadow’ and ‘loving the dragons’, but it became clear that to understand what this really is about, we have to sink deeper into ‘the koan of the shadow’. The shadow is not what we think it is, the koan will help us see what it really is: because it is not dark and it is not a thing. It is like clouds casting a shadow, but the cloud isn’t something to touch or to hold, you can just walk through it! Instead of the shadow there is an Intense Beauty! Can we live in the Direct Light, not putting anything between our selves and the Light? (May 2009)
Quote from participant:
Because if I don’t acknowledge the ugly inside of me, if I don’t acknowledge the destructive force, then there’s a part of me that doesn’t rise enough, you might say – that isn’t awake enough. There’s a wakefulness in recognising that there is an enemy. And this doesn’t happen to be an outer enemy. And the thing to do with enemies is not to kill them. The thing to do with enemies is to transform them. So the transformative outer dynamic perhaps comes from a thousand tiny steps of internal transformative dynamic. And they’re not the same. – Marianne
Shadow work is a deep and essential part in the process of inner and outer alignment that we are describing in this book. Before you can relate in an authentic way, you have to notice and deal with your own inflexibility and heal the unconscious parts of yourself that are related to that. I have noticed that a lot of people take the word ‘authentic’ to mean expressing your emotions with the implicit or explicit expectation that the other will or should change; they now have a free ticket to lay their emotional charge on others and to go beyond the polite social self. On the contrary. relating in an authentic way, as we construe it here, means that you take responsibility for your own emotions, without expecting the others to save you from them, to offer healing, or to change how they are or how they express themselves. In this way, you have created a response-ability in how you deal with your environment, and you are no longer dependent on how ‘the other’ is doing or not. Relating in an authentic way means that you can share your emotions as yours, in all their vulnerability, when and where appropriate.
In this response-ability, while one part entails staying out of your own shadow parts, it is just as important not to engage with the habitual patterns of others. In the end, of course, it comes down to the same thing and the same questions: can we deal with the others in another way? Are we sufficiently centred and flexible to come up with a novel take on how to deal with this experience?
Habitual patterns also exist in the form of ‘always being nice’, ‘always taking care’, ‘always being challenged to defend or explain’, or ‘always taking too much responsibility’, and hundreds of similar (more ‘positive’) patterns. If we are able to stay out of our survival patterns, and refrain from engaging with the patterns of the other, implicitly or explicitly we are inviting him or her to also come to a different place of engaging in the communication between us. If we are not triggered into our own form of downloading, we offer a space free of emotional charge where the other can quieten down and slowly start to understand that something new is going on.
Getting mired in the habitual patterns of others is what often sucks the life out of us. We get tired of the conversation, which always seems to go in the same direction. There is no real life in this downloading, it is just one more survival strategy engaging with yet another habitual pattern. It has not the quality that can bring us to a deeper understanding of each other, let alone to being fully alive and generating something novel together. When you can hold of your own and others’ patterns as described here – without expressing your emotional charge and/or engaging with the emotional charge of others – the experience is similar to those good moments as a parent, when your child is angry and you can hold its emotion without reacting by answering back with an equal charge of anger. You don’t take it personally. Not reacting in your habitual way, you are response-able.
The point of discernment is always: are you flexible in how you react? Can you do something else or answer in a different way? People who are always nice and polite need perhaps to learn to say: “Please Leave!” People who tend to react in an angry way need perhaps to learn to say: “Sorry.” You can check with yourself: do you have a wider repertoire of ways of acting? If one way doesn’t do the job in the relating, can you do something else? And something else again, and yet something else, without losing your own centre? Do you have different ways of engaging with the situation: humorous, emotional, rational, wacky? Can you offer a question that breaks some shared, unconscious assumptions? Can you do something totally unexpected that takes the conversation to a different level, until you find something that works in this moment, for this relationship?
The gift is in the trauma
There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light but by making the darkness conscious.
– Carl Gustav Jung; Alchemical Studies, Collected Works Vol.13, par 335, p.265
From my story, that night on the sofa, when my friend explained to me in detail how I would distance myself from him and seek to dominate, I learned an lot about leadership. Not the bossy kind of leadership that takes authority by some kind of force, but rather a leadership that establishes itself because it is recognised by others as helpful and wise.
I don’t remember where I picked it up, or even if I invented it myself, but the expression ‘the gift is in the trauma’ holds so much value. I know for myself how recognising and integrating my wounded childhood feelings – my mother who kept her vulnerability far away from others, and from me – did away with my inner survival pattern of “I know better.” As a toddler, I knew inside that something else was possible; that relationships and community could be different than how I experienced them with my mom and in her family at large. So, yes, I knew something! But of course, nobody asked me, so I kept it a secret inside for many, many years.
I can see, in hindsight, that my whole life has moved around this topic of leadership, assuming responsibility in different situations, many times initiating new groups and initiatives, while my own vulnerability stayed more or less remote from it all. Because our lives revolve around our deepest trauma, we have seen and approached it from many different angles, from every imaginable perspective, so that after some 20, 30 or 40 years we have become an expert on the topic! At least, if we manage to disengage, step-by-step, of the emotions of hurt that are entangled with it. Working through these emotions and bringing in some consciousness allows us to uncover the gift that is hidden in there. In chapter 5, where we will dive into our soul’s calling, we will build on this unique flavour that each of us brings to life.
Sharing these deep feelings is what creates deep relationships. The quality of our vulnerability is first of all a gift to our own self, but it is also a gift in our relationship with the other(s). If this quality is present in a group’s process, true friendship can arise and we will create a collective space where we are in flow, instead of being hindered by our habitual patterns of defending, blocking, withdrawing and the like. In this shared vulnerability, we open up more, something pours through the cracks of the no-longer-needed identity/personality, and then there is a wider space to embrace and radiate more of life itself.
Next: 2.4 Widening balance as a process of outer alignment
Download the article: Baeck 2.3 Shadow and gift 04:16
Companioning is about being present to another person’s pain;
It is not about taking away the pain.
Companioning is about going to the wilderness of the soul with another human being;
it is not about thinking you are responsible for finding the way out.
Companioning is about honoring the spirit;
it is not about focusing on the intellect.
Companioning is about listening with the heart;
it is not about analyzing with the head.
Companioning is about bearing witness to the struggles of others;
it is not about judging or directing those struggles.
Companioning is about walking alongside;
it is not about leading or being led.
Companioning means discovering the gifts of the sacred silence;
it is not about filling up every moment with words.
Companioning is about respecting disorder and confusion;
it is not about imposing order and logic.
Companioning is about learning from others;
it is not about teaching them.
– By Alan Wolfelt
Next: 2.3 Shadow and gift
We were sitting at the table in my living room and Johannes – my teacher in Systemic Constellation Work – stood up and walked to a corner of the room. He was going to show me daylight consciousness. He pointed right in front of him and said “this is my goal and I shall go towards it.” Then he moved forward, eyes open and focused on the point he had just indicated. Next he showed me night consciousness. He returned to the corner, turned his back to me, covered his eyes with his hand and walked backwards, slowly but steady, sensing where to place each next step. This, he explained, is night consciousness: sensing where to go, without seeing where you are going or even knowing what is your real destination or purpose. You can’t believe how recognised I felt by this explanation! He had described exactly how I had living my life during recent years. This whole scene unfolded as a possible response to a particular issue in my life that, as far as he could tell, I could deal with only through night consciousness. He related it to the feminine aspect, the moon, darkness, etc. There was nothing I could really ‘do’ about my issue. “When you look at somebody with day consciousness, ” he said, “you see who you encounter. With the feminine, you approach them with your back, not with your eyes open.”
Years later, in a systemic constellation I had asked for, there was ‘something’ I had to face, before I could go on with my leadership work. I knew it related to Johannes’ comments. In that constellation I looked it in the eyes and welcomed it into my life. To this day I still don’t know what it was/is really about. Many times my body has a clue that something is going on, while my mind as yet knows nothing. Often when I go to training events or gatherings, I’m not clear in my mind about what I want to learn or why I am exactly going. I’m there because I sense I need to be there. I go there ‘with my eyes closed’; I go to learn something and to contribute to the inquiry. My analytical mind doesn’t know what, but my subtle intelligence knows more.
It took me a number of years to get to real clarity and inner balance regarding these differences. The daylight mode of consciousness is much more widespread, and if your natural preference works the other way and you have a preference for night consciousness, you can end up feeling excluded, ignored, shamed. It is important to recognise that different people have different ways of knowing, different perspectives on the whole that forms what we call reality. One is not bad, the other is not good; they are just different and we can learn to respect them all, and maybe even understand them.
Regarding preferences and differences (in people born in the West) here are some quotes and stories from other authors:
Figure and Ground
In his book In Over Our Heads, in the chapter on Dealing with Difference, Robert Kegan says:
“I have been told that when American POWs from the Vietnam era were first released, nearly all performed the same two first acts after being flown to Wiesbaden, Germany; they took showers and called loved ones. But the men were far more likely to shower fist and then to call loved ones. The women were more likely to call loved ones first and then to shower. The difference is not necessarily that the men are more selfish and care more about their own bodily comfort than about their loved ones. The men could well have felt what was most important to them was to talk to their loved ones, but they couldn’t do what they most wanted until they had cleansed, or psychologically restored, a self that could even be reconnected to their loved ones. The difference is not between ‘selfish’ and ‘altruistic’ – both groups may have been doing first what they needed to do to restore the self, and both, in that sense, could be said to be ‘selfish’. The difference is in how the self is made whole. For some, the self is restored by itself and is not until then capable or fit for precious connection. For others, the self is restored in and through connection.
“Once again I would repeat that this is not a normative or hierarchic difference. It is a difference in fundamental ‘orientation’, or what I am here calling ‘style’. …. it is important to see that this is not a matter of dichotomy or polarity, as if people favor either separateness or connection, but one of figure and ground.”
Reason and Feeling
In his book Radical Knowing, Understanding Consciousness through Relationship (p.12), philosopher Christian de Quincey says: “As these women explained it to me, they felt most comfortable relating to the world through their feelings, whereas the men in their lives typically used reason as a basis for communication. Many of these women had spent years in relationships where they felt that their husband, boss, teacher, father, or brother had used the power of intellect to invalidate their feelings and in so doing, dominated them; these men and women were experiencing a clash of worldviews.” And he adds: “It’s not that one way of knowing is right or better than the other – we need both reason and feeling for getting on with the complicated business of living.” (p13)
And I fully agree when he states: “We should be careful not to generalize or to stereotype genders. Not all women use feeling as their primary mode of consciousness or communication. And, of course, women can be just as rational and intellectual as men. Similarly, not all men are unskilled in the ‘arts’ of feeling, either. Furthermore, feeling-based consciousness is not always so gentle or nurturing.” (p13) And he goes on to tell a story demonstrating this point.
Justice and Care
Carol Gilligan, in her research and book In a Different Voice, found that girls are not inferior in their personal or moral development. Rather, they are different to the ‘normal’ male standard. They develop in a way that focuses on connections among people (rather than separation) and with an ethic of care for those people (rather than an ethic of justice). She writes: “… the moral problem arises from conflicting responsibilities rather than from competing rights and requires for its resolution a mode of thinking that is contextual and narrative rather than formal and abstract. This conception of morality as concerned with the activity of care centers moral development around the understanding of responsibility and relationships, just as the conception of morality as fairness ties moral development to the understanding of rights and rules.” (p.19 my italics)
Different spiritual paths
Angela Fisher, interviewed by Hillary Hart in The Unknown She. Eight Faces of an Emerging Consciousness, says : “Men’s journeys are of course towards themselves, but at the same time they seem to journey away from themselves, leaving their bodies behind. They master their instinctual nature – which is an expression of the body in the world – and transform these energies. Most of the practices given in all kinds of traditions are designed to assist this process. They are easy to recognize, emphasizing ascetic trials like fasting, physical endurance, and controlling sexuality. And we consider these as general spiritual practices, not recognizing that they might be inappropriate for women. Women often don’t need these practices, because they stay where they are; their connections within life, within the created world, provide the ground for their transformation. ….
Working with men, you can push them… You cannot do it with women like that. Women lose connection to life and their physical body. They need the container of being connected to life. And in this container the whole transformation process takes place.” (p28-29)
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, a master in a certain Sufi path, writes in The Return of the Feminine and the World Soul: “For example, the masculine mind thinks linearly. It’s goal oriented – there’s a problem, we figure out how to solve it. Masculine consciousness is quite focused. The feminine consciousness, on the other hand, is relational. It looks around and it asks, is nature focused? Is a squirrel, say completely focused on being a squirrel? No. The squirrel makes a relationship to everything around it and in the midst of all those patterns of relationship it knows where the nut is, and it knows how to leap from brand to branch to get the nut. And feminine consciousness, by its very nature, works in the same way; it feels all these different patterns of relationship and how they work together.” (p40)
Two types evolving
You might wonder why I write here about feminine and masculine, or even gender differences. Many of the practices and distinctions that I am going to make further down the road somehow have to do with these differences. My intention is not to point out differences between genders, but to show how some energies, patterns, or ways of knowing have taken centre stage in our society, while other energies or capacities have been more hidden or not (or less) developed.
One of the themes running through this book is the rediscovery of those qualities, energies, competences that do not receive enough attention or recognition in mainstream western society. The goal is to re-integrate and fuse them all in order to live life more fully and enjoy our full potential. Co-creating the new, or living in the generative space is only possible once we have fully integrated what is more mainstream with what is needed to complement it (what is in the shadow). That’s all that is needed; not more. What is more in the shadow, what is more in our awareness? Let’s bring it all centre stage: we need it all.
Next: 2.2 Companioning
Download the article: Baeck 2.1 Mainstream and shadow
Reflecting on the guiding questions we used in our little Flemish circle (How do we … out of deep respect and love? How can I respond out of love even if I don’t like what you said? How to show respect to others even when I am in a hurry?) I came to wonder: Why don’t we ask these questions every day and in every situation, instead of only when we are in a circle or a workshop? Even more importantly: Why don’t we live up to the answers that our hearts whisper silently all the time? Why is it more difficult to act on these answers about how to be present – especially when we work and live together – than to read about it or talk about it to our friends? There is a big difference. Everybody feels it. It is because we are involved, with our whole being. We cannot hide. We cannot be our so-called normal, conditioned self any longer. We have to change. The new paradigm in the world, the change in our organisations, more respect embodied in our relationships – all these demand the transformation of myself, of our selves. Nothing less will do.
This chapter describes how the four movements of observing, accepting, honoring and living what is apply to my relationship with myself. The next chapters will expand through the process of outer alignment, where we find a growing balance with the people and context around us. This process of alignment within – I and myself – will uncover the realms of subtle sensing and inner knowing inside your self. They have always been there, but haven’t been in the spotlight. This subtle art of inner alignment gradually gives access to more authenticity, until you are able to shift from your default, conditioned and habitual way of being towards acting in authenticity and flexibility, wherever you are. Authenticity here implies the mind and body integrated, being and knowing in synergy in all kinds of ways. Becoming your own instrument, fine-tuning it and learning to hold your own melody.
You might wonder why we go to all the effort of uncovering this inner realm. In today’s world, strong energetic, human containers (groups, teams, families, organisations) are needed to hold complexity, chaos and turmoil, to provide a sheltered space where individual members can share their stories and be vulnerable. For this to be possible, we need individuals who are strong containers in and by themselves. That means people who take full responsibility – in the sense of ‘response-ability’ – for their emotions, their body’s energy fields, their thoughts, the power of their own will; people who can contain themselves, who can witness all this at once, even when the emotional and energetic charge is very high. This is why this science and practice of inner alignment, of becoming present, is so crucial in these times. Through this practice we discover and hold our unique melody and keep singing harmoniously in the choir, even when a lot is happening all around.
Later we will see how individual, personal authenticity can evolve further, towards living your soul’s calling. It has become clear to me that the increasing complexity of life will not lead to some kind of oneness, some level or form that fits all. Rather, it invites us to express more of our unique ways of being, to become ‘an exemplar’ as Bonnie (Bonnitta Roy) would say. As we each learn to do this, grounded in our own voice, then the practice of choral improvisation becomes possible – learning to sense and ride the shifting patterns emerging from the middle.
Referring to his focusing process from the felt-sense, Gene Gendlin says: “This authenticity is defined not by its outcomes, but by its kind of process.” This applies here in the same way. The process of inner alignment, applied to my personal self, has no final destination. It is not about finding my authentic self at some point in time and then I am done, the journey is over. No, we will see that the unraveling of our mental conditioning goes on and on; the unfolding of our unique ways of expressing our self never ends. We will approach levels of ever more refined energy, and we will become sensitive to the life force coursing through us.
On the surface, it looks as if we know a lot about ‘I’, the ‘me’ that I present in the world every day. Never before in history have we heard this little word ‘I’ with such frequency. But who is this ‘I’, really? How much am I aware of what is really going on inside me? Is my attention as grounded in my subtle senses, my physical sensations and my feelings, as it is in my thoughts, ideas and beliefs? How often do I realise only after the fact what it was that I was actually feeling or sensing? These questions are linked with what Otto Scharmer calls the ‘blind spot of leadership’. Most disciplines of therapy, personal development, coaching and mentoring beckon us inwards with our attention, to witness the deeper layers of this entity we call ‘I’. And it is always a dis-cover-y. What we uncover in this process is the fullness of who we really are. We embrace and integrate the more subtle meanings that are hidden within us, and step by step we come to inhabit our unique self, shedding the conditioning that has been there since childhood or that we borrowed from society. What remains is a self that is transparent, vulnerable, radiant and full of energy: our authentic self.
As Yasuhiko Kimura stated online: “Authenticity is etymologically and existentially linked to authorship and authority. To be authentic entails being the author of your own life based on your own inner authority, free and independent of external authority in the matter of thinking, knowing, and acting. Self-integrity and self-honesty are built into authenticity.” I couldn’t put it any better.
What follows is the description of the four movements – observing, accepting, honoring and living what is – that we described in general in chapter 1.4, now applied to the process of becoming more present with and aligned within myself. In this process of inner alignment of I and Myself, we focus our attention on our inner being, our inner landscape and we prepare ourselves to open up to embrace and integrate all that we discover inside.
1. Observing what is – in myself: Opening to the full experience of my inner being
Being open to the full experience of myself and observing and acknowledging what is, must include the physical level of my being; because that is – as a matter of fact – the ground of my self. I focus my attention on my internal experience: the physical sensations in different parts of my body, the feelings and emotions that arise with differing degrees of intensity, and the subtle sensations (that we described before) that are also there. Most Westerners are not used to giving attention to their bodies and the wealth of information that the body provides. I have had many clients over the years who would answer “nothing”, when asked what was going on inside, in their bodies. To acknowledge the body is to notice its signals, and to take this bodily information seriously: using the information derived from seeing, feeling, hearing and intuiting as equally valid and complementary to the information provided by our thinking.
The physical body is, on the one hand, a storehouse of old memories and, on the other hand, a very good receptor of subtle signals from the fields around us – and of course much more. Therefore, we must first become good inner listeners, inner observers, to be able to discern what is old and comes from memory, and what is truly in relation with the here and now. The importance of body awareness for the grounding of wisdom cannot be overstated; it is in and through the body that we can check our level of being present.
The aim of the first part of this book is to arrive at collective wisdom. As in any team sport, the training and awareness of the body is not the ultimate purpose, but is in service of the team playing as a whole. In the end, it is in my body, as a container, that I can hold the energies of feeling, thinking, chaos, wisdom and so on. Only in this way can I really contribute to the collective wisdom of a group. If you want to expand your awareness in this field, it is both good and necessary to have a body-awareness training or practice – such as aikido or other martial arts, tai chi, yoga, dancing, any kind of meditation, walking or other practices that use the body as the point of entry.
2. Accepting what is – in myself: expanding my self-image and integrating my subtle inner experience
We can summarise the movement of accepting what is on the personal level as the witnessing and suspending of our habitual ‘this is me’ and accepting that there is more to it. Most of our actions – and thinking – are literally re-actions: repeating the same thoughts and actions. Otto Scharmer calls it ‘downloading’. Downloading happens not only in thinking, but equally in feeling, speaking and action. It applies, too, to our self-image. This doesn’t change easily. We hold onto a consistent self-image; we believe that we stay the same and we use this self-identity as something to rely on. The first step is to recognise that this is what we are doing: downloading, repeating old patterns. Only then we can open up to something new.
Accepting what is in myself means focusing our attention on widening our view on and of our selves, realising that we are more than the habitual form that we identify with. If I sit with my self for a while, and expand my observations inwards, I will notice that there are also other, more subtle signs in myself that don’t really fit with my habitual way of looking at myself. Maybe I got a hunch that something was going on with my friend, but I greeted her in my usual way, without really paying attention. Maybe I was more deeply hurt than I had first realised and shared with my partner. Maybe I intuited that there was something strange going on in that organisation, which could have informed me better from the outset if only I had paid attention. Maybe a clear vision came to me in a team meeting, but I didn’t dare to voice it.
Accepting what is in myself means taking all these subtle signals as just as valid – at least worth checking out and taking into account – as my normal, default ways of seeing my self. We then come to a point where we widen our idea about ourselves, first to admit, and later to integrate our unique way of sensing the subtle into the definition of who and how we are. We open our hearts for more of ourselves and in the same movement we have more acceptance of the unique contribution of every human being, and even beyond.
3. Honouring what is – in myself: Deepening my self image and connecting with my inner gifts
Honouring what is in myself means not just accepting (“OK, it’s true that I noticed that”), but also owning these so-called deeper sensing parts of myself, these deeper layers that I have mostly been hiding away. It’s about achieving full congruence – or at least intending to – between what I share with others, my self image and my deepest experiences.
In our Western culture, our subtle sensing has for the most part been in the shadow; it has not been allowed to be (fully) present. For this reason it still holds a certain gem-like quality: because it has had to hide in the dark and has not been permitted to be visible it is loaded with a heavy emotional charge, which conceals the beauty of its essence. We will be amazed! By opening up to this subtle shadow we find a precious gift: our individual way of sensing, our very own contribution to understanding more of what is going on, our unique gift to collaboration and co-creation.
As mentioned before, we all have a preference – or a natural priority – as to which faculty our subtle sensing manifests through most. For myself, I am very kinaesthetic, so I sense lots of things right in my body, as an ache, as a certain pressure, as a sense of constraint in certain areas of my face, as a quality of deep opening in my lower belly. I’m very physical, very much here-and-now, and I want to walk the talk right away. And sometimes I just know, with a sense of total alignment between my head, my body and my subtle senses. This knowing has a certain quality of ‘this is it’, without any trace of a doubt. But I hardly ever ‘see’ things, or ‘hear’ information. I feel it, or I know it. For others it is different. The point, in honouring what is, is to be grateful for your own way of accessing subtle information and not to try to do like others, or to compare your unique way with theirs. I have a friend who took some years to understand and accept that her ‘instant-knowing-just-like-that’ was no less valuable than the clear and detailed images that could be perceived and described by others.
4. Living what is – in myself: Sharing and expressing my unique gifts
After honouring my deeper self the only possible next step is living and expressing myself, as I am, subtle sensing included. I share my thoughts and emotions, I share the subtle clues I perceive, I share my wildest dreams and my deepest aspirations. Alongside sharing through language, I also show my unique form of creativity: my dance, my models, my poetry, my deep insights, my inner knowing, my sensing, my theory, my cooking, my disturbance, my flower arranging … I am no longer stuck in downloading, I am free from any compulsion to conform to a certain type of identity. I am aware of my gifts to the world, I can now show up as an authentic person.
Ode to a Cloud
Changing shape before your eyes,
Holding its shape so lightly,
Willing to die for love of the whole
Who is this ‘I’ who holds its shape so tightly,
Clinging to form as though it’s all I know.
Would we were like clouds
Willing to be known only for a moment
– by Wendy, participant in WmtE2, Nov.2007
The experience of inner alignment
Quotes: (from conference call, as preparation for the first WMtE gathering, 6 May 2009)
Judy: “When I am connected to my body then there is also a heart connection; and the mental is still there. Then I am being as a human in a more integrated place; a fine-tuned sensibility, a way to sense into, and being fully present. When I feel really aligned, all of that is there, including what I sense in my body; and often there is a vibration, which is very physical. Vibration, a kind of pulsing, that is the signal to me that I am there.”
Eugenie: “Sitting in silence. I feel exactly what you feel. Plus I feel a lot of heart energy. Energy flowing through my body. Also feet and hands, I feel the ground that I sit on. I also feel the energy in my body. I am very open in my heart, very clear in my mind, through all situations. Feeling alive, sexy without seducing, very aware of the power of giving birth, giving life, creating life through my body.”
The ultimate purpose of this chapter I and Myself is to reveal what else is possible if we open ourselves more deeply and widely – for ourselves. It is a journey of many thresholds and little and big jumps into territory that sometimes seems frightening, because we go beyond our Western belief of what is right or true or valuable. We integrate more of our subtle and animal nature by acknowledging that we do sense a lot that in daily life is neither shared nor talked about. Still it is there, we all have the capacity to do it; we are hard-wired for this, and yet the capacity has not been used, let alone trained and practiced. The outcome is that we dis-cover our true self, digging it free from under the conditioning. The reward is being and feeling more alive and present throughout our whole life.
The next chapter moves from becoming present to I and myself, to becoming present to I and relationships. We are widening the scope of the field in which we can learn to grow our awareness and our presence. We will again use the same four sub-movements (observing what is, accepting what is, honoring what is and living what is) and gradually build a whole map (part 4.7) that will reveal what all this can lead to: building capacity for collective wisdom. Not just collective intelligence, but authentic collective wisdom; more on the difference between these concepts later. (part 4.2)
Download the article: baeck-1-6-opening-to-my-authentic-self-0416
In the hosting team of this Danish Moving the Edge gathering were a few women: one a dancer-performer by profession; Finn’s wife Tina, and myself. We tried to bring in more of the ‘body-stuff’ (dancing, drawing, walking etc.) in the preparation upfront. I wrote even a little article ‘Beyond Words: Body, Movement, Art, Nature’ as one of the perspectives on Collective Intelligence. But in the gathering we didn’t get any further than squeezing in some energizing dance after breaks and lunches. The circle was much more mental; with some resistance to the movement that was offered. But the longing was there and wouldn’t go away.
Tina and I connected soon after the gathering wondering how a Women Moving the Edge would look like. In the first call she said: “My deep pain after Moving the Edge is related to not using my full potential. It is related to holding back because of fear. I’m just acknowledging it as fear, and not irritation or… the pain after Moving the Edge was like breaking in two. It has to do with – maybe – opening this whole question about women’s liberation.” We decided almost right away to invite Judy in, and due to circumstances Tina fell out of the loop over summer.
The women’s liberation Tina mentioned here is not the same as the one we know from feminism, started in the sixties; but a liberation, and equal value, of the physical, emotional, subtle knowing with the mental knowing. It is the combination of all these ways of knowing that we would come to name the Wholeness of Knowing. In the two preparation days before the first Women Moving the Edge gathering, Judy first mentioned the concept and the importance of Wholeness of Knowing, including the body and all the energy in and around it. Later this concept would become crucial in our collective practice and would expand it even more.