Theme Day 9 from the Tracking Wonder Quest 2015. Thanks to visionary Eric Klein, founder of the Wisdom Heart School for flinging some really stinky, motivating shit. Not only did he gift us this prompt, but he tossed in an inspirational dharma essay to really get the juices flowing. See the end of this post for his full thoughts. What is there to respond to? He says everything that needs to be said in the essay. Each paragraph is a serious, guilt-inducing kick in the ass. And since I already took a stab at nice, my response today is a bit on the silly and free-flowing side of things – because I don’t care what you think and because I’ve had too much heavy lately.
How will you face your shadow bag and stop the stink, so you can bring forth what is best within you in 2015? What can you claim right now? Can I harness my power and still be nice?
Step 1. Watch this stinkingly adorable music video for Taylor Swift’s song Shake It Off. It will use up 4:01 minutes of your life, but I promise it’s worth it. It’s also really important to the story I have to tell.
You see, it was Taylor Swift who wafted the stink in my direction. My own stink. She helped me draw loose the cord on the shadow bag, contents spilling out.
Let’s be clear. I am 34. The first three radio stations programmed in the Subaru lead to NPR, NPR and NPR. I am the antithesis of pop-culture. Do you get the picture?
And there I was, driving south on Highway H through rural Wisconsin. A destination I can’t remember. Near the Illinois border all the NPR stations went fuzzy, and I scanned the radio dial.
Can’t stop, won’t stop moving.
It’s like I got this music
In my mind, saying it’s gonna be alright…
I’m dancing on my own.
I make the moves up as I go.
And that’s what they don’t know,
That’s what they don’t know.
Shake if off. Shake if off.
Blamo. I only heard half the song, easily dismissed as a silly pop anthem by a gorgeous young starlet. And it rocked my world. It rocked my world. The energy? the lyrics? the beat? I don’t know which. But it started me crying and tumbling and instantly fully aware that the bright golden thread that wraps around my heart and connects me to that ethereal, wonderful, protective, inspiring, bigger-than-you-spirit-of-goodness-and-fullness-and-YOUness was GONE. Poof, gone. At some point, a moment that I did not notice, that thread was pulled taught and snapped. Or maybe it rubbed against sharpness or dullness and slowly worn through. I had lost my lifeline umbilical cord to the power that made me great, strong, vast, invincible. That made me ME.
I didn’t recognize myself.
A sudden, unexpected, flattening jolt of reckoning.
My mind cycled through old pictures and memories and feelings. I could recall what that full-self felt like, but I couldn’t access it. How brave she was. How joy-filled. Anything could be shaken off, because it didn’t even dent the surface of her I-don’t-care-what-you-think lacquer. Fun and bright and messy and creative and open and quirky. Was she lost? Am I lost? Was this just the pain of growing up, growing out of your younger, perkier, braver self? Was this just life, and uncompassionate grind?
I felt muted.
In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus is quoted as saying “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” The stink that’s pursuing you isn’t a problem to make go away. It’s a call to live more fully and contribute more completely.
Double. Whammy. I’ll take Eric Klein’s advice that, “It’s a matter of facing your experience fully. Truthfully. Without leaping to conclusions or solutions.” That means a lot of sitting with what is and viewing, poking, exploring and watching. Just watch, and learn, and walk toward the scary with patience, since “there’s no road map. No time table.” It’s a path to walk, to see what is inside the shadow bag and let it emerge of its own accord. Lightening the load as small pieces float out and return to me. And that is all I can claim now. The willingness to stop, listen, feel and act with integrity and honesty, one step at a time. It works, it helps.
I used to literally tear up and cry in watching the music video for Shake It Up. Miss Swift’s energy and honesty and goofiness and authenticity (and not to mention the everyday people dancing like they mean it at the end of the video) all magnified and expanded my feeling of loss and self-disappointment. That something I knew I had misplaced in myself. I am watching, I am learning. When I hear the song now, I get a bit of the smile-cry*, and dance along wherever I happen to be. It’s a lot easier to dance without that stinkin’ heavy shadow bag dragging at my heels.
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Eric Klein’s wonderful dharma essay…
The Question of Power (and where to find it)
I recently received this email from a reader of our Wisdom Heart newsletter:
“Can I harness my power and still be nice?”
It’s a wonderful question for anyone seeking to live with greater clarity, courage, and compassion. And the short answer is no.
Because, power is the ability to fully and authentically embody your values and create what matters most in your work and life.
So, what is nice?
Nice is a knife.
It’s a knife you use to cut off parts of your self. You started using the knife when you were young; cutting off the parts of yourself that don’t fit with family expectations.
It’s something we all do. It’s part of the human condition. It’s how we adapt, fit in, survive.
But, don’t worry; those dismembered parts of yourself are still part of you.
The dismembered parts don’t disappear.
They go into, what Robert Bly, evoking the work of C.G. Jung, called the “shadow bag”. All the cut off parts of your psyche go into the shadow bag.
Here’s how it works . . .
Imagine you’re a kid feeling the buoyant energy of Spring. You run into the living room whooping, leaping, and bouncing off the walls. You’re feeling pure joy. But, to your folks your behavior appears “noisy” and “crazy” and “loud”. They tell you in no uncertain terms to cut it out.
And, you do.
You cut out the buoyant, leaping, energetic parts of yourself and stuff them onto the shadow bag.
Year by year the bag getting heavier, filled with the unacceptable parts of your life. The parts of your soul, psyche, and self and were deemed unacceptable by powerful others” – parents, teachers, leaders, friends, lovers. The list is long.
Wonderfully, those parts aren’t gone. They’re in the shadow bag. You drag them behind you but don’t offer them to the world. You tip toe along. You modulate your voice. You’re . . . um . . . nice.
Every cut diminishes your power.
You can still proceed with your life with parts of cut off.
You can even do quite well – you’re nice after all – and people respond well to nice. But, there’s that bag and all those cut off parts dragging behind you.
Sooner or later things start to stink.
You begin to notice a strange odor. At first it comes and goes. It’s bothersome but not persistent. But, if neglected for too long, the stink gets stronger. Soon, every meeting you go to, every conversation you have, everywhere you go, is permeated with that annoying odor.
What’s that smell?
It’s the odor of your cut off parts seeking to rejoin your life.
They’ve been reaching out to you all along but you were trained not to notice. So, you didn’t.
You were taught from a young age to hide your deepest longings, to deny essential and sacred parts of who you are. In your family, at school, in the world, you’ve been encouraged to act as if you are complete while simultaneously cutting of parts of your self and exiling them to the shadow bag.
When you cut off parts of yourself, you cut off the flow of your life.
To get your life moving in a powerful, authentic direction starts with reclaiming the parts of yourself that have been cut off. And reclaiming starts when you notice that persistent stink.
In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus is quoted as saying “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
The stink that’s pursuing you isn’t a problem to make go away. It’s a call to live more fully and contribute more completely.
Which all sounds great. But, honestly it’s not easy to face the stink.
So, before you face the stink of the shadow bag, you may want to try some air freshener.
You know what I mean? Maybe take vacation to recharge your batteries.
But, pay attention to what happens when you come back from vacation. If you find that within a day (an hour) of returning to the office that the stink has returned – be not deceived. The issue isn’t that you’re not getting enough time off.
Not that there’s anything wrong with a vacation.
There’s not. Same with exercise, yoga, meditation, and hiring a coach. All can be useful. But, if you use them to mask the stink and avoid facing the shadow bag – you’re avoiding the issue. This issue is whether you want to be powerful or nice. To create what matters most or wield the knife-of-nice and continue to amputate your life.
Let me be the first to admit – I’d rather use air freshener than face my shadow bag.
I’d rather not face the stink. But, at a certain point, it becomes clear that turning towards the shadow bag is the way forward. The path to power travels through the shadow bag.
It’s not a matter of being either nice or being powerful.
It’s a matter of facing your experience fully. Truthfully. Without leaping to conclusions or solutions.
It’s a matter of life.
So, how can you proceed?
Step towards the unacceptable places within you.
You don’t need to do anything else. Simply step with awareness towards the shadow bag. Take your time.
There’s no road map. No time table.
The path of power is a step-by-step journey fueled by willingness and honesty.
As you step forward, your experience of the stink changes. You begin to see how the difficulties you encounter (especially the really stinky ones) are precisely structured to call forth the cut off parts that are waiting to be redeemed from your shadow bag.
The conflicts that you face in work and in life point towards the un-integrated parts of your self.
Those parts that are calling to return to life. To your life.
I don’t want you to think that this path is automatically strewn with flower petals.
But, I do want to encourage you to pay attention. Notice the stink. Step forward. And keep breathing.
Yes, keep breathing.
Deeply. Fully. Breathe.
And soon you’ll notice something strange.
That stink – which had been so noxious – is starting to smell like flowers.
Now, that’s nice.
How will you face your shadow bag and stop the stink, so you can bring forth what is best within you in 2015? What can you claim right now?
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