Plumbing the Depths: Exploring the Shadow

Tami Simon recently interviewed Dr. Robert Augustus Masters, author of a number of books, including, Bringing the Shadow Out of the Dark: Breaking Free from the Hidden Forces That Drive You.  Robert explained in his interview that each of us is influenced by our shadow, born of early life experiences and associated conditioning.  We can access this shadow through observing our reactivity to the words and actions of others and exploring this responsiveness in terms of the forces underlying what is often our inappropriate behaviour.  He explains that it takes courage, patience and persistence to plumb the depths of our shadow.

A near-death experience leads to self-exploration

Robert explained the concept of the shadow and its impact by sharing his own experience of plumbing the depths after a near-death experience (NDE).  He had started a community designed to develop the spirituality of participants but what started out as an open community became a cult, closed in on itself and impervious to outside influence or internal dissent.  He became delusional, enamoured with his own power and importance, and blinded by pride precipitated by the belief that he had arrived spiritually.

His near-death experience resulted from a rash action – imbibing a drug that was immediately harmful, causing him to lapse into unconsciousness and to stop breathing.   In exploring the catalyst for this impulsive action, he discovered that his pride had led him to become aggressive and totally lacking in empathy.  

Plumbing the depths: exploring the shadow

The near-death experience forced Robert to plumb the depths of his shadow – a shadow that was characterised by a belief in shaming as a basis for spiritual growth and a blindness to the harmful impact of his words and actions on those around him (members of his own community).  He discovered painfully that this desire to shame, together with his empathetic blindness, had its origins in his early life experiences where he was constantly shamed by his father (for his own good) and protected himself by becoming aggressive (fight).  His alternative was flight – disassociate himself from what was happening and retreat into himself.

Through his exploration of his shadow and its origins from his early conditioning, he became aware of his reactivity and learned the difference between healthy anger and aggressiveness.  Healthy anger maintains a sensitivity and empathy for the person who was the trigger for the angry response; aggresiveness seeks to diminish them, attack them or belittle them to prove that we are right.   This aggressive response can be during the event (face-to-face) or afterwards, as we indulge our sense of hurt  and avoid letting go.

Robert explained that he had to become intimate with the pain of the shame that resulted from the realisation of how he had hurt people in his community.  He had to look at the pain in all its dimensions (colour, shape, depth), name the source of pain and expose himself to the vulnerability that this exploration of the shadow entailed.  As he explored the depths of his shadow, he brought to light painful memories of his childhood conditioning.  The sensations associated with these deep emotional experiences were also felt in various parts of his body.

Coming out the other side from deep exploration of the shadow enabled Robert to develop “emotional resonance” (empathy), a healthy anger response and the realisation that he, like everyone else, is a work-in-progress.  Based on his experience, Robert recommended that we face up to the pain beneath our reactivity, explore the depths of our shadow and move to free ourselves from the hidden forces that drive us.  As we pull the veil aside, we come closer to understanding our responses and the triggers that set us off.

To assist with the exploration of the shadow, Robert suggested that after we experience a strong reactivity in an interaction with another person, we ask ourselves, “How old do I feel when I act this way?’  This could help us to get in touch with the conditioning we experienced as a child.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and reflection on our reactivity, we enhance our self-awareness, develop insight into the impact of our words and actions and learn to expand our response ability, including communicating a genuine expression of sorrow for the hurt caused to another person.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of Giuliamar on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Identifying and Managing Harmful Beliefs

Tara Brach provides an insightful article on the nature and impact of harmful beliefs.   She explains the well-known fact that our beliefs about ourselves and others (that we hold to be true), influence our thoughts which in turn generate emotions that then shape our behaviour – especially our responses to what we perceive as negative triggers.   Tara points out that often our beliefs cause us suffering because while they are real, they are not true.  The negative bias of our brains serves to sustain these harmful beliefs.

Our false beliefs can take many forms:

  • I am not good enough
  • They are out to undermine me
  • I am not doing enough
  • I don’t deserve to belong to this group
  • They don’t want me to be a part of this activity
  • I am bad.

These negative beliefs can develop at an early age and be reinforced by our cultural environment and own life experiences.  Parental influences can play a big role, e.g. if we cannot live up to their expectations musically, academically or with sport.  We may have experienced early separation from one or both our parents either temporarily or permanently.  This can reinforce our natural inclination to separateness – seeing our self as separate from others- and develop a sense of what Tara calls, “severed belonging”.

Our negative beliefs about our self or others can lead to defensiveness and inappropriate behaviour in conflict situations.  Our beliefs act as a way to protect ourselves when we are feeling vulnerable.  These beliefs are often below the conscious level and can lead to unconscious bias.  The problem arises when we then use our experience, impacted by distorted perceptions, to confirm our beliefs, thus leading to “confirmatory bias”.  Tara suggests that our beliefs can act as a veil through which we see and interpret the world.

The reality is that our beliefs about our self and others are merely representations that serve as as “maps” to negotiate our interactions in daily life.  The problem, though, is that “a map is not the territory”.  Sometimes our “maps” are accurate and useful; other times they are flawed, misleading and a source of suffering.

Identifying and managing harmful beliefs

Tara provides an eight minute meditation podcast on how to come to grips with harmful beliefs and to manage them effectively.  The starting point after becoming grounded is to reflect on a situation where you were in conflict with someone else.

Tara draws on the work of Byron Katie, author of The Four Questions, to provide a series of questions that you can pursue as part of this beliefs meditation:

  1. What belief or set of beliefs was I entertaining during the interaction – what did I believe was happening? (identifying beliefs)
  2. Are these beliefs true or did I invent them to protect myself? (remembering that beliefs can be real to us but not true)
  3. How is my life impacted by this belief or set of beliefs – what is it doing to my day-to-day experience (am I feeling stunted, controlled or imprisoned by the beliefs?)
  4. What is the underlying vulnerability embedded in my belief/set of beliefs – does this exploration reveal a pattern?
  5. What would my life be like if I no longer held this belief or set of beliefs? (would I feel freed, better able to express compassion toward myself and others and able to develop my response ability?)

The process of identifying false beliefs and their impact on our thoughts, emotions and behaviour can create a new level  of self-awareness.  Once we have gained this insight, the process of managing our beliefs involves “letting go“, so we can progressively release our self from the distortions of reality involved, increase our openness, develop creativity and improve our relationships.

As we grow in mindfulness through beliefs meditation and reflection on our  less-than-satisfactory interactions, we can identify and manage false beliefs that bring suffering to our daily lives and achieve a new level of vulnerability, not higher levels of protectionism.

 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of rawpixel on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog

Meditation for Letting Go

Sometimes we can become consumed by anger and be captured by the thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations that accompany anger.  Meditation provides a way to let go of anger and its associated ill-effects.

The catalyst for your anger may be that someone did or said something that you considered unfair.  It may be that what was said or done frustrated your ability to meet your goal of helping other people to achieve something important.  You could feel aggrieved that the thought, effort and cost that you incurred for someone were unappreciated and/or devalued.  It could be that comments made by someone else are patently untrue or distort the real picture of your involvement.

The harmful effects of sustained anger

The problem with anger is that it is such a strong emotion, that we tend to hang onto it – we do not let it go.  We might ruminate endlessly on what happened, providing justifications for ourselves – our words and actions.  We could deflect the implied criticism by denigrating the other person’s intellectual capability or perceptual capacity.  We could make assumptions about their motivation and even indulge in conspiracy theory.

An associated problem with indulging in angry thoughts and sensations is that it harms both us and our relationships.  We are harmed because the negative emotions consume mental and emotional energy, distract us from the present moment (and all that is good about the present) and destroy our equanimity.

Indulged anger can lead to retaliation that harms the relationship with the other person.  It can also contaminate our relationships with other people who are important to us such as our partner, a friend or our children.  As a result of our sustained anger, we may appear aloof, critical, grumpy or unsympathetic to these important people in our life.

A meditation for letting go

Diana Winston offers a meditation podcast on letting go.  She emphasises the fact that when we indulge a strong emotion like anger, the bodily manifestation of this can be experienced as tightness, tension or soreness – a physical expression of holding on.  We can even experience shallowness of breath as we hold the negative emotions in our bodies.

The first level of release through meditation is to focus on your breath – the in-breath and out-breath.  This mindful breathing can be viewed as letting go with each out-breath, releasing the pent-up thoughts and emotions that make you uptight.

As you progress your meditation and begin to restore some semblance of relaxation, you can then address the “holding on” in your body.  Through a progressive body scan, you can identify the parts of your body that are giving expression to your anger – you can physically soften the muscles (facial, back, shoulder, neck or leg muscles) that have become hardened through holding onto your anger.

Once you have become experienced in meditation, you can then begin to reflect on your response to the negative trigger that set you off.  This opens the way to look at how you responded and whether there was an alternative way of responding other than defensiveness or attack (flight or fight).  You might discover (as I did recently) that active listening would have achieved a better outcome, an improved level of mutual understanding and reduced stress generated by angry thoughts and emotions.

Taking this further, you could explore a powerful mindfulness meditation that can help you overcome ongoing resentment by enabling you to put yourself in the position of the other person to appreciate how they experienced your interaction – to understand their perspective, their feelings and their needs in terms of maintaining their identity (their sense of self-worth, competence or reliability).  The Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI) recommends this meditation practice for handling residual emotions and resentment resulting from a conflictual interaction.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and reflection we can practise letting go of anger and other negative emotions by focusing on our breath, bodily sensations, emotions, thoughts and behaviour in an interaction.  Through the resultant self-awareness, we can improve our response ability.  By exploring the interaction experience from the position of the other person, we can also increase our motivation and our options to behave differently for our own good and that of the person with whom we have interacted.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of geralt on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Grow Your Influence by Letting Go

In a previous post, we discussed how mindfulness helps us to increase our sense of control over our internal environment and responses to external stimuli.  However, there are times when we have to give up control over our external environment to enable others to gain a sense of control over their work or environment.

A fundamental dilemma in life is that to grow our influence we need to let go.  If we become too controlling, we get compliance from others but lose their commitment and energy – ultimately things get out of control.

If you are a manager or someone who has the power to delegate tasks to others, it is very difficult to let go.  However, if you fail to do so, your influence contracts, rather than grows.

We are afraid to let go because:

  • things might get out of hand
  • the other person does not have the knowledge or skills to do the task
  • other people may not have our level of knowledge or skill
  • we do not want to be embarrassed by the mistakes or failures of others
  • other people cannot do the task as well as us
  • we get a buzz from achieving things ourselves
  • we like to do things within our comfort zone, rather than things that challenge us.

All of these reasons for not letting go can be challenged but they often serve as barriers to delegating to others – in the final analysis, they can be seen as excuses.  The net result is that we end up overworked and other people are deprived of the opportunity to grow and develop, to achieve outcomes that are valued, to experience satisfaction for a job well done – importantly, if we retain control we limit their sense of agency and capacity to contribute.

Neuroscientist Tali Sharot maintains that “control is tightly related to influence” and influence expands when we provide others with a sense of agency – the capacity to control their environment, power over the way things are done.  She argues:

The message, perhaps ironically, is that to influence actions, you need to give people a sense of control.  Eliminate the sense of agency and you get anger, frustration, and resistance.  Expand people’s sense of influence over their world and you increase their motivation and compliance.  (The Influential Mind, 2017, p. 87)

To give up control, however, we have to be in control of our own emotions and responses.  We have to manage our fear of loss of control over our immediate external environment by managing our internal environment. As explained in the previous post, as we grow in mindfulness, we grow in the capacity to develop control over our own emotions and responses.

Tali Sharot suggests that “there is nothing more terrifying than giving away control to another human being” and “this is why many managers feel the need to micromanage their teams”.  She offers advice to managers that resonates with developing mindfulness and awareness:

It is difficult to let go, but awarness can help.  Understanding why we are the way we are, and being conscious of our deeply rooted drive to make decisions, may help us hand over the wheel once in a while.  With awareness comes the understanding that giving away control…is a simple but largely effective way to increase people’s well-being and motivation. (The Influential Mind, 2017, p. 103)

She discusses examples of research projects in different contexts that provide evidence of the effectiveness of the fundamental principle of letting go to empower others by giving them a sense of agency.  One particular research project that resonated strongly with me was one involving the elderly in a nursing home where the fundamental questions framed by the researchers, Rodin and Langer, were:

What if the residents of a nursing home were given more choices, more responsibility, and a greater sense of agency?  Would they become healthier and happier?

To test these questions, the researchers set up an “agency floor” and a “no agency floor” where the former were given control over a range of decisions – a sense of agency not provided to the latter floor. The results are described by Tali Sharot as follows:

Three weeks later, when Rodin and Langer assessed the nursing home residents, they discovered that those individuals who’d been encouraged to take more control over their environments were the happiest and participated in the greatest number of activities.  Their mental alertness improved, and eighteen months later they were healthier than the residents on the “no agency” floor. (The Influential Mind, 2017, p. 97)

This research project has a personal interest for me because it reminds me of the activity of my brother, Pat Passfield, who provided other residents of his nursing home with a strong sense of agency.  He was recently nominated for a philanthropic award for his efforts to raise funds and improve conditions for other residents of the Jacobs Court aged care community at Sinnamon Village (80 years of Care – Wesley Mission, A joint Photojournalism Project between the Wesley Mission Queensland and Griffith University Queensland College of Art, p.22)

So if we learn to let go through developing mindfuless and awareness, we will be able to grow our influence by giving others a sense of agency and control over their environment – and contribute substantially to their health, well-being and happiness.

 

Image Source: Courtesy of geralt on Pixabay