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Episode 5: Witnessing the Shadows


In this episode, I talk about unearthing and bearing witness to our Shadow Selves -- those hidden feelings, desires, or fears that we keep locked up under shame and silence.

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You’re listening to the Ekstasy Vine Podcast Episode 5.

Hello and welcome. My name is Ekstasy and this is where we explore the sensual landscapes of nature and the body.

This week I wanted to talk a little bit about what it means to come into a different kind of relationship with our bodies, especially when it comes to things we can’t change about ourselves.

So whether it’s something abut the way that we look or feel, or the way that our body functions, I think there can be so much suffering when we don’t like that thing and we want to push it away or we want to change it, but we can’t.

I think a lot of people talk about acceptance being the key to finding more peace and peeling off a layer of the suffering. Instead of fighting against reality and wishing that things were different or feeling this conflict because we can’t match up with our expectation about how our body should look or feel or function. Instead, we come to a deeper peace with ourselves and with reality by accepting the fact that it just is the way that it is. That we’re going to feel pain or suffering, but that there’s no reason to add extra layers of shame or feeling like we’re failing as a human being.

But the thing with acceptance is that it’s actually really difficult to do. I don’t think that we can just wake up in the morning one day and be like, “I accept myself 100% and I accept this situation and I don’t feel any kind of conflict or suffering anymore.” Especially if we have been feeling this sort of rejection of ourselves for so long. If there are these things about ourselves that for years we’ve held at arm’s length or pushed away or numbed out or we just don’t want to feel it or think about it or look at it. So it’s not like we can just wake up tomorrow and feel acceptance for it.

For myself, one of the things I’ve noticed is that acceptance is actually is not even the main action, the main thing that I’m doing in order to feel more peace with myself. Acceptance is more of a by-product or a result of something else that I’m doing.

And that other thing that I’m doing is witnessing. Being present. Really being with and holding space for the feelings and the suffering and the experience of having this conflict inside of myself.

So before the acceptance can even happen, I think that we need to start to learn to be present with the thing that is giving us the suffering and causing us this pain and this conflict.

But then there’s the question of how do we do that? How do we witness ourselves and our suffering or these parts of ourselves that we’ve rejected or are pushing away and that we don’t want? Especially if they cause us so much pain. How are we supposed to witness them and do that?

One of the things that comes up for me is this idea of the Shadow Self. I think that we can actually have many Shadow Selves. But basically they are these aspects of ourselves that we have pushed really far down into the depths of ourselves because of this suffering or conflict that we feel with them.

It’s something about ourselves, maybe a feeling that we have, or a desire that we have, and we push it away and shove it down. The thing with that though is that it actually almost magnifies it. Instead of giving it space to express itself or be heard, we’re essentially caging this wild core piece of ourselves. We’re putting it in a little box and we’re trying to silence it and quiet down.

And we do that for lots of different reasons, a lot of which we’ve already talked about in other episodes, but things like social conditioning or your family’s values or religious beliefs. For whatever reason we find these parts of ourselves unacceptable or inappropriate and we want to push them away.

And sometimes we even feel justified in pushing these things that we don’t like about ourselves away because maybe we think that they are really uncontrollable or we blame this animal nature of ourselves for our addictions and our greed and our violence. And we think that the solution is somehow to control it even further. And to alienate ourselves even more from these things about ourselves that we don’t like.

The problem with that is that they become the monsters under the bed. They become the ghosts in the closet. Or those secret desires that haunt us all the time. They don’t disappear. They just curl up in that cage and they're growling and they’re waiting for their chance to lash out so that we listen to them.

So the problem isn’t that we have these parts of ourselves. The problem is that we feel all this shame about them and that we’re pushing them away and denying them. Because I think that denial is the most potent form of suffering. When we deny something, we put up this wall or blockage between ourselves and reality. And we can’t accept the situation, so we lay in opposition to it, and it keeps us fragmented and keeps us separated from truth and makes it pretty impossible to change our relationship with it. If we can’t change the thing, maybe we can change our relationship with it. But if there’s this denial if there’s this wall there’s no way that we can actually see it in its fullness.

So the key thing to facing our shadow selves is to look them in the eye and offer them acceptance as just another piece of our identity, our self. And even addiction or greed or violence or these things that we’re taught to be so ashamed of, they’re actually just warning signs, they’re loud messages from the body that something is amiss and there’s a deeper need that’s not being met.

And so instead of shaming these things and thinking of them as bad, maybe we can listen to them and see them as signs and messages of something that we need to face.

So I think that witnessing comes in by giving our shadow selves a space to express themselves and feel heard and seen so that they’re not being abused, stuck inside of a box, layered on with shame and silence.

Using the language of descent, dropping down into a place within us where they dwell means reconnecting with the body and listening to its instincts and needs and desires and really bearing witness to all those different parts of ourselves, those desires and things about ourselves that we feel almost repulsed by. I think in order to offer them acceptance, we first need to look at them, and give them avoice, and let them express themselves.

And I don’t think it always has to be so scary or so painful. I think sometimes it can actually be really exciting or illuminating or even really playful. The key is to approach ourselves with curiosity and more like an exploration or an excavation. So it’s more of a transformative process of unearthing all of these hidden parts about ourselves. And looking at them almost like an archeologist would look at something they’ve slowly and carefully uncovered under the soil.

So that’s in a sense what we’re doing with witnessing. We’re becoming archaeologists of our own experience. And we’re looking at these different aspects and different parts of ourselves with curiosity and an intensity, but it doesn’t always have to be so painful. I think that it can actually be playful.

So in the coming weeks I’m going to share with you some of the different techniques that I use for witnessing myself and facing my Shadow Selves and engaging with them in different ways, both playful and intense, not only the techniques, but also more of the general worldview that I have that gives space for all of those different Shadow Selves to take form in my life and feel more peace with myself.

So until next time if you have any questions or comments that you’d like to leave for me, you can head over to EkstasyVine.com and send me a message. I always love to hear from you. And until next week, I hope you have a wonderful week. And I hope you’ll join me next time.