A human life is a constellation of unique experiences and gifts that has never existed before and never will again. To be alive is the greatest blessing and a grave responsibility; the question is, How will I respond to the blessing? My soul is immortal, has lived here and elsewhere many times, yet the person I am now will live only this once. This one human life is my healing vehicle now, and though we live in a throwaway society, I don't believe the cosmos is made like that; the angels weep when a human life ends unfulfilled.
Fulfillment is a process rather than an event: to be fulfilled, I have to clear away every influence of past experience; to actualize my unique creative gifts and to express my life's purpose, I must be fully present here and now. Yet, how to be present seems to be the essence of healing. We all come into life with certain perceptions and biases from our previous lives, upon which we layer family and cultural bias, fetal and birth experiences, childhood and adult traumas and joys and the perceptions and feelings as well as decisions made (consciously or unconsciously) during life's many transitions. These accumulated experiences some remembered and others hidden away from ourselves form the belief system that creates our perception of the world we inhabit and our experience of life. The process of healing brings to light these hidden experiences and unexpressed beliefs that control my life, and allows me to change my mind, to retrieve the power Ive unconsciously invested in them. My healing holds the key to actualizing my life's purpose.
Healing isn't always fun! Getting deep into stuff I didn't really want to know about myself, getting my hands dirty digging into barriers that seem to block my way, and being confronted with my shadow are not entertaining. There's usually a period of hesitation. But the sooner I get down and do the work, greeting my shadow as a guide and messenger, enlisting help where needed, the sooner I can stand again on the solid ground of self-actualization.
By its nature, the shadow exists in our blind spot, and our first encounters with it can be startling and confusing. Relationships seem to bring out the best and worst in us. We attract partners who are just right for our healing. When we become intimate with each other, long-repressed feelings can easily be projected onto our partner, and we sometimes find ourselves locked into nightmarish situations of misunderstanding, misinterpretation, and irrational behavior with the one we love most. This is the shadow dance. It is one of those terrible gifts of healing: in the middle of it, the opportunity exists to tell the emotional truth, take responsibility for my ugly hidden side, love it anyway, forgive myself and my partner, be grateful, and move one step closer to wholeness.
The help of an experienced counselor or guide is often required to disentangle us from the drama of this shadow dance, or to help establish a compassionate dialogue with our hidden side. Journaling, visualization, and meditation are good tools for beginning to befriend the shadow and to nurture this underdeveloped part. Dream work is especially useful and effective. It can be a long process; remember: we are raising our inner child to maturity.
It begins with loving self-acceptance, which allows the withdrawn, disowned feelings to emerge and be discharged safely. Each time this happens, the energy of holding this material hidden is released and assimilated positively; there is a felt sense of movement, ease, and growth. Finally, there is healing: the shadow is integrated into a conscious wholeness, and we discover that we no longer wear a mask in the world because we have nothing to hide; we can be more genuine, more authentic.
The more I do this work, the more I realize the twofold nature of the shadow. On one hand, it is the repository of all my disowned feelings of frustration, powerlessness, victimization, greed, anger, lust all the seven deadly sins and their cousins, fear, guilt, resentment, hurt, and sadness. On the other hand, it is the seat of great potential power, sensuality, emotional and sexual intimacy, creativity of all kinds, and of hope, fulfillment, and purpose. It is no "bogey man." In its initial revelations, it is a hurt and angry child that needs to be listened to tenderly, loved and nurtured, soothed, healed, and allowed to grow up feeling safe and secure. As it matures, it grows into all that is good and powerful and passionate in life: a brilliant archangel bestowing power, blessing, and grace to every human endeavor.
This shadow dance is a lifes work, and thank God we have a lifetime to do it. Yet there is no time to waste, because cleaning away the accumulated debris of lifetimes and integrating our hidden power is only the preliminary stage of a new way of life in which we claim our rightful place as powerful, loving co-creators of reality. In order to move forward, we must complete the past; yet it is not the facts of the past that hold us back from our actualization, but the belief that they do.
As I begin to reclaim and integrate my disowned power into a new, joyful wholeness, I encounter a raft of limiting beliefs about myself: There's no place for me, no one will listen to me, Im not good enough, there's not enough money or love for me, I can't be safe or secure, Ill always be this way, etc. Often this unconscious belief system becomes evident just as I begin to envision new positive possibilities for my life. This is a good thing. This is the choice point Ive been working toward all along: these beliefs arise in association with people and past situations that I am clearing away.
The healing process is cyclic and cumulative: I will come to this choice point again and again as I go more deeply into my healing. Now I have a chance to see that these old beliefs are no longer relevant to my life. They no longer work for me, and I can change my mind about them. I can believe and act in another way. The transition to a new life is exciting, and the nature of the work becomes more interesting and creative.
There are many tools to use in making the transition to a new reality; they are in every self-help book. Journaling, visualization, meditation, affirmation, prayer, yoga and exercise, poetry, art, and music are all in the basic personal growth toolkit. Having loosened the web of limiting feelings and beliefs, it is important to envision and feel a new life of greater freedom, joy, and fulfillment.
Now I've entered into the realm of co-creation: although what I perceive as reality seems solid, fixed, and inevitable, in fact it is highly mutable. What I feel reflects what I believe, and my beliefs create my reality. It is possible to literally shift into a new reality in this way. This is not mere mental gymnastics it can't be done unless the feeling is real it is simply a powerful act of choice: making a strong intention and living a new vision.
Diligent observation of life is essential. The old beliefs of long habit may persist and sabotage my success. In this transition, it may seem like there are two competing realities. There are. One is the reality of outworn vows and promises created by my past; the other, a new reality, being created right now by a new vision of myself I get to choose. I always have the option of taking my old system of beliefs back, until one day I realize that this isn't much of a choice anymore: the power is gone from my old belief system, and my new vision persists.
At the beginning, I am frequently blindsided by my old beliefs. I have to lovingly, always lovingly, pick myself up and insist on my new creation, until one day, happily, I realize that I haven't been taken by surprise in a long time. It is important to surround myself with supportive helpmates who will believe with me in this new reality. The friends of my old worldview may not suffice; they may not be ready to make the transition with me. Counseling, support and empowerment groups, and active prayer partners are essential for me now to be a mighty "yes," to reinforce my new worldview.
Now I have received a new world. No matter how much effort Ive put into changing my old beliefs and patterns, and no matter how often I cycle through the whole process, it always seems like a gift and fills me with gratitude when I realize the miracle of co-creation. In fact, gratitude is a sustaining force in this world of fluid change. Joy, inspiration, and enthusiasm have replaced the heaviness and confusion of the past. My responsibilities have become further opportunities to participate in co-creation. Even my screw-ups become humorous sources of learning, stepping stones helping me move forward into ever-new horizons.
I hold the reins lightly in my new life. A feeling of a greater connectedness grows in me, and I begin to dwell not so much on my own issues but on the larger world. I wonder how I can be of some value here, how I can make a larger contribution, and I begin to apply my newfound co-creativity to a broader vision, to expand the domain of my effectiveness, becoming an agent of beneficial change in the world. It doesn't stop. The horizon of possibility goes on and on.
Mario Abbatiello is a Radical Transformation therapist, practicing and teaching at the Ravenna Homeopathic Clinic and through the Holistic Depression Network in Seattle. Radical Transformation Therapy blends his studies of Jung and humanistic body-centered psychotherapy with his training in the arts and his experience with yoga, Zen, and as a Sufi khalif. You may contact him at (206) 365-5595.