“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.” ~ Khalil Gibran
Relating is a tricky business.
Love has the power to bring up the wounded parts of us and expose the raw and tender layers of who we are. Intimacy uncovers the vulnerable aspects of being and draws out the darkness hidden under the skin.
Knowingly or not, relationships serve as intricate studies in shadow work, challenging ancient hurt within and offering the potential of transformation.
I have loved and hated my suffering in equal measure. I have researched it, prioritized it and spent a significant percentage of my life trying get rid of it, figure it out and resolve it for good. I have cried my eyes out under so many different skies. I have banged my head against countless concrete and conceptual walls.
My relationship to my pain has been fierce and resilient, maturing along with the rest of me.
The inquiry of heartache has been a strange sort of quest. It has felt like a math equation, a Rubik’s cube, a million piece puzzle to solve. Pain was a wake-up call, a road sign in neon lights that kept screaming: Look at me, look at this! Pay attention! I will be so big and so loud and so impossible you will have no choice but to focus. I needed to unravel knots of perception and replace them with practical resources for a less conflicted life. I had to keep going and moving forward, dancing my way beyond the gestures of personal turmoil into a shimmery field of vaster choice.
Intimate relationships activate unresolved materials to surface with the release of defense and what shows up doesn’t always look attractive at first glance. X-ray of the soul reveals equally the scar tissue and the original hurt underneath it. Old ghosts spring up like Jack-In-The-Box and leave behind entire landscapes of rejection and disappointment, highlighting the hidden places where we have felt undefended, incapable and lacking in resources to protect ourselves.
Are we able to not flinch and turn away when faced with darkness, whether in ourselves or our partner? Can we tolerate, sustain and be present to the muddiest, roughest and ugliest parts of our beings? Can we hold space for the other person to go through his or her stuff without taking on responsibility that doesn’t belong to us? Can we ride it out and have faith that the person we love will eventually emerge from the fog clearer, lighter and with less baggage?
Carl Jung said: “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” Exploring, embracing and finally embodying our shadows has the potential to thoroughly liberate and transform us.
Take a step back and consider for yourself: What is denied, hidden and unacknowledged about you? Where are you not allowing the totality of yourself, the full range of emotion and expression? What traits would you rather not include in your known identity and accepted self-image? What characteristics contradict with your preferred sense of self? What is the unprocessed material you carry around that you would rather not directly address?
Give yourself the permission to expose your heel of Achilles and revel in your mistakes. Roll in the mud of your disgust and luxuriate in your embarrassment. Bring out the ghosts, beasts and monsters and shine a flash light on every single one of them. Most of them are shadow figures anyway, feeding off of shame, secrecy and silence.
What happens if you open the door and let them play in the sun with the rest of your more resourced aspects?
The darkness is not that dense, it just seems that way at first. Don’t give it unreasonable power and charge it with unnecessary importance by holding it back with all of your might. Dare to reveal every inch of your devastation and your loneliness. Map out the sizzling texture of your hot burning humiliation and share it with glee.
Kiss every weakness on both cheeks and agree to become a human being in all of your totality, with full range of emotion and nothing left to hide.
We are all born into delight and discomfort. Getting current and facing the factual givens of today means not living through the distortion of historical pain. If I can hold wide and compassionate space for myself in my human struggle, I can offer the same for the people I love. We ultimately do have what it takes to hold the suffering of the world with equanimity, balancing the scales with both hands.
We are bowing down and leaning into the human condition, releasing into the force of gravity and relying on grace to lift up our spirits.
Author: Anna Seva
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: via the author