Spiritual Bypassing, Relationships and the Shadow
By Bernhard Guenther, September 17th, 2013
“It is understatement in the extreme to say that spiritual deepening is not necessarily a benign, nice, neat, or comfortable process. Initially we may flirt with spiritual opening, doing some meditation practices, reading spiritual or metaphysical literature, trying out different teachers and teachings, perhaps hoping that our spiritual experiences will make us happier or more successful, but when we go — or are compelled to go — beyond spiritual dilettantism and cultism, reaching the point where we don’t give a damn about being spiritually correct and where spiritual deepening is not an option but a fundamental need, we find that it is much more of a sacrificial process than we bargained for, necessarily bringing us face to face with all that we have turned away from, risen above, or otherwise avoided in ourselves.
We have an astonishing ability to fool ourselves, and an equally astonishing ability to cut through what’s in the way of seeing more clearly. The first ability — which appears at every level of development — generates the very conditions that catalyze the second, conditions that feature enough suffering to really grab our attention. However unwittingly or unconsciously, we invite in circumstances that bring our dissatisfaction to such a peak — or through! — that something has to give, providing us with whatever rough grace is needed.”
– Robert Augustus Masters
Over the past 4 months I took a break from the external world and the internet for two months. I needed to go on a sabbatical to address some childhood wounds and issues that have come up for me. Life has shown me my shadow once again to be looked at and made conscious of.
I thought I had already worked through a lot, but now another layer has been opened up and raw wounds were painfully present, forcing me to feel a lot of emotions I had suppressed, mostly guilt, shame, and anger. I realized that I understood many things intellectually in the past, but didn’t fully break through the buffers and armor of my emotional self I thought I had already processed. Instead, I was projecting it outward towards others in my life. My Knowledge and Understanding was over-riding my Being, not fully embodying “the Work”, avoiding deeper issues that I couldn’t ignore anymore. As Carl Jung said “personal unconscious must always be dealt with first… otherwise the gateway to the cosmic unconscious cannot be opened.”
The universe and life draw people and situations into our lives at times to deal with the personal unconscious, the darkness we need to make conscious in ourselves, before we can attain any higher spiritual states. Relationships are very powerful and challenging in that regard as we engage in the dance of shadow projection, triggering unconscious childhood wounds in each other.
When we are in the midst of challenging situations and life takes a downward spiral and everything seems to fall apart it is hard to make sense of it all. The pain and suffering can be intense, resulting in depression, resentment, anger, guilt and shame. We feel resentment if we feel wronged by another person and we blame him/her for the pain they have caused us. Or we blame ourselves with guilt and shame of how bad of a person we are. So we judge others or ourselves, reacting mechanically and unconsciously.
There is nothing wrong with feeling resentment, anger, guilt or shame. It’s ok to acknowledge and say “Ouch, you hurt me!” or admit our wrong-doings to others and making amends because we feel guilty and have hurt another person because of our actions. There is a place and healthy expression of negative emotions. It helps us to shine light into things we had suppressed. It only starts to become toxic and self-defeating if we keep lingering on resentment/anger or beating ourselves up with guilt and shame to the point that we diminish our healthy self-worth.
When we can’t let go of resentment and keep feeding our anger by continually pointing out everything the other person is doing and has done wrong, blaming him/her for our pain, then this issue is deeper and relates to our childhood wounding which is coming to surface. It relates to our needs not being met by our parents or old wounds from past relationships we haven’t fully processed and let go of are being reactivated. The same goes if we keep diminishing ourselves with guilt and shame, making ourselves feel worthless. It relates to our inner child that is carrying wounds we haven’t made conscious yet.
In that sense, negative emotions about ourselves or others can lead us into a downward spiral where we suffer mechanically and unconsciously. However, if we can recognize the triggers and reflect how this relates to our childhood wounds, without projecting them into the present and taking things personal, then we can use these negative emotions to suffer consciously in order to dissolve them and not react mechanically but respond with compassion and empathy towards ourselves and others. It’s about addressing, processing and resolving without blame.
This, of course, is sometimes easier said than done because our unconscious behaviors are hard to spot first, for the simple reason because they are unconscious. It is important not suppress or avoid negative emotions. They are not really “negative” to begin with but we tend to judge them as “bad” or we identify so strongly with them that we think we are them. Non-reacting doesn’t mean suppressing, but feeling them consciously, being vulnerable and in order to do that we need to tune into our body.
Being a bodyworker and receiving massage on a regular basis as well as having a consistent yoga and qi gong practice has shown me many times the importance of the body-mind connection, how our traumas and childhood wounds are stored in our bodies. Our muscles, tissue, organs and bones are carriers of energy and memory, all of which is interrelated and connected. The body is a holistic organism where nothing is isolated. Everything affects us physically and energetically on some level. Any experience we ever had, even things that happened to us but we’ve forgotten about or were not aware of, it is still held in the body. Be it grief, a broken relationship, emotional pain, everyday stress, childhood issues, injuries and accidents, past life trauma, etc….the body stores the experience and does not “forget” until it is released in the body.
Throughout my life I have worked through many issues with the help of these body-mind techniques, but as more had come up for me recently, I needed a new approach. After a difficult break-up with my partner, we decided to see a professional psychotherapist (as a couple and individual sessions) trained in Gestalt Therapy, Jungian Psychology, Trauma Work, Somatic Release Therapy and various other body-mind techniques. At first I was reluctant to go. My ego came in, telling me “What? Me? I don’t need to go to therapy. I can work this out in my own!”. But I realized I had hit a wall and dead-end. My relationship with my partner was disintegrating as our individual childhood wounds were starring in each other’s faces crying for recognition. Too many triggers and mechanical reactions, not enough conscience and mindfulness.
Going to see a therapist was the best thing I could have done. When I was telling her about what I was going through, she stopped me sometimes in mid-sentence, making me aware of subtle body-movements or facial expressions I made and wasn’t aware of as I was talking, gently guiding me to feel the underlying emotions, asking me where I feel it and, encouraging me to talk to it, helping me to get out of my head and feel more. Her presence of radiant empathy but with clear energetic boundaries was very powerful, giving me the space and safety to process without being judged.
Many times during these sessions I started crying out of nowhere as my therapist guided me through my body. I had emotional releases at home during this time as well, crying and grieving with intense sadness, emotions that have been “stuck” for decades or even past lives got released. Narcissistic wounding from childhood (when one or both parents tried to meet their needs through us and didn’t fully respond to our needs) and codependency issues came up (one can cause the other), two things many of us are dealing with, being aware of it or not.
Interestingly I was aware of these issues for years but realized now that I never worked through it on that deep emotional level as I was able to do now to thanks to therapy. I couldn’t have done it on my own.
Four months later I feel an emotional depth and sensitivity with empathy and compassion I’ve never experienced before. Yet, the work never stops and it’s an ongoing process. The main thing I realized is how we all can easily engage in “spiritual bypassing” where we use spiritual and esoteric concepts to bypass basic psychological work, over-estimating ourselves and essentially lying to ourselves about our state of being, intellectualizing things and not embodying them. Especially nowadays with all the pop-psychology and new age material, we can easily buffer up issues and avoid deeper psychotherapeutic work, fooling ourselves all along.
“All who are into the spiritual have engaged in spiritual bypassing. We need to accept that we have or are using it to avoid our psychological issues and to feel better about ourselves. We must view this with genuine compassion and understanding, not judgment or denial. We must be aware of our capacity for spiritual bypassing. We need to stop impaling ourselves on various spiritual shoulds and practices and preoccupations of being nice, positive, and spiritual. We need to recognize and act on addressing our darker or less spiritual emotions, impulses and intentions and stop denying them as part of who we are. We must be aware of our need to be someone special, spiritual, advanced, and stop dividing everything positive and negative, higher and lower, spiritual and non-spiritual. We want to reach a state of immunity to suffering.
Signs of spiritual bypassing include:
- Minimizing, superficializing, or negotiation of our shadow side and negativity.
- Global statements such as “everything is perfect” unfolding as it must. It’s all an illusion including your suffering. Just your ego.
- Spiritually rationalized avoidance of feeling deeply especially our less pleasant emotions.
Efforts to eradicate the ego:
- The greater the pain of our unresolved wounds, the greater the odds we will involve ourselves in spiritual bypassing
- Wherein spiritual practice and attainment are used to avoid directly and unguardedly feeling the raw reality of suffering, keeping us safe.
- Feeling a need to go deeper into spiritual practices if progress isn’t good enough, self-blame, but keeps them distracted from having to face and deal with their core pain.
When in the grip of spiritual bypassing we view it as unnecessary and only for the neurotic and at best strengthened the very egoity that spirituality might eradicate. It is very easy to couch our fear of psychotherapy in spiritual language. It may even keep us stuck conceptually on a higher level.
Cutting through spiritual bypassing means turning towards the painful, unwanted, scary shadow elements of ourselves. To do this we must cut through our numbness and defenses, approaching it with as much care as we can. If doing so seems to heal our heart, we are on the right path. When heart heals, it opens and expands, not shatters. When we denumb and become more comfortable with our own comfort we see what drove us into spiritual bypassing. This is a challenging journey to say the least.”
– Robert Augustus Masters
But even with psychotherapy we need to be discerning and choosing the right therapist is key. When I refer to psychotherapy I talk about techniques mentioned before (Gestalt Therapy, Jungian Psychology, Trauma Work, Somatic Release Therapy and various other body-mind techniques), not simply Freudian “talk therapy” or getting pharmaceuticals from a psychologist. As we all know, psychology has also become much distorted, however at the same time, there are many new concepts and practices that have evolved, combining spiritual and psychological work with body-mind techniques in very efficient and practical ways.
During the work with the therapist I didn’t only let go of my stigma around psychotherapy and my judgment that only very “damaged” people go to therapy, but realized that everyone, without exception, can benefit from basic psychotherapeutic work, because we all have issues and childhood wounds lingering in us to be recognized and healed. We all are wounded in different ways.
Especially in this day and age where life has become more complex and uncertain as the world is changing faster and faster, it is important that we dive deep into our unconscious to heal what needs to be healed. It is part of being the change you want to see in the world, confronting the shadow within and without.
There’s a lot in you that’s neither being carried into this persona system nor into your ego, as part of what you perceive as “you.” Just opposite to the ego, buried in the unconscious, is what Jung calls the shadow.
Now, the society will give you a role to play, and this means that you’ve got to cut out of your life many of the things that you, as a person, might think or do. These potentials get shunted down into the unconscious. Your society tells you, “You should do this, you should do that”; but it also says, “You mustn’t do this, you mustn’t do the other thing.” Those things you’d like to do, which are really not very nice things to want to do, those get placed down in the unconscious, too. This is the center of the personal unconscious.
The shadow is, so to say, the blind spot in your nature. It’s that which you won’t look at about yourself. This is the counterpart exactly of the Freudian unconscious, the repressed recollections as well as the repressed potentialities in you.
The shadow is that which you might have been had you been born on the other side of the tracks: the other person, the other you. It is made up of the desires and ideas within you that you are repressing—all of the introjected id. The shadow is the landfill of the self. Yet it is also a sort of vault: it holds great, unrealized potentialities within you.
The nature of your shadow is a function of the nature of your ego. It is the backside of your light side. In the myths, the shadow is represented as the monster that has to be overcome, the dragon. It is the dark thing that comes up from the abyss and confronts you the minute you begin moving down into the unconscious. It is the thing that scares you so that you don’t want to go down there. It knocks from below. Who’s that down there? Who’s that up there? This is all very, very mysterious and frightening.
If your personal role is too thin, too narrow—if you’ve buried too much of yourself within your shadow—you’re going to dry up. Most of your energies are not available to you. A lot can get gathered there in the depths. And eventually, enantiodromia is going to hit, and that unrecognized, unheeded demon is going to come roaring up into the light.
The shadow is the part of you that you don’t know is there. Your friends see it, however, and it’s also why some people don’t like you. The shadow is you as you might have been; it is that aspect of you which might have been if you had allowed yourself to fulfill your unacceptable potential.
Society, of course, does not recognize these aspects of your potential self. You are not recognizing these aspects of yourself either; you don’t know that they’re there or that you have repressed them. The shadow is that part of you that you won’t allow to show through, that includes good—I mean potent—as well as dangerous and disastrous aspects of your potential.
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” – Carl G. Jung
You can recognize who it is by simply thinking of the people you don’t like. They correspond to that person whom you might have been—otherwise they wouldn’t mean very much to you. People who excite you either positively or negatively have caught something projected from yourself: “I do not love thee, Dr. Fell. The reason why I cannot tell, But this alone I know full well, I do not love thee, Dr. Fell?”
Why? Because he’s my shadow. I don’t know whether you’ve had similar experiences in your life, but there are people I despise the minute I see them. These people represent those aspects of myself, the existence of which I refuse to admit to myself. The ego tends to identify itself with the society, forgetting this shadow. It thinks it’s you. That’s the position society puts us in. Society does not give a darn whether you crack up when it’s through with you—that’s your problem.[…]
Jung calls the individual who identifies himself with his persona a mana personality; we would call him a stuffed shirt. That’s a person who is nothing but the role he or she plays. A person of this sort never lets his actual character develop. He remains simply a mask, and as his powers fail—as he makes mistakes and so forth—he becomes more and more frightened of himself, puts more and more of an effort into keeping up the mask. Then the separation between the persona and the self takes place, forcing the shadow to retreat further and further into the abyss.
You are to assimilate the shadow, embrace it. You don’t have to act on it, necessarily, but you must know it and accept it. You are not to assimilate the anima/animus—that’s a different challenge. You are to relate to it through the other.
The only way one can become a human being is through relationships to other human beings.”
– Joseph Campbell, Pathways to Bliss
In everyday life, intimate relationships or just friendships can trigger the shadow in each other. When issues arise in a relationship as they always do at a certain point and the shadow comes out in each, projecting it on the other and hurting each other unconsciously, there is a chance to heal deep-rooted childhood wounds that are coming to surface again, each partner playing out the parent (or both) we were wounded by (as we all have been in various degrees because no parents are perfect), because of their own wounds. If we can recognize this and take our projections back, understanding that there is no one to blame, neither the partner nor the parents, but only lessons, the relationship can be transformed to a higher level.
But this requires sincere work of both partners with humility, compassion and empathy, especially since the projections won’t stop overnight and we keep getting triggered and slip back into unconscious behaviors. Sometimes a third person, a mediator or therapist is needed. It’s about addressing, processing and resolving, making amends and help each other in the process. This is not easy work by far because those old wounds can hurt a lot and we all tend to avoid pain and buffer it up with a band-aid, projecting it on the other person instead of healing it. It’s the fire where lead is transformed into gold.
If this is not possible and we don’t stay aware of the triggers and projections and keep taking things personally and blaming, the relationship will disintegrate, either because both don’t own their projections or one person is so repressed and wounded (trauma/addiction), not engaging in sincere self-work, that the projections intensify, masked up with unconscious anger and resentment, constantly finding fault in the other to justify these feelings, making him/her walk around on eggshells. Then the only way is to separate otherwise we will follow a downward spiral. We need to take care of ourselves first and foremost and can’t “do” anything for the other in this instance. This is not being selfish but mature. “Peaceful resolution” where both people own their projections and make amends is not always possible.
“Many continue to be seduced by the hope that their partner will change for the better, getting so used to being relationally undernourished that when a few crumbs of a desired outcome show up (often just after a serious fuss has been made about needing a closer relationship), those crumbs get framed as a feast, a reason to hang in there, to keep waiting and waiting and waiting… And while we’re waiting thus, we are doing little more than postponing our life, impaling ourselves on our hope (our nostalgia for the future), as if this is all we deserve.”
– Robert Augustus Masters
“Mr. Gurdjieff said that it would be necessary to develop oneself to such an extent that it would be possible to know and understand enough to be able to aid someone else in doing something necessary for himself, even when that person was not conscious of the need, and might work against you, that only in this sense was love properly responsible and worthy of the name of real love…….He added that, even with the best of intentions, most people would be too afraid to love another person in an active sense, or even to attempt to do anything for them; and that one of the terrifying aspects of love was that while it was possible to help another person to a certain degree, it was not possible to actually “do” anything for them.
If you see another man fall down, when he must walk, you can pick him up. But, although to take one more step is more necessary for him even than air, he must take this step alone; impossible for another person to take it for him.”
– P.D. Ouspensky
Being the target of shadow projection in an intimate relationship (or friendships) is the hardest, especially while you are doing your best to own your own projections and acknowledging the hurt you have caused because of your own unconscious behaviors. It hurts because we love the other person. But even in this pain, I know that the one who hurts me is in even more pain and it is not about me, so I meet it with compassion and empathy. Sometimes this is harder said than done, but it is the only way if we don’t want to repeat those lessons in the next relationship with a different face and being confronted with the shadow again and again.
A strong indication of shadow projection is if we’re trying to “save” someone or try to be “saved” by someone, even if only unconsciously. The victim/savior relationship is one of the most common unconscious drives of what brings people together, mistaking that for love. It all relates to not getting certain needs met in childhood and trying to get them met through our partner or friends.
As long as we keep F.A.C.E. (Fear, Attachment, Control, Entitlement) we don’t learn the lessons, but keep projecting on the other. But the only person we’re really hurting is ourselves, even if we can’t see it in that moment.
The shadow dance, pushing and shoving, no one has more fault than the other, no one is better than the other. Sometimes one person’s actions seem to be way more hurtful than the other’s. But we will always have a very limited view on this. We don’t see the full picture. Karma and past life issues are at play as well. The universe always strives for balance in the bigger picture, even if we can’t see it (or don’t want to see it) in the situation we’re in. It’s the play of duality, the yin and yang, dark and light.
Intimate relationships can act like a fast-track in spiritual development, like a catalyst, because much of our unconscious shadow can easily hide as long as we avoid relationships or endlessly look for the “perfect partner” who will never appear. On the other hand, some of us go from relationship to relationship, afraid of being alone, not integrating the lessons from past relationships and constantly looking outside of ourselves for love and fulfilment.
In this day and age, relationships are very challenging, especially for the ones who seek truth sincerely within and without, stepping out of complacency and conformity, not playing by society’s rules, expectations and conditioned desires. We have to pay with ourselves, confronting the predator and shadow within first and foremost. So sometimes people and situations come into our lives that play out what we have been hiding all along, only for us to recognize without blame.
“The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside as fate. That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner opposite, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposing halves.”
– Carl G. Jung
One of the best tools that have helped me understand myself and others better is astrology, especially combined with psychotherapeutic work.
I’ve always liked astrology and learned a lot about myself ever since I got my first natal chart reading around 2001. Over the past four months I’ve gotten deeper into it and learned to appreciate the skill, knowledge and intuition of talented astrologers even more. Astrology has evolved over the years as well. I can highly recommend to get a professional natal chart reading at one point in your life. I have some basic astrology knowledge, but putting it all together with all the fine nuances and the bigger picture, a professional reading is absolutely essential, otherwise you will fool yourself and misinterpret many things in your chart. The only computer-generated chart interpretation I can recommend is Liz Green’s work at www.astro.com , especially her Psychological Horoscope, combining Jungian psychology with astrology as well as her Relationship Horoscope (the composite chart with another person showing the dynamics between the two).
However, it’s well worth to invest into a one-on-one reading with a professional astrologer, because no computer-generated chart can substitute the intuitive work of a competent astrologer looking at your chart as a whole. There are many talented astrologers out there. Understanding your natal chart and how the current transits affect you opens up a whole new world and awareness that is very helpful for self-work and understanding yourself and others, resulting in acceptance and compassion.
“While studying astrology I have applied it to concrete cases many times. The experiment is most suggestive to a versatile mind, unreliable in the hands of the unimaginative, and dangerous in the hands of a fool, as those intuitive methods always are. If intelligently used the experiment is useful in cases where it is a matter of an opaque structure. It often provides surprising insights. The most definite limit of the experiment is lack of intelligence and literal-mindedness of the observer. Undoubtedly astrology today is flourishing as never before in the past, but it is still most unsatisfactorily explored despite very frequent use. It is an apt tool only when used intelligently. It is not at all foolproof and when used by a rationalistic and narrow mind it is a definite nuisance.
– Carl G. Jung
“Whether we use psychological or esoteric terminology, the basic fact remains the same: human beings do not earn free will except through self-discovery, and they do not attempt self-discovery until things become so painful that they have no other choice. If the individual makes no effort to expand his consciousness so that he can understand the nature of his total unfoldment and can begin to cooperate with it, then it will seem that he his the pawn of fate and has no control over his life. He can only earn his freedom by learning about himself so that he can understand what value a particular experience has for the development of his whole self.”
– Liz Green
But like with any of those systems (Astrology, Human Design, Numerology, etc.), while giving insight, they are all limited in their own way and there are other factors to consider. Readers of my blog know that there are forces affecting our planet, the hyperdimensional realm. There is the issue of genetic Psychopathy, the question of the soul and that we are not all the same inside and not all of us have the ability to activate the higher centers. As mentioned before, these are very complex topics that need careful study and consideration. Then there are spirit attachments, which can alter personalities from subtle to very severe. There is also the possibility of higher density souls that have incarnated in this time and age with a certain mission profile, who have a very hard time adapting to this physical experience.
Modern psychotherapy doesn’t acknowledge the possibility of psychic attack and hyperdimensional forces working through us. Most people still have a very anthropocentric worldview. Anyone who tries to awaken from the hypnosis humanity is under will be met with resistance and attack, which can come through our own minds or working through people close to us, draining us, distracting us and sabotaging any attempt to “escape the matrix”. Luckily the therapist I’ve been working with is aware of the aforementioned topics and incorporates them in her work as well. But even without understanding the non-physical realm, doing basic psychotherapeutic work can heal a lot and lay the very necessary foundation before we can rise to a higher level of consciousness and awareness. In fact it is essential.
“There are a thousand things which prevent a man from awakening, which keep him in the power of his dreams. In order to act consciously with the intention of awakening, it is necessary to know the nature of the forces which keep man in a state of sleep. First of all it must be realized that the sleep in which man exists is not normal but hypnotic sleep. Man is hypnotized and this hypnotic state is continually maintained and strengthened in him. One would think that there are forces for whom it is useful and profitable to keep man in a hypnotic state and prevent him from seeing the truth and understanding his position.”
– G. I. Gurdjieff
“And as we have learned from Jesus, Gurdjieff and the Gnostic Sufis, Castaneda, and the Cassiopaeans, the rules of this World in which we live were set up and are controlled by this STS hierarchy and have been for a very long time. Each and every time the revelation of this Control System is attempted, the Matrix goes into overdrive to destroy it. And it is clear that this is the present situation….It is in “seeing the unseen” that we become aware of higher levels of being; it is in ordinary human interactions that we experience the “battles” between the forces of STS and STO!And it is most definitely this factor that the Matrix Control System vigorously attempts to conceal!… In other words, we are not just talking about a “petty dispute,” we are talking about a battle of forces at other levels, manifesting – as ALWAYS – in human dynamics.“
– Laura Knight Jadczyk, “The Wave” Volume 5&6 “Petty Tyrants & Facing the Unknown”
Considering all that, we can easily feel disempowered and overwhelmed and there is still so much we don’t know. We need to remember to take small steps one at a time, with patience and compassion for ourselves and others. We will always hurt others or self-sabotage our own development in the process of living life at times. We will look for blame and excuses, trying to make sense of challenging situations that can’t be understood in the moment, rationalizing our decisions and behaviors and lying to ourselves and others unconsciously. We will inflate our egos with self-importance and righteousness or diminish ourselves with pity, we can be over-emotional or emotionally closed off, we can be over-bearing with others or shy away from necessary confrontation to stand up for ourselves. We will overestimate our spiritual progress, engaging in spiritual bypassing or become too hard on ourselves. In short, we will always make mistakes and screw up sometimes. It’s life, but through the suffering and sincere self-work we learn and grow. That’s why we need compassion more than anything else.
Grieving is an essential and necessary stage in any form of self-work, which leads us to compassion and empathy. It can be painful and seemingly never-ending but the only way out is through and time heals all wounds if we keep working on ourselves and let grace guide us.
“Mindful Grief means mourning and letting go of the past without expectation, fear, censure, blame, shame, control, and so forth. Without such mindful grief, neither past nor person can be laid to rest. When we grieve mindfully, we mourn every one of the disappointments, insults, and betrayals of the now irrevocably lost past. We mourn any abuse—physical, sexual, emotional. We mourn for how our parents [or friends and romantic partners] just did not want us, did not love us, or could not get past their own needs long enough to see us as the lovable beings we were and allow our unique self-emergence. We mourn every way they said no to the gift we sought to give them: full visibility of our true self, not the self we had to manufacture to please or protect them. We mourn all the times they saw how scared, forlorn, and sad we were and yet did not respond, relent, or apologize. We mourn because even now, after all these years, they still have not admitted their abuse or lack of compassion.
Grief’s favorite position is piggyback. If I am abandoned in the present and allow myself to grieve the abandonment, all the old abandonments of the past, which have been waiting their turn, jump onto my grieving shoulders. Also included in the piggybacking are the griefs of the human collective, what Virgil calls “the tears in things.” These are the givens of relationship: the sense of something missing, the fugitive intimacies, the inevitable endings. We carry sensitivities to all those in our hearts, and our personal griefs evoke them. What a way to find out we are not alone! We carry the heritage of the archetypal past and enrich it continually with our personal experience.
Jung suggests that working on our childhood issues is a necessary first step toward spiritual consciousness. As he puts it, the “personal unconscious must always be dealt with first… otherwise the gateway to the cosmic unconscious cannot be opened.” We cannot make up for losses, but we can learn to tolerate them and contain them. This is what the soulful journey of mourning is about.
Mourning is an action not a transaction. It is our personal responsibility, so we do not do it with the perpetrators of our losses, including our parents [and partners]. We interrupt our own healing as long as we still have to tell [them] how bad we think they were.
Some of us are not yet ready to face what really happened to us; we suspect or even know that we do not have the strength to follow the process through to its painful conclusion. It is important to respect this hesitancy and honor our own timing. Some tears may be shed today, some next year, some in thirty years. The inner child of the past tells her story a little at a time, lest we have too much to handle all at once. “Hurry or delay is interference,” D. W. Winnicott says. The fact that grief takes so long to be resolved is not a sign of our inadequacy. Rather, it betokens our depth of soul.
A cognitive recounting of the past may only be a memory of a memory unless it is connected strongly to a bodily feeling, because every cell in our body recalls every event that impinged upon us in childhood. The body, more than the mind, is the real human unconscious, storing both the memory of pain and our attempts to avoid it. The work, then, is to find the accurate sense of what we felt and not necessarily a story line of exactly what happened. In fact, the content of the memories is less crucial than the conflicts they represent and the reenactments we are still caught in. These are the true targets of grief, not the memory of what happened.
Actually, we may never know what truly happened in our past, not because it is so lost in oblivion but because it is continually shifting in our memory. At each phase of life, it rearranges itself to fit our new sense of ourselves and the world. Memories are selections from the past. Thus, our goal is not so much to reconstruct memory but to restructure our overall sense of the past to fit our changing needs.”
– David Richo
Through my own process of grieving I have tapped into the suffering of the collective even more, almost feeling the pain of the world. It is very humbling, helping me to feel compassion for myself, friends and for humanity, a heart-opening on a level I haven’t experienced before, encouraging me to speak out more and be more compassionate at the same time, to be of service the best I can while taking care of myself and working on myself. Yet still, it’s a long way to go and I accept the challenges as they come. We are all in this together and that’s what we signed up for.
“We begin with “my” grief and may remain there, but sometimes we shift to “our” grief as our rawness of heart starts to radiate out to include the suffering of others close to us. And then we may shift even further to “the” grief as we feel our collective suffering and allow that feeling to pervade us — which doesn’t just bring on more sorrow, but also more love, love that remains itself even as it freely weeps. Here there is huge heartache, enormous hurt, and deep opening — together carrying us through the extremes of sorrow into a spaciousness as naturally compassionate as it is vast.”
– Robert Augustus Masters
Someone wise said once: “How often do you have to pick up the phone until you get the message? You don’t get to move on in life until the lessons are learned and all there is are lessons, every day, every moment.” Meditating on this can have a profound healing effect and acceptance, compassion for self and others.
Some of my closest friends have been going through some challenging times recently, myself included, and I know there are many people out there who do as well. The intense astrological transits confirm it as well. Keep in mind, all there is are lessons and we learn as we go, step by step, sometimes some steps back, sometimes in circles but always moving. The only constant is change and as long as you are in this body there are lessons to be learned. Have faith!
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice-
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations, though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen branches and stones.
but little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do-
determined to save
the only life you could save.
– Mary Oliver, The Journey