“Stay. Stay here.” “Be here.”
Staying present is something I’ve been working on for a while. Staying present with emotions. Staying present in conversations. Staying present on walks with my cat who is growing older and won’t be around forever (Yes, I take her on walks. Or rather, she takes me on her walks). Staying present in whatever I’m doing — when it crosses my mind to do so.
But, since the election its a message/sensation that’s been consistently coming up when presented with something I find uncomfortable. The first time I really noticed it, I was reading an interview with someone from Breitbart. I was finding what they were saying so ugly that I wanted to just close that tab on my computer screen and go find a cute puppy video. But, as I began to move my cursor towards the tab, I felt the internal call to “Stay. Don’t look away from this. Be here. This is important.” It wasn’t easy. There were several more times that my cursor began to drift towards the X that would close the tab. Each time, deep within my body I felt the call to Stay.
“Why am I being called to Stay with this? I don’t really need this garbage clogging up my mental inbox.” I sat with the question for a while and realized I wasn’t being called to Stay with the information. But to Stay with my reaction to the information. To notice the places in my body that had become tight and to note the other times my body reacted in this way. To notice how easily I had dismissed this person into the category of “other” and my self as “better than” this person. To recognize all the ways this moment represented patterns of behavior. To see the triggers and understand their source was not just the words I was reading on the screen.
Since then I’ve had other calls to Stay with discomfort. And on two different occasions, two different friends, totally unprompted by me, shared experiences of discomfort in which they said they felt called to Stay. One said in one of the experiences she wasn’t even aware she’d been ready to turn away from the experience until she felt the prompt to Stay.
Before I go further I want to be clear that a call to Stay generally does mean to put yourself in harm’s way. It is not a call to stay with someone who is harming you — mentally, physically or emotionally. It is not a call to seek out danger in order to practice Staying. It is also not a call to Judgement of self, or of what arises within as good or bad.
Then what is the purpose?
The call to Stay is the call to be FULLY present with whatever arises within us, not in judgement, but in curiosity. To become an explorer of our inner self, including the parts we don’t particularly like. You’ve probably heard a saying that goes something like, “What you don’t like about others is what you don’t like about yourself.” I’ve always had a strong reaction to this, “Surely, I don’t act like the people who annoy me or push my buttons.” But, according to psychology, I do. Maybe not always. But according to Herman Hesse, “If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.”
Carl Jung called it the Shadow.
“The Shadow in ourselves consists of all the emotions and thoughts we repress as being socially inappropriate. Jealousy, rage, that evil twinge that relishes the thought of your boss being called on the carpet? That is shadow material. The more we repress shadow material, the more of a hold it has on us.”— What You Hate Most In Others, Is the Shadow Within Yourself
In other words:
I believe learning to be FULLY present with discomfort, FULLY present with the aspects of our Shadow, makes us more effective activists. As Chameli Ardagh, of the Awakening Women, shares in this TED Talk, it is FULL presence that allows space for choice. It is that which keeps Fierce LOVE or righteous indignation from becoming mindless destruction
Understanding how and why we are triggered will make it less likely that we mindlessly react to those triggers — an important skill in activism. And, more importantly, recognizing that what we dislike in others is also found in us, is important for building bridges with those with whom we disagree. This is not say that FULL presence or Shadow work gives a pass to injustice. Just because we are all capable of something at our core, does not mean it is okay. We do not lay the Sword of Truth to the side. Instead, it is through our work of the FULL presence with Shadow that we learn to weld the sword wisely.
Shadow work is not easy. It is not undertaken lightly. In fact, Jung himself said:
Heart Warrior. I like that.
Learning to be FULLY present, especially with our Shadow, is a foundation for learning to be FULLY present in our life. And being FULLY present is the only way to open to the world in complete LOVE. And this is what the Divine Feminine is calling us to do.
So, where to begin?
If the concept of Shadow is completely new to you, the article I quoted above had a lot of good information in it. The next step is to stay aware when something you read on your FB news feed or hear on the news triggers you. Listen to see if you, too, are being called to Stay. If you are ready to answer the call, notice what is arising: What are you feeling in your body? What are the thoughts you are having about the person speaking or being quoted? What are your immediate reactions? Can you think of other times you felt this way? If so, what are the common themes? These themes may point towards a Shadow element within yourself that is calling to be healed. What would your typical reaction have been if you didn’t Stay?
Remember to explore without self-judgement. Having a Shadow is nothing to be ashamed of — we all have one. As you bring your Shadow tendencies into the light of awareness you may be surprised to find hidden strengths.
Blessings to all the Heart Warriors on this path with me.