A seed must crack wide open and break apart before the flower can grow. A caterpillar must feel like its world is over before it becomes a butterfly. Before times of growth, change, and evolution, there seems to be fear, pain, and angst. Why is it that chaos precedes growth so much of the time? Why must you break before you learn to bend?
Author Marianne Williamson wrote in her book, The Shadow Effect, Illuminating the Hidden Power of Your True Self, “Human consciousness is like a pilot light that never goes off. The problem is it is used to create either a life-producing heat or a life-destroying conflagration. Where there is no love, there is fear. And fear, once it has gripped the mind, is like a vice that threatens to crush the soul. So that’s what it is, this thing we call the shadow.”
Williamson notes that this “shadow” can be within us all and it does not wish us well. It is present when you hurt someone with a biting remark, pick up a bottle of alcohol although you know you’re an alcoholic, or sabotage your career with an avoidable mistake. In the end, your shadow can only be eliminated by shining light on it.
So instead of asking why there is shadow, try one of these suggestions to find your inner light.
Don’t Be Afraid to Catch Feels
It’s not just a catchy song of summer, it’s a reminder to lean into your feelings. Feel them. Name them. Notice the sensations they give you. The key is not to get stuck there. Notice, observe, and then move forward.
Turn Your Face to the Sun
If you have found yourself in a shadow, there must be sunshine somewhere. Instead of lamenting over the shade, find the sun and move toward it. You can do this by putting yourself outside the situation, like a witness, and by creating a series of options that could potentially help you. Try each one on for size and see if there is a particularly sunny option. Then move toward it.
Winston Churchill said, “You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.” Don’t ever throw stones at dogs, but also don’t worry about the destination. Give yourself permission to do something entirely distracting where you need to focus on what you are doing so you cannot get stuck in your head. Choose an activity like surfing, dancing, or playing tennis, where your focus needs to stay in the present.
When the Time is Right, Make Lemonade from Lemons
Many people who have a cancer diagnosis will eventually say that cancer was the best thing that ever happened to them. I have an autistic daughter who I see as the greatest teacher in my life. When first diagnosed though, the thought that autism or cancer would lead to growth is more like a kick while you are down than a happy thought. In time, your lemons become lemonade. Allow yourself all the time you need.
Think of the Phoenix Rising
Out of the ashes the phoenix rises. The second part of the parable that is more often forgotten is after rising from the ashes, the phoenix lives for 500 years. The lesson: you have time. Don’t rush. Move forward at whatever pace you need to go. Tiny or slow steps forward are still better than no movement at all.
It’s Always Darkest Before Dawn
There is a cycle of darkness and light that is part of nature. It’s a natural ebb and flow of shadow and light, of goodness and bad, of holding on and letting go. Don’t get caught in the trap of believing that just because it is dark now, there will never be light. Remind yourself daily of these cycles of darkness and light. Light a candle, then blow it out. Watch the sunrise or the moon and stars. Full moons have an especially powerful and rejuvenating energy.
Move Toward the Light
Notice what feels light, expansive, and freeing, then move in that direction. Listen to your gut. You are always one single decision away from an entirely different experience. If you don’t like where you are, you just need to decide to do something different, think differently, or start again.
Forgiveness is a shortcut to healing. Forgive yourself for not being strong enough, smart enough, brave enough, fast enough, resilient enough, tough enough, gentle enough, or whatever you think you needed to do or be that you weren’t. The cracks are where the light gets in according to Canadian singer and artist, Leonard Cohen. Have gratitude for your cracks.
Make Yourself the Hero in Your Story
The happiest and strongest people have a personal narrative that paints them as the hero in their own story. Practice telling your story in a way that feels empowering. We are all heroes and storytellers. Remember a good story has ups and downs and drama and tension. Life would be pretty boring if everything was the same all the time. When life takes you for a ride, the choice is yours to throw up your arms and enjoy, or to grab your seat and scream.
If you have a story you can share about the growth you experienced after hitting rock bottom, please share it in the comments. You never know who needs to hear your story to be inspired to keep going when they are struggling.