In case you hadn’t noticed, there are a cast of characters in you. Some of them you like, some you don’t like, some you don’t know, and some you don’t want to know, thanks very much.
Over time we come to think of ourselves as the parts we like and we do our very best to deny the existence of those we don’t like, thinking that if we can stuff them down, hide, or ignore them they’ll go away. It’s sort of like being a classroom teacher, locking some of the kids in the closet, telling yourself this is normal, and then trying to convince the parents everything is ok. It’s really that crazy but we do it anyhow because it’s what we were shown and it’s how we learned to survive.
These parts that we’ve locked away, that we don’t like thinking of ourselves as, and don’t want to feel or have anyone else see are our shadows and they’re there as a part of us for the long haul whether we like it or not.
Most everyone is unaware of this split until one day, whether you stumble upon it by yourself or you’re dragged by life in a “wake up call” that usually arrives in the form of a challenging circumstance, you realize this approach of resisting and denying parts of yourself just doesn’t work. And it doesn’t work because you’re constantly at odds with yourself, you’re tense and exhausted from trying to be some parts of yourself while hiding others, and you’re developmentally stuck in crucial ways because many parts of you are trapped in the past which is drastically limiting your ability to successfully, let alone gracefully, live your life.
Everyone has this wake up moment. I had it. You’ve had it. And if you’ve not yet had it, it’s coming. And when it does, I say: take the RED pill and go down the rabbit hole because real internal freedom comes from embracing yourself not living at odds with yourself.
READY TO BE A SHADOW STALKER?
Shadow stalking – which to me is seeking internal freedom – is making a 180 degree turn in how we live our lives. Instead of being run BY our conditioning, reactions, patterns, stories, and ingrained identities and believing this is who we are, we TURN AROUND and face all this within us, get to know it, and choose how we want to relate to it.
This is not passively facing our internal world – it’s actively seeking out, encountering, and getting to know the unaccepted, buried, ignored, hurting parts of ourselves that we usually turn away from so that we can be more whole. It’s focusing our attention on noticing the split between who we want to be or think we need to be and who we truly are. It’s getting really present in our bodies, embracing what we’re feeling, and then peeling back the layers to get to know the parts of us that have been buried deep within.
9 TIPS FOR BEING A KICK-ASS SHADOW STALKER
1. Decide you want to be free and whole more than you want to maintain your illusion of comfort and safety
Nobody likes feeling pain. We do just about everything we can to avoid experiencing shame, grief, insecurity, fear, or any of the other shadowy emotions we encounter when we go within. But you have to ask yourself what’s more important to you: maintaining whatever illusion of comfort and control you have going on or becoming a more whole, actualized, and free-from-your-conditioning person?
I like comfort just as much, if not better, than the next person but there is nothing comfortable about being caught up in old stories, rigid, fearful perspectives, and insecure versions of myself. Nothing… except that it’s familiar.
When you decide you want to be free and whole more than comfortable and “safe”, you’re going to feel a fire light up inside you that’s going to start moving your forward. Fears, patterns, and all sorts of other things are going to start coming up. Don’t freak out! Instead: welcome them in and get to know them. This is when things start getting interesting. This is when you start to really get to know yourself.
2. Personal responsibility + Looking at what’s below the surface = Transformational insight
We are trained to look at the plot level of life but without an equal, if not greater, focus on being present with our internal world all we’re doing is shuffling the papers of life from one pile to another and never truly dealing with what’s actually IN the piles. For example:
You look at your relationships and see that regardless of how they start, similar patterns show up in each of them. Instead of asking yourself “Why is this happening to me?”, which is a victimy way of projecting responsibility outside of yourself when you’re the common denominator in your life, start asking yourself questions like: “What can I learn here? What is this showing me about me? What part of me is attracting this situation? How does the feeling I feel in these relationships relate to my early life?”
This looking below the surface approach, combined with an equal measure of personal responsibility, will start peeling back the layers… which is when truly illuminating and transformational insights will start revealing themselves to you.
3. Your body is your best tool to access your inner world
Our bodies are like warehouses storing all that’s unresolved within us and every bit of tension, imbalance, and dis-ease within you is one of these warehouses saying to you “I have something to say to you, come visit me.” Except we don’t because we’re so caught up in our mind chatter, distractions, and addictions… until we decide we want to wake up at which point we start venturing into our bodies.
When this happens for you, you might get into breathwork, yoga, or somatically based healing modalities like Rosen, Hakomi, or Focusing. You’re going to start noticing your body’s sensations and instead of hoping they’ll go away, just the way you used to hope parts of yourself would, you decide to start listening to them and you learn to truly HEAR your body, because it talks just like our minds do. The deeper you go in this, the more connected and trusting you feel of your body’s intelligence. It’s like you meet a whole other part of yourself you’d always been missing – and here it is: your body’s wisdom.
4. Listen but don’t identify
When you go to a counselor, coach, or therapist one reason it’s nice to talk to them as opposed to a friend is that they listen without identifying or merging with you, which feels great because you feel truly heard.
We have to learn how to do this with ourselves. We have to learn how to listen to the voices in our heads and the sensations and emotions in our bodies without identifying with them. Yes, they are parts of you but they are not the totality of who you are. What’s confusing is they all go by the same name: I. So when one of them grabs the mic, and says “I…” we immediately identify with the part and become it… until the next one grabs the mic and we identify with and become that part. If we step back, we can hear them, but we can’t hear them if we identify with them.
5. Take a seat in the audience and get to know your inner cast of characters (aka. meditation)
We think of ourselves as actors on the stage of our life – in charge, making conscious choices, and aware of what’s going on. That’s a nice fantasy but the truth is – as long as we are the actors on the stage, we are NOT aware of what’s going on. The actors, along with the director, script writer, props department, stage hands, etc. are all personas or identities we put on to live our lives through.
To get to know our internal world, we have to take a seat in the audience and observe the parts. It’s only in observation that we learn what their dominant stories are, their strengths, challenges, motivation, fears, and wounds. And only then, once we’ve gotten to know them, can we choose how we want to relate to them. And there’s no better place to practice this than meditating. It’s the ultimate place for self-awareness practice.
6. Notice your reactions when you look into the 360 degree mirror called Life
Life is a giant 360 degree mirror reflecting you back to yourself. Every relationship, circumstance, opportunity, and challenge is there to show you a part of yourself that wants to be seen and integrated. And everyEveryEVERY reaction you have towards what you see in the mirror of life reveals where there is unresolved material from your past lingering in your internal world seeking to be seen and healed. All these reactions, which are happening 24/7, are PRIME shadow stalking material!
The trouble is we’ve been trained to censor or deny our judgments and perceptions that aren’t “nice” because we want to think of ourselves as nice and “good”. My take on this is: take your reactions, judgments, snarky stories, and victimy rants and instead of identifying with them, use them to peel back the layers of what’s underneath them because that’s where the gold is.
7. Ask harder, more interesting questions – with yourself and others
We go where our attention points us. If we spend our lives asking superficial questions, that’s the life and the quality of awareness we’ll have.
For instance, questions like: “Am I doing it right? Am I getting (or are they giving me) what I want? Why is this happening to me?” are dead-ends. But questions like “How can I be the most real right now? What am I feeling or wanting to say? What can I learn here? What’s underneath my story?” are hugely eye-opening.
This same approach extends to when we’re interacting with others. If what someone is saying to you doesn’t match up with what you’re feeling from them, put the content of what they’re saying on mute and ask yourself: “What am I truly feeling from this person? What’s the emotion below their words? What are they saying but not saying?”
Give yourself permission to stop living on the plot level. When you do this on a regular basis and get comfortable with it you will truly become a card carrying shadow stalker.
8. Your addictions are your teachers
Every addiction we have, and we all have a lot of them, is a habit we’ve gotten into to try to protect ourselves from encountering and feeling a part of ourselves. For instance, I notice that every time I quickly and compulsively get on Facebook it’s because I’m feeling insecurity, fear of failure, or doubt with whatever I had been doing and I want to distract myself from that emotion. My time on Facebook seems to partially “ease the pain” but when I get back to what I was doing the emotion is still there.
Take this same thing and spread it out over every compulsive habit and addiction you engage in. Things like excessive caffeine, sugar, alcohol, sex, lying, binge eating, starving yourself, neurotic levels of planning, fidgeting, bouncing your knee, biting your finger nails, needing constant validation and approval to be “ok”, over checking your email and social media, hours in front of the tv or computer, living beyond your means and accruing debt, sabotaging relationships to avoid the vulnerability of intimacy… I could go on but you get the point. Think of aaallllll of your addictions. Now ask yourself: What am I running from? What would I feel if I let go of this habit? (hint-hint)
9. Cheri Huber
I can not say enough good things about Cheri Huber‘s work. I have read her books countless times, used them in nearly every self-inquiry class I’ve ever taught, and recommended them to every person I know. There is nobody I know of who is as able to take the complexity of our internal worlds and make it not only super clear but fun to read about. Read: There is Nothing Wrong With You and then go onto read Be the Person You Want to Find, The Fear Book, and When You’re Falling, Dive.