"So the question we must ask ourselves is: What needs to reconciled? Is it the way we separate ourselves from our shadows? Perhaps it's how we hide from our light. It's like a teeter totter that moves back and forth, up and down, until the reordering is complete.
But in order to complete the process, we need to relax into areas of imbalance, darkness and trauma in our lives. We have to see it as a natural part of our evolution - an essential step of maturing into a whole new being where oneness is fully integrated. And to do so we need to reconcile all those diverging paths and all those seeming difficulties that make us believe we are not enough, we are not whole, or we are not loved by God."
At a time when I was struggling to reconcile the light and the dark inside of myself and in my life, I made this collage. In the collage an older woman held a maturity that I was longing for. She was not naive, or willing to pretend life was only one-sided. Her powerful stance implied to me that she had seen and accepted many things. She appeared to meet the darkness with strength. She did not pretend to see only the good and ignore that darkness existed. I imagined, in her sweeping hand gestures that she was strong enough to hold both the dark and light within.
Many years ago, I had an inner urge to work with youth in prison. Soon after, I got a position in a summer art program for teens, age 13-17 in a correctional institution. I remember feeling terrified when I first started, yet determined to meet something unknown in myself. The kids I taught were skeptical of me at first. They asked, "Why do you want to be with us jail kids?"
Secretly, I wanted to believe that I could bring out the good in everyone. Not allowed to know anything about their crimes, I found myself easily seeing the best in them at first and we flourished as a group for a while. I was enthusiastic about thinking up new art challenges for them each week. They inspired me to reach to create meaningful classes. We made toilet paper and tin foil sculptures and had timed art competitions. I found the kids to be intelligent and discerning and highly competitive. They were on high alert to every signal and nuance of danger or inconsistency, and they were honest in their creativity.
As the summer went on, some darkness was revealed. I found out that my favorite kid had raped a girl, and my stomach sank when I overheard that a benign looking boy had brutally beaten and killed a service station attendant. I found myself getting frightened. At the time I was only wanting to see the good side of life. I was having trouble seeing the living, breathing kids around my art table, in the darkness of their hurt and pain.
I wanted to deny that there was violence in the world. I wanted to deny that kids get thrown down the stairs by their drunken parents, and that many children get harmed emotionally and physically on a daily basis. As I grew more frightened, things started going amiss. One kid stole my ink pens. I got a call from my supervisor the day after class, and she told me that several boys had given themselves new tattoos with my art supplies. A few kids had vicious mean streaks.
One week someone covertly and cruelly covered up the all of our exquisitely detailed canvases with white paint. The rest of the group became defeated and demoralized and refused to paint again. It was as though they had to destroy the good compulsively over and over and I began to feel despair. In their own emotional pain, they sought to hurt each other, and I began to grow weary of my summer teaching post. Something in me felt irreversibly sad and hopeless. Like I could not hold onto my trust in the good. So when my three month post was over I said my good-byes. The kids in the group looked both defeated and nonchalant when I said told them I was leaving.
The night of my last class, I left swallowing my tears. I wanted it to feel so much better. I wished I could have made a larger impact. I felt strangely hollow and confused as I drove home. The night sky felt as dark as it had ever been, and the stars hurt my eyes. I felt shocked into silence, not knowing what I had just experienced. And just as I rounded the corner to my house, I sucked in my breath. Standing on the sidewalk was a black cat and a white cat touching noses. I shivered deep into my bones.
My summer "jail kids" art program was considered a success, and I was asked to continue on, but I could not quite completely meet everything within myself to stay. I would have had to love those kids enough to say no to their cruelty and victimization of each other. I would have had to stand for the good and know the power of love with more authority than I was capable of at the time.
Most of all, I did not have the strength to face all of the darkness within myself. I was too afraid of my own suppressed emotions that threatened to take me over. My doubt of my own universal basic goodness ate away at my light. I still wanted to believe that my light could shine if I focused only on the positive. I thought I could negate the "ugly" side of life by turning a blind eye and walking away from it - by pretending it did not exist. I still did not trust the deeper workings of life.
As I have matured, I have come to understand that we all have a choice to live to our full potential, or to wallow in our own shadows, but we have to be willing to see the whole truth of ourselves and others. Denial of any kind is darkness. There comes a time in our movement towards strength when we have to address the darkness of our own denial within, and in those around us that are being willfully disowning rheir own hurt and are hurting others. Learning how to say no to disowned and projected hurt with the firmness and authority of love, has been a long and strength building process for me.
All people are a mixture of dark and light but as I told my daughter when she was little, "The good always wins!" To deny the darkness in other people is to live life of naivete. I find that I fear other people's darkness only to the extent that I fear my own. When I find myself wallowing in my own darkness, sadness, or inner pain, I know that there is some feeling of old hurt that I am anxiously denying inside of myself. Always on the journey to the light there is a part of that is hurting, that unseen, and unaknowledged will lash out and hurt others.
I know now to make every effort to see where I am hurting so I do not seek revenge for my hurt. When feel myself lashing out, I will often inwardly say, "I know I can feel this." Soon after I am able to cry and release my darker, more disowned feelings. Often with such strength of witnessing, I can readily and suddenly see the deeper truth of my life. Just by becoming larger and more loving than my hurt, I can see more quickly how I am competing, controlling or seeking revenge to try to dissipate the hurt that I am afraid to feel all the way until it is gone.
Love and truth is always stronger than the darkness of disowned hurt, but it has to stand up and become strong. Love has to speak out. Love has to take action, and sometimes love has to say no. It is in these firm communications and interactions with the darkness of the shadow, of the unexamined, and of the avoided, that transformation happens. Speaking up and saying no with love and strength to my own, and other people's diswoned hurt and vengeful darkness is one of the most important lessons that I have learned. Spiritual writer F. Aster Barnwell describes this communication and interaction like this:
"Just as we use one hand to wash the other without being afraid that the soiled hand will dirty the clean, the transformational process in its collective scope is facilitated when the good and bad interact. The spiritually developed must become catalysts to help those of lesser understanding to evolve. Actually the extent to which we separate people into good and bad categories is an indication of our need for further spiritual development. It is not that morality is not important; but if we have sufficient understanding, we would see that although individuals may act inappropriately in many situations of life, most only want the best for themselves. It is in seeing this good that people want for themselves that enables us to find bad people good."
Excerpted from the E-Course - 30 Days of Authentic Self-Expression