How do you feel when you see the first lights of advent? The first lights in the village, the first candle lit at home?
What does the light in the darkness spark in you?
I was driving home from the office, noticed the lights had gone up in Küsnacht and realized that the childish joy I felt would not have been the same if the lights had been lit in summer. One of the real joys of these lights each year is that they can only be appreciated at the darkest time of the year.
So here is my invitation; to stop, reflect on and appreciate the darkness and shadow parts of ourselves and our clients. But why on earth would we want to explore our own shadow and look at parts of ourselves that we have suppressed or hidden consciously or subconsciously for jolly good reason? When we can find and light up those areas, it’s there that we find the hidden parts of ourselves that contain the greatest strength-awareness. The parts of us that lie in shadow control us, trigger us and generally leave us emotional and exhausted. Once we shine a light into the shadow and identify, understand, mature and reintegrate these areas on our own terms, they become our greatest strength.
My first advent gift to you is an invitation to simply light your own first candle of advent within yourself. But before reading further, there is are two conditions that I ask you to honour. Firstly, do whatever you need in order for you to work through these first steps with self-compassion, love and kindness. In part, you are looking at your inner child and they require and deserve your love and acceptance with no room for judgement.
I ask you to keep in mind that this is not work to be entered into alone lightly. My second condition is that you monitor how you are feeling throughout and contact myself or your own coach or supervisor if the shadow threatens this first candle’s glow.
Only read on if you agree to these two conditions.
Without going into great detail here, our ‘shadow’ as CS Jung named it, is basically where we have hidden away all the aspects of our natural self, the parts that do not fit with our early socialization. If you think about it, it is perfectly normal and acceptable that children learn to ‘fit in’ by learning the basics of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. It would actually be quite inappropriate to let our children do exactly as they pleased and allow anti-social behaviour and traits to go unchallenged. Those of us that have spent any time in a playground frown on the child (and parents) of a child that is kicking our children’s’ sand castle down, threatening other children, hitting or taking other children’s things, for example.
At this time of year in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, children are told from a very young age that any anti-social behaviour traits will be noted down by Sami-Chlaus.
Sami-Chlaus and his assistant ‘Black Pete’ visit the children at home, in nursery or school on the 6th December, and read what each child has done ‘well’ from his Golden Book. Sami-Chlaus then takes his large sack and empties it’s contents of biscuits, chocolates, sweets and peanuts out onto the floor for the children to enjoy.
He then goes on (with prearranged information from parents and teachers) to announce what the children need to work on between now and Heilig Abend if they want the Christ Child to bring gifts. If a child has done something particularly unacceptable, they get a smack with a birch twig from Black Pete. The ultimate threat is that really bad children will be put into the now empty sack and taken back to the woods with Sami-Chlaus and Black Peter where they will stay and work for them until they are ‘good’ again.
Yes, it is all a bit of fun and serves a positive, social function as we are socially programmed to seek group approval, yet we pay the price of individuality.
What I suggest as a first step is, with this in mind, to simply observe those parts of ourselves that we hid in shadow without judgement. How do we do this? Well, a first step is to think about and notice all the traits in people that you really can’t stand; the things that disgust, embarrass or infuriate you. Why? Because the traits that we pushed into the darkness can be found in what we hate and despise in others.
Write down these ‘negative’ traits as bullet points. Once you have got them all out of your system and down onto paper, take the one that wound you up the most.
I’m going to use ‘Lazy’ as an example because it’s one that I can easily get triggered by! I can be heard saying, “Hmmm, it must be so nice to be able to just sit there on your bottom doing nothing while the rest of us run around working ourselves to death!” to my poor son. In fairness, he hasn’t done anything wrong at all, yet the work-ethic that I was brought up with determines sitting still as an unacceptable laziness trait. Not only were my parents never still, but my mother also took tick-lists and multi-tasking to an Olympic level.
What I am saying is not only dripping with sarcasm, it’s dripping with a hidden truth too-one that I fear. Yes, a part of me would actually love to sit there and do nothing – but I would NEVER allow that!
Once you have identified an ‘unacceptable’ trait that triggers you, take that word and redefine it from a positive stand-point. WARNING-this will take some patience and compassion. For instance, what else could ‘laziness’ be from a positive perspective?
Relaxing? Peace? Recharging? Reflection? Re-energising? Enjoyment? Recuperation? Keep going until you can’t think of any more and then ask people around you or look for synonyms online. Somewhere in these words is something that you (secretly) would love to do and benefit from.
In my example, I would secretly love to sit down without guilt or fear. I have a strong (self-denied) need for stopping, reflecting and resting.
The next step is to take this information and create an action step for yourself, however small. I chose to notice my regular trigger and actually sit down next to my son for ten whole minutes. Don’t get me wrong, it almost killed me to do. My heart pounded and my conscience screamed at my dreadful behaviour and fear of all the things I wasn’t achieving by sitting there for 10 minutes, but I sat it out and sent love and acceptance to my inner child and her unmet need. Each time I sat down it got easier until I could feel, identify and mature the strength in relaxing and recharging.
When we are able to shine our light into our shadow and acknowledge even one hidden part of ourselves, we can not only honour, but find new strength in reintegrating the more mature and aware of that part of who we are. If we can build a healthy, mature relationship with that part of ourselves we can then take control of it and become whole.
Happy first advent light in the darkness.
In the past, candleholders were designed with mirrors attached to make the light brighter and reflect further. Please do get in touch with me if you would like a reflective partner to enhance your light, journey into the shadow and find the gifts waiting there with you.