Normally when I go for my morning run, I listen to music to keep me going. This morning, however, it was raining pretty hard, and I was concerned my electronic device would not appreciate the moisture. When confronted with a day like this, I usually forgo the run, feeling slightly mad that I don't get to embark on my morning ritual. How about going for a walk with an umbrella and NO device this morning, I asked myself. Sure, why not. It'd been a long time since I went for a walk sans entertainment, so it might be interesting to see what connecting with myself would be like today. Here's what came to me during my rainy walk:
It's Halloween time, and it never ceases to amaze me that people put out the strangest, most gory decorations to celebrate the season. While Fall is the season of slowly watching the transition from Summer (life, growth, expansion), to Winter (death, decay, contraction), what do bloody skeletons and fake tombstones have to do with it?
Of course, I get that death can be a scary concept for many in the traditional Western culture. We do all we can to try and look as young as possible for as long as possible and fear the time when we no longer have the independence to care for ourselves as we once had. Any change can be scary, really, especially when you know it's coming (we will all succumb to the aging process and cease to exist in this physical reality) and you have no idea what that change will look or feel like or even when that change will happen.
But what if Fall isn't just about physical death and decay? What if it's also about returning inward and finding those parts within us that no longer work? Just as the Earth retreats into herself only to return in the Spring, during this time, and especially this morning walk, I sensed an inward pull toward myself. This can be one of the scariest things I do to myself, which is probably why I prefer exercising with music. It is when I peer within myself that I begin to notice the shadow aspects of myself. What I've learned about the Shadow Self is that these are the parts of our selves that we are unconscious of or don't want to look at or admit to. Some people refer to these aspects as "blind-spots" or those personality traits we just don't see. I've heard that one of the ways we can become aware of our Shadow aspects is to think about traits and behaviors of others we encounter that we don't like. The reason we don't like these traits and behaviors in others is because they are parts of ourselves that we tend to push away or deny. Another way might be to broaden your internal awareness to the times when you start thinking about something you've said, done, or even not done and notice how quickly you are to "change the subject," so to speak in that particular thought.
During my morning walk today, the shadow aspect that I managed to confront was about my discomfort with and denial of feedback. When someone gives me feedback about something I've done or said, I get an instant knot in my stomach. This feedback can be positive or negative, but I react strongest to what I perceive to be negative feedback. As I walked and thought, I allowed myself to ask and answer questions about this reaction to feedback. My conversation with myself went something like this:
What's your deal about getting feedback from people?
Well, it means I've done something wrong doesn't it? And if I've done something wrong, that just fuels my fear of people thinking I don't work hard enough.
How true is it that people think you're not working hard enough if they give you feedback?
Probably not. But I usually tell myself that if I'd worked a little harder, maybe I could have anticipated that need of theirs. And you're probably going to ask me how true it is that I could have anticipated their need?!
No, actually, I was going to ask what your view is on giving feedback to other people?
Oh, sorry. Well, I don't like giving feedback to other people because I don't want to hurt their feelings. I believe they are working as hard as they can to do their job or be who they are. And they probably have a lot of other things going on in their lives that make it so that they can't do everything perfectly. Chances are, they probably already know what they need to work on, so why should I make it even harder for them by adding my energy to the mix? Plus it's just MY opinion, right? What works for me won't necessarily work for everyone else. I think it's my job always to accept the gifts that come from others that resonate for me the most, and for the stuff that doesn't resonate, just let it go, or hold on to it until I'm ready to accept it. For example, when I was a student, some of my teachers taught in a style that didn't really work for me. I had a choice to either adapt my way of learning or to convert what they were giving to me in a way I could understand. I just don't trust that other people will do the same for me.
So, if you believe that your feedback is your opinion, how might that view affect the way you see feedback from others?
Well, I guess I could see how feedback from others might just be their opinion too. And knowing that it is “just” an opinion, makes it seem like I have a choice about whether I want to integrate someone’s feedback or not. And the feedback ends up feeling less about me and more about the person giving it.
Ooh- tell me more about that!
Well, saying that the feedback is more about the person giving it takes some of the focus off of me. And now it can be about the relationship I’m cultivating with this person, right? It can be a bit vulnerable, giving feedback. In some cases when you give feedback, what you’re saying is “I didn’t understand something” or “I’m not on the same page with you.” In a sense, feedback could be seen as an invitation to get to know someone else a little bit better.
What feelings come up for you when you say that?
A little relief, a little sadness.
What’s the sadness about?
That I see how not being able to accept feedback from other people is about me not being able to accept myself. Which means that maybe I don’t have the greatest relationship with myself. And maybe it’s time for me to accept all parts of me. Even the stuff that I know doesn’t “work” for everyone. Because ultimately, that’s on them.
What are you going to do to work on accepting all parts of yourself?
Meditate. Journal. Notice when I’m saying mean things to myself and rephrase my own feedback. Thanks self!
You’re welcome. Anytime.
Of course, I’m paraphrasing a lot of what actually happened during this conversation, as I was out in nature and had to stop every now and then to listen to the rain falling on the fallen leaves. But at the end of the walk I did feel like I had taken a journey though a shadow that has been with me for a long time. It was scary because it was uncomfortable, and I didn’t know how long that feeling would last or how intense it would get. It was also frightening having to contemplate shifting my perspective on this shadow because I don’t really know who I’ll be the next time I’m confronted with feedback. And what else will I have to let go of within myself as I confront more shadows?
But with the death and release of anything that is no longer viable within ourselves, I know that space opens up so that something brand new can grow. Just as aspects of Mother Earth “die“ in the Fall and Winter, this provides her with the rest, fuel, and space she’ll need in the Spring/Summer to grow and expand once more.
Having said all of that, I still think most Halloween decorations are silly.