I have a confession to make: I can sometimes be really mean and nasty. It seems like an inner devil gets hold of me and makes me say and do things I later regret. Obviously, I’ve always had my “dark shadow sides” (I mean, who doesn’t?!), but being on the spiritual path has challenged my relationship with my dark sides; writing posts on spirituality has even nearly blocked my relationship with my shadow. Every time I don’t manage to be loving, understanding, forgiving and kind I feel like a hypocrite. How could I encourage people to take up these traits if I couldn’t even manage to do so consistently myself?
I tried very hard to tame my inner devil, but the more I obsessed about not being evil, the more evil I seemed to get. At a certain point I didn’t want to be with people at all anymore, so I couldn’t snap at them anymore. At work I took up assignments of which I knew I would have to work with few colleagues, at home I tried to avoid my flatmates and I put my social life on hold.
This worked out pretty well, until I spent nearly two weeks with my mum this summer. Do I need to say more? No matter how zen you are, mums (and other people we dearly love) somehow have this magical super power to invoke our inner devils. And that’s exactly what happened.
Let me give you some background information. My relationship with my mum is special. She’s not only my mum, but my spiritual teacher and best friend at the same time. She’s the one who guided me on the spiritual path, I seriously can’t find words for my gratitude. Despite my gratitude and the fact that we don’t see each other often (She lives in Berlin, I live in Amsterdam and we’re both notorious travelers and always busy), I couldn’t stop my inner devil from appearing on the stage.
It all started last year when she visited me. All of a sudden I caught myself nagging at her and constantly blaming her for small things. I really didn’t recognize myself and I certainly didn’t like this new version of myself. I had no idea where this irritation came from and I felt horrible about it. Even though I openly shared my thoughts with her, it didn’t bring about any relief. I still felt irritated and was ashamed of being such a bad daughter. When she left I was almost relieved, at least I couldn’t hurt her or myself anymore.
This year I got slightly anxious before seeing her again. Would I bitch at her again? Was I going to hurt her again? Even though I was looking forward to see her again, I was afraid. My life was feeling so perfect at the moment, I didn’t want to destroy it by conjuring up this inner monster again.
The first few days all went well. Until my mum was late again. Her time management has been an issue ever since I was a kid and obviously has left deep wounds. Suddenly, I couldn’t stop myself anymore: I nagged, blamed and criticized her like there was no tomorrow. There the devil was again, reappearing on the stage with a grin on its face.
After an entire day of criticism my mum lost it. She had tried very hard to ignore my inner devil, but enough was enough. Now it was time for her inner devil to appear on the stage. She yelled at me, demanding more respect otherwise she would drive right back to Berlin. While she was yelling and threatening, I strangely enough started to feel relief washing over me. Even though she played the “you-write-spiritual-articles-so-you-should-know-better-card”, I didn’t feel like a failure or a hypocrite anymore. So, what had happened?
This time I dealt differently with the phenomenon. Instead of feeling bad for my mother and for myself, I just observed it. I didn’t have the nerve to control it anymore. In other words: I didn’t have the nerve to try to control it anymore. Wanting to control our emotions is an illusion, perfectly orchestrated by our ego. In truth, all we can do is to be mindfully aware.
This is really the most important and crucial step. Simply observe yourself and watch what happens next. Feel how it feels when you get irritated. How does it feel when you lash out? Do you feel it in your stomach? In your chest? Does your heart rate go up? Just feel and observe.
“There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
— Carl Jung
While you are feeling into your inner devil, try not to judge it. You’re human. Which means your flawed and that’s perfectly fine.
While I was observing myself without judgment, I made space for an important realization. I realized that my inner devil was not a devil, but my hurt inner child. Obviously, I felt triggered and the need to snap at people whenever my inner child felt in danger. It was not trying to hurt anyone, but was protecting itself. Instead of just accepting these feelings, I hurt my inner child even more by pushing it away and feeling guilty. My inner child, in turn, only felt less safe and even more need to defend itself which led to more irritation and more aggression.
Not only did my non-judgement sooth my inner child, it also made me have so much more compassion for my mothers inner child. I knew that all the words she was saying, were not directed to me and I knew that standing up for herself was such a good thing for her. My mum is a very soft woman who rather seeks harmony than confrontation which often leads to people crossing her boundaries. Now I was just so proud of her, watching her protect herself and her own inner child. Obviously, the way she did it was debatable, but at that moment all that counted was the fact that I allowed both our shadow selves to be who they are, in a safe space.
Staying judgement free in the middle of a fight or while you’re irritated is probably the most difficult thing to do. If you don’t succeed, it’s ok. Wouldn’t really make sense to beat up on yourself for beating up on yourself, right? Just come back to mindfully observing yourself. Observe yourself judging the other or yourself, that’s perfectly fine. Just observe how it feels and what you tell yourself. If that’s all you can do, that would be enough.
“The way out of judgment begins when you witness the judgment without more judgment.”
— Gabrielle Bernstein
Surrendering to the here and now
Being on the spiritual path means surrendering and accepting what is. Whatever you are struggling with, even if it means you can’t hold on to your spiritual values, simply is. Not being able to accept the here and now is a form of resistance which will eventually bring you further out of alignment than simply accepting that you’re out of alignment.
If I had ignored my irritation or rationalized it away I would have only resisted reality, and wouldn’t have solved anything. I couldn’t just close my eyes and hope it would magically disappear. All I could do was watching it mindfully, trusting that it was going to lead me somewhere. Obviously, it was coming from somewhere and there must have been a deeper reason for all of this…
Everything happens for a reason
Like I mentioned, I eventually understood that this whole turmoil was about my inner child trying to stay away from the pain it was all too familiar with. When I tried to suppress and ignore my feelings last year, I was in fact ignoring and suppressing my inner child. No wonder it came back this year.
So, should I have acted differently last year? No. Last year was as it was, as well. And probably there were some good reasons for me to make the experience I was making. Maybe I needed to experience that suppressing my inner child makes it reappear again. Either way, I can’t turn back the time. All I can do is accept whatever happened and trust that it all happened for a good reason.
This year I learnt that whatever I was resisting so much was exactly what I had to do. I was so afraid that me being out of alignment would make me “unspiritual” and a hypocrite. But now I learned that not only did I need to embrace my shadow sides, but that it’s even an important part of my development to release those shadows. My shadow sides turned out not to be some demonic part of me, but an expression of my hurt inner child. And the next step in my development was to reconcile with my inner child, reassuring that it has the right to be just the way it is. Even if it’s angry and annoyed. Getting through this spiritual block made my inner child sigh with relief. Subsequently, it also didn’t feel the urge anymore to defend itself (read: to be mean and critical).
Failure is impossible
In the end, it’s impossible to make mistakes. The only mistake we can make is to mistakenly take our “failures” for mistakes instead of valuables keys to the next level. The pain our mistakes cause us is eventually no more than an incentive to grow and learn how to do better.
And the best way to learn from these lessons is by staying mindful. By pushing away the parts of ourselves which we don’t like we only sabotage our own progress. And I know it sounds scary to release this potentially destructive and uncontrollable part of yourself. But how can you ever learn from your shadow self if you constantly suppress it? Sometimes you need to release it, in order to see what it actually tries to tell you. Take this leap of faith, you haven’t got anything to lose, really. Because failure is impossible as long as we stay mindful.
The spiritual path is a journey, not a destination
It’s called a path for a reason. If you were supposed to be perfect as soon as you embark on the path, it’s no longer a path. With every step we make, we get closer, but we still carry so much luggage around, it will continue weighing us down from time to time. But before we can put aside some of our luggage, we will have to walk a couple of miles with it. We need to examine what’s in our luggage and make a conscious decision to leave something behind. We will eventually get lighter, the more we progress on the journey. But therefore, we first need to really see and accept whatever is in our luggage. And that takes time. Time in which you sometimes have to endure and face the parts in yourself, you would rather not want to face.
Wanting to do everything “perfectly” from the start is not only impossible, it’s an ego-driven desire. And most probably all of us will fall for it. Because eventually wanting to be perfect is just another lesson we have to learn. Our need for perfection will fail and it will hurt, until we stop judging ourselves and observe what’s really going on: That we don’t only have the right to be who we are, but that we need to allow ourselves to be who we are in order to take the next step on this lifelong path.
“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you really are.”
— Carl Jung