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Why Embracing Your Dark Side Will Help You See The Light

Originally published on MindBodyGreen.com

Reaching for light, positivity and affirmations is wonderful, but tends to be overemphasized in popular culture. Learning to connect to your "dark side" is equally essential for an even fuller, juicier life experience. 

Darkness, or our "shadow," encompasses the parts of us we don't want to see: the painful, sticky, murky stuff; shame, wounds and disowned pieces. Understandably, our instinct is to avoid these aspects of ourselves, but when we do, we dim our chances for joy. 

Why? Because light and dark are opposing ends of the same stick. They only exist in relationship to each other. Embracing your dark side then, paradoxically supports you to being a lighter, brighter and more authentic YOU.

But don't plunge into an abyss just yet. Meeting your shadow is a skill to be developed. Not all darkness is productive to hang with. Learning how to trust your discomfort is different from strapping yourself into a stagnant depression. 

If you're willing to gently experiment and put intention toward befriending ALL of your parts, you stand to gain a lot. Here are five reasons why you should connect to your dark side:

1. You will feel more whole

When you let yourself have access to the full range of your humanness, you will have a more authentic and satisfying life experience. You will take greater pleasure in the vast complexities of being you.

2. You will become more mindful.

Mindfulness and self-awareness are the psychic muscles that get sculpted when studying and tolerating a range of feelings and uncomfortable sensations. Mindfulness practices have been shown to thicken the pre-frontal cortex of the brain — our highest seat of reason.

3. Your relationships will improve

What we are not aware of tends to get projected onto the people around us. As you clean up your side of the street, you will be more clear about what is "yours," which makes for better contact with others.

4. Your physical health will improve.

What you are afraid to know about yourself continues to exist. The body finds creative ways of moving that energy elsewhere, which can cause headaches, shoulder tension, a bleeding ulcer or even more serious health issues. The body and the mind are not separate. When you safely touch into pain and shame, your body softens and becomes revitalized.

5. You will evolve. 

"Going dark" requires drawing on an inner capacity, bringing you out of child and into adult consciousness. Choosing to navigate that murky inner terrain strengthens the will and spurs growth and self-development.

Next time you are home alone and feeling something stirring inside, try not to distract yourself with snacking, screen, or substances. Instead try an exercise called "shuttling." Take 1-3 minutes to sit with yourself and gently notice what's going on. "Shuttle" or, mindfully go into and away from the feeling several times. 

It's OK if you feel uncomfortable, confused or unclear about what you are feeling. Take a moment to journal about what came up. This practice will help you gain more awareness and control of your feelings. 

Not so bad, right? Try to embrace the rhythms of life, the expansion and contraction, the light and the dark, the joy and the pain. 

You can't cling to light at all costs. Well, you can, but you'll be missing out. 

Trust your complexity. Trust your shadows. Have fun being fully human!

An Unexpected Remedy For Feeling Judged

  Photo edited with http://www.tuxpi.comIt's simple: You feel judged because you judge others.

It’s a defensive maneuver: You assume people are doing it right back to you, so you protect yourself. Whether on the subway or walking down the street, the thoughts creep in: little remarks about people’s clothing or weight; what they are eating or how they are speaking.

This way of being in the world comes at a great expense: You are creating and reinforcing the idea that the world is an unfriendly place, and that you are separate and isolated.

 

Here is a super easy way to tackle this kind of social anxiety: 

  1. Start to notice the negative thoughts about the strangers you see throughout the day. It might take a minute to start catching yourself, because these thoughts are likely happening without much awareness.
  2. When you catch an impolite thought, consciously flip the script in your mind.  Tell yourself that this person is no different from you. This person is doing the best they can. They are struggling like you are. Like you, they need love (and maybe they have never been loved). Have compassion for this person. And yourself. Not in that order : )

That’s it! Experiment with this and see for yourself. You will quickly start to notice that the world feels softer; kinder. Like you are amongst friends. It is such sweet relief. It means you can stop holding on so tight; you can exhale, relax your armor, merge with the other mortals who are walking through this strange and beautiful life. 

You are no different from me.

You are doing the best you can.

You are struggling like I am.

Just like me, you need and deserve love.

 

We are all in this together. 

 

Try these steps and report back! I would love to hear from you in the comments!

 

artwork by Heidi Schmidt