Oh, Jealousy. She’s always got a bit of gossip on her tongue. She decorates herself with expensive things to barricade her own feelings of inadequacy. She doesn’t read books, only social media posts. She never says a generous word. She’s hungry for more, always more, which is why she cuts others down: she wants something they’ve got and doesn’t realize she’s already enough.
I know her well. She hangs around my skull. She acts out because of my own feelings of “not enough” — not attractive enough, not successful enough, just generally not good enough.
On top of that, I judge my Jealous side — because I practice yoga and drink smoothies, damnit! I should know better, right? For a long time one of my self-criticizing mantras was I should know better. So I shouldn’t feel Anger or Jealousy or Aggravation or Fear or Unworthiness, right? Being in the yoga and wellness world complicated my own sense of self-image and led to heavy, frequent doses of self-judgment.
And yet, I do feel all the things at various times. Because, alas, I’m human. Anger and Jealousy and Compassion and Aggravation and Sadness and Humility and Wonder and Anxiety are all vibrations on the spectrum of human experience, along with every other conceivable emotion. That doesn't mean I should go around having road rage and temper tantrums and bouts of passive aggression, but it does mean I am allowed to feel into these various states of energy.
What I do with that energy is part of my spiritual work. How I respond to that energy is my spiritual work.
And for a long time, all I did was judge myself for feeling what I perceived as "bad" feelings.
This self-judgment is what Buddhists often refer to as dukkha upon dukkha: suffering on suffering. I judge my own perceived “bad” behavior, shame myself, and sink deeper into a negative slump.
So how to get out? I look at my reactions and sit with them. I’m not going to pretend Jealousy isn’t part of my personality. She’s right there with my more noble qualities: Kindness, Wit, and Grace.
The truth is Jealousy is an old friend. We go way back. Like forever. And I know I can’t just kick her out.
But when she rears up I won’t entertain her like usual (that just riles her up even more). I’ll remain quiet and centered, as quiet and centered as I can (a meditation practice is essential for me to be able to do this). I’ll make sure Kindness and Wit and Grace are hanging around, too. By not engaging mentally or emotionally with the jealous patterns — by simply watching them arise from a witness state — they’ll lose their charge and eventually quiet down a little.
And when Shame gets stirred up along the way — with thoughts like, “ugh, Melissa you’re still upset about that? You should be beyond that. After all, you’re a yoga instructor” — I’ll smile on that thought too. That alone has been so transformative: to love even my own negative self-talk. That’s because in the moment of loving my self-talk a switch is flipped, from shameful energy to lighter humility and humor. And the negativity energy begins to dispel. But it takes time. As one my teachers, Manasa Kanithi, always says, we must practice it all with patience and persistence.
So I learn and re-learn how to work with these unavoidable aspects of myself. Jealousy and Shame have not disappeared (goodness no). I acknowledge them. The only other option is to keep ignoring them until they pop up at the most inconvenient times. And I’ve gotten really tired of being triggered and living at the whim of my emotional swings.
If you’re familiar with Shadow Work you know all about these techniques to bring our unconscious aspects into the light. Rooted in Carl Jung’s seminal teachings, Shadow Work is a process of integrating the parts of ourselves we’ve judged, disowned, and shamed. We’d rather not admit to these pieces of ourselves. It’s vulnerable to reveal that we’re not as shiny and happy as we appear on social media. The truth (my truth) is this: you are allowed to feel all that you feel. However, if you’re on a spiritual path then you must learn to work with these emotional/energetic states as they arise. Judging them doesn’t help. Ignoring them doesn’t help.
Shadow Work is one avenue toward integrating these components of who we are. Which brings us to the essential question of all philosophical and spiritual pursuits: Who Am I?
If I perceive myself as separate, fractured puzzle pieces, how can I ever establish inner peace? Yoga is, of course, a process of unfoldment toward union. By stitching back together these fragmented pieces of myself I'd rather throw away, I create an environment within for yoga to take place. For me, Shadow Work, has been instrumental, because it mindfully and systematically helps me integrate these qualities in a supportive space.
Debbie Ford, author of The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, says:
I was desperate to feel worthy and I was hungry for the opportunity to live my fullest potential.
I fantasized about the me I wanted to be but I never truly believed I would turn into her...then, I had the startling realization that what I was looking for already existed inside me. I was confused and surprised, because it didn't come from getting rid of the self I already knew. It didn't come from eliminating parts of myself or burying them deep within my consciousness...I found out there was light hidden in my darkness. I understood that my job was not to get rid of all I perceived to be wrong or bad about myself and that, in fact, the opposite was true.
It was the moment of falling deeply in love with my flawed self that I returned to being a while, happy, silly, loving, passionate, and incredibly worthy person.
Our shadows hold the essence of who we are. They hold our most treasured gifts. By facing these aspects of ourselves, we become free to express our glorious totality: the good and the bad, the dark and the light. It is by embracing all of who we are that we earn the freedom to choose what we do in this world. As long as we keep hiding, masquerading, and projecting what is inside us, we have no freedom to be and no freedom to choose. Instead of trying to suppress our shadows, we need to unconceal, own, and embrace the very things we don't want to face.
By "own" I mean acknowledge that a quality belongs to you. Our shadows exist to teach us, guide us, and give us the blessing of our entire selves. The feelings that we have suppressed are desperate to be integrated into ourselves. They are only harmful when they are repressed: then they can pop up at the least opportune times. Their sneak attacks will handicap you in the areas of your life that mean the most.
Your life will be transformed when you make peace with your shadow. You will no longer have to prove you're good enough. Find the gifts in your shadow and you will finally revel in the glory of your true self.
I've been digging into Shadow Work this past year and I can honestly say it is some of the most powerful, transformative work I've ever done. When practiced in a safe and supportive space with guidance, it can help you along your journey toward wholeness and authenticity. If you're curious to dive deeper into Shadow Work, join me and Licensed Mental Health Counselor Ashley Sweet on August 25th at The Lotus Pond Center in Tampa, FL. We have a morning workshop open to all, and an all-day workshop specifically designed for yoga teachers (7 Yoga Alliance Credit Hours). Hope you can join us!
Reclaim Your Power, Make Peace with Your Shadow: Open to All Saturday, August 25th 9:30AM-12PM Cost: $35 There are aspects of ourselves we’ve tried to hide, judge, and shame — this is often referred to as the shadow self. Yet no matter how we may try to deny these shadow aspects, they still often influence our thoughts, behaviors, and reactions in unconscious and powerful ways. This workshop will guide you to acknowledge and connect to your authentic self from a space of wholeness, worthiness, and belonging. We will introduce the concepts of the shadow self and explore the multidimensional qualities you possess. Through journaling, inner work, guided meditation, breathing exercises, and discussion in a supportive space, you will b
your shadow side and bring it into the light. This process invites you to cultivate self-acceptance and reclaim your inner power.
Bring Your Shadow to Light: Mental and Emotional Health Skills for Yoga Teachers: For Yoga Teachers Saturday, August 25th 9:30AM-5:30PM Credit Hours: 7 Cost: $155 As a yoga teacher, the process of moving toward integration of the Shadow Self and self-acceptance is key in your development as both a seeker and teacher of yoga. In the morning session we will introduce the concepts of the shadow self and explore the multidimensional qualities you possess. Through journaling, inner work, guided meditation, breathing exercises, and discussion in a supportive space, you will begin to integrate your shadow side and bring it into the light. This process invites you to reclaim your inner power. The afternoon session will be specifically geared for yoga teachers, where you will:
• Dive deeper into the concepts of the shadow self • Explore how spiritual bypassing (ignoring or de-valuing the full range of emotions and reactions we possess) blocks us on the path and perpetuates a culture of shame and denial • Understand how you can develop emotional intelligence in relating to your students • Learn to build healthy rapport, set boundaries, and establish compassionate presence with your yoga students • Gain self-care strategies, including how to avoid burnout and prevent vicarious trauma
Ashley Sweet, MA, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, finds great healing can occur through mindfulness, meditation, writing, and yoga. She is passionate about empowering people to reach their highest potentials, and enjoys utilizing creativity to access untapped insight with her clients. Ashley is also a founding member and President of the St. Pete Women’s Collective. Learn more at www.ashleydsweet.com. Melissa Carroll, E-RYT500, YACEP, MFA, is a lead teacher in The Lotus Pond’s Yoga Teacher Training programs, a college writing instructor, author, and the editor of the essay collection Going OM: Real-Life Stories on and off the Yoga Mat.