The Kindness Cure: Facing the Shadow Within

We all want to be loving and kind. When we are at our best - relaxed, settled, and joyful - we generally are. When we get agitated, our best intentions can fly out the window, and deep wounds, subconscious emotions, and childhood patterns start to emerge.

The world has been shaken up collectively these past couple of years, more than it has before in most of our lifetimes. Add to that our individual earthquakes, tragedies, losses, and fears and we can feel quite removed from our inner light - from our best selves.

Yogis strive for oneness, union and love - for ourselves, for our friends, for all of life, the planet, and even for the people that challenge us. Love can seem like an idealistic concept that maybe someday we can hope to feel. But right now we may be afraid, angry, or facing deep sadness or grief. We may have a buzz of anxiety or restlessness. We may be exhausted, lethargic, or unmotivated. Many of us are struggling to remember the joy, lightness, and peace that precedes and leads us to love.

In Hindu mythology, several archetypes exist to symbolize various states of being in the outer world and in our psyche. Brahma and Saraswati represent the creation cycle, Vishnu and Lakshmi help sustain and maintain order, and Shiva and Parvati dismantle and transform. When I traveled to India, I couldn’t help but notice that most people I saw really loaded up on and loved their Lakshmi pictures and statues. The Goddess of Abundance helps us feel ordered and sustained, gives us that steadiness that keeps us from needing to change. This is the nature of the human mind - to desire a cozy bubble that keeps us safe and cared for, and most of us go to great lengths to avoid disruptions that force us to change.

But we are part of nature, and all life must change. The ebb and flow and seasons are unavoidable. And when things become sick, diseased, have worn out their usefulness in nature, they die and return to the earth to help fertilize newer things.

Parvati is a goddess who has many faces, varying in intensity based on how much the mind is resisting imminent change. When the ego mind or systems in the world have really dug in their heels and resisted, the face of Kali will show up. She is not subtle. Kali has wild eyes and several weapons and blood dripping from her mouth. She wears skulls around her neck and a skirt sewn from the arms of men. She shakes things up and brings in the roto-rooter to blast away the sludge when the issues that are harming us can no longer be ignored. Her archetype is everywhere right now. Many people feel fear around her fierce image, see her as the destroyer, like the vengeful God of the old-testament, exacting punishment or out for revenge.

What we fail to realize as these shadow parts begin to reveal themselves is that they exist because they are the very things we relied on at some point of our lives to protect our most vulnerable places from feeling pain.

What Kali is actually doing is the greatest act of love we can ask for. Kali energy is showing us in a very clear way what is holding us back from finding our heart and our light. She is dredging the pond, making the water chaotic and cloudy for a time. We are agitated and uncomfortable and forced to reckon with parts of ourselves that we would rather ignore. She reveals harmful and poisonous systems, beliefs, and patterns that have kept us cut us off from love.

When a floodlight is shined upon us, we are going to start to see our shadow much more clearly - and as the light gets brighter, the shadow looks darker. This image is an important one to remember as we begin to dive deeply into seeing things that we have kept safely tucked away from our awareness. It’s uncomfortable to see and feel anger, rage, fear, judgment, righteousness, defensiveness, sadness, grief, guilt, shame, and all the rest of the so-called "negative" spectrum of emotions. It’s hard to see it play out in others, and even harder to see activated within us. Facing painful or difficult parts of ourselves can be quite overwhelming at times. We may not go into those crevices until we are forced to. We may spend years letting those parts of our psyche play out in dysfunctional ways - the defensiveness, the contempt, the judgment, the blame, or conversely the shame - before we start to allow these aspects to heal.

What we fail to realize as these shadow parts begin to reveal themselves is that they exist because they are the very things we relied on at some point of our lives to protect our most vulnerable places from feeling pain. Like a frightened child, these parts are begging for validation, begging for kindness. Shifting our inner relationship with the qualities we have so long denied is the key to allowing them to soften and heal.

Observe the inner temper tantrum or rage or anxiety and give those parts the love, appreciation, and gratitude that they need (and deserve). Thank the sarcasm or defensiveness for protecting your soft inner self. Thank the anger and hatred for setting a fierce boundary. And while you’re at it, thank the harsh life moment that brought these energies to the surface. Look at them as Kali might - through the eyes of love. And simultaneously see that you may be safe enough now to let those defenses down a little more.

We become able to make a choice. We can remind our inner selves that we are safe now and that our defenses can try to stand down.

When we stop vilifying our human and natural emotions and reactions, things really can start to shift. The skills we learn on the yoga mat can help us be with ourselves in these difficult moments: the asana and meditation practice asks us to become more and more aware of the subtle inner body and sensation changes and witness the repetitive patterns of our thoughts. We can feel when our systems start to get charged up - our bellies tighten, our hair bristles - and we can notice when the old protective voices and old mental loops start to sound their alarms.

With a short pause or with one breath, we can transform the unconscious, automatic reactions into a new and unfamiliar response. We become able to make a choice. We can remind our inner selves that we are safe now and that our defenses can try to stand down. We get to practice holding and expressing our truth from our center - balanced, empowered, soft, and strong. In yoga. In love.

Lisa West
About the Author

Lisa West

Lisa West is a physical therapist, bodyworker, writer, and yoga teacher living in Ventura, CA. She specializes in helping people get into and fall in love with their bodies, and has an especially keen interest in finding ways to soothe the nervous system so we can find more peace and welcome ourselves home. Lisa is the author of "Follow the Feeling: A Roadmap to Emotional Freedom", available on Amazon or through her website.


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