How Voicing Shadow is Stilled

How is it we find it so hard to speak the things that lend themselves to shadow – within ourselves and within all of our interactions with others – at work, at home, elsewhere?  How is it that voicing shadow has been stilled instead of us stilling shadow by voicing it?

If we all carry shadow – and I do mean everyone of us – and if it shows up in every conceivable situation or context – relationships, teams, projects, organizations – anywhere and everywhere human beings show up, how is it we have fallen into patterns of colluding with it so that it gains a foothold and sometimes a stranglehold on us and our relationships, getting in the way of us getting things done?

I know personally I have found my voice stilled in the face of shadow in situations too numerous to recount.  I have felt without voice, shut down by self and others, judged and judging and I have often wondered how I could ever find my way to clarity that could be voiced in a way that served well instead of feeding the emotional and energetic vortex that often forms around shadow.  Fear felt in each heart palpitation, stomach in my throat and head pounding as words sometimes eeked their way out and sometimes didn’t – not knowing how to name things in the groups and teams I was part of and particularly when it felt like I had a lot at risk.

It is probably these many experiences with shadow (beginning long before I knew what shadow was) that has sparked my enduring interest and curiousity in this topic – that and the freedom that learning has brought in those times when I found the voice to speak from the place of my own shadow. I grew and released bits of shadow every time I found my voice.  Sometimes it was messy and inelegant and other times for more graceful than I would have given myself credit for.

I also discovered I could help others – individuals and groups – begin to name and voice their shadow in order to elevate it to a place of visibility and learning which disempowered the negative influences of shadow.

Then, knowing that I actually have the capacity to voice it, deal with it, disempower it, I have judged myself harshly in those times when I knew I wasn’t voicing the shadow I was aware of.

Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea, in their work in PeerSpirit, define shadow as that which cannot be voiced  – and, if it is voiced, is done at great peril, real and perceived, to the speaker.  I wrote about it in this blog on the Gift of Shadow. In a recent conversation with Art of Hosting friends and colleagues:  Christina, Nancy Eagan and Martin Siesta, we identified at least two traps we often fall into that still the voice that would expose shadow.

The first of these is the time trap.  In pursuit of our work and objectives we feel we do not have time to “derail” the trajectories, grand design or process flow in favour of pausing to check in around shadow that begins to show up.  We know it’s there but we want to work around it to keep to a time target.  Sometimes it’s a conscious choice.  Other times we are just blundering our way through.

Related to this is another situation I’m familiar with – shadow on hosting or facilitation teams that is not addressed.  When shadow shows up in hosting teams (and it usually does to some degree or other) and isn’t addressed, it impacts the relationships on the hosting team and it can influence the dynamics of the larger group we are working with, whether we intend it or not.  The degree to which this happens depends on the level of self-mastery of the individual hosts (the degree to which I can own and sit with my own shadow or to which I am projecting it onto others),  the larger context of relationships within the hosting team and whether this is something new that is beginning to emerge or something that has been brewing for a long time.  I’ve experienced all of these scenarios and more.  Because dealing with shadow is usually not a lunch time conversation, as a hosting team we often make a non-verbalized choice to function on behalf of the client or the group rather than trying to deal with shadow on the client’s time.  Sometimes this is  a necessary choice.  The problem with this is we often do not make the time to deal with shadow outside of client or training time.  One often used excuse is our schedules are too busy.  And our tendency is to want to avoid these conversations because we have all had experiences where this had gone badly.  We are scarred by these experiences.   When the relationships are really important though, when we want to deepen the experience and continue to work with people in the most authentic ways possible, we do make the time.  We stay in it for the long haul.  It is where some of our greatest learning and growth takes place and our deepest relationships emerge.

A second thing that stills us from voicing shadow is people’s goodness.  People generally are trying hard and if we bring up shadow it seems to imply they – or we – are a bad person.  Whatever shadow shows up gets generalized to the whole person rather than to the specifics of this particular shadow or context.  If it is named, the response is often defensiveness – “I’m doing all I can”; “I’m doing the best I can”.  People’s goodness and the tendency to  generalize become a barrier to talking about hard and difficult things.  It comes back to not wanting to hurt another person and also our lack of skill in addressing difficult topics. We are afraid for their reputation and for ours.

These are just a couple of traps.  There are more.  What are some traps you’ve experienced that still the voicing of  shadow?  What are your experiences in finding your voice?  How can we develop our skill in surfacing the undercurrents of shadow so we can shift the shape of our experience and our world in a way that embraces all that is there?

The Wolf at Twilight – A must read!

In the past I have heard about the need for people – us, white people, in North America – to understand the impact of colonization on the story of this land – a story begun many thousands of years before there was ever a European landing on the shores of North America.

This story is compellingly told by Kent Nerburn in his book The Wolf at Twilight: An Indian Elder’s Journey Through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows. Nerburn is the story catcher for a Dakota elder, named “Dan” in the book, who he journeyed with a number of times over a couple of decades.

In telling Dan’s story, he also tells the story of the First Nations people, of how they welcomed newcomers to their land, wanting to learn from them and willing to share with them.  How cultures, beliefs and ways of life clashed so dramatically that the First Nations people were practically wiped out in a land as vast as North America.

European ways of being were forced upon a people and a land with a system of property ownership that went beyond just land.  A significant portion of the population was wiped out because of their lack of immunity to the diseases brought by the European settlers.  The very rigid religious systems played a part in attempting to wipe out the remainder by crushing the heart and soul of a people and their culture through “educating” them in the white man’s language and traditions – and through the use of force.  The impact of residential schools on families and a people was devastating.

There was a time in our history when the white man wanted to drive First Nations people into extinction and when they couldn’t kill the people anymore, they killed their food supply, deliberately laying waste to magnificent herds of buffalo that once roamed this land.

The path to alcoholism and drug use emerged as the light of the soul dimmed, flickered and was almost extinguished.

The sense I got from reading The Wolf at Twilight is that it is not really about laying blame, although it very well could be.  It is about generating understanding of a time, history and culture that is fundamentally important to what is happening today in the world.

In my travels and work, I am seeing a growth in interest around indigenous practices and ceremonies – circle council, vision quests, sweat lodges, drummings, sundance ceremonies, an honouring of the life breath that is in everything and everyone and shamanic practice.  These practices are being reclaimed by First Nations people as they relearn traditions that have been almost lost to them and work to heal the soul of their people and their culture.  These practices are being adopted by white people who hear the whisper of the sacred in these practices and are also seeking healing – for themselves, their communities and the earth.

This book is a must read for all of us interested in shifting the shape of our future.  We need to understand our history – not just what we consider to be the good parts of it, but the shadow that shows up in how our ancestors treated the people who lived on this land before they arrived – as less than human beings.  It is only in living into our own history that we will be able to transcend it and really generate the level of healing that is being called for in the world right now.

The resilience of a people who were brought to the brink of extinction and are now reclaiming their heritage is brilliant and an inspiring example of what is possible for everyone and for the healing we all need.

Social Media Changing Social Norms

Had a fascinating conversation with a small group of people at #PodCampHfx last Sunday about the role of social media in shifting the shape of the world.  I was particularly interested in its influence along the chaordic path – that place between chaos and order we seem to be navigating more and more frequently in the world right now.

The Chaordic Path

The Chaordic Field

I wanted to understand more the influence of social media on the chaordic path and  what the opportunity is to influence it more strategically or with greater intentionality.  I also shared the stepping stones of the Chaordic Path: need, purpose, principles, people, concept, limiting beliefs, structure and processes, and practice.

Social media facilitates networks or webs of people in making interconnected relationships more visible.  Partly because of this it is also driving greater transparency in today’s world.  Buzz spreads rapidly through Facebook or Twitter and it is a lot harder to hide information, indiscretions, faux pas’ or worse.  Even with privacy settings, you cannot control what someone else posts.

There was a time that technology was isolating for people.  It was easier to sit at home emailing people half way around the world than it was to go knock on the door of the next door neighbour.  The rise of social technology though is enabling people to connect and reconnect with each other in ways that also generates in person contact.  Friends in a city will find each other through social technology – on the web and in person.  There are examples of how Twitter friends, who may or may not have actually met each other,  arrive at conferences and then set up the opportunity to meet face-to-face.

What was most interesting in our chat at #podcampHFX was how often the word community popped up.  I have noticed that people are yearning for community and sense of connection and social media seems to have created pathways to community in surprising ways.  And the most intriguing thought: social media is transforming our social norms, changing the parameters of acceptable and non-acceptable behaviour, doing this broadly and maybe more swiftly than any other social norm shift in the history of civilized society.

I’m still reflecting on how social media is shifting the shape of our world and contributing to the regeneration of community.

Shifting the Shape of Climate Change

I have been following the news  of the climate change talks in Copenhagen – mostly through friends of mine who are there – with growing interest.  I have never really been a big believer that government or our political leaders are going to lead us to the solutions to the problems we face in the world – big or small.  The culture they operate in – largely one of debate, negotiation and posturing – is very entrenched and makes it particularly difficult for them to shift.

If I only paid attention to the political conversations, it would be very disparaging indeed.  However, the conversations  that most capture my attention are around inner climate change.  This is something we can all do something about – and must do something about!

This morning on Facebook, my friend Mitch Rhodes wrote: “at a gathering in Copenhagen, Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke about being on the winning side. With our hearts and minds we must firmly believe we are on the winning side and shift to that place with conviction and dignity. It’s an inner struggle as much as an outer struggle.”

He also posted: “Many activists/protesters have anger in their hearts. A theory U-activist holds the power of love in their heart and facilitates the emergence of a just future. Gandhi comes to mind as an example.”

I have been a proponent of Theory U since I first came across it in 2005.  I say yes to being a Theory U activist, holding the power of love in my heart.  The way to shifting the shape of the world in a conscious and intentional manner is by each of us putting our stake in the ground, changing our own thoughts and behaviours and understanding that our actions make a difference in the world and to the world – no matter how big or small.  By our thoughts and actions we will attract others who are also willing to shift and by doing so, we will build a larger and larger field of resonance for the greater shift we want to enact in the world.

Will you be lost in the apparent hopelessness of this large scale global crisis or will you contribute to healing the world (and self to as it turns out) fully, with your heart, mind and soul, firmly believing you are on the winning side, shifting to that place with conviction and dignity?  I will meet you on the winning side!