There’s a lesson here. The differences surprise us because while our brains are great at creating narratives these stories only ever capture a selection of the variables we’re capable of being aware of. Our startle response reacts to abrupt changes in our environment, but it doesn’t provide data to ascertain just what the issue is. We rely on our, until that moment, reliable narratives to guide us. It’s why some people can see a picture of Jesus on a piece of toast and others continue to slather jam all over without blinking. Our narratives, cobbled together from the familial/cultural/societal/relational dynamics of our entire lives, shape the action potentials for all the behavior open to us.
Incidentally this is why I attempt, to varying degrees of success, to wait a good half-day to a full day before responding to a letter or comment online that particularly incensed me. I am not ashamed by my tendency at times to attack as if personally done wrong, it’s part of who I am, but it’s not something I care to act upon in light of my highest good.
For every response that happens there are any number of others that could have happened if circumstances, internal and external, had been different. This is not about judgment but about being aware of the extent to which our fantastical notions of free-will have no support. Rather than selecting from a place above everything the particular behavior we’re going to do, it arises from the sea of potential behaviors we each of us have at our disposal because of the contexts of our lives. This is why our ideas and perspectives are so important to acknowledge and understand, for they too, like our emotions, are part of the breadth of phenomena we call our mental lives. Each and every one shifts that plane of possibility, raising a selection of potential behavior above another or lowering another set.
Our shadow is the behavior we attempt to tell ourselves doesn’t exist within us, those actions built upon guilt and shame and self-doubt that reside close as a breath and yet often without our knowing it. Here is the power residing in increased awareness. Just as shadows exist when we shine a light at a particular angle, so the light of our introspection/reason and meditation can display for us the shadows of our better selves, those behaviors that feel later as if they were from someone else and yet honesty compels us to accept that they exist within us as well. Our journey is not to destroy our shadows but to shine a light and see them for what they are, potentials but not fatalistically inevitable.
We are not bound to any single moment of our lives, any more than our thoughts can be judged by any single instantiation. We are a relational dynamic and it is the trajectory of our consciousness that defines the quality of our lives. Our shadows are our companions, but it is in the light that we see how very much more we are than that.
© David Teachout