Healing Dysfunctional Patterns By Meeting Your Shadow
Jung used this idea of what is in the light of conscious awareness and the unconscious realm of ‘the shadow’. Like an ice burg there is only a small tip above the surface representing our conscious mind, whilst the real bulk of the mind’s content and many decision making process lie in the submerged and hidden unconscious mind. For this reason Jung said: “until you make the unconscious conscious it will rule your life and you will call it fate”.
A friend recently recommended ‘Existential Kink‘, a book which has at it’s theme how to explore this shadow world of the unconscious and I have been enjoying exploring this over the last few weeks. The author has a challenging perspective. Her central position is that “having is evidence of wanting” and that if we want to see what is in our subconscious we need only look at what patterns repeat in our life. She came from a back ground of struggling with money and being in relationships that left her feeling undermined and diminished. For years she struggled from the perspective of her conscious mind that said it did not want any of this. Then she started to explore the possibility that somewhere in her consciousness there was an experience of pleasure to keep re-living these patterns and ‘Existential Kink’ was born as she shifted to allowing herself to experience a hidden and previously shameful sense of pleasure in getting this unconscious desire met. She connects this to the BDSM world where someone may well say “no, no” to being spanked whilst it satisfies some deeper unconscious desire and gives pleasure, despite also being painful.
As she brought the unconscious desires that were shaping her decisions into the light of consciousness to be embraced, accepted and enjoyed, it allowed a new dynamic to emerge. As she let herself feel the beliefs about money being bad, rich people being greedy and it being more honest and worthy to be poor…… and recognised that in her struggle with debt and having no money she was actually getting exactly what her subconscious wanted and instead of resenting this struggle allowed herself to feel a pleasure at getting just what her mind wanted this opened up new possibilities and within a few months she was finding she had made changes to her patterns that meant she was for the first time able to earn more.
In her own words: “existential kink is a specific meditative practice that’s all about dissolving negative patterns by being willing to uncover and celebrate the previously unconscious pleasure that we actually – paradoxically – derive from those “yucky” patterns……I can’t emphasise enough that this does not mean you are to blame for the difficult circumstances and relationships that your unconscious creates. You as an individual are not to blame or culpable for karmic, or social conditioning created beyond your individual conscious choice. You are, however, as an individual, the only person capable of altering your unconscious conditioning and identity, and restoring its divine reality”.
The Secret Pleasure of The Unconscious Desire
This may seem illogical. Why would we seek experiences that cause pain when we say we want pleasure? From the perspective of this approach it’s because there is a secret, hidden pleasure and familiarity we get from being in these old patterns but the shame of admitting this stops us from bringing these patterns into the light of awareness so we instead stay stuck in a loop, our life being directed by our unconscious whilst our conscious mind laments all of these ‘unwanted’ experiences and looks for external sources to blame. Buddhism talks of awakening being a dissolving of self-view. And one level of letting go of self-view is letting go of the belief that my conscious mind rules my life and decisions and recognising that we are a multiplicity of selves all fighting for power. Another of Jung’s sayings is: “what you resist persists, and what you fight you get more of”. It is only by turning towards what we resist, feeling it fully, feeling even the pleasure we get from it being fulfilled and allowing ourselves to acknowledge that it is part of us that we can start to bring about change.
I’ve been starting to do this with my experience of unsatisfactory housing situations. As I sat and meditated a few days ago I allowed my self to feel the sensations in my body connected with living in sub standard accommodation, living with difficult housemates, not being able to afford to move and my experience of various rooms that have been damp, slug infested or in some other way so far from what my conscious mind says it wants to find as a home.
As I sat I suddenly felt myself as a baby in the womb. My mother had preeclampsia, very high blood pressure, during pregnancy, a risk to her life and to mine. The womb was a toxic place to be in that state, and yet also the only place I knew that provided me safety and comfort over those months of pregnancy…..although it also became a place I was pulled from by forceps when birth was induced chemically after it had become too dangerous to let the pregnancy continue to a natural birth. As I meditated I suddenly felt the connection between this place of tension, the lack of oxygen and nutrition in the womb and the loss of agency as I was pulled out without any involvement form me and these various life situations. There was a feeling of pleasure and familiarity in being once again in a place that made me feel I could not grow or thrive but only endure and get by until things got so bad I had to abruptly leave.
Don’t Throw Glitter On The Dunghill
It is a sad thing to say, but we do not always make choices in life that serve our best interests, rather we make choices which feel familiar. And to make new and more nurturing choices we have first to fully name and feel the dysfunctional and familiar patterns that shape the choices we make. It’s for this reason meditation is not easy. It is not about being calm, or simply finding a method that relaxes us…..that is just like throwing glitter on the dung hill. We need to do the work of turning towards the dunghill and working with what we find there. Only then can transformation happen. Meditation is more like Hercules cleaning the Augean Stables than a walk in the park.
If you would like to find out more about this method the video below gives a good summary of her theory and approach to healing.