We like to think we are awake and in control of our lives, right? That we are sitting in the driver's seat of the car called Life and driving it where ever it is we want to go, masters of our destiny, creators of our fates (within reason). But what if it is not "Me" who is doing the driving? What if we are being driven by something that is not "Us"?
In childhood and adolescence we have experiences that shape us, and then other things happen to us as time passes, too. Situations, people, random events can effect our inner worlds, how we feel about ourselves, perceptions we have of "how things are". Without even knowing we are doing it, we make decisions, and develop ways to protect ourselves from emotions that hurt, situations we perceive as threatening, and start to react to present situations based on past experiences. Patterns start to emerge, the results in our life start to reflect our ways of being, our responses, and then maybe we step back and take a look at our lives one day to realise how we are behaving and who we have in our lives does not actually reflect our core view of who we think we are...
Confronting! So who are we being then?
One school of thought proposes that sub-personalities, aspects of ourselves, can dominate us. Reflections of the mind and primal responses, they are not doing the bidding of the heart, which is possibly why, upon reflection, or in response to a critical situation where we might suddenly see our way of being more accurately, we can be so surprised to find that how other people see us is so different to how we wish to see ourselves, or feel about ourselves.
Another school of thought calls these aspects "the Shadow", or "shadow selves", and the viewpoint here is that until the light of consciousness is shone upon the Shadow, the Shadow rules us, and we remain unaware of our patterns or "default settings".
Is it a horrifying idea for you that some other self, not your true self, might be running your life? Some shadow or aspect you have never even seen? Seeing your shadow is no less confronting - and can create huge questions and feelings of helplessness - "Now what?".
Well, the only thing you can really do is keep looking - look closer, become more aware of when head starts to dominate heart, and at each moment - even in the middle of a huge row with someone - choose to follow heart not head, not ego, not that often-flawed instinct for self-preservation that makes us say or do things we regret later.
The idea of mindfulness is not new. Modern philosopher Ekhart Tolle has written books about it, including The Power of Now; spiritual teacher Sally Kempton offers suggestions for how to achieve a more heart-connected state, and avid meditators suggest their practice as another method for facing and subduing the Shadow self.
You see, you can't really make it go away. It's part of you, but it doesn't have to be the dominant part of you, and it doesn't have to lead you into places that do not serve your highest good: away from connection and intimacy and positive expression, and towards drama and conflict and isolation. It is possible to become more mindful of when we are being reactive and living old patterns and stop, and listen instead to the often quietly spoken voice that comes from our hearts.
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