The gifts in our shadows

This is a memo or maybe a letter sent with love to the over-workers, to the perfectionists, to the givers, to the helpers, to the people whose lot in life is to always strive or achieve, or to those too scared to, to those who always feel vulnerable, to those who will never let themselves be, to the people who carry the responsibility and burdens for the rest of us, to the coaches, to the leaders, to the humans, to myself, and to you.

Often we look after ourselves and our place in this world in ways that don’t make a whole lot of sense. Maybe we socialise when we might rest, maybe we stay quiet when we might speak, maybe we stay thin when we might eat, maybe we growl when we might cry, maybe we think when we might feel, maybe we judge when we might trust, maybe we shrink when we might grow, maybe we step back when we might lean in, or maybe we work relentlessly when we might relax.

While we do these things, they might feel uncomfortable or as if these habits belong to someone else. Alternatively, they might feel like a repeating pattern that has outlived its usefulness, maybe one we have fallen into and can’t break free from, yet we are not sure why. We might think “this is just me, this is how I am”. We could blame others and renounce our agency thinking “Why does this always happen to me?”. Sometimes we might even carry a precious story of service, that we are inextricably bound to, one that it would break our hearts to cast aside but that secretly it might kill us to repeat.

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Lessons deeply learnt

It can be difficult to really tap into and listen to our own stories and needs. It exercises untrained muscles and invites a new kind of kindness, tenderness, forgiveness, and love for ourselves.


If we take some time though, we can shine a light in these shadows, by looking at how we care for and resource others in our life or work.


Maybe we step back from competition or grading and help others to achieve their goals because winning is not our place and the feeling of losing or imperfection is too much to bear.


Maybe we avoid what would resource us most and give it so freely to others, because we learnt not to ask for it for ourselves.


Maybe we help others to find justice, fairness, food, protection, structure, to grow, to shine, or to feel loved because growing up we never did.


Maybe we help others to create teams where they can really belong and be at their best, because we never found our own special, safe place. And maybe we could never quite heal that one relational system that we really needed to, no matter how much love we gave.


Maybe we give because we don’t know how to take.

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Coming back to ourselves

Even the moon has a dark side and even the Earth has a shadow as they flow through space in perfect balance. All constellations have gifts and greatness within and our shadows are always with us. These might be directly linked to early life experiences, often this is merely where they are relearned as they have been unconsciously handed down from previous generations with the greatest love and affection because “this is how we kept safe in our family”. This is what it means for us to belong.


..and somewhat strangely it is from the shadows that we uncover our greatest gifts, our greatest resources or maybe that should be re-sources. Re-sources because they take us back to our source, re sourcing ourselves and connecting to our core needs. The ones that we are often yearning for, secretly, silently, unconsciously.


Carl Jung taught us that the caves we fear to enter hold the treasures we seek. The paradox is that we don’t know what these treasures might be, or how valuable they could be till we walk the untrodden path, step through the gateless gate where we let go of the security of our stories and our judgements, enter the cave that is our heart, and sit with the treasure that is our shadowed soul and open ourselves to the possibility of acknowledgement, acceptance, compassion, difference and when we are ready – growth.

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Letting go to grow

Bringing light to shade is a life-long journey. “There is no good reason we should not develop and change until our last day living” suggests Karen Horney. Peeling away happens layer by layer, lesson by lesson. Sometimes the pain or frustration of repetition will be felt many times before we lean into the lessons, if we ever do. Some lessons have to be learnt and felt many times over for the seeds of change to take root and blossom in the light of spring. You can’t hurry love, as the song says.


And the secret tragedy of growth is that no matter how much we love someone, we can’t learn their lessons for them. Accepting that those dearest to us are doing the best they can within the limits and resources of their heart and mind is a painful and liberating lesson at the same time. Maybe it allows us to look on them without judgement and with compassion, understanding, and respect. We are not bigger, we are not smaller. We just are. Together, like the Moon and the Earth in perfect balance and in just the right place. As a seagull called Jonathan discovered, we not only have to want to learn to fly fast, we not only have to believe it is possible. We have to feel it within us, we have to bear the guilt of growth and to transcend our patterns we have to do it with love and do it for ourselves.


Young plants often stand more chance of developing with the support, space, and time created by a skilled gardener and new patterns of living, being, loving and leading stand more chance with the occasional support, space, and time created by a skilled coach and of course we can also take steps to develop our own gardens in the real world as we can in our minds and hearts.

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An invitation to compassion

The secret path to learning to fly and to walk with both the kindness and the love we need for ourselves to really grow, the secret path to our freedom and our amazing potential, lies through the fields of our stories and judgements.


Gently and slowly as we walk through these fields we might take a moment to slow down and to recognise and tend to what we notice is growing, what beliefs and parts of us we have secretly been feeding and carrying all these years. With curiosity, kindness, understanding and without judgment or pressure we might recognise how we learnt these lessons and how they once kept us or our family members safe. Or maybe we won’t, sometimes we might not have the resources to walk in these fields and at other times it is when we feel most vulnerable, scared, and small that we connect with and discover our most precious resources.


Because of course, while the way we take care of ourselves might not make much sense on the outside, what we have been doing is tending to, caring for and nurturing our stories, and our belonging on the inside, living to our limits to the best of our abilities. Loving ourselves as well as we know how.


…and for the over-workers, the perfectionists, the givers, the helpers, the people whose lot in life is to always strive or achieve, or those too scared to, those who always feel vulnerable, or those who will never let themselves be, the people who carry the responsibility and burdens for the rest of us, the coaches, the leaders, the humans, myself, and you I simply invite you to explore what unimaginable thing would need to be true for you to give yourself the love and compassion that you share so freely and unconsciously with others? 

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