Today I made friends with my shadow. Not so much the one cast by the sun. We’ve been skipping, running, jumping, giggling friends most of my life.
I made friends with my shadow that is terrified, anxious and furious.
The one that has hidden deep inside since the childhood that collided with my dad’s schizophrenia and psychosis, my 29yo mum’s fortitude and love that got us – our little family of three – out, and my extended family’s unspoken, down-to-earth solidarity that gave my sister and I miraculous normality. You know the kind: school, regular meals, a home, holidays, outings, treats, Christmases, birthdays, neighbourhood friends and Saturday morning sport.
I was having tea and toast and journalling before dawn when I noticed my shadow. Terror. Anxiety. Fury. I have tended to think broadly of such states to the soundtrack of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” in the film “Apocalypse Now” and not really in the context of my life. But in the sacred dark before dawn in my little home on the hill, there they were like shy birds peeking out of the bushes at me. Beautifully camouflaged.
I’d had a poor night’s sleep after a conversation with my mum that looped around her cycle of accusation, blaming and running away. And my violent, recurring dream of beating her up in a frustrated rage after she dismantled my home had resurfaced. (Who the hell beats their mum up, even in a bad dream?) Sigh.
So I invited my shadow in.
“Hello Shadow, I see you. It’s okay. I know we’ve both felt terribly ashamed of ourselves in the past.
“We’ve lived together for a very long time pretending you don’t exist. But here you are – visible at last.
“Please come in and sit with me. Would you like some tea? What would you like to say? What is it that you need?
“I know you were born out of terrifying times when little people and a young mother must have felt lost, abandoned and horrified.
“We had to run and escape for our lives and our sanity.
“I guess you arrived to help me do that. To survive and to protect myself and my family.
“And you continued to stand armed and ready deep inside me in case you were ever needed again. You’re there to help me in dire emergencies and what a thankless job you have.
“You have never relaxed or stopped being vigilant.
“It’s good to see you at last and talk. Maybe there’s a chance we could become friends so your job doesn’t feel as intense? Maybe we could keep talking and find comfort together?
“Maybe we could relax because, actually, all things considered in this big wide mysterious world, we are pretty safe.”
This conversation with my shadow happened on August 14 2017. I am 54 years old.
The shadow of my poor dear dad Mike, has been a long and mostly undiscussed one cast across my family, but this year my younger sister Cal set out to find out more.
In conversation with my dad’s side of the family, she learned about the extent of his mental illness that at times saw him institutionalised, declared criminally insane and also cared for by his brother Sandy with impacts on Sandy’s own family.
Dad completed suicide at the age of 42 in about 1982.
I was seven when I last saw him, Cal was two and my mum Joss was about 29 or 30.
Court orders were put in place that prohibited any contact between Dad and us. Sandy and his family were not allowed to speak of our whereabouts to him, even though they kept in regular contact with us.
I have no memories of that time so these revelations have reverberated in the deep underground of my life this year.
When they surface like my shadow did recently, I am better equipped these days to meet them with kindness, largely because my Buddhist meditation and yoga practices support me.
I am learning that we have within us, an incredible capacity to observe and accept everything that arises within us; with steadiness and non-judgement.
During this winter of 2017 I also walked back into the belly of the beast of my former workaholism by taking on an intense consulting project in the midst of my happy part-time work life as a surfing, fitness and yoga instructor.
To be frank, the financial reward was a much-appreciated boost to my small savings.
Before I began that job I made a plan to keep meditating every day and to surf at dawn. To ditch social media and TV and get to bed by 8 or 8.30pm each night. To eat fresh whole foods and to rest mindfully in my breath constantly.
I stuck to my plan.
The project is done (and yes, it was extremely intense).
In the midst of these things I went to a 7-day silent meditation retreat and bailed on day 3 when terror, anxiety and fury overtook me and I absolutely, categorically HAD to race home to fall in love with my life all over again.
It’s been a big year so far. It’s been a gnarly, illuminating winter.
Today the sky is Big and Blue.
The air is alive with swirling winds.
The leaves on the trees are shining in the sun and I’m about to hang out the washing and have some brekkie.
I’m loving the literal sunshine and shadows that play through my little home on the hill this year. Each day they shift slightly and surprise me as I walk into the lounge room or lie in bed watching dawn slide across the ceiling.
Within my inner home, a similar play of light and shadows is underway. And in fits and starts, day-by-day, I am finding comfort within it all.