We’re always looking for shortcuts. Life hacks! Strategies that ensure things run more smoothly and preferably, as a result of a quick solution.
We hurry and scramble.
We try our hardest to get ahead.
Ah yes. This is our tendency.
Inevitably, however, we come to a point where what has (seemingly) worked no longer does, regardless of how hard we work. We will most certainly recognize this place when we come to it, and when we do, the need to look more closely at the shadows in our lives will take on a new urgency. Engaging in shadowboxing, which I introduced briefly in The Shadows – Part II, will help us to develop a new skill set, so that we can have a greater impact and live more meaningfully and authentically.
What happens when we decide to have a closer look at our shadows, for the purpose of moving forward and growing?
(Continued from The Shadows – Part II)
IV. Our Shadows: What Happens to Us in Shadowboxing?
* The Place
I don’t know of any one of us who would voluntarily choose the road of shadowboxing – or wrestling with our shadows – unless we come up short or hit a wall of some kind. Recently I read the following words written by Franciscan Father Richard Rohr: “Sooner or later, if you are on any classic ‘spiritual schedule,’ some event, person, death, idea, or relationship will enter your life, with which you simply cannot cope, using your present skill set, your acquired knowledge or your strong willpower.” This is what many have called “the dark night of the soul,” and we tend to approach it with some trepidation. Unless we know that this is a universal experience – one which can benefit us greatly – this can be a very frightening, lonely and desperate place.
It’s at this point that we reach out for a new way – not necessarily a new belief, but a new way to understand life with its complex twists and turns, along with a deeper understanding of who we are in it all.
Let me assure you, this darkness can be an invaluable friend and teacher. Even the times of debilitating fear, deep uncertainty and stark loneliness are somewhat more bearable when we realize we are not alone, this will not last forever and we can come out stronger and wiser. It’s not automatic, but it’s possible.
Countless books have been written by people infinitely more qualified than I am on this subject, so I will not elaborate further. However, this place – the darkness, the dark night of the soul, some even call it “failure” – is a common place. Others are in it right now, too. If you are not there now, you may well be at some point. And God is in it.
* The Road
We tend to want to get out of the darkness, out of sadness, loneliness, weakness as quickly as possible. It’s a little like reaching for our phones or flashlights when out in the night, away from any bright light. It’s instinctual.
Just over a week ago I took some time to stand under a starlit sky, away from city lights, to stare up into the inky blackness of night, dotted with twinkling constellations, and allow the wonder of it all to again enter my soul. It probably helped to have a wee, wide-eyed would-be astronomer next to me! What a profoundly comforting and awe inspiring experience.
Dismissing the darkness or scrambling for solutions robs us of the opportunity to gather new insight. Have you ever noticed how, after your eyes adjust to the darkness, you can suddenly see more, your other senses become more alert, and you are less distracted? The same is true of our inner life. But, when we are in the dark personally, we somehow feel it’s a punishment or, at the very least, it’s a result of failure on our part. “[It] takes massive courage and strength [to be in this place] because there is nowhere to hide, and the road often feels narrow and lonely,” writers Sharon Grussendorff.
But it is worth it! You are not destined to walk this road alone. At the same time, it does not help us to speed ahead on this journey. The darkness offers immense treasures about ourselves, others, our world and about God. Slowing down enough to be able to breathe deeply, relax and absorb the lessons of the dark is the task of shadowboxing. Below are two resources I’ve found helpful in understanding the dark night of the soul and shadowboxing.* I’m also more than willing to chat with you about this work, and to share more resources. You can reach out to me here.
* The Benefit
By now you may think: why should I put myself through this? It sounds less than enjoyable and it seems it will overload me further.
It’s like a great physical workout. How many posts on social media have to do with working out, running, hiking, and basically being active? I never see people lament the fact that they went out, got sweaty, pushed themselves to the limit and came away aching! Quite the opposite: they always congratulate themselves and others chime in with encouragement. I love it when this happens.
Why do they put themselves through all of this? Because they come out feeling great after it.
This can happen with your inner shadowboxing (i.e. workout) as well. Your coach is your cheerleader: holding you accountable, cheering you on, helping you find direction and always letting you know you will make it!
Being committed to the work of shadowboxing has immense benefits. I’ll only mention a few:
- identifying our shadows frees up energy that now actually consumes us and leaves nothing for creativity, effectiveness and love, light or true enjoyment
- shadowboxing offers us an entirely new way to see the world
- it also opens up a new way to experience God
- it allows for grace, forgiveness, compassion and courage (among other things) to take root in us
- we come to find peace.
And an additional plus: “Truly free people are able to embrace their failings and have no illusion or need to imagine themselves better than other people.” ** This may be the most exhilarating benefit of all!
V. Our Shadows: An Invitation
If you’re experiencing any of the things mentioned either in Part I or Part II, I offer you a personal invitation to reach out. We can communicate by phone, skype or email. As a coach, I don’t function as a therapist; I will simply ask questions to help you identify your shadows and together we’ll find ways to shadowbox effectively.
* Loving What Is, by Byron Katie
Learning To Walk In The Dark, by Barbara Brown Taylor
** Father Richard Rohr
Photo Credit: Jesse Sewell via http://www.unsplash.com