There are black and white checkered pieces of fabric wrapped around the trees here. Big swaths of textiles looped around the ancient banyans- limbs like octopus legs reaching out in all directions. The same checkered fabric is wrapped around the alters and carved stone statues. Even the curbs are painted in black and white stripes – a reminder of the light and the dark always being present.
“They’re not afraid of the dark here,” Juna told us that first night. We nodded our heads respectfully. “They hold both with reverence. They don’t suppress the dark or push it away like we do in our culture. They let it live in the light as well. Don’t be surprised if shadow stuff comes up for you here. It means it’s up for healing.”
Maybe it’s because it’s so hot in Bali and we weren’t wearing many clothes, but the old shadowy voices arrived quickly. You’re too fat. You’re getting old. You’re not pretty anymore…. Body shame kicked into high gear. Your face looks puffy. Your thighs are rubbing together. Why were you so confident back home? The truth is that you are ugly, you’ve let yourself go, you’re not disciplined enough.
It’s embarrassing to write these words. I want to suppress this voice, this pain, and leap to the positive. I want to bypass this ugliness. I don’t want you to know this voice is alive in me. They’re not afraid of the shadow energy. They hold it in the light as well.
I admitted to Juna that these voices were coming up, hoping that naming them would help. I stared at her adorable washboard tummy and all her delicious beauty as the words poured out of my mouth. Shame washed over me. I should be over this. I teach classes in personal growth. People see me as confident. I shouldn’t be talking about self-loathing.
This is how we layer shame on top of shame.
“If the shadow pieces are arising for you, that part of you is emerging for healing.”
That’s the word I chose for the week – healing. I chanted to myself softly: Shine a light on this. Hold it with compassion. There is more to heal here. But how? I thought. I don’t want to give more weight to these thoughts. I don’t want to fortify them. Am I created a deeper neuro-pathway? I don’t want to create a deeper groove! Again, it’s tempting to turn away from them and find better thoughts. Am I supposed to do affirmations or something?
My friend Susan traveled with me the following week. We had found a luxurious place to stay in Amed, Bali – one with real air conditioning! and a private pool just for us. I told Susan about the shadow voices and how they weren’t going away. She asked if I had tried to talk to that part, ask it what it wanted to tell me?
Usually this feels corny to me, but I decided to try. I closed my eyes and imagined that part of me, the part that felt ugly and unworthy. “What do you want to tell me?” I asked.
I could see immediately that this part was old and small… and compassion welled in my heart. The answer came quickly: “I’m the part that feels unlovable. I’m the part that’s trying really hard to do everything right and look good so that I’ll be loved. I’m afraid.”
Ohhhhh! I responded. You have it all wrong! Your love-ability has nothing to do with your beauty. It’s about your spirit- not about the lines on your face or how good you look in a swimsuit! I remember you… I know how hard you try. There is nothing wrong with you and you are totally lovable.
It seemed so obvious in that moment. This very young part of me that had collapsed being lovable with being perfect. It seemed like a reasonable coping strategy at the time – do it all right and be adorable and everyone will love you.
Healing happens in spirals and layers… that’s what my friend and mentor SARK says in one of her books. Because I feel better now, it’s tempting to believe that voice is gone, that I’ve somehow conquered it, that it will finally be quiet. I wish that were true!
What is different, is how I relate to that voice. We have befriended each other somehow. By shining the light of attention on it, by trying to understand it, I have offered it a kind of love. I have offered myself a kind of love. The healing is real even if it isn’t linear. I will come back to this moment again and again and again… but I will be somewhere else on the spiral. A layer away.