Shadow Boxing

In all of the therapy I’m proud that I do, one of the hardest undertakings is Shadow Work. It sounds new age and strange but I promise you it is an absolute necessity to truly explore oneself. You aren’t just acknowledging the darkest parts of your personality, you’re accepting them so that you can manage, transform, and I suppose in rare cases and in the strongest individuals, exorcise some of them.

As a teenager and twenty-something, arrogance was always my darkest shadow. The fact that I was generally more intelligent, astute, and contemplative than my peers and even my elders was a source of pride that metastasized into aloofness and snobbery. I’ve been lucky though, as far as this particular shadow goes. Nearly, five years working multiple jobs (at least one always in retail) will humble anyone with an ego and a six figure education. My shadow’s appetite for superiority dwindled as I fell in love with the complexity of humanity and the understanding that behind our jobs and educations and familial/civic responsibilities, we’re all rich and complex beings seeking validation and witness.

That dark part of me, “Bitch Tara,” as my best friend refers to her, was excruciatingly honest and unforgiving. It was a defense and an outlet to show off the uncanny way I just seemed to understand people, their motivations, and their weaknesses without trying. By shedding this unnecessarily cruel utilization of such knowledge, I had in my mind, become a better person. Bitch Tara was banished because Shadow Work, as I understood it until recently, was black or white; there was no grey.

This past year has been one of the darkest in my life. Someone I trusted implicitly, from the very beginning, turned out to be toxic. There is no explanation for such uninhibited trust from day one, except to compliment the performance artist’s mastery in manipulation. That trust was eventually and relentlessly violated both in the way I was treated and the fact that I’ve come to learn that there was little truth in anything spoken to me. Instead, a narrative was created–complete with villains and martyrdom–that hid the duplicitous, dishonest, and dark true nature of a sick human being.

As a result of this dynamic, I spent a lot of this year suffering in secret. I began to doubt my own sanity and to believe that I lacked ego strength and that I was overly sensitive and that pleading to be treated, at the very least, in a civil and neutral way was selfish. I almost believed that yelling and pointing and insulting was acceptable and that my sensitivity to it was abhorrent. The key here is: almost. Along the way, I fought—in tears—to be heard. I called out the behavior at every twist and turn. I knew that ultimately my attempts at adult conversation would be futile and turn me into the bad guy and yet I persisted. Of this, I’m proud; my integrity and adherence to my own personal code of conduct was honored. Compulsive lying, emotional abuse and narcissism were confronted with their antitheses. This was black and white.

Until I had a moment of grey and “Bitch Tara,” nearly dormant and believed to be diminished, stepped into the light. She crossed the threshold and stared the sick one in his empty eyes. I told myself, in those long, drawn out seconds of fortitude that I stood before this person having done nothing more than adhere to my principles—a foundation of which he knows nothing as he lacks truth on a fundamental level. But remember, it was Bitch Tara who led the charge and I would be remiss to omit that she stood before the offender with an obvious and aggressive superiority; the same sense of superiority I wielded as a kid. He had confirmed for me what I’d chronicled all along and I was satisfied.

There, fueled by darkness, I set a new precedent in the relationship. There was no fear, no shame. I stood there clear-headed, with my healthy ego and my sensitivity intact. This time it was about me and the fact that I am no longer intimidated by the hollow and sullied.

I’ll admit that it’s a struggle now to put Bitch Tara away. Her appearance proved to be a seminal moment that rooted on many plateaus. She was useful in overtaking the darkness cast by someone else. But, attempting to quell her lust for devastating revelation has proved futile and will only happen retroactively. In that sense my integrity is taking a hit and it is clear there is still much hard work to be done. Thankfully, I do a lot of therapy.

The Tautology of Ontology

I am in ontological crisis. I seem to remain in ontological crisis. For years now I’ve contemplated my snug position in this state of being. And for years now I’ve assumed it was temporary, that once my life began to “fall into place” this feeling of crisis would recede, never to be felt again. I no longer believe this to be True.

I’m beginning to understand that such a state never really resolves itself for those of us who strive, at even the basest of levels, to live deeply fulfilled and examined lives. It’s difficult because it often feels as though the only consistency is the teeter-tottering of what’s important and necessary for me. Some days I feel as though I don’t need anything more than a creative binge, a good film, or outstanding conversation that runs the gamut from fluff to something more somber and philosophical. Even just learning something new about life, humanity, and the people I love suffices. All of these things, alone and in sum, help me to feel and intuit the truth of whatever life is, and they cost nothing. Other days I require the world, and that costs everything.

It’s tough, too, being of a creative mind. To create something out of nothing–to capture the depth and complexity of an idea, an experience from the mind and transform it into something that is both tangible and abstract at the same time and also perfectly primed to take on the infinite depths and experiences of others–is even more exhausting than it sounds. It is exhausting in a physical but not physical way: blank. empty. exsanguinated.

For my thirtieth birthday I received a copy of my favorite poem (Spelling, by Margaret Atwood) printed on paper that looks as though it has been carved out of the sky on a fair day: kyanite blue with cumulus clouds. I read it almost daily and remember that ‘a word after a word after a word,’ is not just power, but what I love to do. And to know so intimately what I love to do is priceless because it is, perhaps, one of only a few constants in this experience that is mine alone.

The fact that I’ve come to understand this while still underemployed and deeply unsettled about everything that comes with that, not only strengthens this belief, but also assuages some of my present anxiety. Where there’s no strife and struggle, there is no growth. And where there’s examination and contemplation, there will always be strife and struggle.

And so now, I suppose, instead of fighting the pulling, pushing, and gravity of this ride, I’m concentrating now on breathing through it, enjoying it, and no longer calling it crisis, but being.