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.

Toward Dignity and Beyond

Over the past few months, I’ve heard the word dignity thrown around quite a bit. In most cases, the discussion was about poverty. On one hand, the poor needed to have or show some dignity by working harder, by “pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.” And, on the other, the working poor deserve a livable wage so that they can live with dignity. In fact, because I’m finally in a job that uses and tests my education, I now have a more dignified job.

My response, sometimes vocalized, was one of confusion. Is being poor or working a job that doesn’t require a degree or a particular expertise, exclusive of dignity? According to the aforementioned paradigm, yes.

In both instances, a lack of money and capital equates to a lack of dignity. Consciously, subconsciously, and culturally, this language suggests that our bank accounts are intimately linked with how much honor and respect we are given and with which we view ourselves. Yes, living comfortably on the salary of a single, 40-hour-a-week job is a luxury everyone should be afforded, but not living such an existence doesn’t necessarily make people feel less worthy of respect. I hear stories about a middle-class that once existed in this country, a middle-class that prided itself in working hard and earning a living. As those people continue to tumble down the tax brackets, now it appears that they had only dignity in numbers of the populist kind.

It’s unfortunate (though hardly surprising) that something as subjective, personal, and unique as respect has been usurped by a symbolic practice. And until money ceases to be the token for succeeding at life, I don’t see this changing anytime soon. If even the deeply altruistic believe dignity is bestowed with cash, then even the good guys are cogs in a system that must, at the very least, be re-calibrated. Honestly, we’re all just rats the maze. But seeing the dignity in others should have nothing to do with their bank accounts. Unless, you truly believe a person can be paid their worth.

The Ayntidote

Like any deeply introspective and philosophical nerd, I turn to books and music and film and art, in general, to assuage my anxiety and to ease my passage through transitions. This particular transition has been quite different. It is being quite different. This transition feels intrinsically right, perfectly measured, and has–in all honesty and perhaps prematurely–been rather smooth sailing.

But alas, a mind as serious and bloated as mine can’t just let things Be.

I am wrestling with my own feelings of living poetically–better, worse–Either/Or. Uncomfortable, for sure. Or (inclusively) I’m simply weary that I’ll never know the unbearable lightness of being.

This evening, I called a boy. I recounted my day, despite acknowledging his boredom, and was moved on. He’ll never call me Shams, nor I him. I pulled out my journal–paper and ink–and began by noting that it had been almost six years to the day since I’d opened my veins and bled black. I noted also the irony of that last and this first entry. As I poured my chaos into the great white abyss, I came to realize I’d been mainlining Rumi the way others snort lines of Harlequin. Perhaps that was the problem and so the solution would be easy.

I began the bleary and sluggish search for an antidote. Kant and Machiavelli were both at hand, but for practical reasons–YES, REALLY!–so they were out. I unearthed Shelley, of the ‘his’ variety, and quickly remembered why he’d sat so long on the shelf. Sorry, Mary…he was just never up to doc. Then I thought about The Seducer’s Diary, and then I thought about that seducer, and then I thought: NO.

It was shortly after this that I saw it. Its physical existence as heavy and burdensome as its legacy. My mind, my space, my soul felt sharp and lucid in comparison. My problem seems so trite and petty when I think of the serious and chronic bloating that afflicted Ayn.

The House on Walnut Street

I awake, shivering, beneath a thin cotton cocoon

to a cool room on a hot summer’s night.

The darkness, of some time just before or after

the witching hour, intensifies

the sound of the box fan in the window.

Beneath its whirring is the faint and indecipherable rondo

of chirping crickets and croaking frogs

and somewhere

as far away as dreams just had,

a dog barks.

I roll onto my back and turn my burning eyes

toward the nothingness above.

When the old water stains on the ceiling

reveal their dank and puddled outlines,

I know my eyes have adjusted

from one darkness to another.

This house,

on Walnut Street,

is as old and tired as the secret lives it hides.

The floors creak, the carpet is worn and

paint falls away from the walls in chips the size of

snowflakes and mothballs.

Sheets hang where there ought to be doors

and the plumbing is temperamental at best.

Still, nostalgia runs rampant and innocence abounds–

because this house,

on Walnut Street,

will give birth to butterflies and moths alike.

Head of Hair

I lie awake in the dark,

My eyes expressing warm silk ribbons of tears.

I stroke your hair: long, coarse, unkempt.

A veritable nest of the day’s activities

And of the day before

And of every other day before this one.

I scratch your scalp gently, lovingly

And I am not surprised that even in your sleep

You are capable of filling the most miniscule of voids:

Beneath my fingernails is the purest of grime.

A concoction of dirt and dried skin

Saturated in sweat and sunlight.

I pull you closer to me,

Careful not to pull you back into me.

I can smell your hair now,

It’s sour, earthy—like the way it smelled

After playing in the rain that summer evening.

Tomorrow,

while I’m cleaning my own body,

Washing and braiding my own hair,

Cleaning your skin,

Washing and braiding your hair

Will be my intention.