The enemy within; bringing our shadows into light for peace

Since the outbreak of the war in the Ukraine, I’ve perpetually felt that I’m not okay.

Thoughts of despair have gone through my head more than once; we just endured two years of COVID, and now war!?

I was swimming in a constant current of anxiety and anger. In the past few weeks, my good qualities of patience (a muscle strengthened during covid!) and compassion were replaced by irritability and fatigue. Breathing deeply seemed difficult, my gratitude practices felt almost sinful, knowing the suffering ongoing in the Ukraine and beyond. Mindfulness exercises only served the purpose of making me painfully aware of just how overwhelmed my mind had become.

How could I possibly find my way back to safety, when individual and collective traumatic imprints were growing thicker by the minute?

After a couple of weeks in the trance of anger and fear, I felt a strong pull to turn inwards. It was a “knock, knock” from within.

In the moment, I closed my eyes and became aware of the familiar sensations of the anger and fear in my body.

After some investigation, I noticed to my surprise that it wasn’t victim energy I was experiencing. This is my habitual hardwiring and I had casually assumed that the fear and anger had arisen from a subconscious fantasy that war might come to our doorstep one day. This time, this didn’t feel potent.

It was something else, something darker, calling for my attention.

Persecutor energy.

This part of me, who knows judgement, oppression and even death, that I had worked so hard to hide in the depths of my psyche, was making herself known to my conscious self.

My inner Putin.

She is part of me that holds the memories of times where I have been aggressive and judgemental towards others, often to make myself feel better, or rejected others to satisfy my own needs. She is the embodiment of my shadow side; the challenges to the story I’ve been telling myself to sooth myself back to safety: “I’m always a good person, I would never hurt anyone.”

And yet, I have.

Romantic break-ups, moments to discrimination, and the time I chose to terminate an unborn life growing inside of me.

These events in our lives can feel so painful to be with, so we simply choose not to. And yet, when we reject parts of ourselves, we encapsulate that energy within the hidden corners of our psyche, and as a result we struggle to feel fully alive. As Francis Wells writes in his book The Wild Edge of Sorrow:

“We can’t heal parts of ourselves that we deem unworthy. This leaves us carrying unprocessed grief, which often manifests as hatred, towards ourselves and others.”

Slowly, I let these memories, my inner Putin, pass through my consciousness and my body. My intent is to give her full permission to be there.

To my astonishment, I realise I actually can be with the pain of these memories. I can hold them in my awareness without collapsing. Then I notice something else. Compassion.

The need to suppress or deny those memories fall away. Something inside of me let go.

No longer flooded by fear or anxiety, the pain releases its grip.

Moments later, the breath started to move freely through my body again, and my nervous system settled. I became aware of the birds singing outside my window. How long had they been singing without me noticing? How long had I been gone in the trance of fear?

Tara Brach, meditation teacher, writes:

“Acceptance is the most important quality to freedom. If we don’t accept, the experience that is unintegrated will continue to repeat itself, sometimes through generations”.

This is where we have a choice. A choice that impacts our own lives, and the trajectory of all of humanity. If we don’t integrate the parts of us that we are ashamed of, there is the possibility that the fear and anger carried by those parts of us will manifest in further acts of judgement and harm, in our own lives, or the lives of our children.

As Yuval Harari says in his interview “The war in Ukraine could change everything” on TED;

“Humanity has a choice. The current war in the Ukraine are the fruits of seeds planted in Leningrad in 1920. What new seeds do we choose to plant today, that will bear fruit in years and generations to come?”

Many of us feel a lot of love and compassion for the victims and the heroes of this world that emerge right now. And, if you look closer, there might also be grains of rejection and discrimination there, too.

If we can forgive our own inner perpetrators, my lived experience is that we can access even more love and compassion for a brighter future, where we all belong.

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