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Mirror, mirror on the wall, what's this darkness in us all?

Updated: Jun 29

With a recently-held trauma workshop behind me, a very familiar sensation lingers. She has been so alive in me, weaving itself in and out of my body's need to rest and replenish.

It is a her, this sensation. A very familiar her. She belongs to the inner me from long ago, wishing to draw the current me into her world: she wants to offer her precious confusion and dismay to this adult's compassionate and discerning heart.

I feel both ashamed and overwhelmed. That I may have taken up too much space to be more fully myself, sharing my experience, delighting in the recognition of how much of me showed up while, at the same time, making space, and holding space for others to do the same. She overrides and obscures the satisfied contentment in my belly.

It feels icky in here, not sticky enough though to silence some long-standing questions.

What is my space?

What is the other's space?

What is a common space?

What is the larger human space we all belong to?

And how do I inhabit it all?

These have been areas of great and ongoing excavation, in a relentless search for clarity, allowing me to slowly unearth the complexity of what is the truth about something and to whom, or what, this truth belongs.

Truths that sometimes are shrouded in mist, somewhat deceptive and derailing, misplaced truths really, not malicious nor intentional yet profoundly debilitating, for both mind and psyche, often leaving one discombobulated and self-questioning.

What then was true about the reality of my experience while growing up versus what the mirrors around me were reflecting back to me?

The following conversation from The Wisdom of Trauma documentary goes straight to the point:

Recovering addict: My job was to be the wrong one in the family. My family were alcoholic. I was the young one of five siblings. We would go out to bars and they would drink. I hated it. My mother would say to me: " I just don't understand you" . I was six years old and I thought: "My god, if you don't understand me, I am lost."

Gabor Mate': Allow me to give you another perception of you. You are the one, that, more than others, absorbed all the pain and stress at the time, and then you manifest it, and they can't stand seeing it, so in exiling you they exile their own pain and stress.

I have watched this documentary many times, and still this exchange wakes a part of me out of what is today a far milder collapsed slumber. I still gasp in disbelief at the potency of unconscious transactions between people.


How can this be true?

How could I have been such a sponge for what both my parents could not hold, feel and own?

How did that happen?

How did all of that take place in the young body that I was?

My young brain could neither understand nor compute what was happening around me at home. Yet, at another, wordless level, I now know my empathic and highly sensitive self knew exactly what was being 'dumped' on my capacity to absorb the exiled charge of my mom's and dad's unresolved past.

I so needed their approving and encouraging gaze.

I ached for their holding and reassurance.

I hungered for guidance, mentoring, containment.

I wanted to know who I was by finding into my own reflection in their eyes.

I did look.

I searched. Oh god, did I search.

I saw deep grief and loss there, frozen in their dry tears and absent empathy.

I saw defeat, an inescapable sense of powerless governing their survival stress.

I saw joy and playfulness shrink-wrapped in shame and hardened in the rigidity of judgment, only partially softened by the merciful blanket of duty and self-sacrifice.

I so loved my mum.

I also feared her. A lot.

Loving her was never far away from making sure I did not trigger her. Taking up space meant less space for her. That didn't spell good vibes. Outburst of desert-hot anger. Suddenly an icy gaze. Her anger burnt.

Her judgement froze.

I believed her mirroring eyes.

I learned to believe I was too much.

I learned to make myself less then.

I loved my dad too.

His eyes mostly reflected my transparency, as if I was there but not there. Visible but not detectable. Not to be engaged with.

From him I learned to believe that I was not enough.

I learned to try harder in the agonizing hope to be seen.

My young identity slowly formed around their reflections of me until they became me.

I was those images of me they had unconsciously created out of their own history, the history of what they could neither feel, nor hold, nor express.

The charge pulsating in the belly of their unresolved pains and losses moved into my psyche, slowly bearing down on my need for space and personal expression.

"You are too negative; you are too complicated. Dear goodness, a bit of simplicity wouldn't harm.

You are always by yourself. What are you hiding in your room?

Why do you keep pushing yourself? You have no half measures.

Come , lighten up, you are always so heavy.

Come , a bit more joy; you are never happy; when you accept yourself for who you are you will be happy. "

How was I to know who I was when I was steadily buckling under the dense boulder of their disowned pain? They couldn't own and feel anything in themselves yet they could so easily see and scrutinize their repressions in me.

I so loved my mum and dad.

They surely couldn't be wrong about me.

I kept believing them.

How do you dismantle what you have learned to be true about you and make space for what is unequivocally you?

What does it look like?

What does it feel like?

I rest my hand on my chest, feeling the safety of my own touch on my heart. My breath accompanies my descent into the sensations of tightness; a crack opens at the bottom of my ribcage and anxiety surfaces.

I know her sinking, constricting presence.

My breath bows to her, holds company with her, honours her.

She softens.

And shame appears.

The urge to stop and pull away pounds my ribs. My body is sounding red alert through its exquisite fight/flight language. I know these movements so well by now.

The safe comfort of my hand pressing lovingly on my heart reminds my body that it is ok to stay. It is safe to stay. It is ok to travel further into the confusion triggered by a projected truth, a truth I have believed for so long it became what I believed about myself, i.e. that my family, and the social and cultural 'marinade' I grew up couldn't have been so misguided about me - after all they loved me, right? - and that my own knowing, wisdom and experience, my own voice even, couldn't be trusted as a guiding light in my own life.

I feel in my body the distortion created by the projections I absorbed both from my parents and my cultural, social environment. The charge driving them swims in my head, making me lightheaded, the ground beneath my feet a mix of quicksand and mine field.

Whenever that which I have believed to be true about me starts untangling and separating itself from what is authentic about who I really am, the push-pull feeling generated in my system can get really uncomfortable and mentally unnerving. My roots feel shaken. Something spirals up and down between my gut and my brain, swirling in an ever increasing vortex. As I have grown in my capacity to stay with these inner movements, the identity I had built around what I had thought to be true, looses definition. Its edges turn more ephemeral, its solid core releases its grip, called back, almost wooed back, onto the smooth surface of the mirror it came from, freeing my inner knowing to clearly perceive and see what is really mine and what belongs to someone/something outside myself. The charge fuelling these inner movements is what spells are made of, truth and deception dancing on discernment's blade.

I am still holding my hand on my chest when I realize that I am no longer in danger. My throat seems softer, more open. It feels safe to speak. To say.

Say what?

What do I want to say?

What wants to be said?

Who is in charge of the words?

I know, viscerally so, that in order to be free to grow and to experience the joy of being fully ourselves we all have to go inside, and meet where we are stuck, where we are frozen, where we are hurt, scared, angry and grieving.

We need to meet the absence of who we truly are. That fresh and alive us hidden behind, or beneath, some old, or sometimes ancient, layers of survival crust.

We need to cultivate safety in our body to do so.

We need to own our real stories behind our survival narratives.

We need to pull out our mirrors, those we were offered growing up.

It may be that we take a peek first. Just quickly. It's ok.

A peek turns into a look.

Next ,we stay a little longer.

We slow down.

We may begin to stare, Consider.

Our kind approach may open us to see and connect to what is real behind the muck on the shiny surfaces.

Gently, compassionately we can then start cleaning them: we need to wash other people's unresolved needs, pains and unfulfilled dreams off our internal mirrors. Underneath these burdens our own wounds have been long waiting for our undivided attention.

In time, as we grow stronger and more connected to our own unique truth, we may call on a new found humility and look at the mirrors we hold up to people and situations outside ourselves. And we may choose to claim back our own projections, whatever unresolved suffering of our own we may have thrusted upon them. How, without knowing what we were doing, we expected them, sometimes meekly and passively, sometimes aggressively and destructively, to sort our our pain, to relieve us from our struggles and deliver to us the healing, the happiness, the peace or the justice we so desperately yearn for.

Mirrors are neutral, functional objects that simply reflect what is in front of them.

Human mirrors are more complex: what gets reflected in the interactions with each other is both the truth of what we know and the truth of what we don't know is there. Sorting out what's what is tricky, often messy, never comfortable but, over time, liberating and restoring.

While I was growing up I was charged to hold so much unprocessed family history ( I will leave out the cultural, historical and collective side of things for now). I was often reminded of how heavy and difficult and complicated I was while being invited to be lighter, more joyful.

The profound unconsciousness I was silently asked to shoulder made it impossible for me to stay connected to the light of my inner beauty and truth. M body took a lot of strain through the years. However, communing with the inner dark I had been plunged in, sharpened my discernment, shaped my understanding of some really difficult inner evolutions and invited my heart to a level of radical acceptance and inclusion of all human experience I didn't know I could embrace. No man-made, light-driven spirituality or philosophy could ever have transformed me as thoroughly as walking in, and with the dark did.

We need each other's lights to offer encouragement and hope as we choose, or perhaps are pushed, to look at our mirrors and begin the 'cleaning process'.

We also need to consider how our 'darkness', rooted in lack of self-awareness and self reflection, could guide us and help us connect, if engaged with, to what we can't see and feel in ourselves yet we so obviously see in the people and the world around us.

We all hold hold fragments of each other histories in how we experience and respond or react to life.

Within my heaviness, sadness and destructive self-neglect I held my mum's unbearable grief, her helplessness and her lack of feminine agency masked in fiery reactivity and anxiety. In my self-effacement I held my dad's unfulfilled dreams. If I disconnected from dreams of my own he wouldn't be reminded of the loss of his own.

What is unconscious can only reveal itself if we slow down and pay attention. Pay attention to how we behave, how we relate, how we make choices, what triggers us, how we react or respond to situations and events, how we incessantly seek connection to keep the fear of abandonment at bay or how we pull away and make ourselves inaccessible behind a mask on niceties.

It is not a linear process.

It often involves strengthening our capacity to accept and be with the discomfort of challenging sensations. It touches us mentally and physically in ways that our spiritual reservoir, whatever we understand that to be, will have to be activated and drawn upon to support us through the change.

More often than not, only a crisis will bring us where we don't want to look. And a crisis will open the door and pull us into a new, and often unpalatable world, previously hidden from our plain and immediate sight.

Our personal and collective freedom and sanity depend on our willingness to respond to the uncomfortable invitations life will keep putting on our path. Our potential as humans to create a more compassionate, fair and just society will be aborted if we don't.

Holding each other's mirrors with respect, curiosity and care can only come from having met our inner darkness with immense love, patience, courage, tending to our own mirrors with humility until they are clean enough to reflect and offer our own life-giving force to a shared new beginning.

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Dearest Paola, I love your expression, your words here, and the heartfelt energy of your transformational process. You are such an inspiration. Love, Shan

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Thank you so much Shan. So lovely to find you here. Hope you are well. Hugs.

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