What does it mean to explore your shadow when it comes to people getting killed?
by Jordan Myska Allen
One way to see the world is that everything that happens “out there,” meaning literally anything in the external world outside of your head, is a piece of information. It is neither good nor bad, it’s just data.
We place judgement upon it given the particular lens we see through. This judgement can be nice because it can keep us alive, but it’s usually invisible. Because the judgement happens in our pre-conscious mind we don’t often get a chance to see what criteria we use to label events as “good” or “bad.” It’s not such a big deal, because most of the time, we agree with the categorizations.
Take the bombing of the Boston Marathon for instance. I agree with my automatic reaction to feel deep sympathy towards the victims and their families. I agree with the subconscious criteria which compels me to pray. I agree with my judgement of the information—the fact that people ran towards the explosion looking for ways to help is a really positive sign about the state of humanity, and it showcases thousands of good, healthy people far more than one sick one. I believe the lens I’m looking through is sharp and clear, and therefore I feel justified in my compassion, my knee-jerk reaction to extend love to everyone involved, and to find ways to keep this from ever happening to anyone else again—including an appropriate response to the perpetrator of the violence.
Because I trust humanity, and I have a deep respect for the complexity of the human psyche, I’m fairly certain everyone else feels consciously justified in their reactions too. Yet many people have different reactions. Some people look at the same information and feel justified in their fear. Others feel justified in their anger, and their bigotry, and their hatred. I don’t believe most of these are healthy or productive for the people holding them or for society in general.
How can I be certain I’m not like them? How can I be certain my view isn’t tearing apart humanity, fostering the very violence I’m reacting against? The only way I know how is to become conscious of the view itself; to see the lens through which I’m looking. Specifically I’m interested in the ways I’m operating from unconscious fear, and I’m interesting in transmuting those fearful, limiting beliefs into positive actions.
Fortunately, I have a mirror. We all do. Everything that happens “out there” can act as a mirror—if we consciously choose to see it that way. And lucky for us, the events that we react the most emotionally against (or for) are the biggest, shiniest mirrors I know of, personally and collectively.
Let’s take Boston for example. Many people react with pessimism. “Look what the world’s coming to!” Hold up the mirror, and what does it say? “I don’t feel safe, and this proves that I’m right. I’m not safe.” That’s a useful piece of information—the people who react with fear to this bombing already don’t feel safe, so attacking their ideas will only further provoke their fear and anger, and help them feel justified in isolationism and protectiveness. Ironically, this type of isolation and protection will make them less safe, because fewer people will be looking out for them and supporting them when they need help.
Even if you find a different reflection, it’s likely that your knee-jerk reaction ironically makes the underlying fear worse. What can we do instead? Inquire deep into that fear. For those that didn’t feel safe, ask the question “What would make me feel safe?” These fearful pessimists can then be the biggest supporters of building stronger, safer, more supportive communities.
Others react by looking for the positives. I’m often one of these. What does the mirror tell me? “If I hide my negative feelings behind optimism, I can pretend the world isn’t the hostile place I really think it is,” or “I feel helpless to actually make any change, so I’m going to highlight the good that others are doing to draw attention away from my own lack of value.” Boil it down and I’ve used this bombing as a way to reflect some of my deepest insecurities: The world is hostile, and I’m not enough to do anything about it.
You might find a different set of core beliefs become unearthed; this is pretty personal stuff we’re talking about here. For me, when I become truly intimate with this insecurity—I hate to admit it—I think that I alone will never be enough to help such a complex world. Fine, no need to judge that piece of information. But I can accept it on it’s own terms: I can’t do it alone, but I do want to help the world. Perhaps then I can do it with others.
Now I’m motivated to act where beforehand I was not, even if it’s as simple as writing this article. Once again if I didn’t look at the Marathon as a mirror, I’d be using this positive view to unconsciously keep me from doing anything about it. “Look how awesome humanity is,” I consciously tell others, unconsciously saying, “So that you don’t look at me and how I’m doing nothing, because I believe that’s all I can do.”
Any piece of information can be a reflection of our inner state—what are we embracing and what are we pushing away? Looking at tragic events as information doesn’t diminish the empathy we feel for others, or diminish their sadness, or reduce our capacity to react in loving and supportive ways; in fact it strengthens our empathy and capacity. Seeing our underlying fears, being able to choose love consciously, and feeling confident that we are indeed acting from that place of love gives us far more effective and compassionate action than we could ever have otherwise.
I invite you to see what your reactions to the Boston Marathon are telling you about your lens, and how they might be keeping you from your highest offering to yourself and humanity.