Shining Light on Your Shadow

Literature captures a rich representation of humanity’s struggle. In fact, if you look at literary work as a whole, they fall into three categories: (1) man vs nature (2) man vs man and (3) man vs self.


We here at the Plaskett Institute dabble in each of these categories but by far man vs self is our specialty.


In the wake of senseless killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless more Americans at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve, there has been a massive public outcry for justice. With that outcry came commentary from just about every element of the spectrum.


This article does not seek to debate the human rights issue. Rather, we seek to talk about the shadows that we all possess in our thinking, beliefs, perspectives, etc. We’ll call this our belief system – a complex make up of our thought life that we project into the world formed consciously and subconsciously through direct and indirect learning.


Whoa! That definition has some layers!


We all possess a belief system and regardless of its makeup, the belief system enables us to make sense of the world that we live in. In fact, it is the lens to which we form our understanding of the world around us. If we are more introspective, then this belief system takes center stage in understanding the world within ourselves.


Because of this, beliefs are sacred and when sacred things are challenged, the response is usually defensive. Yet, in everything that we are and everything that we know, there is still much to learn.


What’s more, we all possess shadows in our belief system that are often blind to us – for more reason than one (one being that we take our beliefs as facts [statements that can be objectively verified] aka “I’m right”, vs judgments/assessments/a version of a truth).


The shadow itself symbolizes our lack of knowledge about a particular subject AND the fact that we don’t realize we don’t know. You see, we are often blind to things that we don’t know or choose not to know because we are steadfast in being “right”.


In order to shine a light on our shadows, we must learn how to deconstruct our belief system when it is being challenged. Here are 3 immediate skills you can employ:


#1: Embrace Curiosity. 


Here is something that is often not said but opens you up to more learning…”I might be wrong…” When you come from a perspective that the truth you hold is not the only truth there is, then you become more curious about other possibilities.


There is a concept in Zen Buddhism known as Shoshin or beginner’s mind. This concept means to have an attitude of openness and eagerness to learn as a beginner would. When we can approach life as a forever-student then we can become the master of life.


A simple way to activate this in your life is to change your questions. Instead of asking why, learn to ask the same question with “what” or “how”. This shift allows for an exploration of possibilities.


If you must use “why” then don’t stop at the first why but go deeper by asking until you can get to the root.


#2: Learn to Listen.


We all have two ears but that doesn’t mean that we know how to listen. Certainly, we can hear but listening is a skill that takes intent to develop.


When hearing we are receiving at the surface level. Have you ever been in an intense conversation and your only purpose for being quiet is listening for your rebuttal? Sure you have. We all have. We are listening for the comeback verse listening to understand; to challenge our own perspectives; to embrace more curiosity.


A simple way to activate this in your next conversation is to take deep slow breathes and ask yourself “What am I NOT understanding in what is being said?” This opens you up to actually listen at a deeper level than listening for how you can prove yourself to be right.


#3 Adopt Empathy. 


The golden rule says, “treat others as you want to be treated.”  This rule assumes the way you treat yourself is the way others want to be treated. To truly be of service to others we want to treat others as THEY want to be treated.


This shift takes you out of the driver’s seat and firmly plants others in that position. When you are able to engage with others from THEIR frame of reference then your perspective doesn’t take precedence.


A simple way to activate this in your life is to perform a “Day in the life” exercise. You’ll likely need help to do this. Take something that you don’t understand or seek to learn more about and undergo a typical day’s experience. This is such an eye-opening experience that shows like “Undercover Boss” was created.


There is much more to these three skills but what was shared here is more than enough for you to get started. As you exercise these three skills you will learn to develop a more empathetic ear and open your belief system to possibilities you were once closed to. There is an entire world rich with perspectives and rich with learning opportunities. Closing yourself off to them only stunts your growth.


Take the challenge this week to deconstruct some belief you hold by employing these three strategies. I can’t wait to hear what you’ll learn.

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