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in these anecdotal,
sometimes inspiring, sometimes personal meanderings of the Heart's opening in the every-day-ness of Life...

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Family Shadow...

There is a huge family shadow that engulfs my family.  Some know it as “the elephant in the room.”  We dance around this shadow elephant, not wanting to make it angry, by confronting it with its dysfunction, and how it has impacted the family. We walk on eggshells so as not to disturb the elephant.  But Saturday night “the elephant” reared its head and spoke about her shadow – her life story of pain, struggle and suffering.  Of course, we knew most of it already, because we have been a silent partner to it all her life, but the shadow elephant needed to speak about her darkness – to tell us what she thought we didn’t know.  More to relieve herself from her pain, than for us, and for the shock value I think.  But it didn’t shock. We have heard and witnessed most of the story before.  Because I have done this dance with the elephant for so long and seen how the elephant *likes* her story, to wallow in the graphic details of her drug addictions, her pain, abuse, and her blame for those she deems at fault, and for some reason is unwilling to be open to healing, to take action on her own behalf, to participate in any help that has been offered – I felt nothing…  Which surprised me actually…  This may sound unkind, I know, to those of you who have not lived with a family elephant in the room.  I would have liked to have conjured up a deep well of compassion – but I couldn’t. 

And I’ve been thrashing about it ever since; about my lack of compassion, and the anger that arose.  I wrestle with the difference between compassion, co-dependency and enabling. Not to make this about me, but there are things to be seen in the telling.  And I’m needing a change of perspective…  I’m having to learn, once again, to see differently,  learning to accept what is, to try to see the elephant for who she really is behind the shadow, knowing that the broken elephant doesn’t *want* to be fixed, and be okay with that.

It has been enlightening to watch my reaction unfold, acutely seeing how the mind does not want to embrace what is.  Mind wants life, and other people to change, to be a certain way, to stop being the dysfunctional people they are, at least my mind does.  And mind wants life to conform to the image of what mind thinks *should* be, a recipe for struggling and suffering as I discovered – for all of us.  I saw this clearly in the shadow elephant, and in myself.  The shadow elephant in a sense has become my guru, to show me where I am still in darkness, struggling with the shadow of myself, and my mind.  I started questioning my “spiritual path” and wondered, despite any “awakening” that has occurred, what’s really real...  Wondering if I am deluding myself and still swimming in a sea of unconscious blindness – caught in the family shadow.  I certainly can’t claim full “awakening”, only glimpses that have faded over time as the veils of my own shadow self surround me again, not allowing me to see clearly.

So instead of meeting the elephant from a place of inner Beingness, from Love, I became agitated, frustrated and angry – internally, not expressed - which took several days to unwind.  I became part of the shadow dance, and it triggered those shadow aspects in myself.  I was disappointed in myself that I couldn’t access innate wisdom, that I couldn’t step back into my True Nature.  I couldn’t tap into the reserves of compassion, but felt numbness as her drunken dumping flooded the room for two hours.  There was too much emotional baggage with the family shadows to be of any real “help” – although there were offerings of insight and support.  They were met with blank stares, and “yes, but...”  My husband seemed to be able to break through at times, beyond the glazed-over eyes.  But she kept going back into her story, as if to validate and perpetuate her trauma.  I was silently incredulous at the psychology of this…

I realized that the anger I experienced has to do with feeling out of control and not knowing what to do.  It has to do with the fear of having to pay the consequences for her unconscious life choices that led to her debilitation.  I know her choices, and lack of choices, were born out of pain, and wounding by others that she had no control over.  And I know I have done and continue to do the same at times, making choices out of pain and wounding – the shadow – unawake to the Wholeness that we all really are, even in our shadow. 

This poem, by Danna Faulds, says what I really want to say to “the elephant.”  So I sent it to her today…  May you find peace…

“Despite illness of body or mind,
in spite of blinding despair
or habitual belief,
who you are is whole…

Let nothing keep you separate from the Truth.
The soul, illumined from within,
longs to be known for what it is.

Undying, untouched by fire or storms of life,
there is a place inside where stillness
and abiding peace reside.
You can ride the breath to go there.

Despite doubt or hopeless turns of mind,
you are not broken.
Spirit surrounds, embraces, fills you
from the inside out.
Release everything that isn’t your true nature.
What’s left…
the fullness,
light and shadow.
Claim all that as your birthright.”

Danna Faulds


  1. Your personal struggle is such a deep reflection of a collective struggle Christine. Of fighting with the "shoulds" "Ought to's" and "Musts" and of being with it all with discernment and love. "Claim all that as your birthright" such a powerful poem really, to own up to our lives and where we are.


    1. Thank you Aarathi for that reminder that it is universal! Yes...

  2. There is much within your story that I can relate to, my experience. I knew I could not fix things so had to, as you say get a different perspective, to see things differently.

    About guru, someone said to me "you will learn lessons from each other" at the time I couldn't see this, but is now clear.

    Oh I'm feeling for you right now, I know how the 'glazed over look' feels from the inside, the retreat is what I felt it to be when the trauma of it all was too much. Family members helped the best they could but they were not inside my head dealing with such deep and complex issues!

    I know so well what you are saying in the last paragraph, I have been there! Felt that! I now feel like I'm making my way through this arduous path, the terrain is still very rocky but I'm more sure of the ground now.

    Thank you for opening and sharing your heart.

    BTW Sometimes I wonder about my own outpourings, and my blog about their worth, value! It is at times like this that I know their worth and value!!

    Soul hugs x

    1. Thank you for your heartfelt comment! Yes, I always feel the risk when I share from this space of vulnerability... But then, this is life as it is too...

  3. Replies
    1. Oh thank you for this! I love the poem! Tears...

  4. I am sorry you had to go through such a traumatic two hours. I think I too would retreat into numbness while in the midst of the elephant speaking. I think there is little to say really that would or could be heard when someone is in the state you describe.

    It is so sad. I think you need to not be so hard on yourself and your reactions. It sounds to me like you have much compassion and understanding for this elephant. Elephant is lucky to have you.

    remember to love yourself and give yourself a hug. Love, Suki

    1. Thank you Dear Suki... :) And so it goes... It is unfortunate that the unconscious ones seem to have such power. We see it in the world all the time. Albeit false power. I am being gentle with myself, :) and finding a new perspective and compassion again... There is much to be learned through this! That's what matters really, to use it as another window of perspective... Love, C

  5. Thank you for sharing the hurt and the compassion. It helps all of us heal. The poem brings up so much. 'Release everything that isn't your true nature.' What's left is ... everything!

    1. Yes! everything is left - the light and the dark - life as it is... Thanks :)

  6. I know this place of feeling without compassion and then feeling I "should" have compassion" The Buddha called the "should" the second arrow and I am often shooting myself with it. Sometimes people just leave us numb. And yet that lovely poem was an act of compassion, just coming not quite when and how you expected compassion to emerge.

    I am no stranger to anger as you know, Christine! This summer saw a strong resurgence for me and when I went to a body worker she reminded me that anger is such a misunderstood emotion. We all experience it to varying degrees and it is simply a form of energy which can motivate us to change or offer us options, as in your case, offer the strong motivation to see things differently.

    A thought I forget when I'm in the thick of it but that I always find helpful later is this: if it is so difficult for those of us with a practice, imagine how difficult it is to heal when you have no way of making sense of all the trauma in your life.

    Many hugs to you! And thanks for this post which reminds us of our common human situation. We are all in the same boat, as my Zen teacher used to say.

    1. Thank you Dear Carole for your lovely comment. I just got back from a day at Mom's :) And I know you understand! :) It took me a few days of "second arrow" and then I was able to just let go of it. Reading Mary Oliver's poem "The Journey", as "monk in the world" mentioned above, was a balm, and helped me see from a different perspective :) In fact I think I'll post it!

      I totally agree with anger being energy. There is a great book called The Dance of Anger, by Harriet Lerner, PhD that I read several years ago. Probably would be helpful to read that one again :) Anger is a strong motivator for sure, it really shines the light on where I need to be aware, where I feel violated, where boundaries have been crossed, where I accommodate others just to keep the peace, and shows me that I need to stop the dance that I am in with this person - but it's difficult when it's family. Easier said than done, as you know. :)

      It was an eye-opener for sure to see the level of unconscious behavior and no desire to see anything differently, no desire to "awaken" - no desire to *want* to heal! And to know that most of the world functions that way! Like I'm surprised :) But sometimes we get cloistered on our "spiritual paths" and forget how the world functions :)

      Thanks for the hugs :) Hugs back and will answer your email soon!


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