In 2003 I threw a party and said goodbye to my friends and family. I had just finished my bachelors degree in philosophy from the University of Reading and decided I wanted to go travelling. Whilst some of my friends had done the famous “gap year”, including my older brother, I had the feeling that I wasn’t going on a gap year. I told my mum that I didn’t expect to be back within the year and off I went, on a plane to Rio de Janeiro.
I remember now the daunting of feeling of not knowing where I was really going or what I was getting myself in to. This didn’t feel like a tourist trip. This felt like a soul discovery trip… something almost destined that couldn’t be avoided. The only thing I knew was that I had to go.
I had chosen to go to south america because it had the strong exotic and shamanic appeal to me. I had been engrossed in the books of Carlos Castaneda through my teen years and the discovery of power; the lost mysticism of the Incas appealed to me; the untouched rainforests and the huge open expanses that south america promised.
I am not going to tell you about South America and why you should visit but of course, if you feel the impulse, GO! I want to talk to you about my journey into the shadow. Now if this term is new to you, it was used by Freud and even more so by Carl Jung to discuss those aspects of ourselves that we don’t really want to see; those aspects of ourselves which although we probably sense they are there, we would rather avoid or not show them to our friends, and or often even to ourselves.
Maybe it manifests in you as jealousy, as guilt; as the belief that you are simply not good enough; not big enough; not smart enough. Maybe it’s the insecurity which makes you explode outwardly in hatred and blame when in reality you feel hurt and vulnerable and that feels like a good way to defend yourself.
Maybe your shadow is a carnal need; a need that makes you hide away your true sexuality. Maybe your shadow is how you relate to food or alcohol or drugs. However your shadow manifests, the interesting thing is that the shadow, when we are not embracing it consciously, begins to act out through our subconscious and so, the shadow begins to be played out in our lives. If you’ve ever seen the movie Edmund, its a great example of the synchronicity that leads to the shadow being rejected and finally taking control of everything, leading a successful business man down a road of chaotic self discovery until he ends up in prison.
I have to come to understand the shadow as part of giving permission to live our most animal desires and needs, even if the rational human brain cannot quite see the logic in it. The key, of course, is doing this in a way that allows it to be integrated into our daily lives, and not something which needs to be repressed until it cannot be controlled any longer and has to be expressed in an explosive manner. Just look around at many of the serial shootings around the world of late as examples of explosive expressions of uncontrolled shadow that has not been harnessed effectively.
One of the problems we face as humans, if that we are often torn between different but extremely powerful impulses. Our nervous system developed over hundreds of millions of years and adapted for survival purposes. We have a nervous system and brain which shares characteristics with the reptilian brain, the mammalian brain and the new and most advanced human brain. For a very simple, if slightly factually inaccurate model of the brain, The Triune Brain by Paul MacLean describes these three areas based on their shared nature with other reptilian and mammalian creatures. Whilst this subdivision is overly simplified, it does point toward our shared phylogenetic origins with other animals.
We have, in our most intimate circuitry, the impulses to fight, to kill, to survive, to grow, to copulate, to have offspring… we have that animal impulse inside us. Yet our rational brain often enters into conflict with the impulses that our body is showing. For various reasons we block, discourage and ignore our impulses. This process can be both hugely beneficial also also hugely detrimental. Fo example, because of something he has done to wrong me, in the heat of the moment I might want to kill a friend of mine, but my blocking that action leads to many benefits: I avoid prison, I don’t lose my friend, I don’t suffer the post murder guilt and so on; and its definitely an advantage for my friend too, assuming that is, that he would prefer to be alive.
Now consider a woman walking home at night, who notices a hooded man walking a small distance behind her and closing fast. Her impulse is to run but she knows that running will make it obvious she is afraid of the man and she is worried about hurting his feelings. She blocks her impulse to run and he catches her instantly and robs her of her handbag.
Now why does she block the impulse? She felt the fear. She felt the urge to run. But something from the rational part of the brain acted as a brake and her instinctual survival impulse was overridden, leading her into the arms of her assailant. Of course, the very reason that she thought these things already whispers to us the possibility of some kind of resonance of trauma in her. Now if she had trusted her gut then she would have run. and he would have run fast. She would have survived. It is this separation from the body, separation from the felt sense, and reliance upon the rational mind that leads us into these often dangerous situations.
Lets get back to South America! Having spent two years travelling around the continent, learning the language, learning certain customs, making friends, travelling through the rainforest, I was feeling an urge to settle and study. That urge took me to Buenos Aires Argentina where I began to study Californian Massage. If you don’t know what that is, please go the massage section of my website and read all about it (and of course I would recommend you come and take a massage with me!). During this course, I began a process of learning to feel. Now that may sound silly to you. We all feel. Its easy isn’t it. There’s nothing to learn. That is what I would have said.
But what I discovered is that most of the time I was just overriding my gut feeling and ploughing ahead with my thoughts, often with detrimental results to myself. I had suffered for years with asthma without ever really understanding the cause of it. That feeling of tightness and of being full of air yet needing more air is a great example of a physical reaction in my body that I was largely unaware of until it got to a stage which was unbearable and would need medication to achieve relaxation. During that massage course I began to get in contact with my own body. One of my wonderful teachers to whom I am extremely grateful Ingrid May once said to me “the body never lies”. This was a great teaching for me and one that I have repeated many times to my own students. The mind can conjure all sorts of grandeur and ideals, but it is the body which sets the limits, which decides when we are tired, when we are stressed, when we feel rested and so on. The psychiatrist Bessel Van der Kolk named his visionary book about the relationship of the body and psychotherapy “The Body keeps The Score”. I believe this title is akin to “the body never lies” and absolutely nails it!
I have been working with the body since the beginning of 2006, learning to feel tension, learning to relax tissue, learning to contain emotion when it releases; trying to understand how our subconscious shadow tightens the body; twelve years investigating the body; learning how we hold tension from our life experiences, how that affects our well being; our psyche; our relationships. I have received hundreds of sessions of bodywork and given tens of thousands of sessions. I have worked with an array of symptoms and syndromes. I have read constantly on the subject; learning, investigating, teaching, giving sessions, and being worked on. A cycle of opening my body; learning to feel and to trust what I feel. Learning to delve into the shadow.
And so it is, that 15 years after leaving the United Kingdom and having moved to a different continent, with a language I did not speak, I have returned to share what I have learnt. I am immensely grateful to all of those people who have crossed my path on this amazing journey so far. To my teachers of body work. To my teachers of somatic experiencing. To my teachers of shamanic practices and conscious dance. To all of my clients. To all of my students. To everyone who has been part of my time in Oasis School of Massage and healing Arts in Buenos Aires.
And to you, if you’re reading this. I want to say to you. I do not have asthma!!
I want to invite you into a world of self knowledge, of investigating the shadow, of releasing tension from the body. I want to invite you to get in contact with your body. With your heart. I want to invite you to take responsibility for your health and for your life. I want to tell you that you can do it! If you’d like to take sessions with me of either body work or somatic experiencing then please get in touch.