I’ve been thinking a lot about the whole love and light movement. This is so much a part of the yoga world and the communities of healers that I work among..
I think it’s great to encourage people to focus on the positive and be grateful and I fully believe that your mindset has a huge impact on your life. But I get really concerned with the amount of spiritual bypassing that goes on in this community because it alienates people who are suffering and continues to victimize people who are marginalized.
If you’re not familiar with the term, spiritual bypassing refers to using spiritual ideas (like manifestation) to sidestep the heavier emotional issues and psychological wounds that exist in our lives. Basically it’s using spiritual practices like gratitude to just power through uncomfortable things.
Love and light messages are prolific in the social media age.
It sounds good. It looks lovely. It’s very Instagram-able.
Let’s be honest though, it’s not real life.
Real life can be heavy and messy; It’s rife with injustice, grief, racism, and white-supremacy. The real work isn’t just in being positive and celebrating the good stuff, it’s also in the dark.
Shamanism isn’t in my lineage, so I don’t use the term for myself, but I love that the word shaman translates to “one who can see in the dark”.
That phrase really blew my mind when I heard it because it spoke to the part of me that has always seen the dark in things. I’ve seen the way people breeze over difficult topics and try to grin a bear it. I’ve seen the way that grief or anger attaches to people and becomes the filter through which they see the world, even as they show a brave face and well filters photos.
When I was young I had a tendency to get bogged down by the heaviness of other people’s lives. I didn’t know I was an empath. I don’t think I was even conscious of my own existence until I was six. I walked around reading people most of the time. Noticing things about other people. Seeing bits and pieces of their stories. I only recently recalled how out of body I felt for much of my childhood.
I vividly remember looking at the little girl in the car next to us at a red light and seeing bits and pieces of her story. Then a voice in my head said “what about you?”. And then I was back in myself.
I thought that was normal. That everyone knew and saw and heard the stuff that I did.
I now know that isn’t true.
The reason I wanted to talk about all of this love and light bullshit now is because the holidays are really challenging for people. It’s not all presents and eggnog and singing together.
The holidays can bring with them grief and darkness and heaviness and comparison. Over the past few weeks we’ve talked about the challenges that empaths face at the holidays, but you don’t have to be an empath to feel the intense pressure of expectation and the crushing weight of grief.
Last month I did a special death card tarot embodiment workshop. I was so excited to do it and I really felt I was being guided to share it but, I was hesitant because I know this card strikes fear into so many people.
What was interesting is that when we think about grief, we think that physical death is the only thing that we grieve. I hear echoes of this same idea every time I pull this card for someone. But, grief is much bigger than just an emotion that accompanies this type of loss.
Grief comes with all loss. We grieve friendships we no longer have. We grieve relationships. We grieve careers that aren’t in line with our values. We grieve the loss of parts of ourselves that no longer serve us. And we grieve our inner child who is wounded and just wants to do everything right so they can get the validation they yearn for.
I’ve noticed that people have a resistance to labeling all of these things as grief but that is exactly what they are. The heaviness, the crying, the inability to take a deep breath, or to look directly at the thing that hurts. It can come out in anger and rage, or in despair and sobbing. It can sneak up on us just from the sheer volume of exposure to triggering situations. There is no clear cut process and no neat way to tie it all up.
It is heavy and messy and as humans we don’t like anything we can’t easily classify and put a bow on.
In any given moment when you are around your family you might find yourself grieving your younger self, relatives who have drifted away from the family, or the fact that your parents or partner can’t be who you wish they would be.
You might also suffer from depression or anxiety and struggle with putting on a good face for your family and friends.
I am right there walking beside you, my friend. I see you and I relate so deeply to your struggle and I know that it might take all you have to be around everyone else and feel pressure to look, act, feel better than you do underneath.
I am doing very well now, but I suffered with severe depression, insomnia, and anxiety for years. I took medications, switched medicines a bunch of times until I found the right combo, rebalanced, went to therapy. I faked it with family and friends and sometimes I raged out, screamed, and felt ashamed. I have sat in a stew of my own grief and loneliness while everyone around me seemed great.
I honor you and what you are going through and the heaviness of the expectation that you are probably putting on yourself to be well or to appear to be well.
I am telling you that you don’t have to do that anymore if you don’t want to.
Struggling and feeling the heavier, darker things does not mean that you aren’t walking your own spiritual path, or that you are doing anything wrong. It also means that you don’t have to be consumed by those feelings and that you can prepare by arming yourself with more coping tools.
It takes tremendous bravery to feel your way through the darkness and to sit with the heaviness in your heart and honor it. Look at where you’ve been and where you are now. You would not be who you are without the journey and you don’t need to be a happy-go-lucky, light and love type of healer, reader, teacher, parent or partner.
You can just be yourself. You can just come to the table with the real things you have been though and offer them up.
This isn’t to romanticize suffering, but instead to say that it is okay to not be the instagram-ready, perfectly put together, happy-go-lucky version of yourself. It’s okay to come to the table as you are and not just how you’re expected to be.
You don’t have to be all love and light to be walking your own healing path.
You aren’t weird and you aren’t broken if you feel sad when it seems like you should be happy.
I’ve been alone in the dark, too. I’ve felt the grief, the imposter syndrome, the money anxiety, the deep desire for parental approval, and the grief of knowing I won’t be met with the things that I need, even during the holidays.
Sitting in this dark. Processing and acknowledging these feelings, gives us depth and a complex understanding of ourselves as well as compassion for ourselves and for others. It makes us stronger and more authentic healers, parents, and partners. It makes us more complete people.
So the next time you are tempted to shove down the darkness to make yourself or other people comfortable, do yourself a favor and stop.
You’re doing the work and you are feeling your way through the darkness. It doesn’t have to be pretty. Just keep going and know that you aren’t walking alone.