One of the main ways that we get stuck or fail to reach our potential is through persistent psychological patterns. Some would say they’re not just psychological, but psycho-spiritual, or even karmic. Perhaps they’re an expression of what are called samskaras in Vedic thought – ruts or imprints that we’re prone to fall into over and over. The tendency to think and act in a certain way can be difficult to break, even if we know it’s not serving us.
Often these patterns are founded in stories and beliefs in which we have a one-sided view, and the single-sidedness gives them a stronger charge that tends to make them more enduring. Here are some examples:
I am a victim. I mess everything up. I never have enough money. People are selfish. I’m not disciplined enough to live to my potential. Happiness doesn’t last. Life is scary.
Part of why these stories won’t die is because of our inability to see more than one perspective. Often we put ourselves in a certain role, with the opposing role played (usually in our mind) by some adversary, which could be a parent, partner, enemy, God, the whole world, some imagined “lucky person,” or even another aspect of ourselves.
We can get invested in playing the bad guy, the hero, the spiritual one, the rebel, the starving artist, or the martyr. This may cause us to suppress aspects of ourselves that don’t align with this role, which serves to perpetuate the one-sidedness of our position. The exaggerated dynamic it sets up is like sitting at the outermost point on a seesaw; we’re bound to get carried way up and down by our emotions.
Coming from a Chinese Medicine background, I’m inclined to see this condition as an imbalance of yin and yang. It’s a denial of our wholeness and a limitation on our health and power.
Recognizing that we contain both sides of each coin is important and useful work, and it’s a primary theme in many healing modalities. It’s part of the integration of our shadow aspect (a term coined by Carl Jung to describe the parts of ourselves we deny, suppress, or are unconscious of). It’s an essential part of The Work developed by Byron Katie for challenging our thoughts. This process consists of asking questions to determine whether a given thought is true and how you’re affected by believing it, after which you “turn it around” to see how opposing viewpoints are equally true.
For users of our body-centered releasing workbook, Freedom, we recommend taking a charged issue or scenario and, after working on it with your usual position, see what comes up when you “try on” the opposing position. Releasing the pattern from both sides promotes a more complete resolution.
Similarly, Leslie Temple Thurston teaches that when we identify the polarized aspects of our stories and then figure out what their opposites are, we discover that both sides are within us (and our adversaries). This recognition shifts our position from the outermost edge of the seesaw to the center fulcrum – what Temple Thurston calls the neutral witness state – and the story falls apart.
To take this deeper, we can examine the interaction of two sets of opposing charges, which creates four perspectives. Temple Thurston calls this working with “squares.” The mind is rarely in the throes of just one duality. Beyond the charge of the two sides of a story, there is an additional dimension of polarization which is the basic push-pull of attraction and repulsion, also experienced as like/dislike, desire/fear, or attachment/rejection. By examining a pattern through all four sides of these interacting charges, we can achieve an even more complete neutralization.
I’ve depicted the basic format in this graphic. Take one duality, which I refer to as yin and yang here, and cross it with the duality of desire/fear to produce four states. Here I refer to the states as desire for yin, desire for yang, fear of yin, and fear of yang. This will all make more sense when we plug in an example to replace yin and yang here:
We all contain the four aspects shown in this square. Typically there are two that are easy to relate to, while the others may be trickier to access. In this example we’re looking at the qualities of the self that we consider acceptable and openly express (our light) and those we keep hidden (our shadow). When crossed with the duality of attraction/aversion, we get four states. The first two are attraction to our light (upper right) and aversion to our shadow (lower left). These are easy enough to recognize since that’s exactly the dynamic that sets up the light/shadow split in the first place.
Finding the other two qualities in ourselves may require looking a little deeper. At the upper left is attraction to our shadow. This can happen inadvertently as a result of the pressure buildup caused by suppressing it. Our shadow may seem dangerous and forbidden, and we may unleash it to defuse the inner charge of disapproval and rebellion. We may find ourselves expressing it in ways that are painful to us or others, and our regret about doing so may reinforce the urge to suppress it.
It’s important to point out, however, that the parts of ourselves we keep sequestered in the shadows aren’t necessarily socially unacceptable. They may in fact be virtuous qualities that we’re simply uncomfortable with. Attraction to our shadow may also occur in a healthy way as we endeavor to be integrated and self-realized beings, in which case we want to know all that we are and to consciously choose which aspects to express.
The last quadrant, aversion to our light, is what Marianne Williamson is speaking to in her famous quote: “Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.” Why do we fear our own light? Perhaps we’re afraid of everyone noticing us. Maybe we believe that if we shine, we’ll then do something to let everyone down. If we embrace our light, maybe we believe we’d outshine others. Possibly we don’t believe our light is even real.
How can we employ this exercise in a useful way? Start by taking a quality you seem to have an obvious desire for or aversion to. For example: desire to be powerful, desire to be happy, desire to be wealthy, fear of being alone, aversion to being sick, aversion to exercise. This quality and its opposite will form the two ends of the horizontal x-axis. Then the vertical y-axis will have desire, attraction, or wanting at the top and aversion, rejection, fear, or repulsion at the bottom. Fill in the four quadrants so that each of the x-axis qualities gets paired with each of the y-axis dynamics.
Then spend some time feeling into each of the four resulting states. Journal about how each state is within you and/or use our book, Freedom, to do a body-centered releasing process on each one. It doesn’t need to take very long, but ideally should be done until you feel a sense of acceptance and a dissipation of the charge associated with the issue. Afterwards, feel into your relationship with the object of this process. What has changed?
I hope this method of inquiry is beneficial to you. Feel free to share about your experience with it in the comments section.