"We are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For."
One of the greatest lessons of life and leadership has been the importance of opening ourselves to embrace the fullness of our individual uniqueness. This lesson has come at the price of many mistakes and failures; mostly the mistake of trying to live up to idealized images of successful people and effective leaders that were not me.
Years ago, I was training novice psychotherapists, who just as I did when I was in training, felt tremendous anxiety about our respective ineptitude, wanting to leave behind all of our personal “baggage” and show up as would a caring insightful Carl Rogers. I remember repeating to my students: “Your clients have come to see you, not Carl Rogers. If you sit across from them trying to think of what Carl Rogers would say, your client is effectively left alone. They have come seeking you. What do you need in order to show up for yourself and for them?”
This has been a recurring and deepening question throughout my career. How do I/we/our organizations show up in the fullness of who we are and with what is uniquely ours to offer? In this, my “afternoon of life” I have a better grasp on the answer.
According to Jung, the developmental task of middle and old age is to consolidate personality by integrating the conscious and unconscious parts of self. In other words, integrity in midlife is about inviting and embracing into consciousness parts of ourselves that we have repressed and kept hidden. Jung also believed that engaging in what he termed shadow work allows us to grow into our full potential as human beings. I will speak for myself -- the work of confronting the very parts of myself that I expended a lot of psychic energy denying and keeping hidden from public view feels threateningly daunting. Yet, the shadow also contains uniquely creative and powerful expressions of the self. In our anger lies our power, in our grief we find compassion, in our judgments is our vulnerability and shared humanity.
To create wholeness in our organizations, communities and the world we must first create wholeness within. In these times of deep rupturing, we must harness the power of the human heart to know, understand and accept aspects of ourselves that have been denied or deemed unacceptable. Unless integrated, we project outward onto others that which we have othered in ourselves. This “othering” is the cause of much human and planetary suffering.
Shadow work is the road to self-acceptance and authenticity. It is also the gateway to what I think of as Spiritual Leadership. Embracing the shadow is to live in grave danger of growing and into the fullness of who we are. In the face of our fears, it is vital to be reminded that It is in the darkness of the womb that new life is created. It is in the darkness of the earth that diamonds are formed.
Barbara is an organizational consultant and leadership coach. She is a psychologist and ordained interspiritual minister. Barbara was the CEO of Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health and President of Goddard College.