I was taught to affirm, “I am whole, perfect, and complete.” I didn’t have good definitions of those words at the time. So my ego said, “Really? I am? Well thank you for noticing!” Then I strove to uphold my ego’s definition of “whole, perfect, and complete,” again trying to achieve myself into acceptability.
In metaphysical teachings, sometimes the ego takes hold, and we develop a second shadow that covers shame with a ghostly illusion of spirituality. Our fellow travelers on a spiritual path become new targets for comparison. We try to be as spiritual as others to prove our acceptability. But the shadow of trying to “be more spiritual” wrestles with the shadow of shame—and the wrestling match drags us into a deeper pit.
Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Hate cannot drive out hate,” and “Darkness cannot drive out darkness.” The same is true for the shadow and shame. Shadow cannot drive out shame. Shame cannot drive out shadow. When we attempt to fix a shadow with a shadow, we either fail outright; or we fail by false success—in other words, we think we conquer the shadow, but really we just temporarily contain it. We cram a roiling stew of shadow into a tight Tupperware. We seal the lid and stick it in storage. Suppression invites the shadow to ferment and eventually explode into a pseudo-poltergeist that interferes with the fullness of life.
I know for me, when my ego was in charge—if I ever had moments of brokenness, imperfection, or incompletion—I pressed myself into the metaphorical Tupperware with gusto. I would not allow the power of a negative thought. I prayed my tank-like prayers to invoke outer symbols of success. I believed if I could just apply enough evidentiary band-aids to fasten my life together, then people would think I was okay. They would think I was “doing it right,” that I was truly as “whole, perfect, and complete” as all the really gifted spiritual people were. If I could just get other people to accept me, then maybe I could accept myself. I worked hard at acceptability and was fairly successful -- that is until the shame-filled Tupperware exploded again, and I found myself wiping up a mess of pain with a self-rejecting ego.
Eventually I entered into a mystical, non-dual path and learned new definitions of "whole, perfect, and complete." Wholeness includes brokenness; perfect literally means inclusive of everything; complete means evolving. I incorporated this paradoxical wisdom into my life and became gentler with myself and others.
Richard Rohr says, "What you do not transform, you will transmit." I looked at my life and compassionately observed my transmittal of suppressed shame. My transmittal took many forms -- hypersensitivity, eye-rolling, defensiveness, and criticism of self and others. My heightened awareness of transmitted shame brought me to a new place of paradox and willingness.
I was willing to see how the shame-inducing ego is part of love’s plan, but not in the way I thought it was. Shame doesn’t exist to make us smaller; it exists to call us to inner greatness through humility. We acknowledge shame. We befriend our humanity and offer it compassion. Our compassion inspires us to regard ourselves unconditionally. Then we transcend our imagined limits of acceptability through the powers of grace, forgiveness, and love. In other words, we love ourselves beyond our capacity to love ourselves. We learn to let God love through us. This lovingness extends to our love for others as well.
Bonnie Rose is a minister with Ventura's Center for Spiritual Living. Above reading was excerpted from her book, Dances with Dogs.