As a healer/therapist (and, admittedly, one who might be said to embrace a "metaphysical" paradigm of thought), I have been thinking a great deal lately about the relationship between what I am going to call depth psychology (think Jung, shadow self, integration) and "New Age" spiritual teachings (think Law of Attraction, Abundance, Manifestation).
For years, I was steeped in the depth psychology side of the equation. While I was interested in and curious about concepts like "our thoughts create our reality" and the virtues of positivity, it all felt a bit too "light" somehow-- like it couldn't possibly be the whole picture. I had more faith in the grittiness of deeper work-- of really trying to be present with all the facets of what I was carrying. (And, let's face it-- some of that material wasn't light and/or breezy!)
For a time, I had a friend who was avidly devouring books about the Law of Attraction and Cosmic Ordering, and she had no interest whatsoever in therapy. "The past is the past," she would tell me. "It just creates discord to unearth that stuff. I'm trying to stay positive." In other words, digging deep was going to cramp her style; her manifestation efforts would go to hell. Or so she thought.
The curious thing was that, as far as I could tell, her life seemed like kind of a mess. She wasn't holding jobs. She couldn't decide what to do about school. She "attracted" men who treated her poorly. Suffice to say that this was a woman who appeared to be running from herself.
Meanwhile, I was hanging out in the trenches of therapy. I was on a mission-- and it involved going head-to-head with the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. My unofficial mantra probably went something like this: "Authenticity or Die." Now, in the end, that endeavor served me quite well as it provided an essential foundation from which to launch a more whole Self out into the world. But I'm not going to lie-- there's a way to get stuck on that side of the equation as well. (More on that in a bit.)
Something that I have come to understand is that, while there is, in fact, great truth in many of the "New Age" teachings my friend was so fascinated by, one cannot "attract" the ideal from a broken place. Denial of our pain and our shadow selves only creates a distortion in our energy field, which then gets transmitted out into the Universe. In other words, in order for us to manifest true soul desires, the inner and outer worlds need to be in alignment. All of the positive affirmations on the planet will never stand in for the painstaking inner work of true integration.
Writer and spiritual teacher Jeff Brown says it beautifully:
The universe responds to authentic transformation-- nothing feigned will do. If our positive thinking is incongruent with our emotional reality, if we have not done the real work to ready ourselves for humanifestation, then our wishes will fall on deaf ears, falling to the bottom of the fountain with the rest of the pennies. We need to get our emotional world consistent with our "positive thinking" in order for our requests and visualizations to be taken seriously by the “Universal Broadcasting System." If we are all blocked up with pain and anger, our "positive thoughts" will not be authentically sourced and organically positive. The more emotionally unresolved we are, the denser the message we transmit.
Perhaps this all sounds like some grand therapy initiative. And depending on where you find yourself with regard to the (im)balance I'm talking about, I suppose it could be. But, as I said earlier, there is certainly room to get stuck (as I did!) on the other side of the spectrum-- the side that, at times, glorifies the grit and downplays the grace; the side that, in spite of itself, is unwittingly addicted to the wounded aspects of Self and the "struggle" for wholeness at all costs.
The other day I logged onto Facebook, where another of my favorite writers/spiritual teachers, Oriah Mountain Dreamer, had posted a blog entry entitled "Spiritual Wincing." Her concern was with "harsh admonishments disguised as spiritual truth" (i.e. "Let it go," "Accept and move on," "Think positively" etc.). Such slogans, she asserted, trivialize the deeper challenges of the human heart, and indicate a lack of faith in how we are made. Her offering was beautifully-written and, like everything she conceives, full of an undeniable wisdom. Yet, at the same time, I found myself wondering about the other side-- about the times when such "superficialities" might be, in fact, necessary and even legitimate...especially if we are prone to overstaying our welcome in the heavy stuff. Some of us need to push ourselves to authentically engage with our shadows; to honestly attend to our deepest pain and sorrow. And, conversely, some of us need a "tough love" reminder about when it might be time to come back to the world of the living. In the end, I do think that it can be just as "safe" to stay groping in the half-light of broken space as it can be to cheerlead those positive affirmations from on high.
I've recently come to discover that there is something inherently vulnerable about learning to see in the Light. But this vulnerability doesn't come from any form of spiritual or psychological bypass-- it comes from building a deeply integrated foundation. Sure, there are times when it can be easier to hide from ourselves by not venturing to look very far beneath the surface. And, alternatively, there are times when it can be easier to stay mired in our own "muck." Ultimately, though, as with everything in the Universe, it's about a harmonizing of opposing forces.
May you hold that paradox.