If you’re familiar with astrology, then you know what I mean when I say that I have a lot of virgo. If you aren’t familiar with astrology, then I’ll just tell you that virgo is one of the 12 signs of the zodiac. It speaks to a kind of energy that likes to have things a certain way. Nothing wrong with that, per se. People with a lot of virgo have a lot of really amazing and powerful qualities (if I do say so myself…). However, all of the zodiac signs have a shadow.
This is a really long-winded way of saying that I can be kind of critical.
Okay, really critical.
I blame the virgo.
Lately I’ve been noticing this part of myself, especially the way it shows up in my relationship with my fiancé.
My fiancé, Nick, is an awesome person and supports me in ways that I never could have dreamed of. My relationship with him is one of the most important things in my life, and I am deeply grateful for him.
Sometimes I forget this though. I get upset about something, and then immediately see all of the ways that he contributed to whatever it is that I am upset about.
Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I am actually pretty sophisticated about this; this is not your run-of-the-mill blaming other people for your problems kind of thing. Rather, I dress my criticism up as “reflecting back” to him the ways that he “holds himself back” and telling him about his “opportunities for growth.” Because I am who I am (someone who is genuinely interested in spiritual growth, self-reflection and awareness), it’s easy for my ego to package my criticism as “constructive feedback that he can use to evolve himself”.
BTW, one term for this kind of thing is “spiritual bypass.” Spiritual bypass is the (usually unconscious) packaging of something neurotic as something spiritual. For example, using your yoga practice as a way to abuse your body. Not that I’ve ever done that….
Anyway, I am pretty embarrassed about this. I’ve been doing it for years, but only recently realized it.
Of course, I don’t mean to do it.
When I do this to Nick, it’s because I am upset, scared, confused, hurt, etc. I don’t want to feel that way (who would?!), so I unconsciously try to get away from that feeling.
Apparently, for me, the easiest way to get away from how I am feeling is to focus on how someone else (like Nick) is creating a problem and on what they need to do to change. I get angry, agitated, and kind of preachy. This doesn’t feel great, but to my unconscious, animal self, it’s much safer and more pleasant than feeling my own deeper feelings of hurt, fear, powerlessness, confusion, etc.
These deeper feelings are like an inner darkness.
The paradox here is that my only hope for accessing any kind of light is to go into this darkness and let myself feel it.
In the book Meeting The Shadow, Psychologist Gary Toub explains this paradox beautifully:
“Yang and Yin, light and shadow, useful and useless are all different aspects of the whole, and the minute we choose one side and block out the other, we upset Nature’s balance. If we are to become whole and follow the way of Nature, we must pursue the difficult process of embracing the opposites.”
As I turn toward my darkness, there is an opportunity to find my light. That opportunity presents itself only when I stop trying to push away my pain. The opportunity for light is actually embedded within the darkness. This is the way that the universe works; the opposites hold each other up.
Therefore, the only way out is in.
Going in; into our darkness, into our pain, into out fear, into our hopelessness and longing, is a vulnerable place to be. We feel uncertain. We feel raw. I know my unconscious, animal self would much rather blame anyone else, do anything else, be anywhere else, than really feel what’s inside of me.
Here’s the thing though. My conscious self is totally on board with feeling it all. Why? Because the uncertainty, rawness, and vulnerability that I encounter in that space is nothing other than truth. It’s the truth of what it really means to be here, participating in life. Life is uncertain. Life is emotional. Life is challenging. Life is raw. Life has both darkness and light. Life is whole.
Ultimately, the truth of life is what sets us free. The wholeness of life is where we find our healing. Vulnerability is the key.
In her book on vulnerability, Daring Greatly, social scientist Brene Brown writes:
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”
To walk the path of vulnerability takes commitment, it takes courage, and it takes practice.
So, I commit to practicing and to being brave. When I feel pulled to pick my partner, or anyone else for that matter, apart, I know that it is a reminder that there is something vulnerable in me that needs my attention. I can move towards it, and drop my critique of others. I can soften and find a tenderness to hold myself with as I feel deeply into my own experience. I can breathe into my feelings.
In these moments of practice I affirm myself; I affirm that I am here. Alive. Part of the conversation. Vulnerable. Raw. Participating. Embodying a better expression of virgo.
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
— Rainer Maria Rilke