On integrating my shadow
For most of my life I had built my personality around being hardworking, obedient, productive, useful, intelligent, and good.
After I began my journey of personal evolution, I directed these qualities to building a new life for myself. It took a tremendous amount of energy to change almost everything about myself. I had to transform from being a logical, quantitative, analytical person to become an allowing, emotional, empathetic person.
Instead of directing my energies outwards to the world of achievement, I directed my energies inwards to breaking down emotional blocks and breaking through my fears of rejection and judgment. It worked. Within five years I had built myself up to become a coach, an instructor, and an apprentice trainer.
But in my sixth year of evolution it all came crashing down.
Suddenly I felt as though all these achievements had become meaningless. I realised that beneath my strivings to become a ‘coach’, and ‘instructor’ and a ‘trainer,’ I simply wanted to be loved. But since I could not love myself unconditionally, I had to fulfil roles and expectations to get the validation, appreciation, and approval I wanted.
Suddenly I felt as though I was wearing so many masks and labels that I no longer had any idea who I really was. My roles dictated that I had to fulfil ideals of being ‘kind’ and ‘gentle’ and ‘caring’ and ‘knowing’ and ‘authoritative’ and ‘confident’ and ‘perceptive’. But aside from these adjectives, who was I, really? The truth was, I felt like any other fearful and terrified person, trying very hard to make it through life unscathed.
When playing my roles as ‘coach’ or ‘instructor’ or ‘trainer’, I received a lot of appreciation from people and a number of love confessions from students and clients. But I never felt as though they saw me for who I really was. All they had interacted with was a part of me, fulfilling my role. Of course they had only seen the ‘good’ and ‘kind’ and ‘caring’ parts of me. That was my role.
So after five years of hard work I felt like I could no longer hold it all together. I wanted to shake off everything I had defined as me. I wanted to abandon all my ‘shoulds’ and figure out who I really was. The old and tired parts of me to die. I wanted to see the world with fresh eyes.
It was in this spirit that I started taking many trips overseas. I went on two diving trips, two surfing trips, and a cycling trip. On one of these surf trips that I had an epiphany.
It was just a usual day of surfing. The van was parked by the curb; we had unloaded our surf boards and were making our way to the sea. One of the surf guides said to me, you don’t need your flip flops. And immediately, another surf guide bent down, picked up my flip flops, and brought them back to the van. I stood shell-shocked, not knowing how to respond. After a while I kept walking.
Later when I reflected on the incident, I cried and cried. It was such a small gesture but to me it meant everything. The surf guide didn’t have to bend down, pick up my flip flops, and bring them back to the van. I could have done that. Or he could have just let me wear them to the beach anyway. That simple act of kindness violated everything I had believed up to that point.
For my entire life I believed I had to achieve and work hard and prove myself worthy to be loved. I believed I was only worth any attention or approval if I had fulfilled some kind of expectation. But here was a total stranger, being kind to me for no reason. It was just too much to take and I cried for months just thinking about it.
After that surf trip I found it incredibly difficult to return to my routine of working every day. Every day I woke up feeling so heavy, with the past five years of pent up emotions waiting to be released. I would spend my days without any routine or agenda. Typically I would wake up, go somewhere to eat breakfast, wander around, take a bus to nowhere, wander around, have lunch, maybe sleep, and do pretty much nothing. In between I would just let the tears flow. All the stresses of striving and all the emotions from years of battle were pouring out.
Slowly I observed myself becoming a stranger to myself, becoming my antithesis, becoming the very person I was not. From being a driven, achieving, hardworking, obedient, giving, and pleasing person, I had become a bum. All I wanted to do every day was eat, sleep, and wander around. I woke up whenever I wanted, ate whenever I wanted, and slept whenever I wanted. I even allowed myself to do things I usually forbade — I drank Coke, used straws, and ate curry puffs.
Then another shock. After passing my coaching exam and accumulating 500 hours of coaching experience, I had finally qualified for a Professional Certified Coach certification. I had been anticipating this moment for years. I thought if I achieved this goal, I would finally be worthy and everything would be so much better. But when I finally got the certificate, I felt nothing. In fact, I felt worse than nothing because it finally hit home that everything I had worked towards hadn’t brought me that feeling of love and acceptance I always craved.
I was losing my religion.
As I let go of the laden expectations I once placed on myself, I started to experience immense freedom. I no longer needed anything to make me happy. In the past, I would hang on so tightly to any coaching results I had. I would get so nervous before every workshop because I felt I had to deliver. I had placed so many demands on myself.
Now, as I spent my days experiencing the nothingness of life, I grew the precious capacity to be by myself, with myself, doing absolutely nothing, and still feel peaceful and fulfilled. Being a coach and not being a coach, being an instructor and not being an instructor, these options became equally satisfying to me.
I still loved coaching and I still loved teaching. What I had lost was my attachment to these things. I had lost the expectations and labels and need for validation that caused me to go after these things. Now I was able to experience to pure joy of coaching and the pure joy of teaching for what they were, instead of expecting these activities to fill my holes.
Colour flooded into my world. Suddenly I become free with my expression. I no longer had to hold myself back and say things only when I felt I had something of value to say. I could simply express my thoughts and feelings whenever I wanted. I was able to walk into any public area, sit at a public piano, and just sing. I didn’t sing to perform and or to look good. I sang just for the fun and joy of singing and for my own amusement. I also began to laugh at silly little things. Suddenly the world was so amusing, so full of comedy.
I began to see the world with fresh eyes. I didn’t have to uphold expectations of being ‘knowing’ or ‘achieving’ or ‘giving’ anymore. I could simply be whoever I wanted. I didn’t have to elevate myself to positions of importance, I could simply observe in the background. I didn’t have to be an expert, I could be a beginner. I was being reborn; I experienced states of innocence and purity similar to that which I had experienced when interacting with that surf guide.
This is not to say I wasn’t still ‘knowing’ or ‘achieving’ or ‘giving’. It was just that these elements of my personality had found their rightful place in the larger whole of my entire being, and didn’t have to take centre stage all the time. Now there was space for discovery and newness.
Today, I still do the things I love. I still coach, I still instruct, I still train. But I am able to enjoy these activities so much more. I am able to love these things for the purity and joy of what they truly are. Which is the simple exchange of love from me to another person, where we share our willingness to grow and I am a facilitator in their journey. My ideal is to remove myself from the equation altogether, but as far as my space and knowledge of psychological and singing frameworks are able to support another person, I still find immense joy, fulfilment, and privilege in playing a part in their growth.
Now I not only experience the joy of being able to perform these roles, I experience the joy of my own life — my happiness, my enjoyment of simplicity and quiet, my time to dance, my own voice to sing, my friendships, and a quiet love and acceptance of who I am as a person.
What a journey, what a revelation, what a happiness, what a joy.
Originally published at https://www.betterself.sg on April 8, 2020.