What if the things you dislike most about yourself are your greatest strengths? Crazy idea, isn’t it? Yet this is an idea my yoga teacher put out to us one morning. She was reading a book about embracing our shadow side. The idea that we think of greatest strengths as weaknesses is something the author of that book suggests.
Before I decided whether my shadow is my strength—or whether anyone’s is for that matter—I needed to get very quiet. I needed sit with that idea and see how it might be true. Imagine what a transformation it would be if we could literally turn our darkness into light!
When my teacher first presented the idea that embracing our shadow can reveal our greatest strength, I thought how can that be? The first two things that came to my mind cannot possible be my strong points.
Or can they?
Our Shadow May Not Be So Dark After All
The parts of myself I immediately thought of were my temperament and my disciplined nature. As I kid, I was very quiet. Odd as this sounds, I didn’t really notice. I lived mostly in a spiritual inner world, and I would easily forget I was among people. In school, I often felt like I was watching a movie. Academic success came easily, so I did well in school without participating in classes much.
My peers lived in a world I couldn’t relate to very well. As a child, I was told I thought about things that were “too deep,” that kids my age “don’t think about.” I guess was an old soul.
Because of this feedback, I came to believe my inner world should be kept inside. It didn’t belong in the open, where everyone around me seemed to focus on other things. While I like who I am now, I still tend to see my temperament as part of my shadow side, mostly because I was told it was as a child.
I’m also naturally disciplined. Once I commit to something—a yoga practice, a healthy diet, a work-from-home schedule—I stick to it like glue. I’ve often wished I could be more flexible. But creating order from chaos is sort of my thing. Once I find a way to do it—with anything—I can’t stop without feeling uncomfortable.
What could possibly make either of these qualities my greatest strengths?
Well, I’ll tell you…
But I’m only telling you because my yoga teacher suggested we give embracing our shadow a try. (Thank you!) I’m choosing to trust that she—and the book she was reading—are right; our shadow side holds our greatest strengths.
Turning Darkness into Light By Embracing Our Shadow
Most people I know tell me I’m a good listener. I’m a good listener, for the most part, because I don’t talk a lot. People also tell me they envy my commitment and discipline. I’m generally fit and healthy because of it, so that makes it a good thing, a strength even.
I do value being a good listener. As I’ve grown older I’ve realized I value it enough that I wouldn’t trade it for being the center of attention or someone who always has something to say. Don’t get me wrong, when I have something to say, I say it. (More often, I write it.) But even so, I think most of the time words are not the best way to communicate, though of course, they’re all we have.
Silence teaches us who we are, says author Rich Lewis. Once we know who we are, we can share our gifts with the world confidently.
That’s why meditation, stillness—many things we learn in yoga—are so powerful. You can take the words you hear or read and sit with them in silence. That’s usually when true transformation happens.
My disciplined nature is also an asset. People know what to expect from me. They know they can count on me to do what I say I’ll do. My clients appreciate this quality for sure. And my body appreciates my commitment to treating it well.
Of course, I’m not perfect. I’m prone to getting tension headaches when I’m writing or listening intently to a troubled friend. I drink more wine than I probably should, and I’m a coffee addict. But for the most part, I’m in decent condition, which helps me stay on the path to enlightenment.
Where the Light Leads
For me the path to enlightenment is what life is about. For as long as I can remember, it’s been the only thing that truly matters to me. I have no idea how close I am, but the journey—the quest for union with the divine—is more enriching than any other quest I can think of.
So, while I may not always fit in a mainstream kind of way, I know I’m on the right path. For me, it can be no other way.
And very clearly the journey I’m on would not be possible without my shadow(s). Or to put it more accurately, the journey would not be possible if I didn’t have the clarity to turn the darkness into light—to be still, to listen, to stay committed to moving forward.
What about you? Can you look at the darkest corners of your being and find a way to transform your shadow side into your greatest strength? I hope you will. Let me know how you’re doing!