One of the challenges of learning about the shadow is the very fact that this territory is hidden from our normal conscious awareness. There are many ways to trace clues to what is hidden, including exploring our patterns of strong emotional reactions to other persons (i.e., attraction, repulsion, rage, hate) and exploring our dreams.
I would have never imagined that my choice of shoes could reveal more of my shadow.
In 2012, I began searching for my shadow because I realized that it might contain some of the answers (and energy) that I have been unable to find anywhere else in my life. I also realized that because we are blind to our shadow, I could not do this exploration alone. My participation in coaching and counseling, a master mind prayer group, journaling, and honest dialog with close friends, were all helpful. In addition, I decided to participate in some relevant workshops and intensive retreats.
It was during a recent men’s retreat with Ian Ellington at Easton Mountain that I discovered that the shoes I wore (or refused to wear) offered important clues to what lay hidden within my shadow. In preparation for this retreat, Ian asked us to bring some women’s clothing to wear for a “fun” exercise in learning about our feminine side. No way was I going to do that! The first few times I read over the assignment, my stomach churned. I literally felt sick at the thought of wearing any articles of women’s clothing! And I was angry at Ian for expecting us to do something I found so disgusting and humiliating. And stupid! And superficial. Yuk!
So, I decided not to go. Several times I decided not to go. But each time within a few days of deciding not to go, I would feel a growing interest in going. And as I would rethink it, my resistance would rear up again. I went through many repetitions of wanting to go followed by not wanting to go. Ah, could it be that this pattern of attraction versus revulsion was a clue that I had run head on into my shadow? I finally decided that I needed to go because I knew I needed help to recover more of my self that was in shadow, especially my feminine side. And I trusted Ian. I also trusted myself to learn from my experiences at the retreat.
I like to travel light, so I decided I that the only shoes I would take would be my hiking boots. They would fit most of my needs: walking at the airports and hikes in the hills around Easton Mountain. And we didn’t wear shoes within the retreat meeting room. And besides, I love my boots: in them I feel powerful, sure-footed, and comfortable. And very masculine.
I arrived at Easton Mountain a day early, feeling strong and manly in my boots. Before the retreat began, one of the men let me try on a pair of women’s sandals with sequin-covered straps. Oh, my God—we laughed so much—they were so absurdly over the line for me! When he offered to let me wear them for the retreat, I quickly told him “no way!” I would never wear something so girly. Uuhhgggg!
But within hours, I was feeling an impish desire to try on the girly sandals. Just to be mischievous! Just to try them out. But once I had them on, I kept giving myself more time to try them out. I liked the excitement I felt in publicly challenging my own taboo about sissy clothing. After wearing them all day, I began to admit to myself that they actually looked sort of attractive on my feet. They looked pretty cool, in a funny sort of way! And infinitely more convenient than getting in and out of hiking boots.
By the end of the first day, I was able to admit to myself that my feet looked attractive—actually beautiful—in the sparkly sandals. I was excited and fascinated with them and the many questions that started erupting in my brain.
Questions like: Why should I have to wear ugly footwear, just because I am a man? Am I reacting to a cultural taboo and/or is this an internal prohibition that I impose on myself because I am afraid of being seen as a sissy? Or gay? So what if this is not mainstream and politically correct? I can think for myself, can’t I? Am I restricting my own freedom of expression out of my fears? Can a man wear pretty clothes? Or want to look pretty? Does that make me less of a man?
Uh-oh!! I wasn’t so happy about where these questions were taking me. As I walked back to my room alone, hot tears spurted out as I thought about how I had rejected my own beauty all of my life because I was so afraid of how others might judge me. I realized I had rejected not only my physical beauty, but so much of my internal beauty as well. Because I had been afraid of being vulnerable to criticism, I had betrayed myself! I had sacrificed so much of myself that is precious! And for what? What has “fitting in” really done for me? Have my sacrifices protected me from the judgment of others or the threat of criticism/rejection? No, of course not! I have rejected God’s gifts to me—my own flesh, my very birthright—in trade for a false self that I hoped would fit in! And I have paid with a life diminished.
I continued to explore these and other aspects of my shadow during the rest of the retreat. And to wear my sandals everywhere. By the end of the retreat, I had learned a lot about my fears of being too feminine. And my fear of being vulnerable. Looking back over my life, I can see the outrageous price I have paid for refusing to know and be my self. And now I have experienced the strength, joy, and satisfaction of embracing my self in my full beauty and vulnerability. I can be beautiful and still be a powerful man! It is precisely in the vulnerability of my beauty that I find awesome power and peace. And a newly delicious love of self.
When it was time to leave Easton Mountain and to head to the airport, I debated whether to wear my sandals or my boots back out into the “real world.” I realized that there is no objective reality—it is through my thoughts and actions that I define my reality. And so I wore my sparkly sandals home.
“In beauty I walk.”
—Native American Song
© July 8, 2012 by John Arnaldi.
All rights reserved.