The awareness of my shadow last week took me back to a 1998 gathering I attended sponsored by the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC). I wrote of that experience which was published in that fall’s CAC issue of Radical Grace. I found a yellowing copy of my learning that read:
I concluded the Women’s Rites of Passage program with Carolyn Baker, author of
Reclaiming the Dark Feminine, with a deeper appreciation for the creative energy of my shadow. And I had an immediate opportunity to give my shadow voice.
The bus that was taking us from Ghost Ranch back to Albuquerque hadn’t even reached the highway when I met my first reentry challenge. A wooden drum rolled off the luggage rack above and hit me on the head. It momentarily stunned me as it bounced off my skull onto the floor. My body was already objecting to being in the great aluminum container, with windows that didn’t open, and an air conditioner that could not be turned on until we left the curving, dusty road in the hot desert sun. The heat and lack of air added to the insult of the drum.
The momentary blur in my eyes refocused in anger at the absence of the protective cord to hold luggage above. Only one short piece of broken cord dangled from a compartment near the front of the bus. A line of holes the length of the bus indicated where the protective cord should have been. The next turn in the road brought a soft pouch across my field of vision. Fear grew for my sore head. My anger grew in fear of my surroundings. My mood turned ugly.
Many of the women on the bus joked and laughed with the driver. I was furious with him. I worried I might be too much like the frantic Chicken Little, or the perpetually groaning Eeyore from Pooh Corner. I felt ugly, but I didn’t want to be ugly. And then I recalled my pastoral training where we encourage others, and ourselves, to stay with our feelings. We are given them for good reason. So I accepted my ugliness and waited for what it came to teach me.
It confirmed for me that it is not right to jeopardize other’s safety. I must tell the bus driver of the danger and my injury. And although I appeared to be the only sourpuss on the bus, it was with good reason. I had a sore head.
After we reached our destination and the bus was unloaded and some of the women gave the driver hugs, I faced him and gently said, “I’m sorry, but I must complain. The cords on the luggage racks are missing and I was hit by a falling drum. It hurt my head.” His smile immediately left and he said in anger, “It’s not my fault! People should not put stuff up there!” I quietly and factually said, “No, the cord on the luggage racks needs to be fixed.” He abruptly turned away from me, and grumbled loudly, “Okay, I’ll fix them!” And I didn’t feel ugly anymore.
I am now grateful for that bump on the head. It reinforced the need to accept ugly—stay with the feeling—until it works for change. I learned I can be calm and factual when asking for change, (though sometimes it is even okay not to be). And I hoped that when I meet people who are acting like “soreheads” I can remember my drum experience. Maybe they are just in the process of working on some needed change.
I believe the ugly hag resides side by side with justice in my shadow. It is why justice is so elusive. There is reluctance to seek her in the darkness where tremendous power exists to transform or destroy. But my encounter with the drum, and my heart, has given me a little more confidence to trust my hag and to give her voice.
Now, in 2014, I think it’s time to reread “Reclaiming the Dark Feminine.”
What if we could all see and remember the potential creative and healing energy of our shadow?