Shadow Work

I was in a rather good mood on the way to work after chatting with Nate about On The Road, deeply appreciating his take on “rootless soul-searching” and the “selfishness of Beats who couldn’t deal with intimate relationships.”  I opened the top of my car to see the sky.

I had dreamed of the bear the previous night—a recurring dream symbol that first leapt out of the blackness when I was four, and has shape-shifted in myriad forms and meanings over the years.  In the latest dream a mother bear challenged me, in a vacation home, where I was protecting my family—suddenly she was all teeth and claws and we were embraced in wild conflict as I awoke.  In waking I intuited that the problem was mine and not hers.  The Shadow brings us our power, and the illumination of our own dark places… unless we resist.

Snaking slowly up the canyon a Lexus stopped to let an aging white sports car into our collective queue.  My only problem with this largess was the white car’s belching of toxic fumes.  I opened my windows for better airflow, but still I grew dizzy.  As the valley dropped away in morning mist I thought about the Owens Valley and how our verdant lives came at water-thieving expense.  But that’s Chinatown. I thought about how the winter would again bring rains from the mountains and plenty of water, but it’s seasonal.

To breathe better, I realized that I could hang back a car’s length.  Then all was good again on a Friday morning on the road, at least until an orange car behind me blared heavy on the horn.  He had no idea why I was leaving a gap ahead of me.

I moved along, thinking he’d grasp my rhythm eventually.  The orange car beeped again with mounting vexation. I thought good thoughts, I vibed good-natured energy toward angry Agent Orange behind me, but when he honked at me the third time it triggered a reflex and not a thought:  I flipped him the bird.

My hand just took flight on its own, like ruffled morning doves in my yard, although my middle finger wagged rather jauntily I thought.  It wasn’t really meant as an angry F-you but as a playful, “Hey, why don’t you lighten up since life is beautiful and by the way none of this is so serious after all.”

Surprising me, Agent Orange went code purple face, leaning way out his open window hollering, “Pull over right now and I’m going to beat your ass you faggot bitch.”

Adrenaline cascaded through my blood and a montage of images swirled through my kaleidoscopic mind:  a nanno mano a mano duel at the side of the road; me beaten unconscious at a Wendy’s, Rodney King, Reginald Deny, Chinatown and Faye Dunaway’s dangling eyeball… and that long horn-blare.

In the quick calculus of risk-benefit analysis I consciously chose another hand gesture:  Two fingers.  “Peace,” my fingers said, and I meant it.  I moved over, halfway between pulling over to fight and obsequiously inviting Mr. Bossy Pants to have his pointless way and go in front of me.

Agent Orange took my former place in the queue, free to tailgate and breathe deep the gathering carbon monoxide.  I dropped back half-a-car length, keeping my distance from Agent Orange who seemed more dangerous than unmuffled fumes.

I breathed deep the cool morning air as we all dropped into mist on the LA side of things, consciously remembering that the fight-flight chemicals would be gone in ninety seconds—and then it would be up to me to keep thinking hate and fear or get back to my Age of Aquarius.

While I had felt the familiar jolt of solar-plexus animal aggression I also realized that I was not scared, rather I was aware that Agent Orange in his PTSD cloud of impotent and rage-filled indignation was, in fact, scared out of his friggin mind.  I felt blessed by the realization.

And then I felt a Grinchy twinge of love, love for Agent Orange and that Agent Orange part of myself racing to nowhere; I wondered, without any certainty, if Agent Orange had fought for our country and been left with nothing but rage at my la-dee-da driving style. Perhaps he had been abandoned by father, or abused by mother, or sexually molested.  Perhaps he suffered disorganized attachment.

“Faggot” and “bitch” left me wondering if he was hateful of anything feminine, or gay, and why; or if he was afraid that he was unlovable, or monstrous, or didn’t measure up to some harsh standard he’d picked up along the way like a nail in a tire.

I sort of wanted to pull alongside him and explain why I’d been driving slowly, to somehow convey love and respect without getting into anything other than man-talk about cars and fumes.

And then he turned right and was gone, like the bear in my dream when I awoke.

I wondered, “Is Agent Orange my Shadow?”

What if Agent Orange has no issues and I’m just a crappy driver?  Maybe I’ve been a little too vested in peace and love and thus denying my dark-side… which is like a magnet for it. Like the bear in my dream, if we disavow or devalue the warrior (an important archetype) we draw the warrior to us.

So, if the warrior materializes, let’s make her a noble warrior if we can—this is the mother bear, this is the courage we are seeking to cultivate—the courage to connect in our own dark places and the love to realize that while some of us are launching kids off to college and some off to preschool, we parents need to support each other to feel safe, playful and loved in our own arcane preschool of the soul—the soup in which we swim.  We all get scared, and angry, and freeze in terror now and then… it’s knowing that our “bad moments” do not make us unlovable, or render us inexorably alone, that frees us to love no matter what.

On my way home the next day I crested the hill, at that Mulholland line where LA becomes “the valley.”  At the very pinnacle sat the white sports car, broken down, its owner standing forlorn next to it.  And in that moment I recognized another Shadow in the broken down knight and his spent steed—the symbol of the “good guy” hero who has become just as untenable as the more obvious ragaholic “bad guy.”

I smiled to myself, thinking of the tortoise and the hare, imagining that if I’m the tortoise it’s one who’s losing his hair—along with the notion that the race to nowhere ever actually has a winner, striving instead to recognize myself in every other.

In that spirit and with with love as our compass and honesty as our ethic, we may tame our worst fears of all:  that we are not enough, that we are “bad,” that we are alone.

In the preschool of the soul I hope we might begin again, emboldened to explore whatever our personal monkey bars may be, playful to make good use of the dress-up box and the crayons, and all meeting in circle time where we learn to take turns and, most importantly, learn that we are a group.

Thus loving the good, the bad and the monster in ourselves and each other, without overly identifying with any of these ephemeral fragments save  for Love as our enduring Truth, just might help us to be our best Selves, to feel part of the world and to show up and participate.  We want nothing less for our children, perhaps we must model the way, connecting with each other all the loving way, discovering the eternal in every ordinary live-long day.

Namaste, BD


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9 Responses to “Shadow Work”

  1. Mark Says:

    Hey Bruce, that’s quite a lot of work you appear to be doing at a deep level on a “simple” drive to work. It’s one I used to make decades ago on my Triumph Bonneville. I can still recall the mist and the jasmine. But I don’t remember working quite that much on those trips. But I was so much older then …

  2. Meagan Frank Says:

    I loved this post…but I love all of your posts. There is so much upon which I can comment: mother bear (protective and only dangerous because she is loving)… the scared among us who need only a chance to explain, and disclaim, when the gap between cars is misunderstood…the fact that I too have been thinking about the common emotional disaster that is the first day of school (for those sending kids through new doors and for those who no longer have smiling faces to photograph because they have walked beyond the doors we offer). If your goal is to make people better for having read what you write…you have succeeded today. Thank you! MMF

  3. rebecca @ altared spaces Says:

    “The Shadow brings us our power, and the illumination of our own dark places… unless we resist.” And then this quote came to me: “Resistance is futile.”

  4. BigLittleWolf Says:

    In the spaces between fight and flight I remain awed that you can take/make the space to wonder if Agent Orange is abused, disillusioned, miserable in his way and why. I would have no such power in my own fear of that sort of impulsive rage over something as simple as a drive to work. Yet I recognize my own tendency to fully feel emotions when on the road, emotions that are more typically dulled or disallowed anywhere else and I wonder why that is – what it is about the “American pastime” of the automobile that seems to bring out the (ig)Noble in so many of us when it comes to that Weary Warrior.

    Only recently the mildest (yet virile, compassionate, and quirky) of men when provoked on the road “flipped the bird” to my surprise. It was an immediate response to undue road rudeness which never rose to the heights of your near encounter.

    So where does any of this leave us in your poetic depiction of shadows and light and all the bridges that interconnect them? I remain struck by the poetry of your self-control, struck by your recreation of your mythic City of Angels hills and valleys, struck by your ability to linger in the misty beauty of it all, even as we – most of us – speed our way to nowhere.

  5. Pamela Says:

    Bruce, you are really in the zone with these blogs. I need to read this one several more times, but already, so much is illuminated for me. I am only now learning about the shadow and learning to learn from it. Thank you for all of this!!

    PS I have my own Agent Oranges and thank you for the reminder that all that craziness and anger comes from fear.

  6. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    I cackled that you named angry dude “Agent Orange.” What a perfect moniker for that wretch. And by his epithets, I imagine he wasn’t raised very well. Your compassion for him is admirable. But secretly, I’m still glad you flipped him the bird.

  7. Wolf Pascoe Says:

    It was hot and I couldn’t sleep the other night. I opened my bedroom window and noticed an orange car hovering above the magnolia tree in the front courtyard. The driver was shaking his fist. I signaled to him and he mouthed the word, “Faggot.” Then I flashed the peace sign and he drove off, taking some branches with him. Outlined against the sky where he’d been, some yellow roman candles were exploding like spiders across the stars, and I went “Awww!” and fell back to sleep.

  8. A Supernova in my Backyard « Privilegeofparenting’s Blog Says:

    […] Privilegeofparenting’s Blog On Becoming Our Best Selves Through Raising Children « Shadow Work […]

  9. Kevin Yoshida Says:

    I read this particular blog about a week ago. Synchronicity! A series of events occurred that I’d like to share. I was driving home and a person getting on the freeway was attempting to merge into the lane. My exit was approaching so I was in that same lane. I kept my speed steady so he could easily maneuver either ahead or in back of me. Or maybe not so easy as it turned out. Well, he must have taken offense to steady pace because he erratically sped up, slowed down, then ended up riding my bumper and flashing his high beams on and off. I kind of pitied him for a moment but that sentiment didn’t last long. He then pulled up to the side and feigned several times a side-swipe. I lost it. For about 5 seconds, my shadow was in the driver seat! Thank goodness that my exit was so close. I got off the freeway, got home and took the dogs out for a run to try to burn off some of that adrenaline. I WISH it only took me 90 seconds for the rush to dissipate! My run up the block came to a halt at a red stop light. In that moment while I waited for a green light, I glanced to the right at the newspaper stand holding the local paper. The Los Feliz Ledger’s headline announced a murder due to road rage in Silver Lake. Whoa! I was left feeling troubled by the intensity of my rage. Then I read your blog the following day. It reminded me of the respect and attention that one must give to the Shadow lest it take the driver’s seat. It also helped to know that someone whose image I keep as a very “zen” guy, experiences Shadow as well. Thanks for sharing a bit of your Shadow Bruce. It helped remind me that we are all in this together.

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