ENLIGHTEN UP! a blog
Self-awareness stories: lighting our way to clarity, contentment and resilience in a complicated world.
ENLIGHTEN UP! a blog
Why do so many of us love scary movies? Is it just personal preference? Is there science behind it?
Surprise! There is science behind it. Lindsay Holmes, Huffpost’s Senior Wellness Editor, discusses this in her article, “The Psychology Behind Why You Love Or Hate Scary Movies.” And like everything else, the issue is complicated and there is no, one-size fits all.
The bottom line seems to be related to how we respond to stress. Some of us are wired to enjoy the energy and heightened stimulation that comes from being terrified and others find it exhausting, draining and way too intense. That’s me. Frankly, I’d rather be stuck in a traffic jam on the Los Angeles Freeway than watch a horror movie. Being stuck would be stressful but I’d have some calming choices. I could people watch, listen to music or daydream.
In spite of the fascination (or not) with horror and all things dark and scary we don’t have to look outside of ourselves for ghosts, goblins and things that go bump in the night. If we care to look inside, we can catch a glimpse of our Shadow.
In psychological terms, the Shadow is considered the dark side of our personality, which holds our demons. It is the part of us that we either do not know, don’t want to know and refuse to acknowledge. However, if we choose to understand and deal with our scary parts, we will uncover positive aspects of the Shadow. These stay hidden until the light of self-awareness reaches the dark corners of the self where the Shadow lives.
We are like the moon, waxing and waning with one side facing outward, presenting to the world what we think the world needs to see in order to give us the approval and love we seek. Then there is the Shadow, our demons and those parts of us that we work hard to hide because we think they are unacceptable.
Most of us prefer to deny that we have a Shadow side. We find ways to hide it in the recesses of our subconscious. Does this work in the long term? Sadly no, because the Shadow and its demons cannot and will not stay locked up forever. They claw and scream and shout. They leak out, climb up and invade our mental peace, mess with our health and wreak havoc with our lives. We may want to curse them six ways to Sunday, but they are in there, talking trash, taking names and they seldom, if ever, take a day off. So we have to find a way to listen to what they have to say.
I spent most my childhood and adult life either pushing my Shadow away or refusing to acknowledge that it was there. At this stage of life I recognize, acknowledge and listen to my Shadow and the little demons within it that say, “Go ahead, take the cookie, eat the cookie, have another, add some chocolate, french fries and ice cream.” Or, “Buy that dress, have that extra drink. Let’s gossip about that person, skip the gym, or quit the gym altogether.” I hear those voices now and can answer, I hear you but that’s a no-no for me! That is except for chocolate – I have a sweet tooth. That’s going to take a bit more time and a lot more discipline.
Then there are the darker parts of the Shadow who say, “You’re a fake and a failure. You have no talent or skills. No matter what you do, you will never be enough so pack it in and quit trying.” I still hear those Shadow voices but I have enough self-awareness to answer back, “I hear you, but that’s just not true or in my best interest to believe at this time.” OK, OK! I can do that most of the time but like everyone else, I have my bad, sad blue days when I have to remind myself that the Shadow and its sneaky demons are actually guides and teachers leading me to self-awareness.
Regina Barreca, an educator and humorist, offers a perfect example of this. Her story titled, “An Emotional Rescue in the Dark Night of the Soul,” appeared in her book, If You Lean in, Men Will Just Look Down Your Blouse. It illustrates the principles of awareness, acceptance, and integration of all parts of our selves, especially the Shadow and our demons. I LOVE this story.
In the story, three demons decided to ambush a woman who lived alone. They were manifestations of her worst nightmares, fear, anxiety, and despair. They broke into her house and for hours upon end, they ruined what she held dear and disfigured what she cherished. They were enormously confident because they saw that she was all alone and past her first youth. As they continued into the wee hours of the night they began to notice that although weary, the woman had calmly begun to boil water on the stove and set out three cups on the table. When they asked in astonishment what she was doing, the woman stared at them tolerantly and said, “I know all of you by now. You’ve been here before, and you’ll be here again. You might as well make yourselves at home. What kind of tea would you like?
The woman was not shattered into pieces because her demons paid a visit. She did not fight them. She simply became aware of them, observed them, and accepted them. And because she also accepted ALL of herself, she was able to manage their impact on her life.
If you choose to do this (and I highly recommend it) it will ground you in compassion and forgiveness first toward yourself and then toward others. You won’t be comfortable with everything you find when you begin poking around in your psyche. This self-examination requires that you examine your lifestyle, thinking, behavior patterns, and those aspects of yourself that you dislike, deny, repress and hide. That’s the juicy stuff. Yes, it is complicated, and can be hard. In the end, the only way to Enlighten Up! is to honestly and accurately shine the light of awareness onto your Shadow and its demons. See them. Name them. Accept them and then transform them. They are a part of you. And if you need help with the process, please get it!
Here is a poem that reinforces the importance of this practice. Written by Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet, it’s titled, “The Guest House.”1 In it we see that the Shadow and its demons have been at work in our lives for centuries.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning, a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Spend a few moments letting these words sink in. Now have a cup of tea with your Shadow and its demons. Listen with an open mind and heart to what they have to say.
1. The Essential Rumi, Translations by Coleman Barks with John Moyne, Harper Collins, 1995, Page 109
BETH GIBBS started her yoga practice in 1968, four months after her son was born and she’s been practicing ever since. She currently teaches all levels therapeutic yoga classes for adults, and specialty classes for seniors in the Hartford, Connecticut area. Beth is a certified yoga therapist through the International Association of Yoga Therapists and is guest faculty at the Kripalu School of Integrative Yoga Therapy. She writes for the blogs, Yoga for Healthy Aging, and Accessible Yoga. Her master’s degree from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA is in Yoga Therapy and Mind/Body Health.