When I say ‘we see the world not as it is but as we are,’ I’m offering a timeless leadership lesson consistent with groundbreaking work in the biology of cognition. We all tend to think of ourselves as objective observers, but none of us is. If I want to see things change ‘out there,’ first I need to see change ‘in here.’ – PRESENCE: HUMAN PURPOSE AND THE FIELD OF THE FUTURE, Peter Senge, et. al.
Something I’ve learned, many times, as a trying-to-become-conscious leader is that, when we stop paying attention, stop opening space for processing relationship, groups entrusted to our guidance can flip into ‘negative mother’ projection. Their language starts filling with expressions of resistance to ‘control’; they rebel as if something unpleasant were being imposed upon them. In the absence of conscious structure and the ‘good enough’ mother, things fall apart. Enter the Shadow, defined by Marion Woodman as ‘unacknowledged resentment, competition, bids for power, jealousy.’
If we are to be leaders who do no harm, it then becomes critical to ‘do our own internal work’ so as to avoid projecting our shadow onto others. Over the 21+ years of Women Writing for (a) Change’s life as an actively evolving community of becoming-conscious women, we have all been faced with challenges to our leadership at one time or another. Challenges like competition for ‘control,’ dissing our practices/processes, breaking connection with the group, blame for all manner of things not working ‘right.’ ALL of them arise from Shadow rearing its uncomfortable head and spreading its darkness; first over the facilitator (now re-defined as ‘Evil Mother’ standing in for every unresolved conflict of the shadow-bearer’s past) and then, across the entire group causing general dis-ease.
While I do not dispute the validity of feeling stuck and uncomfortable, the irony is that resistance to process is often the common culprit. That is one reason we spend so much writing time early on in our months together addressing possible barriers, or resistance, to creating time and space to write ; that is why we frame participation as a commitment to self. Those who ‘get’ the why and how of our work dig in deep, committed to discovery and growth, curious about who they will continue to become. Those who steadfastly refuse to ‘go there’ pull back with self-protective stories about not belonging, feeling controlled, their needs not being met. Ironically, it is the latter who would truly benefit from our practices of slowing down in order to recognize, name and claim our own shadows. When we do, things start to change. Tensions at home start to ease; conflicts at work lessen; we become more open to ourselves and by extension, to the world around us. By letting in the light of understanding, we banish at least some of the shadow that has haunted our being. It is a process, and it has begun.