Shadows and Spirituality (Self-Work):
A leader is someone who has the ability to project Shadow or Light onto some part of the world. Especially the world in which others live and work. Our companies are our communities for the majority of our waking lives. Our leaders create the Ethos for the world around us all. A good leader is intensely aware of the inner play of THEIR light and dark. Corporate CEO’s often don’t reflect on their inner motive, or often even believe that they exist. [This is why people like Simon Sinek and his “Start with Why” philosophy is so profound]
Leaders too often project more shadow than light. Often taking the from of leading from a “do this or you are gone” attitude than a “Do this to be great” attitude. Leadership is hard work for which one is regularly criticized and rarely rewarded. So it’s understandable that they would need to feed that with positive thought. However by failing to look at the shadows we feed the dangerous delusion that our efforts are always well intention, our power is always benign, and the problem always lies in those difficult people we are trying to lead. Even if we intend them to be so, we need to have checks in place to make sure they are coming to fruition.
Those who embrace leadership tend toward extroversion. Which normally lends to not paying attention to what is going on inside themselves. That leads to compartmentalizing things and walling it our inner lives from our public lives and allows the shadow to go unchecked. Until it becomes too big and explodes into the public world.
There is an old saying that “in order to change the fruits, you must change the roots.” You can’t plant a cherry tree and try to grow oranges. The inner health of the leaders are the roots of the tree. The happiness and results of the organization are fruits.
Author Annie Dillard names 2 crucial features of any spiritual (Self-Improvement) journey:
1. It will take you inward and downward toward the hardest realities of our lives. Instead of upward and outward toward glory. By going inward and downward we are facing an conquering the shadows within us that create the roots for our fruit. Like the ground, this work is hard. It is the running-into-the-fire that creates makes us the hero of our own world. It’s only by becoming heroes of our own minds that we can give that gift to others.
2. Runs counter to the power of positive thinking. We must to inward and downward toward the ultimate source of the Shadows that we project outward to the world. If we do not understand that the enemy is within, then we will find a thousand enemies out in the world. And become leaders who oppress instead of liberate.
However, if we ride those monsters all of the way down – we can break through to something precious. To the unified field. The caring for each other and the community we share. To become leaders who lead others to a place of inner wholeness. Because they have been there and can lead the way.
One of our Shadows is to see the world as a battle. If we do that, we will surely lose. Because we will see life as a continuous combat zone. And life is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The fear of losing a fight makes people to feel like we are at war. But if it’s a war – it’s only because we make it so.
By conquering our inner shadow, you gain the insight that the universe is working together for Good. The structure of reality is not that of battle. Life is not out to get anybody. Yes, there is death. But death is just a cycle of life. When we move to live gracefully in that cycle, we gain harmony with the world. And harmony is more fundamental than war.
Another Shadow is “Functional Atheism”. Which is the belief that ultimate responsibility of anything happening relies on US. The unconscious and unexamined conviction that ‘if anything decent will happen here, we are the ones that must make it happen’. This leads us to impose our will on others. Stressing our relationships to the point of breaking. Leads to burnout, depression, and despair. As we learn that the world will not bend to our will.
Drives collective frenzy as well. This is why the average group can’t handle 15 seconds of silence. We think that, if we are not making noise, something must be dying.
Another Shadow is Fear. Especially the fear of the natural chaos of life. We try to eliminate it by orchestrating everything. Because leaders feel that messiness leads to descent, innovation, challenge and change. This Shadow is projected as rigidity of rules and procedures. Creating an ethos that is imprisoning instead of empowering. Then of course, the mess is the prisoners trying to break out.
However, Chaos is the only precursor to creativity. All that is created must be returned to chaos periodically. So it can return in a better form. “Be Not Afraid” does not mean that you are without fear. It means that you act in spite of it. Do not BE the fear. Do not lead from a place of fear. Fear forecloses our potentials. This
The best leaders reward their people for taking worthwhile risks. Even if they are likely to fail. Because they know that the death of an initiative, if it was tested for good reason, is a source of new learning. Part of the gift that we learn on the inner journey is that Death finally comes to EVERYTHING. Though death does not get the final word. By allowing something to die, when it’s due, we create the conditions under which new life can emerge.