I have been looking for something all my life – why do these things happen, why do people die. A friend of mine died when I was 7 years old, and later children died in the college I was working for. How do I keep my patience, what am I doing wrong, what am I doing right, how do I become a better person, what does this mean for me and others?
I have read and studied a substantial amount in my life. I recently calculated the number of years spend studying – 33 years, more or less. I always wanted to keep up with the times, and not become obsolete. I think that a more profound understanding of events comes with time and implies studying, exposure and experimentation, whether good or bad.
Maybe you remember Pinocchio’s story – a wooden doll that goes through a lot of experiences, doing all sorts of mischief, making bad decisions for himself and those close to him; however, at one point he looks desperately for his father, who was swallowed by a whale. Pinocchio reaches the belly of the whale, where it is dark, and it smells horribly. There he reunites with his father, the one who went looking for his son; he stands at a table with a lit candle. Now Pinocchio is changed. He is no longer the one who was running away from his father or asking to be taken care of; Geppetto himself has changed, having more trust in Pinocchio. In the end they both manage to escape and reach the shore.
The belly of the whale represents a space of transition. The same as in Iona’s case, the biblical character who was swallowed by a whale, only by crossing that space, through its belly, metaphorically speaking, we become better people.
This space represents a confrontation with ourselves, with the parts of us that we ignore, we hide from ourselves and others, those parts that generate conflicts with others, internal conflicts, hatred, indifference, uncertainty, jealousy, shame. We all go through difficult moments, we all have our dark sides, our shadows. Discovering, accepting and incorporating them requires work with ourselves.
I do not plead to focus on ourselves as an end in itself; but I am convinced that if we do not understand some things about ourselves, it will be impossible to understand other people and to relate correctly to them. Let’s do a simple exercise: think about the things that anger you about someone else. Make a list of those aspects.
I worked a few years ago with someone I thought was unbearable. I read that when something annoys you about someone, it is good to look at yourself and see if that ‘something’ can’t be found in yourself as well. I worked hard afterwards to become more tolerant; I understood that I myself suffered from intolerance, as I had my own blinders on.
The integration of our shadows, and our work with them places us in balance, at the core of our being.