How did I end up here?

Have you ever wondered that question?

In this case, here happens to be wherever it is you currently find yourself. If you look back, you can see a series of logical decisions that have led you to this point in your life, wherever this point currently happens to be.

Here isn’t even a bad place to be — it’s probably gotten you a lot of benefits, friends, and joy. But here also brings with it a set of consequences, disappointments, and let down.

Everyone ends up here. The benefits are different for each person, as are the consequences, but for most of us, there are points throughout life where we look up and wonder “How did I get here?”

At first, we may have a vague sense of the direction we’re travelling in. We might, in a moment of lucidity, realize that some things about ourselves seem a little more ingrained than they used to be. As time wears on, we might start to relate to ourselves through the fixed lens of “Well, this is just the way I am” — but if we look back to when we were younger, that wasn’t always the case. When did we start to get fixed into these patterns?

Maybe you started to notice that you have some tendencies that really mirror those of your parents. While growing up, you swore you would never be like them, but as time has worn on, you’ve noticed that it turns out you’re quite a bit like them.

Or maybe you view things from the other direction, wondering about a level of freedom or way of being that seemed so present for you in your childhood, but these days seems distant and far away. Wondering when you gave that up, or questioning whether things were really quite as vivid as you remember them, it becomes easier to shrug your shoulders and simply chalk it up to “youth”.

Either way, regardless of what you notice about where you are now, versus where you remember being, the question remains: how did I end up here?

*In the beginning, there was light*

When first born, we are simply the full-expression of our own particular light. Babies don’t come out of the womb with stories about what is acceptable and what isn’t. They don’t yet know who to fear, who to hate, who is likely to hurt them, situations that are safe, or any of the other social rules that we slowly but surely put together as we mature into adults.

As babies and toddlers, we simply are.

You can see this to be the case by spending any amount of time with young toddlers. They don’t spend time questioning whether or not they should express what they are feeling — they simply do. When they’re angry, they throw a tantrum. When they are happy, they laugh joyously. When they are sad, they cry — loudly. This is part of what makes babies such a delight, and part of why it’s so annoying that most major airlines seem to have a policy of booking them directly behind me on long flights.

While everyone begins life as a being of fully-expressed light, we very quickly receive feedback from the world around us about how we should and should not be. This feedback comes from parents, teachers, guardians, friends and the world at large, and is a function of everyone else’s created stories about the right way to be.

If your mother was raised with a story that expressing her brilliance was arrogant, it’s quite likely she will raise you the same way. Alternatively, you mother may have been raised with this story and come to the conclusion themselves that there was no way her children were going to operate under the same disempowering story. And so, in this second case, you were raised you to know, excel with, and rely on your brilliance.

Hopefully it’s clear that there’s no way of escaping the way this goes. Whether it’s aligning with, or rebelling against the story about ourselves, either way, growing up we learn to over-emphasize or under-emphasize certain parts of who we naturally be. It’s important to note that this isn’t a bad thing (although people will tend to relate to it this way). This is simply the journey that we take as we grow up. Despite our parents doing their very best to raise us with the tools they have available, we’re going to learn that some parts of ourselves are exceptional, and some parts of ourselves are bad.

This learning as we grow up leads to two fundamental approaches to altering our expression.

In situations where we are trained to dim our light (perhaps because who we are is deemed too much, makes us a target, intimidated others, got laughed at, etc.), we will aim to under-express that part of our being. If you are told that you are being arrogant, or are a nerd, for expressing your brilliance, you may try to diminish it. You may practice speaking with simpler words, or keeping your intellect to yourself. You may under-perform on exams and tests so that you can alleviate the expectations and pressure your family puts on you for being smart.

Consequently, in the situations, circumstances and around people that resemble those of our upbringing where this part of our light was deemed a risk, threat or liability, we learn to under-express or under-emphasize these parts of ourselves. This creates what we call the /under-expressed/ aspect of your shadow.

In other situations we were trained to emphasize our light (perhaps because we didn’t feel seen, or because that was what got us noticed, earned us love, left us feeling valued, or kept us safe). If you feel* dismissed for being stupid, or are surrounded by a bunch of brilliant people and are worried about looking dumb, you may work extra hard to demonstrate your intellect. You may use large, big words, or speak in long sentences. You may argue and debate with people, or attempt to prove them wrong and yourself right.

As a result, in the situations, circumstances and around people that resemble those of our upbringing where this part of our light needed to be over-emphasized, we learn to trumpet this aspect of ourselves loudly into the space. This creates what we call the over-expressed aspect of your shadow.

**NB:* It doesn’t matter whether or not someone is actually intending to dismiss you as stupid — all that matters is how you feel.

You could look at your childhood upbringing, and who your parents were for you, and remember a story about a teacher doing something to you in the fourth grade, and it will leave you a little more clear on why you arrived at this particular configuration you find yourself in today. But the truth is, looking at why you are the way you are can be a satisfying itch to scratch, but does not usually lead to transformation.

The truth of the matter is that everyone comes by their shadow honestly. The simplest approach is to trust that you put together the system and shadows you have because that was what was necessary in childhood to get you here today.
Knowing more about how you arrived here can certainly be interesting, and at times helpful, but more often than not, it’s an interesting digression that keeps you safe from the real work in front of you: taking the courageous action that is a reflection of you embodying and expressing your gifts more fully. More on this later. For now, let’s look at what happened as you kept practising and developing these parts of your shadow.

The Vicious Cycle

At first, learning to build your shadows was practising something new. Like a child exploring a new game, you practice different approaches and strategies and learn what works and what doesn’t. This is part of what makes our shadow so effective — the world around us has trained us that these approaches work.

Each time your shadow earned you the result you wanted in the moment, you were left with more evidence that this was the appropriate way to show up in this situation, and stored that memory away for future use.

For example, if your insecure uncle showed you more love when you dimmed your light around him, your brain will store this memory and access it for future use anytime you find yourself around someone that presents in the same way your uncle did. These situations begin to represent an automatic stimulus-response pattern for you. When you see insecurity, you no longer have to think about it. You already know how to be. Show up smaller than you are, dimming your light, and you will receive love and appreciation from the person in question.

While the initial building of these shadow aspects is intentional and chosen, each time we store it in our memory, it moves further into the realm of the automatic. At first we need to recall what happened in the past and how we overcame this situation — but over time you learn to simply respond automatically to the stimulus presented itself.

Think of it like professional sports teams practising for a game. They run drills so that when it comes game time, they don’t have to think about the play in question. When a soccer player in front of a net sees the ball being crossed across the field to them, they don’t need to think about the ball’s trajectory, the height at which they can jump, where on their head to hit the ball, or where to put the ball in the net. That is all happening automatic. You could say they are now being used by the training they have taken, rather than using it.

Your shadows are exactly the same for you as heading the ball into the goal is for this soccer player.

Very rapidly, your shadows move from something consciously chosen into the automatic realm of the unconscious. Now we’re beyond the realm of creating the shadow, and into the realm of polishing and honing them.

Here’s how this works:

Both the under-expression and over-expression of your light are a product of your fear, and a function of having learned that some part of yourself is either too much, or not enough.

The issue with these shadows is they are incongruous with who you truly are, and so it requires work and energy to maintain these states. When you are in situations for which you feel the need to express a shadow, you are left feeling tired, depleted and, over time, burnt out.

Because this now happens below your level of consciousness, you are left concluding that the problem is the situations, people and circumstances in which you feel unconsciously compelled to run your shadows. Because you are unable to see the choice actively being made into a shadow-based way of showing up, you have no ability but to conclude that the issue is something external, rather than internal.

Excerpt from the Spectrums of Being