Wholeness is a way of being that happens when I feel connected to more than just myself. We are all connected, no matter how that intimacy might scare some of us. Stephen Sterling, author of Sustainable Education: Re-visioning Learning and Change, writes that we are now living in an “age of relation” where it is of the utmost importance that we work on building relationships and fostering interconnectedness. Cultivating a sense of intimacy with life demands a level of self-awareness where one is able to acknowledge not only the aspects that one admires in oneself, but also the facets of oneself that are difficult. This is shadow work. In my doctoral research, I interviewed leaders of collective or community shadow work. They all spoke to how the avoidance of the shadow leads to greater human suffering and to coping mechanisms that are not sustainable, such as overconsumption, addictive and self-destructive behaviors, and the depletion of the planet’s natural resources. They tell us that it is important now for human beings to embrace the shadow elements of their human experience in order to live more respectfully and wholeheartedly.

If we cannot look in each other’s eyes for a few moments and breathe, we have work to do.

I have worked for decades with those who are struggling. People fighting with their mothers, recovering from addiction, suffering from low self-worth, and so busy that they cannot commit to sit for five minutes a day with themselves. When a person is tied up with their wound and conscious of it, it is hard to consider the world around them. For those living straight out of their unconscious wounds (or those who have not journeyed within), it is even more difficult (if not impossible) to consider the pain of anyone else. Un-owned pain takes up so much psychic space that there is often not much room for anything else. 

A couple of years ago, I led an exercise with sustainability educators at a conference in California. When I proposed leading an activity where participants partner and make eye contact without words for just a few moments, I was met with resistance. The organizer said, “I am not sure they can handle this exercise.” Fortunately, the organizer of the program was brave and went ahead with it. Later, she told me she had never seen such connection and lively conversation at the dinner held after the event. If we cannot look in each other’s eyes for a few moments and breathe, we have work to do. We need guides who are willing and brave enough to take us to the intimacy that we long for. This intimacy and connectedness with the planet begins with those willing to journey into the unseen places of their own hearts.

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