I spent the weekend in Encinitas, California, a city known for its thriving yoga culture and spiritual community, and its high concentration of healers, healing spaces, prominent wellness influencers, and yogis. Encinitas lays claim to the Self-Realization Fellowship, where yoga guru Paramahansa Yogananda lived and wrote Autobiography of a Yogi.
The Pull of the Shadow
As I settled in for the class, I was keenly aware of how people in my life might react to this latest chapter in my California immersion. Astrology may seem like yet another in a long list of “esoteric” modalities — like Reiki, acupuncture, sound healing, flower essences, plant medicine — that people often reject as “woo-woo.”
Of course, the fact that I thought about what “others” might think was merely a projection of my own self-judgments.
Even as I embrace the healer and intuitive within me, there is a part of me that continues to judge these parts as “not intellectual” or “beneath my credentials.”
Somewhere in the deep recesses of the dark shadow is a voice telling me that smart women with Ivy League degrees shouldn’t be taking courses on Vedic Astrology or practicing Reiki or helping people live in alignment with the seasons or helping people find their purpose.
The voice tells me I should be “doing great things.” Important things. Although, I’m not sure what’s more important than any of these things. Voices of judgment don’t always make sense.
This is the shadow. It exerts a gravitational pull rooted in existing beliefs that weren’t necessarily mine to begin with.
The best way to weaken its pull is to expose it.
The Gravity of Your Existing Beliefs
We forget sometimes that our pre-exiting beliefs have their own force of gravity. Today, certain algorithms pull toward you things that you already know, believe or like. And they push away everything else. Push back! It shouldn’t be this way. — Apple CEO Tim Cook, addressing the Class of 2019 at Tulane University
The irony of our current “information age” is that it’s never been easier to expand our horizons by exposing ourselves to new ideas, and it’s never been easier to stay sheltered in the comforting bubble of the echo chamber, enveloped by those who agree with you and see things from your perspective.
It’s your prerogative to keep yourself protected in your corner of the internet, pretending that everyone who doesn’t see the world through your lens is “bad,” “wrong,” “naive,” or “misinformed,” while those who agree with you are the enlightened ones.
Resistance is Expected
Resistance to exploring new ideas or trying new experiences is common and expected. Staying in the bubble of what we “know” is comforting. We have certainty about what we know. It helps keep us anchored, especially in an uncertain world.
Opening to new ideas and experiences poses risk; new ideas pose existential threats to long-held belief systems.
What if it exposes that what you “know” is wrong — or at least incomplete?
What if it exposes that what you thought was truth was merely one perspective?
What if it reveals to you things about yourself that conflict with your current self-image?
Illusions of Safety
The echo chamber offers the illusion of safety and protection from ideas that might disrupt your current view of reality. But, as Tony Robbins says, the walls that protect you imprison you.
What do you miss out on when you shut yourself off from new ideas and experiences?
The beliefs we push away end up in our shadow; the shadow subconsciously controls our thoughts and actions.
It takes strength to push back against those forces of gravity that keep you safely ensconced in your current belief systems.
You must be willing to face the shadow, to discard what you think you know, and to destroy your current belief systems.
Use Resistance as Your Roadmap
The advice to “leave your comfort zone” is cliché and often misguided; you can leave your comfort zone without growing.
The key to growth is to explore why you feel discomfort.
What’s at risk for you in opening to new ideas?
Your resistance — often expressed through attempted humor (those jokes are rarely funny), criticism, judgment, or dismissiveness — is your best teacher, the key to the path of enlightenment and personal knowledge.
The next time you feel inclined to judge, criticize, dismiss, or poke fun at an idea that is unfamiliar to you, notice your resistance. Use it as a roadmap to guide your exploration.
Whether you explore the underlying topic or simply explore why you feel uncomfortable with that topic or idea, you will reap the rewards of the holy grail of personal knowledge — self-knowledge.
- Worth noting, by the way, that gravity was once something considered as a “woo-woo” idea. ↩