Archive for February, 2013

On Sunday 17 February , our teacher, mentor and inspiring guide, Debbie Ford, passed away at her home in San Diego, after a long illness. In her inimitable fashion, she outlived the predictions of her doctors by three years, dying in her own time and on her own terms. One of the world’s brightest lights has been extinguished, but her legacy lives on and continues to grow through her books, the thousands whose lives she touched in a profound and irrevocable way and through her beloved coaches, who live all over the world and who carry the blueprint that she so generously gave us to enable us to support others to live an extraordinary life and ensure her legacy continued long after she was gone.

Three days earlier and many thousands of miles away, another beautiful light was prematurely extinguished when Oscar Pistorius, the famous and inspiring Para Olympian, shot and killed, allegedly through a locked bathroom door, Reeva Steenkamp, his girlfriend of only a few months, claiming that he thought she was an intruder. Whatever his true state of mind at the time of the murder, (which hopefully will be ascertained by a careful appraisal of all the evidence, both circumstantial and actual, at the trial), it is clear that the world has met and been exposed to the dark side of one of our iconic athletes.

I link the two because core to Debbie Ford’s work and philosophy was her exposure of the shadow and the tools she developed to neutralize the negative effects of the shadow that exists in each and every one of us. From her New York Times Bestseller, “Dark Side of the Light Chasers”, to ‘Why Good People do Bad Things” to “The Secret of the Shadow”, and the life changing Shadow workshop that she devoted so much of her life energy to, Debbie taught, wrote and lectured extensively and passionately about the Shadow, always maintaining that the shadow holds the key to unlocking our full potential.

The Oscar Pistorius case is such a stark example of the shadow and how it can sabotage our dreams, when left unchecked and unexamined. On the one hand there is the Oscar that Oscar shows the world, the one that is courageous, who perseveres and triumphs against all odds, the nice guy who inspires everyone, that we all love and admire and place on a pedestal. The Glorious Oscar.

But what emerged this week, at best, was the profile of a man mired in fear, impulsive and prepared to kill an unknown ‘intruder'(despite the fact that he lived in a gated community with several guards just a moment’s notice away), without first establishing the facts like any reasonable person would do and at worst, with such a temper that he was unable to stop himself murdering his girlfriend and then lying extensively to cover it up, whilst ensuring all evidence of his overseas interests was removed by his family from his safe. The Inglorious Oscar.

This is what Debbie warned about when she spoke of the beach-ball effect. She wrote about how when we are too busy to pay attention to our emotions, we hide and repress our dark impulses and shame-filled qualities, like our angry self, our fearful self, our predatory self, our selfish self , our weak and vulnerable self , until one day, in a matter of minutes, when we least expect it, a rejected or unwanted aspect of ourselves can pop up and destroy our lives, our reputations and all of our hard work.Hiding, denying or repressing that unwanted aspect of our psyche is just like holding an inflated beach ball underwater. It takes a lot of energy to repress it, but the moment we relax or take our attention away from keeping it submerged, it comes flying out of the water, surprising us and splashing us in the process.

As we look at Oscar and perceive this stark split between the two aspects of self, we are actually gazing in fascination at an exaggerated mirror image of ourselves.

Because to be human is to have a shadow. No one is exempt. Not even Debbie Ford and no one knew that better than Debbie herself. Borne out of the parts of ourselves that got rejected and judged when we were very young, the shadow is the ‘underbelly of the human psyche’ and it is the origin of every act of self -sabotage from acts as benign as eating chocolates when you have declared your intention to lose weight, to road rage, all the way through to taking the life of another person.

But there is a solution. There is a way to integrate this fundamental split in the human psyche. That is what Debbie taught and believed in passionately. It is what got her up in the morning. It is what inspired her and inspired us, her coaches. Getting people to make peace with their shadow so that they could become the greatest expression of themselves, was the primary impulse behind her teachings. The secret is NOT to try to get ‘rid of’ the dark side. That just drives it deeper into the shadows and causes it to grow and become even more dangerous. It is to see that it that this aspect of self is an essential and vital part of our humanity. It is to understand this part of us, own it, embrace it, make peace with it and see how you can meet its needs in a functional way before its too late. It is to find the hidden gifts of the unwanted black sheep of our psyche. Most of our processes and practices are aimed at this.

Oscar, if you had had the privilege of meeting Debbie, you would have understood this.

The train of events in the past week and a half is calling upon us, now more than ever, to sit up and take note of the legacy left behind by Debbie Ford, to do our inner work to understand the basic split in the human psyche, to shower with love and acceptance our disowned characteristics, and to win our own Olympic battle between the two competing forces within, or face a similar fate to Oscar and remain forever imprisoned by our dark side.

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