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Spirituality Essay:

Dark Sides    ( February 2007 )

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Last month I was honored with one of the Coast's "2006 Peacemakers" awards.

Many of you might well express the same incredulity at this that I did. Some mistake I thought . . . I, with all my issues and struggles -- getting this??

Don't they know how I scream at the 49ers and my computer?...don't they know of my problems dealing with dysfunctional people? My other large faults? That I feel ashamed of?

Some of the others honored that day that I talked with expressed the exact same uncomfortableness created by their nomination. Too much bright light focused on our virtues was inadvertently also exposing the darknesses lying underneath and in between those virtues.

We were all helped through this by one of the speakers, our good UU Friend, Ann Kyle Brown. Ann realized many, possibly most, of us were feeling qualms about this recognition - our failures, our faults, our dysfunctions in and with life: our dark sides - which seemed too prominent to allow "peacemaker" (of all things) awards.

"It's so much easier fighting and working for your principles than actually living them in your own life," Ann quoted.

That offered some relief.

But the essential problem remained: what about those shameful dark sides that our minds could no longer escape. Beyond the unsettling "hypocrisy" of it all . . . what do we do with all this gunk we'd been successfully holding at bay in our lives?

As I've mulled this over - and discussed it with professionals - I've realized that this process was actually healthy. We all have our dark sides - those negative parts of ourselves (that emerged as survival-defense mechanisms when we were young) that are inevitably part of being human. What's important is knowing they're there - acknowledging and accepting them (with as little judgment as possible) -- as well as working on them.

A worse danger is, out of fear or shame, denying their existence. Then, psychologists say, they go "underground" appearing, and acted out, unconsciously, in worse, more destructive forms: we create problems, but don't see our role in it -- self-righteously blaming others instead.

This gets into territory well beyond the scope of this column, but the essential spiritual message is being open to and grateful for the opportunities to have our human darks sides made visible to us. How refreshing. Liberating, even. We are human - we are only human . . . of course we have our shameful parts. How fortunate we are, really, when we get to see or feel them; how much more fortunate when we can share and let out those dark parts of ourselves with loved ones and close friends. Then the doors for healing, growth, and more complete being open wider for us.

This is one in a series of essays on spirituality by Rick Childs, lay leader of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Mendocino Coast. You may want to:
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