Have you heard of the story of the two wolves? One wolf is 'Ego' - the nasty, snarling black wolf. The other is 'Love' - the spirit-focussed, all-knowing, forgiving white wolf.
The story goes that the wolf you feed wins. So you are meant to feed the loving wolf and starve the scary, unacceptable one.
Well, I recently learnt that there is a much better ending to this story. Where you feed both wolves - give them both your attention and compassion so that they can live together in your heart. And when you face the scary, snarly wolf, he really isn't that scary after all anyway.
I much prefer this version.
Because, here's the thing: Being 'spiritual' does not mean being good, positive, kind and loving all the time.
Yes, we aspire to these things. We allow and feel the expanded, beautiful, loving part of us but we also acknowledge the darker part of us. The grumpy part, the part that wants to scream and smash things up.
This doesn't mean we allow ourselves to smash things up in real life but it does mean we don't ignore that part of us.
So here is my story from today. This is how we experienced giving attention to our shadow in a health food shop.
Here's the scene:
I am staring into the fridge section trying to find something that is gluten-free that doesn't taste of sawdust.
Bo, my 6-year-old daughter, is behind me. I didn't realise it at the time but she was attempting some kind of ballet manoeuvre.
As she did this, her foot made contact with the leg of a rather imposing looking woman as she walked past, who snapped at us loudly and said something along the lines of 'Be careful for goodness' sake. You just kicked me.' Not kind or understanding or any of the things we would hope for when addressing an innocent child who has simply made a mistake. (Cue mummy-lioness-feelings. Lucky for her, she disappeared into the unending-display-of-milk-alternatives section.)
Bo was a little upset but she was ok for most of the afternoon.
Then it all came out - her hurt, embarrassment, upset and also her anger.
We talked for a while about how maybe she wasn't such a happy lady and that maybe she was kinder to her cats (!) if she had them. It was a sweet conversation.
But the tears kept coming, so we just laid there with it quietly.
And just then, an image came to my mind. Honestly, I was kind of half asleep as I had been telling a particularly effective bedtime story before this topic was raised - the kind that lulls you into a deep coma and you wake up an hour later wondering what day it is (maybe that's just me).
And I blurted out: 'I really want to bless her and see the best in her but I also wouldn't mind throwing a yoghurt at her head.'
Bo laughed and laughed and laughed... and laughed. There was such release in her. We went on to smooshing the yoghurt into her hair, putting broccoli into her ears and generally making her into a big mess. Bo even said she wanted to invent a yoghurt launcher so that she would be ready at any moment to throw one at her if ever we saw her again.
And it was the sweetest time. We both really snort-laughed - that healing kind of laugh that comes from finding freedom from a really painful perspective. And there wasn't any malice in any of it - it just felt funny and sweet.
And the imposing lady who we had felt intimidated by became a lady with yoghurt in her hair and broccoli poking out of her ears - not a million miles from Shrek. I could feel something in us relaxing as we began to feel the first inklings of compassion for her.
Moments later, Bo had giggled herself peacefully to sleep.
It was such a good reminder to me not to leave out the shadow - to leave it hanging around, feeling ashamed of the anger and resentment it feels and of the violent impulses that lurk around those emotions.
Being spiritual does not mean being good. It means being honest and about inviting all of us to the table. Yoghurt launchers and all.