If it seems like many of your friends have used downtime during the pandemic to manicure every last corner of their lives yet you are surrounded by empty pizza boxes, confronted with a coffee table covered in the sticky residue of various beverages and have a mountain of unopened mail, you might be feeling some shame and despair. What if you could revel in and celebrate the messiness rather than beat yourself up about it?
I’ve been doing some new agey-type personal growth work concerning the “shadow” side of my nature and it’s been amazing to witness the practically instant shifts this kind of process can create. Carolyn Elliott, PhD, author of “Existential Kink: Unmask Your Shadow and Embrace Your Power,” says that by identifying what kind of enjoyment and pay off you get from behaviors and situations you have labeled “bad, “funky,” “undesirable,” “shameful,” or otherwise sucky allows us to appreciate and make conscious that previously unacknowledged part of ourselves. Once it is made conscious, it can be accepted and, if desired, released.
There is so much cultural pressure around getting and being organized. I wish that everyone could feel the high of being in control, taking the next right step on projects and showing up on time in ready position for work and coming home to a tidy, uncluttered house. But. As weather and viruses so clearly spell out for us, we are never really in control, are we? So, although it is great to be organized and on that even keel, it’s not the be all and end all of life. I predict the general population will be shoving a defiant middle finger in the face of the organizing profession in the near future.
What if you just let yourself be disorganized? What if you let yourself not make the bed, not fold your t-shirts in perfect squares, not get your e-mail in box to zero, not organize your make-up drawer and not clean out your full and filthy garage even though your Mini Cooper sits out in the cold? What if you identified just enough order to not be fired from your job and to properly care for your kids but forget all the rest of the “rules” for a while?
After meditating on what kinds of unconscious enjoyment I get from some of my behaviors that lead to situations I don’t like in my life, I was surprised to find many easily identifiable positive sensations. Sometimes “bad” patterns (bad is in quotes because it is how you are perceiving the thing not because it is inherently bad) create addictive drama and excitement. Sometimes they are a passive-aggressive way of getting rid of a person you don’t want to be around or a project you really don’t want to participate in. Sometimes “bad” patterns give us comfort because they remind us of familiar situations in childhood. Humans often choose something negative over something positive, just because it is familiar.
Dr. Elliott says that once we are conscious of the ways we might unconsciously love a pattern or situation, it is not too great a leap to go beyond acknowledging it and start to even appreciate and embrace it. And find the humor in it too. So your desk looks like Broadway in New York City after a 1940s ticker tape parade. So your closet looks like the aftermath of a sale at the Barney’s outlet. You created the situation and, on some level, you love it that way. Discover why that is and honor your creative inner rebel. Like one of my clients, a badass artist, told me, “I don’t want it written on my tombstone, ‘She was neat.’” Living a fiercely creative and adventurous life trumps mere neatness every time.
Just as when working on physical flexibility we breathe through the stretch to release a muscle, we breathe through and examine the areas in our lives that bother us. Why put shame around it? We aren’t ashamed of our hamstrings and calves when they are tight.
The only thing I’ve found that works to chase away darkness is to shine a light on it. Be kind to and shed a little light on your chaos-loving shadow and I’ll bet she fades away.
[Note: Carolyn Elliott’s book Existential Kink is not for the faint of heart and may offend some readers. I’d give it a slightly more R than PG-13 rating.]