Knowing Yourself Means Entering Into Your Shadow Self

15662055408_5270cd6e1e_z (1)I have my “office” next to two windows in my dining room that look out over a large fenced patio. I have 10-15 blooming plants there that I so enjoy. I have always been a gardener. In 1983, I moved to Florida so I could enjoy plants all year long. It gives me great solace to look over my plants.

“We must become so alone, so utterly alone, that we withdraw into our innermost self. It is a way of bitter suffering. But then our solitude is overcome, we are no longer alone, for we find that our innermost self is the spirit, that it is God, the indivisible. And suddenly we find ourselves in the midst of the world, yet undisturbed by its multiplicity, for our innermost soul we know ourselves to be one with all being.”
by Hermann Hesse

During this holiday season, I am moving through a season of reflection about the choices I have made over a lifetime of 74 years so far. Feeling regret reminds me that I have not forgiven myself completely for the missteps I have taken. Choosing to be in a marriage that was basically loveless for 15 years seems like such a waste of life’s vitality. But I did it. So it must have been what I needed to experience. It was after the betrayal that I hit my emotional bottom. Holding your breath for over 60 years isn’t easy. But I am a tough nut. And, in retrospect, a tough nut to crack.

As I move through this retrospection, I am using a technique from Raphael Cushnir. He has written several books about the emotional connection. From his website’s overview, he recommends a 2-step process for learning from our emotions. From this overview:

What is an emotion?

An emotion is a message from your brain, delivered to your body as a physical sensation.

Why are emotions so crucial?

Emotions are essential in reaching the greatest possible understanding of who we are and what we want. The more attuned we grow to our emotions, the wiser and more discriminating we become.

Whenever we’ve grown stale, emotions reawaken us. Wherever we’ve grown stuck, they get us moving. With just the simple ability to notice and experience our feelings, daily existence becomes fascinating and vibrant. We shift from lethargic to motivated, from passive to energized.

What does feeling an emotion entail?

Step 1) To experience an emotion, place your attention directly on the sensation it produces in your body.

Step 2) Keep your attention on that sensation until it either dissipates or changes.

That’s all there is to it. Really. These two simple steps, however, are often anything but easy. To perform them well, especially at the most difficult times, requires the following shifts in the quality of our attention.

Shift 1) Slow down

Feeling time is different than to-do list time. Emotions require us to sync up to their inner flow rather than press our own timetable upon them.

When we do, they not only dissipate the quickest and easiest, but they also reveal great personal insight without any effort whatsoever.

When we don’t, and instead attempt to think our way through a problem too soon, our powers of analysis become completely unreliable. For that reason it’s helpful to heed the maxim “Feel first, think later.”

Shift 2) Get Microscopic

At first our internal sensations can seem distant and amorphous. But whenever we  observe them up close, in patient detail, they yield the greatest possible rewards.

Emotions may be hot or cold. They may be heavy or light. They may move throughout your body in waves, swirls, or flashes. They may produce internal imagery or sound. They may pass in an instant, or gradually over time. With practice, all these emotional aspects become much easier to sense.

The above two steps, along with the above two shifts, make up the2X2 process for Emotional Connection.

What is Emotional Surfing?

Over time I developed an even easier way than the 2×2 process to describe how to feel.  I call it surfing. To understand why let’s look at ocean surfing.
Among the most challenging sports, ocean surfing involves the rare combination of two constantly moving elements. There’s the surfer on the board, and also the wave on which the surfer balances. Each millisecond during which surfer and wave proceed in unison, all is well. But at the first instant of disconnect – wipeout.

When surfing your emotions, the “wave” is your constantly shifting inner experience. The “surfer” is your attention, following the wave up close, in matching motion. There is absolutely no attempt to control the wave or otherwise alter the experience. It’s strictly “Whither thou goest, I shall go.”

When surfing your emotions, the “wave” is your constantly shifting inner experience. The “surfer” is your attention, following the wave up close, in matching motion.

In this, however, is a wondrous paradox. The very act of surfing your internal waves without trying to change them is precisely what does change them. Your attention facilitates flow. It creates additional inner space. These two results of emotional surfing – flow and space – allow turbulent waters to storm freely and calm quickly. They also allow you to keep your balance no matter how enormous the swells.

How do thoughts enter into all this?

Thinking can cause you to wipe out while surfing in a variety of ways. The most common ways are distraction, analyzing, and judging. When any of these disturbances occur, it may be a brief or long time before you become aware  of them. But at the moment you do become aware, it’s crucial that you recognize the thinking in a neutral way and return to the sensations in your body straight away.

Getting down on yourself for wiping out only creates more tension and makes surfing that much harder.

Another way thoughts impact surfing occurs when feeling states kick up painful beliefs about yourself. Say you’re feeling shame, for example. You might then have the thought, “I’m a total loser.”

If you try to banish that belief because it’s unhelpful, it will only fight back harder. And if you decide the belief is correct, and therefore collapse into it, you’ll likewise give it power.

Surfing a feeling is completely different from engaging with the beliefs you may have related to that feeling.

Instead, it’s best to notice the thought with a kind of inward bow, a “thank you for sharing,” if you will. Then, with no further engagement, return to the wave of the moment at hand.

Bottom line: surfing the feeling is completely different from engaging with the beliefs you may have related to that feeling. The good news is that the more you feel your difficult feelings directly, the easier it  is to be free of harmful beliefs once and for all. In fact,  they just disappear all on their own.

Much of the material on this page is drawn from The One Thing Holding You Back and Surfing Your Inner Sea (both books are by Raphael Cushnir).

Photo credit.


  1. Thanks for all that wonderful information. I have really learned to feel the freedom of my emotions and it has helped me to feel so alive for the first time in my life. I hold great anger and murderous rage at times but it does not take away from my ability to love. I feel all my emotions intensely. I think that is part of my PTSD. However, I feel so fully human, so fully alive.


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