Who Walks with You?
As I prepared to chant Torah this past week, a line jumped off the page at me, among all the other juicy stuff that could be explored in the portion. As Jacob prepares to go “down” to Egypt to see Joseph, his son whom he thought dead, G!d says (again in a night vision), “Don’t be afraid. I’ll go down with you.”
Jacob is told, yet again, by G!d that G!d will accompany him.
Coincidentally, or maybe not, if you’re in the “There are no coincidences” school of thought, in a recent conversation about tough times one of my spirit sisters asked, “Who walks with you?”
Such a hashpa’ah (spiritual direction) question!
Do you feel accompanied, supported? Who is there for you? Perhaps it’s your beloved, close friends, G!D, siblings, guides or your little puppy dog.
Why would Jacob be afraid to go to Egypt? His son is there. There’s food there, and the rest of the region is in a famine.
The direction to Egypt is always “down” in Torah. In addition, the Hebrew word for Egypt comes from the Hebrew root meaning narrowness or distress. It is, of course, the place of slavery for our people, and the internalized interpretation of this place is that it’s our own narrowness, our own place of limitations.
I’ve been thinking of this a little differently lately, as we pass the winter solstice. I think of Egypt as our shadow place. Is Jacob finally going down to the shadow place?
It’s scary down there, if you’ve been avoiding the shadow. As we all know, that usually doesn’t work out well. Most agree that the shadow becomes more of an issue when we try to wish it away.
We think our shadow supplants our light, so we try to suppress it, which is what creates what Jung calls a fog of illusion that hides our true reality. The shadow is actually part of our wholeness, and according to Deepak Chopra the first step in defeating our shadow is paradoxically abandoning any notion of defeating it. That is, step one is accepting it as part of our wholeness. Many have talked about this, of course. Jung calls it our “sparring partner,” the opponent within us that exposes our flaws and sharpens our skills (as told by psychologist Debbie Ford), hence it is necessary for greater self-awareness.
Just as we had to go “down” to Egypt as a nation to understand what it means to be strangers in a strange land, to be the Other (this understanding of Otherness is key to our social ethic of pursuing justice) and be formed into a single nation, we as individuals need to go down into our shadow periodically, the place that feels like it is Other to us, to move toward our own wholeness.
Clearly, this shadow place is a place of vulnerability. It’s easy to get into a cycle of self-judgement, dare I say even self-loathing. Visiting that shadow may mean revisiting a wounded child. While that may be uncomfortable, Chopra says you will feel safe when you discover that you have a core self, and it helps to not feel alone.
All this shadow stuff is kind of heavy, but there is an upside. If our shadow influences us unconsciously in ways that aren’t healthy, if hiding our shadow is what obscures our light, maybe accepting our shadow increases our light. As Rabbi Karyn Kedar says our joy does not diminish our loss and the loss does not diminish the joy, our shadow, when acknowledged and accepted, doesn’t diminish our light.
Can this even be a joy? Well, maybe that’s a bit overboard, but it is an opportunity. Just as Joseph recontextualizes all of the events that brought him to Egypt to understand it was his Destiny, any opportunity for more awareness gives us the understanding of how the pieces of our life fit together, which in turn does lead us to greater wholeness.
Then perhaps we can see who’s been with us all along, and who accompanies walks with us in our lives.
A practice: I’ve incorporated this into my meditations lately and found it powerful. Sit in your chair or on your cushion. Feel yourself grounded. As you sit, breathe deep and let go of thoughts of the past or of the day ahead. As you breath into your core self, ask “Who is with me?” Simply be open to the answer. When thoughts of what you have to do during the day or other thoughts intrude, just return to your breath and ask again. Just allow the answer to come. If one does arise, it may surprise you, and if no answer seems to come right now, that’s ok too, you can ask again.
“…our shadow, when acknowledged and accepted, doesn’t diminish our light.”
I take this line from your beautiful and thought-provoking d’var to the image that I was brought as I read these words. A shadow only happens as a result of the light; it does not exist unless there is light first. Darkness yes; shadow no. So it may be that it is only in recognizing the presence of light in our sight, in our world, in our kishkes FIRST that we may be granted a glimpse of the shadow. WOW! And then we can wrestle and G!d-wrestle with it, and come to a place of shalaym, of completion in peace, with it and let it walk beside us in harmony. So is this Jacob’s wrestling partner: his shadow self, over which he must prevail in order to receive his new name? Hmmmm….