Shadow as the Source for Transformation

To read this article in Japanese: click here.

Last night, Otto Scharmer and I were in Japan, working with a group of 200 people. Well, he was in his office and I was in my living room (office). It was 9 o’clock pm on a Friday and we had just completed a long and very full week but there we were in Japan (and Manila and Hong Kong) via Zoom- beaming into ~200 living rooms. This morning, I woke up in my own bed with the words ringing in my ears, “Shadow as the source for transformation.”

Fire from a night in the garden

Throughout the last 14 weeks of the GAIA Journey, Otto and I, along with an incredible Presencing Institute team and host of guest faculty, have been guiding a global community of about 13,000 people. We started on March 27th, just as we realized the Covid-19 virus was becoming a Global Pandemic. Otto had written an article, “Eight Emerging Lessons: From Corona to Climate” which garnered over 100,000 views and over 10,000 people wanting to sit together for this journey.

Why? We knew the work we had been doing over the years to support people and organizations through times of transition was the gift we could offer the global community now — the contribution we could make to support our world to meet the moment of transformation.

Pausing, In Order to See

First there was “The Great Pause.” For weeks and months, many of us paused our usual behavior — going to work or school, going to meet with friends. Collectively we had the opportunity to see what was not working. Immediately, Otto and I invited Vandana Shiva, Dayna Cunningham and Aboriginal Elders and Leaders: Noel Nannup, Carol Innes, Richard Walley, to share their insights, stories and wisdom with our global community.

What did we see in this moment? Our food systems have been failing to serve people adequately, our societies are rooted in systemic violence — and we have a structure — a set of human agreements, that continues to hold this in place; therefore the disconnect that we may have been feeling more acutely through ‘social distancing’ is in fact only mirroring a deeper isolation and disconnect that we have been building up over decades in the ways we live and work. We saw the three disconnects (or divides) between self and nature, self and other, and self/self. Otto and Kelvy Bird share here:

Excerpted from a full iceberg Image by Kelvy Bird.

As we sat with the effects of Covid-19, the grief and the loss, as a collective, we also have begun to see the breakdowns already present in our society. In our time with the Japanese group, I was able to get the same perspective on my own context as what I would have received had I gotten on a plane and traveled across the world. Otto shared, “Why is it that the United States has been one of the — actually, the worst, in handling the Covid crisis? The lack of social solidarity.” The issue of systemic racism is not new, in fact, it is the shadow of the greatness of this country. Otto described the three shadows that the United States has been built on: 1) Genocide of Native Americans/Indigenous People 2) Slavery & Segregation 3) Relationship with Nature — in the context of sustainability. Now, in different parts of the world, these shadows may show up differently (colonialism, genocide, forms of dehumanization, etc) but the path towards healing and reconciliation is similar. He challenged the Japanese group to consider their own shadows as well.

Breakdown to Breakthrough

What we have seen around the world in these last few months is a breakdown between self and system. One of the Brazilian indigenous elders/leaders who joined us in the GAIA Journey through the Portuguese track, Ubiraci Pataxó, said, “We need to be the system.”

Ubiraci Pataxó: We Need to Be The System

Otto described the breakdown between self and system as breaking down the walls of 1) Not seeing 2) Not sensing 3) Not acting. For example, in the killing of George Floyd, we all knew that police brutality, particularly against African Americans, was real, but in the moment of Covid-19, and in the age of smart phones, we were able to see it with our own eyes. Once we see it, we begin to experience an opening of the heart — we begin to feel it. Otto describes the breakdown of this wall and the softening of the distance between self and other —as, “the distance begins melting away.” With that softening and opening of those three walls, we can begin imagining new possibilities for our societies and ourselves.

One of the women in the Japanese group shared after her breakout, “I felt that I couldn’t contain myself.” As we talked and people continued to share out, including someone sharing tears with us, Zoom became a container for us — a space to include our shadows and face traumatic experiences of our own lives and our countries. In closing, I shared a bit of the work of Thomas Huebl and Otto. I went back to the sentence shared, “I felt I couldn’t contain” and pointed to that softening being exactly the work that we are needing to do now.

Often when we experience something painful, or something traumatic — we seek to isolate that moment and disconnect from it. We want to put it behind us, in the past, and walk forward into a brighter future. That trauma follows us around in so many ways, and then shows up as a shadow to any of the brightness we bring in to the world. When I first heard that, I felt, “OK, then I just need to integrate that shadow part.” However, the reality is that the most important thing is to SEE it — to sit with it, to accept and include it and the coping mechanism we’ve used all this time to deal with it. For example, seeing and acknowledging systemic racism. Seeing and acknowledging that we have collectively held genocide and racism + segregation in a blindspot. We have actively avoided speaking about it on a collective level and have tried to gloss over it time and again as a coping mechanism — to avoid feeling the pain. We have the capacity to see and include the element of the pain itself and even the coping mechanism we used to deal.

Facing Shadow

Otto said last night, “if you don’t face the shadow, it will blow up in your face.” We are seeing it now in the United States. Trump and his supporters do not want to see the shadow. They want to pretend it isn’t there and keep moving forward. The country is erupting in protest and tearing down the monuments built to slave traders and slave owners. What is needed now is to collectively face this shadow and recognize that we have the capacity to include all of this in our story.

Last night we sat with our shadows. We took a collective breath — shifting our awareness from a horizontal connection to a vertical alignment — an alignment with a sense of rooted, grounded-ness and sense of connection to the sky — to limitless possibility. We opened our minds to curiosity about the shadow or pain with which we might be contending. We softened our hearts to FEEL — to be with the pain. And we softened the distance between ourselves and the world, between ourselves and the system, to tune into what the shadow or pain experience may be asking of us now. We tuned in to what the moment may be asking of us now.

As we looked at the final image, shared by the Japanese graphic scribe, Keisuke Taketani, we invited the group to share what they see, sense and feel.

GAIA Journey Japan Week 11 Inhale by Scribe Keisuke Taketani

Otto shared this, “I see that the shadow is not the problem, but the source for transformation.”

I see the shadow is not the problem but the SOURCE for transformation.

What does your own shadow have to offer as a source for transformation? For your self and for the world? There is a commonly used phrase, Feel it to Heal it.

Kelvy Bird’s Image from the GAIA Journey Week 12 Session

We are not alone in this pursuit: while each of us has our own individual journey to heal the pain and disconnects, we, as a society, have much to feel and heal together to move forward towards wellbeing for all. I shared this sentiment in the end and one of the participants shared: ガイアジャーニーでみんなと共にいる、私たちは一人ではない。 “We are all in this GAIA Journey together, We are not alone.”

Thank you to Rachel Hentsch for reviewing, editing and upgrading this piece. Check out her most recent animation for the GAIA Journey here:

Thank you to Masumi and Abbie Abion for the Japanese translation.



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Antoinette Klatzky

Antoinette Klatzky

Executive Director, Eileen Fisher Leadership Institute. Host/Co-Producer, Women Together.