A Soul’s Journey – Increasing Stress and The Shadow Personality

My plane is touching down and I notice a plethora of feelings: anxiety, apprehension, foreboding, gratitude and joy. For almost two years I have been organizing a conference for the Spiritual Community I work with; it is in Oaxaca, Mexico. And tomorrow it begins. So too, would my own personal ‘conference’ with the alter ego I call ‘Shadow Trevor’.

A Glorious Locale

Oaxaca is a beautiful Spanish colonial city in southwestern Mexico replete with colourful, streets reminiscent of Europe and more than a dozen medieval churches built in the grand Dominican style – an astonishing combination of European style and vibrant Mexican culture. The area is a treasure of regional crafts, Mesoamerican archeological remains and a spirituality that combines indigenous and the Catholic beliefs, focused significantly around the Lady of Guadeloupe. It is, however, still in Mexico, and fully subject to unexpected bureaucratic complications. The unfolding journey had been challenging but successful, I was ready to complete my two-year mission.

The Stress Builds

Organizing a conference is a full time preoccupation for four days. You are managing all the details – meals, breaks, speakers, and everyone’s personal needs, discomforts and anxieties that they need to bring to your attention. Then in addition, the stream of the unexpected always takes you by surprise. Over the next 24 hours, circumstances began to concentrate, like the flow of magma in a volcano, building up pressure within me.

  • Someone was claiming they had paid for a room at the hotel and they were not on my list.
  • A speaker arrives with the flu and has no idea when he will be well enough to slot into a packed schedule.
  • His absence requires you unexpectedly to take on an additional event that is connected to the conference but not actually part of it.
  • Two speakers give you lists of unexpected demands for their Sunday presentations
  • One of our community members had gone to great effort to organize a permit for a dance (17 steps of Mexican bureaucracy) and due to miscommunication, the time is wrong and it may not fit the agenda.
  • The meeting space has to be completely cleared by 4.00pm to allow the set up for Friday night’s optional event – dinner and performance of Guelegatzer Dancing – which suddenly grabs everyone’s focus, requiring constant attention.
  • There is a desire to schedule an additional event Sunday evening. Sure. Why not.

At this point, unaware of the impending volcano, I am going with the flow, keeping a smile on my face, adapting and solving problems. And then I make a catastrophic error.

 Where it All Goes Terribly Wrong

Prior to the last event I conducted in Assisi, I had a powerful dream that reminded me of the importance of grounding myself and avoiding too much alcohol as a coping mechanism. I should have remembered this on the Friday.

That night, at the dance performance, relaxing after a full-on day, I had a glass of red wine. It tasted so good, it led to another. Then the maître’d approached me to tell me they had used the allotted wine for the evening. “Keep pouring,” I instructed generously, sliding down the slippery slope. By then my decision-making was compromised and instead of the grounding walk my body desperately needed; it was off to the bar for another drink.

The Three Faces of Control

I learned control at an early age. My mother had a baby, a four-year old, a six-year old, a ten-year old son from her first marriage, and two stepchildren aged 14 and 16. How she coped is still beyond my comprehension, but as a consequence I learned independence at a young age. Six-year-old Trevor took charge of his 4-year-old brother and created a world of wonderful adventures.

This has proven a great gift in my life and control and organization has contributed hugely to my success in the business world. But when my veneer of control comes under attack, this vulnerable six year old is exposed and a darker persona emerges to try and keep the walls of the fortress from crumbling. I call him “shadow Trevor”

This persona forfeits the niceness and smiles, focusing purely on getting the job done. He can be abrupt, possible hostile, cannot tolerate dissension and has no time for pleasantries.

If he fails in his quest the result is dire – the six year old is uncovered. The face of the six year old during my business career was explosive anger, erupting like Vesuvius and apologizing later.

My New Six Year Old Face

I have spent twenty years getting more in touch with my emotional body, and on Saturday morning, as I began to feel overwhelmed, I saw for the first time another, more endearing side to my six year old.

Rather than getting angry, I wanted to cry.

I sought out my partner Atum, who carries the responsibility of the teachings at the conference, and told him I needed a quiet word. We went to my room and I broke down and sobbed. The feeling of release, followed by joy, was amazing. I had a sympathetic shoulder to cry on and share some of the load I was carrying; it was a tremendous relief.

It’s a shame this is not an acceptable business strategy. Businessmen would live a little longer.

Reflections on The Journey

As eminent Jungian analyst and author James Hollis suggests, “we all live in haunted houses”, meaning the past will unconsciously influence our current behaviours.

Seeing emotion not as an enemy but a friendly face is a positive new awareness. Noticing that when “shadow Trevor” emerges it is time for some conscious rebalancing and shedding of the load is another important realization.

My resort to alcohol as reflexive anxiety management system was old history repeating itself. I learn slowly, but hopefully become a little more self-aware each time.

So I am choosing to organize one more conference before I lay down the responsibility. It will be Assisi in 2020.

As the Bard said, “Once more unto the breach dear friends, once more”.

 

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