Shadow-Work: Why This Gym Guy Is Pissing Me Off?

I love working out at the gym, especially in mornings as I already talked about.

And in these last weeks, I kept seeing on a regular basis this very guy.

We have both similar body types and more or less same height. But he is way bigger than I am. At many occasions when I see him there, he might actually be one of the biggest men working out around. He clearly focuses his workouts on his upper body with the goal to maximise volume. He’s always wearing sleeveless tank tops so his body is always kind of half-naked.

And I went through an interesting inner process related to this man, consisting of three distinct phases.

Phase 0 – Anger is triggered, and I’m oblivious of the underlying reasons

The more I saw him at the gym, the more he caught my attention. Indeed, this man is really into fitness. Not only because he has a very big and muscular body, but also because he spends a lot of time watching himself in mirrors. At the very beginning, it made me smile. But then, when I realized how systematic it was between his sets, I started to get irritated. And it kept triggering me until the point of reaching acute anger.

And his presence around ended up to fucking piss me off. His obsession for his body, taking selfies, taking fitness poses to watch his big achievements every two minutes, his very steep body language when he walks around with his big arms too well away from his torso, it was just too much for me to bear.

At several occasions, I surprised myself swearing aloud stuff about him so much I got angry by his show-off behaviour.

When I finally realised it was not really sustainable since I couldn’t get rid of him, I asked myself why this guys was triggering me so much.

Phase 1 – Logical understanding & thinking the root cause is external

And then it hit me. 

Of course, I was irritated by the fact that this man was constantly seeking for external validation. It made sense, since when men suffer from deep lack of inner self-confidence, they might unconsciously seek for compensation from the outer world.

And this guy had found his fix.

I was thinking, oh boy, how dysfunctional this is, pushing like crazy to get his big vanity muscles so he can get quick and easy shots of validation each time he looks at his great body!

I started to laugh at how silly and childish this man was. Just a little boy in a big muscular body. I rolled out funny stories in my head, making a fool of himself, since his posture was so steep and his way of walking so robotic. I asked myself If he could even fuck at all, yep, how can you make a Greek statue fuck by the way?

I laughed at my inner joke, without consciously noting that I was clearly giving to myself a shot of ego-boost here, since I considered I was superior and more of a mature conscious man than he certainly was.

But I actually didn’t stay so long in this phase.

Phase 2 – Deeper embodied understanding & knowing the root cause is internal

Indeed, coming out of the blue, I started to feel a deep sadness from within. Oh boy, and now I wanted to cry. My eyes got wet.

It turned out it was now MY big time to look at myself in the mirror of the gym. Cut the bullshit buddy and feel the inner pain. But what is it?

I was so touched by what I saw in the mirror. The very boy and man himself who has been seeking for external validation for so many years. From women, from family members, from friends, from work colleagues, from my bosses, from total strangers, from the dealer at the grocery store.

After I processed this first wave of sadness, I believe a second one showed up as a result of having made a fool of my brother during my phase 1. Yes, my rational thinking about his dysfunctional behaviour was legit, but my lack of compassion for him was not.

This is shadow-work babe

The process initiated by phase 0 and leading to the deeper inner understanding of phase 2 is called shadow-work.

Shadows are such an important part of the self-realisation journey that this topic would deserve its own post here.

But basically, the shadow encompasses all aspects of ourselves that have been denied, repressed, or hidden. Our whole self encompasses our ego and our shadow, and this duality has been reinforced by the civilizing process of our species. Because our culture insists that we behave in a particular manner, it demands that we live out only part of our nature and refuse other parts of our inheritance.

The shadow not only consists of the darkest sides of our psyche. The pure gold of our personality is also repressed into it because it can find no place in the levelling of our personas imposed by the process that is culture. According to Carl Jung, the ego and the shadow come from the same source and exactly balance each other. To make light is to make shadow. In his book “Owning Your Own Shadow”, Robert A. Johnson states that it is the price to be whole whether we like it or not; and instead of incorporating our shadow with some neurotic behaviour, the shadow has to be consciously integrated with dignity. Unless we do conscious work on it, the shadow is almost always projected; that is, it is neatly laid on someone or something else so we do not have to take responsibility for it.

Projection is always easier than integration.

And our darkness, as well as the repressed gold of our personality, can be projected. It is also worth noting that the shadow contains a good deal of energy, and it is the cornerstone of our vitality.

Our shadow impacts on many aspects of our daily behaviour and emotional triggers. Connie Zweig in her book “Romancing The Shadow”, explores its influence in romantic love, creative work, family kinship, loyal friendship, midlife freedom, or in the urge for power, sex and money. In her book, the shadow is also examined in personal, cultural, and archetypal contexts.

The first step of shadow-work consists in bringing awareness to the many aspects and corners of our shadow. And to eventually integrate it by creating a conscious relationship to it, thereby reducing its power to unconsciously sabotage us. Learn to live with your shadow is a lifelong challenge though. But the rewards are profound.

And as Connie Zweig continues, shadow-work is slow, cautious; it moves like an animal in the night. It moves us against the collective mandate to think positively, be productive, focus outwardly, and protect our image. It requires patience, keen instinct, fine discrimination, the compassion of a Buddha. It requires one eye to be turned out toward the world of light, while the other eye is turned in toward the world of darkness.

And shadow-work asks us to stop blaming others, she continues. It asks us to take responsibility. It asks us to move slowly. It asks us to deepen awareness. It asks us to hold paradox. It asks us to open up our bodies. It asks us to sacrifice our ideals of perfection. It asks us to live the mystery.

There are processes one can follow to do shadow-work. I do mine mainly in my men’s group, I’ll talk about it on a later post here. Exposure to psychedelics helped me also tremendously to get in touch with my projections and many facets of my shadows. Finally, I also believe that shadow-work always starts by increasing self-awareness in order to shed light on our inner projection patterns.

Level 1 vs. level 2 understanding

And now going back to the gym guy.

It is worth noting that my understanding of its initial trigger came at two different levels.

At level 1, my understanding of the trigger was purely rational, and even if my interpretation of the events made sense, there is still a part of it which came from an unconscious projection of my own issues on him. My ego also made the most of this (even short) moment to over-validate itself by letting me think that I was superior to him. It was a kind of immature and superficial black-and-white thinking and interpretation of my reality.

At level 1, information processing moves at mind-time, which is very quick and efficient, but at the price of loosing some relevant, deeper understandings.

At level 2, my understanding of the trigger was much deeper, and embodied. The fact that strong emotions came up to my consciousness helped me to interpret the very same events from a different perspective, resulting in a more mature, more nuanced, interpretation of my reality.

At level 2, information processing moves at body-time, which is much slower, much more progressive and subtle, deeper and thicker than at mind-time.

This dichotomy between understandings at level 1 and level 2 can be also viewed in the context of habits creation and battle against addictive behaviours. Indeed, if you only rely on a level 1’s understanding to implement new long-term habits, you will most likely exclusively rely on will power to sustain them. And will power is like a muscle, used too much, its strength depletes. However, if the implementation of your new habits comes from a level 2’s deeper understanding on why it is important for your well-being, i.e., coming from a place of self-love, or if you reach an understanding of the root cause of your addictive behaviour, then sustainable shifts in your daily life become much more easier to implement and sustain.

It is in the space brought by level 2 that shadow-work takes place. It is about getting access to my greater and more whole sense of self.

It is about bringing more consciousness in my life.

And from that place, I can take more conscious decisions and meaningful actions in the world.

Thanks to my new and deeper insights related to chasing external validation, I ended up deeply realising while heading back to my place after the gym that I don’t want to waste my energy and my time anymore for trying too hard to connect with people who don’t want to connect with me.

No. No more of this Nice Guy fucking bullshit in my life.

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