This October I participated in a gathering my friends named “shadow play”. The intention was to create a container in which to unleash and indulge our shadows; to feed and tend those parts of ourselves we tend to starve and sequester, lest they fester and foster monsters too bitter and ravenous to handle. What may sound like a dark and dirty dive, was in my experience a beautiful welcoming home of all wayward children. While wildness and desire were certainly present, the overall expression was one of grandmotherly unconditional love: all lost parts of the psyche drawn to the bread-smelling warmth of her skirts, nestling in with a warm bite to eat and a cozy lap to curl into. The revelrous play that ensued was anchored by a physical altar where we placed treats to please our shadows, and an ethos of celebratory acceptance. I was reminded that everyone (and every PART of every one) needs to be seen, welcomed, claimed, and fed. What is ostracized and starved will grow into a frightful monster indeed. But love and nourishment will calm it back into the lost child it is, and proper purpose will give it a place and a chance to shine.
I had been invited to a few different things that night, all very attractive things. The next morning, while wandering a sun-spilled path in the Oakland Hills, I felt a familiar needling gnawing in my head that I easily recognized as one of my own less savory aspects, FOMO. FOMO stands for Fear Of Missing Out. I am one of the many modern people who live with FOMO, a powerful force that drives us to try to do everything and drives us nuts when we miss anything. OH how I loathe this part of myself! I try to shake her off, to “evolve” out of her, to shame myself out of feeling her, or at the very least to hide her from others, yet she just clings all the closer: a me-shaped silhouette underlining my every move in icky sticky dark ink. ARG!
So here she was. As usual, I met her with a judgmental sigh of exasperation. But then I remembered — I had just spent all night honoring and feeding the shadows. FOMO is just another shadow. She’s asking for attention. Ok. I will give her some *gulp* loving attention.
I slow my stride on the path to a soft stand still. Knees bent and buoyant, hands gently open, face relaxed, I surrender my frame to the same kind curiosity with which I would approach a flustered child. “Hi, FOMO” I venture under my breath, “I’m listening.”
I listen. I hear the dry clatter of oak leaves shimmy in the breeze, and the distant whoosh of its mother wind sweep the canyon below. I hear the punctual scuffle of a bird shuffling dead leaves with wiry feet. I think I hear dust settle. I feel my heart blush a shade of compassion. Ready to feed this shadow, too.
But what can I feed FOMO? What would FOMO like to eat? Well, her most obvious favorite treat is plenty of rich experiences. Maybe I could feed FOMO by doing a bunch of cool stuff… WAIT! That’s the shadow! FOMO is a modern day “hungry ghost.” She craves more and more experiences but is never satisfied, as if a hole in her stomach prevents her from ever becoming full and sating that pain. Another flush of compassion ripples through — I can relate. I had a digestive issue in my early adulthood where I was eating plenty of nutritious food but wasn’t able to properly digest and assimilate the nutrients, leading to a perplexing nutrient deficiency. Early on, doctors prescribed me to eat more. I would explain with frustration that I was already consuming above and beyond the prescription. The less creative retorted, “ok, then try more.” When I finally met a naturopath who worked with me to address the issue at the digestive functioning level, it was the relief of finally being seen. And fed.
Shoving more experiences down the gullet of FOMO will never quiet her hunger; she needs to feel and integrate the richness of the experience of her life as it is. And so, I begin to feed her:
I place a hand on my heart and one on my belly, and I call to mind a moment from last night when I felt love. A hug, a smile, a kind word, a sweet exchange with another person. A simple moment, nothing extraordinary, but sweet and nourishing all the same. I hold the moment in my mind long enough for the memory to seep down into my body where I can re-member the way I felt in that exchange. I taste the sweetness in my mouth, I hold the warmth in my heart and belly, and I breathe it in fully… and gently let it go. I call another memory up, and take the same deep drink from the well. I call another, and another. All from the same night, a dozen brief flashes in the brain that can either sizzle and be gone (on to the next!) or roast slow and steady until mouthwateringly tender. I remember, drink deep, and breathe it along, one by one. And a remarkable thing began to happen. After a few minutes of this shadow feeding meditation, I FELT — SO — FULL.
Sasha Wright, LCSW
I provide psychotherapy in the Bay Area. My holistic orientation embraces the body, mind, and spirit as intertwined aspects of being. My work focuses on seeking resilience and weaving sustainably vibrant lives, and is infused by my own practices in dance, mindfulness, creative arts, earth based spirituality, and spending time in nature. I write to share ideas, inspire embodiment, and support wellbeing. Enjoy!
Sasha Wright is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW #70802) providing therapy in the San Francisco Bay Area, and sees clients in Berkeley & Oakland.