Posted by: Dorianne Cotter-Lockard | 7 September 2007

Embracing our Shadow

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend a very interesting presentation by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk at Loyola Marymount University. He received the Doshi Bridgebuilder award “for fostering understanding between cultures, peoples and disciplines.”

The first book I read fifteen years ago by Tich Nhat Hanh was “Peace is Every Step,” followed by “The Miracle of Mindfulness.”  I highly recommend either book.

Hanh has applied focus on breathing and simple meditation to bring together groups of Israelis and Palestinians for better understanding. He has done this with a variety of groups that are in apparent conflict, with amazing results. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace award for this an other work of his monastery.

thich-nhat-hanh-photo.jpgThe presentation yesterday took place in the LMU gymnasium, which was half filled with students and interested people from the local community. Hanh had about thirty monks (male and female) from the Deerpark (Escondido, CA) monastery with him. To start, they led us in a guided breathing meditation, which I found very centering. Then there were several presentations related to the award, which was interesting to hear as LMU is a Jesuit university. They have a well-balanced perspective in teaching about different religions, finding common themes and disciplines to support a person’s spirituality.

Then we stood up and did more breathing, along with moving our arms and legs in different ways with each breath. It was somewhat like T’ai Chi or Yoga. Very hard to do when standing in bleachers…….Finally, Thich Nhat Hanh spoke (the reason I attended). There were a few gems that I took away from his very thoughtful speech.  Here’s the one that stuck with me:

We need to embrace our suffering like a mother embraces her child.  As we do this, we learn compassion and understanding of others

I never understood the buddhist focus on suffering until I heard Hanh speak about this.  I always thought all the talk about suffering was so negative.  Hanh said we don’t need to wallow in our suffering, but we do need to embrace it as a natural part of our lives so we may understand others.  It struck me that this approach is similar to the approach described by Debbie Ford in “Dark Side of the Light Chasers” where she talks about embracing our shadow self.  The shadow self is a part of us that we’ve repressed.  It can be either a positive or negative aspect of ourselves.  Repression causes either emotional or physical suffering.  When we embrace the shadow, we re-integrate that part of ourselves and are relieved of the suffering caused by the repression.



  1. There are practical ways of embracing our shadow, but they aren’t easy. The book by Debbie Ford offers one approach. Another book, “Loving What Is” by Byron Katie offers another approach. A third approach is offered by “Radical Forgiveness” by Colin Tipping – go to and check out the online tools.
    The basic premise of these three approaches is to look at your past (or current) painful experiences from a completely different perspective, let go of blaming or any other judgement, see these experiences as giving you depth and wisdom, integrating and accepting them and then making a decision to stop living in the past. Hope this helps.

  2. What’s a practical way of embracing our shadows and suffering? How do you transcend it, other than looking the other way?

    A very thought-provoking post!

  3. Dorianne,
    This blog is really amazing. Now I appreciate what you and Matt were saying. Not that I have two days to build one, but I could never do it in just two days! great work!

  4. Yes, I agree that suffering is optional. Every experience is interpreted through the lense of our perspective. While we may have an initial experience of suffering through a specific experience, we can choose to transcend the experience of suffering.

    Thank you Lissa for your comment. Visit Lissa’s websites at and

  5. Pain is a natural part of life. It’s necessary – it can serve to protect us. How we deal with the pain is something else altogether. We can use pain to help us to learn and grow. Suffering is optional. Once we see that we have other choices our lives change, we become free.

    Congrats on your new blog – it’s wonderful!

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: