As the streets of central London celebrate Gay Pride, I find myself reflecting on the relationship between Pride and Shame. I have come to understand that both are different sides of the same coin. Pride, being the light and Shame, the shadow. We all know it’s impossible to have one without the other. To deny the existence of Shame is like denying night will not come after daytime departs; to pretend that winter will not come, because it was a glorious summer.
Our human experience means that we are caught up in a lifetime of duality – the presence of ‘good’ means that there is ‘bad’. Something being ‘wrong’ means that somewhere, something is ‘right’. I am gradually learning that in order to stand authentically with Pride, it is important for me to acknowledge, uncover and meet the Shame.
My first experience of London Gay Pride was in 1995. I had gone to the festival with some friends who at the time did not know I was gay – I since found out that they did know, but were waiting for me to tell them. How could I tell them? When I had not even acknowledged it to myself. When I look back on that time of my life, I can see that I was hostage to shame. At the time, I did not recognize it as shame. I simply defined how I was feeling as wrong, bad and flawed. During that phase of my life, I was still praying that I would one day wake up and it would have all been a bad dream. Waking up from my bad dream would mean that I could then go on to marry my make-believe gorgeous wife, who would be a doctor and me, a lawyer. We would have 3 kids, a Range Rover and a cottage in the country – oh, how I dreamt that dream!
In 1996, I made my second appearance at London Gay Pride. In the preceding months I had come out at work and to a number of close friends, I’d also had my first relationship, albeit short-term – although I came to learn that he never saw it as a relationship, but that’s another story! My experience of Pride was different this time. I was a steward during the parade and festival, for me being in that role was about standing with Pride and acceptance of my sexuality – I will share more of that Pride experience during the course of this month.
In navigating the paradox of shame and pride, I have come to see that for a long time I simply wanted to embrace the Pride and deny the Shame. When I explained this to a spiritual teacher last year whilst on retreat, he said to me ‘what you avoid on the way down, you meet on the way up’. In that dialogue, we talked about how there were no shortcuts. In order to heal and live authentically, I must find the courage to meet the shadow. My old routine of covering up the shadow with ‘stuff’ or ‘experience had become my pattern of denial and avoidance – a routine that was no longer working.
The continual journey towards navigating this paradox led me to the Hoffman Process. In fact, this time last year I was in the final stages of getting ready to go on the 8 day intensive retreat. The Process was an amazing gift I gave to myself, for I finally felt I had come home to me. I learnt how to stand with Pride, that I am okay exactly as I am. I learnt to tap into my courage and meet whatever shame surfaces. I learnt to know that there is no need to recoil and deny the presence of shame.
Whilst on the Process, I came to learn that in order to continually meet my shame authentically, I needed to hang out with benevolent witnesses who do not shame my shame. For me, this is an ongoing process and one that I am still learning. I recently had an experience where I felt my shame was shamed in relation to my sexuality. In that moment, I had a breakthrough; I did not do my usual pattern of denying what I was feeling. I simply sat consciously with the feeling of shame surfacing, I felt no need to attack or deny. In that moment, I finally understood that if I am to be able to really stand with Pride, I must also be able to stand with Shame. In that moment, I made a decision to consciously hang out more with benevolent witnesses and on those odd occasions where my shame is shamed, I now know that I can walk away whilst feeling at peace with Pride, and Shame.