How Do We Get in Our Own Way: Emerson and Mandela

Some say the fact that most of us are so filled with self-judgment is an evolutionary impulse to keep us safe from danger. If the mind is constantly on the lookout for what’s wrong, we’re more likely to be prepared for it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson lays out the problem:

“Most of the shadows of life are caused by standing in our own sunshine.”

Or maybe Nelson Mandela echoing Marianne Williamson’s words says it best:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”

Very good question Marianne.

Whether it’s an evolutionary automatic negativity bias or a developmentally constructed belief system from wounding as a child or both, the fact is, many of us are afraid of our own light. Something in us heavily guards against it saying, “I can’t do that,” or “I’m no good at this,” or “That’s not important.” And then the shadow is created.

Let’s consider for a moment, what would happen if we all stepped toward what we considered good in our lives a bit more often. Not in defiance or aversion from what is painful in life, but more as an intentional act of embracing the light inside that maybe doesn’t get as much airtime.

The truth is, the good in people is not only attractive, but it’s contagious.

Have you ever walked down the street and seen someone smile only to automatically smile back.  This can be explained through neuroscience as mirror neurons activating or we can just say it’s contagious.

A small act can have a much greater impact on many people around you.

If you begin to step into the light, perhaps many around you will feel the permission to do the same.

Here’s a 3 step practice that can help:

  1. Set a few minutes aside to bring attention to your breath, just to anchor you to this present moment.
  2. Repeat these phrases to yourself, “May I be free from the fear that keeps me stuck,” “May I be happy,” “May I recognize the gifts I have to give.”
  3. Close this by simply putting your hand on your heart and thanking yourself for taking this time.

The purpose of doing a practice like this versus an affirmation practice is it’s not telling you something that the judgments are going to try and go to war with. It’s simply inclining the mind toward stepping out of the shadow and into the light.

Bring this into your life, try it out a couple times a day and see what happens.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on

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