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As we move into the Holidays, there is a lot of chaos in the universe. The economy alone is enough to trigger old fears about money or having enough work or how do we address some of most difficult clients. Many times, the Holidays trigger memories of old unfinished business that surfaces as dysfunctional behavior at work or home.
In a shift of focus from prior newsletters, I’ve included information about the four chambered heart, a key principle of the men’s Natural passages program that I founded several years ago. It consists of much of the leadership development theory underlying my work. It is an existential approach to being a fully present person, whether as an OD consultant, executive coach, or partner in a relationship. The four chambered heart is the source of courage that supports our facing our habitual patterns of fear and unfinished business that typically lead to unsatisfactory experiences with our self and others.
I hope it supports you to realize that you create the Joy in your Holidays.
The Alchemical Four Chambered Heart & the Phantoms and Shadows of Fear
The Four Chambered Heart2
The four chambered heart consists of being fully centered (in our heart) and actively maintaining a strong, clear, full, and open heart. The strong heart means that we have true courage that is based on our internal authority of whom we are. We are able to show up and be present without preconceived notions, while having the Ability to Take Action and Enforce Boundaries. The clear heart means that we have removed our personal biases and blinders and developed a clarity about self so that we can see clearly whom we are by having respect for self and for others without confusing external temptations that can lead down the destructive path of envy or entitlement. With a clear heart, we are able to assess, analyze and contain, while saying what is so when it is so, without blame or judgment. The full heart is a heart that can love itself, having been nurtured by self, family, nature, and life. It does not measure against a bucket emptied by draining one’s source of life by not accepting the innate sense of being loved regardless of circumstances. With a full heart, we have the Ability to Connect and Feel, while paying attention to what has heart and meaning. The open heart means that we can embrace all of life with a sense of wisdom and acceptance. It is an awareness that there are as many stories of what is life as there are people; hence, though we can influence others, we must always be open to them and their evolving story. With an open heart, we have the Ability to Initiate, Support and Create Order while being open to outcome.
In several native American and First Nation traditions3, fear is the grandfather of the four Phantoms that create the four shadows that hide us and which prevents our true self from being fully present. The way grandfather fear challenges us is by triggering a reaction that leads to a sense of being under-supported and therefore unsafe either within our self or within the situation. Facing and Conquering the four Phantoms and therefore the four Shadows is the path to a centered, fully present life.
When all four chambers of the heart are fully functioning, an individual is completely centered and can easily see when grandfather fear is playing tricks and challenging us. Typically, grandfather fear tricks us into situations where a weak heart lacks courage and leads to doubt, shame, and victimization; an unclear heart leads to envy, judgment, and a sense of entitlement; an empty heart fills with resentment because they believe that if someone would rescue them, then they will feel loved; and a closed heart leads to a loss of life force because we start off blaming others, then when it becomes clear that others are not to blame, we become apathetic and soulless to the rest of the world.
The Four Phantoms: Responses to Life/Death Fears
Phantoms are defined as a ghost, a figment of the imagination, and not really existing; illusory. Though they may not be real, they are perceived as real and therefore dictate specific and immediate reactions that often are habitualized responses to something other than what is real and in the moment.
The four phantoms of fear are the instinctive responses to a sense of danger to one’s existence physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. Over time, particularly during early childhood, patterns of response are habitualized as spontaneous responses to all similar situations. These responses fall into four categories— Fight, Flight, Freeze, or Fawn4.
Fight is the typical response of the “cornered rat” or the blind aggressive action often deemed as heroic, where an instinctive reaction consumes and drives the person in an act of survival. In many circumstances, this is an appropriate response for survival. However, it also can be perverted when the instinctive response is under-supported internally or externally as occurs in various forms of abusive situations or in dysfunctional families and systems. Rage, tyranny, and bullying are examples of misguided and misdirected impulses.
Flight is another common response to fear where rather than direct the aggressive fear driven adrenal dump towards the source of the danger (trigger of fear), the focus of energy is to depart, flee, or vanish. For example, it common to hear stories of someone who, upon encountering some form of danger reports running so fast that it hardly felt like their feet were touching the ground. Moreover, this same process can occur without the body moving, per se. Pete Walker notes that fleeing can evolve into ways to obsessive-compulsively jump into safe activities to avoid the sense of internal anxiety and/or danger. Typical examples are obsessive-compulsive behaviors or addictions to work, chemicals, sex, and/or love.
Freeze is the natural response to danger often associated with Peter Levine’s work on Riding the Tiger. The freeze response in normal situations is to stop (freeze) while all senses heighten such as more precise and amplified vision, hearing, smell, etc. During this process, it is often experienced as the world slowing down into frozen frames of time. The freeze-frame-response, if fully cycled through, leads to a release of energy like a cold shiver often referred to in rural lore as “somebody walking over my grave”. The normal use of the freeze response is to freeze the body and then thaw and release any energy pent-up from the experience, like a deer on alert that is frozen for a moment, then shivers the energy from the body when it is determined to be safe.
Peter Levine’s work suggests that in traumatic situations, the danger or trauma becomes frozen in the body, like a frozen cellular memory that completely keeps the experience in cold storage such that the experience is never thawed and released. In such cases, it is when the individual heats the cellular memory through physical process, such as yoga, tai chi, or exercise, or conscious intention, such as meditation or therapeutic support, the frozen memory thaws and the cellular reaction is often physical as in a massive shiver or an involuntary reaction to danger by raising an arm to block a blow or a loud scream expressing the horror...that happened years earlier.
Psychological responses to freezing symptomatically surface in numbing, dissociative behaviors such as sleeping excessively, over-fantasizing through daydreams, or tuning out with TV, medications and/or alcohol.
Fawn is the fourth instinctual response to danger or the lack of internal or external safety. Fawn means to act servilely; to cringe and flatter as in to give a servile display of exaggerated flattery or affection. Often animals fawn, especially a dog, where it shows slavish devotion, especially by rubbing against someone.
According to Pete Walker, fawning is a direct result of a form of codependency. In his terms, “codependency is defined...as the inability to express rights, needs and boundaries in relationship; it is a disorder of assertiveness that causes the individual to attract and accept exploitation, abuse and/or neglect.....[Walker] named it the fawn response...the fourth ‘f’ in the fight/flight/ freeze/fawn repertoire of instinctive responses to trauma.”
In many day-to-day situations, it may be wiser to defer to another as one would a boss or superior than to defy. Yet, when the power dynamic becomes abusive, a creative adjustment to an unsafe situation may be to please the abuser and initiate the behavioral pattern of co-dependency. Robert Burney in CODEPENDENCE: The Dance of the Wounded Souls describes it as “outer-dependence or external dependence” where we have lost our capacity to trust our inner authority and truth. As a result, servitude, ingratiation, and forfeiture of any needs that might inconvenience and draw the ire of the abusive party becomes the most important survival strategy. Maintaining personal boundaries is a near-impossible task as the person is forever in survival mode and unable to distinguish between what is “real” versus “surreal” danger.
The Four Shadows
Shadows are defined as a dark area or shape produced by an object coming between light rays and a surface that can occur as partial or complete darkness; e.g., our personal shadow on the sidewalk as we walk under a street light. Applied to an existential position, it can be a sense of relative inferiority or obscurity that can lead to sadness or gloom. Applied to meaning making, it can reflect the slightest trace as in the statement “without a shadow of a doubt” or a weak or inferior remnant or version as in “a shadow of her former self.” Finally, it is used connotatively to suggest “an inseparable attendant or companion” as in a friend or body guard, or a person secretly following and observing another, as in a private detective or secret agent or a jealous spouse. Most who watched the various plays and movies on Peter Pan understand our shadow as some silhouette like version of our self that can be seen and never caught.
Carl Jung added deeper understanding when he wrote that the shadow has “an emotional nature, a kind of autonomy, and accordingly, an obsessive or, better, possessive quality.” If we are feeling unusually emotional about someone or something—if it feels as though emotions have us rather than our having them—then we might begin to suspect that the shadow is close by and has possessed us.
The four shadows are meaning making and behavioral responses that evolve from the fear based four phantoms. The four shadows are: inferiority, often in the form of imagined victimization; envy, often expressed through false entitlement; resentment, often expressed in the unmet need to be rescued; and apathy (not caring), often starting in some form of blaming. They can be invoked individually, severally, or sequentially depending on which phantom triggered the shadow behavior and how one responds to the fear-inducement.
A sense of inferiority in the form of humiliation, shame, or victimization, often, is the result of our courage to be our self being overtaken by one or more of the four phantoms. It prevents us from having the courage to be whom we are individually and as a part of community. It is like we have never experienced the sense of acceptance within our self or from others. As such, doubt begins to undermine us because someone has challenged us or something unexpected has occurred that causes us to question our original courage that led to a commitment to a job, a project, a relationship or a way of life, or we feel like a victim unable to stand-up for what we believe and want to do. As a result, we will tend to return to some learned behavior that has been reinforced over time. Unless we are able to stay focused and address the source of feeling inferior, undeserving, incapable, or victimized, we can not re-establish our core sense of self by reclaiming our internal resonance that then provides the courage to move forward. As Dan Baker has indicated, “other people can hurt you, but only you can victimize yourself.”
Envy is the sense of lowering one-self when one or more of the fear phantoms has lured you into a shadow comparison with someone else to create a need to define your worth from the outside-in instead of the inside- out. It prevents us from respecting our self and others. It occurs when we have never experienced a sense of wholeness (being enough as we are) and as a result are forever comparing and judging the world according to what others have. Instead of seeing what others have, appreciating it, and then determining to enhance oneself by working hard enough to create similar rewards or skills, we fall into the trap of denigrating the other person or feeling a deep sense of entitlement. This leads to periods of jealousy, bad behavior towards others, and possibly criminal behavioral. The internal sense of self is unable to accept that internal worth in the form of character, fortitude, and integrity are created by accepting responsibility for oneself and not by mimicking others or what others may have. As Robert Burney so powerfully states, “true-self worth does not come from looking down on anyone or anything. True Self-worth comes from an awakening to our connection to everyone and everything.”
The deceptive and powerful forces of this shadow are explained by Dan Baker in What Happy People Know, “entitlement is victimization waiting to happen....[even though] entitlement is contrary to human nature. The human mind, body, and spirit thrive on struggle and challenge, just as muscle thrives on exercise. Satisfaction without effort doesn’t create happiness. It creates only dissipation, alienation, boredom, weakness, and a sense of worthlessness. [Moreover and most importantly,] even in a family, when you find your personal power, you find it alone.”
Resentment occurs when we allow the shadows to convince us that someone should rescue us. Typically, it occurs when trouble rears it’s ugly head and fear creates the illusion that it is like being struck by a poisonous snake and we need to be rescued. More specifically, “when you’re frozen in fear, your cry for help is really a cry for rescue—and rescue is insidious.” (Baker, 2003,168) When this occurs, it leads to a form of disempowerment that disables our capacity to truly assess the degree of danger and need for support. Hence, unless the person has experienced a deep sense of being supported and appreciated in terms of self-definition, self-determination, and self-dependency, the capacity to hold self and others in good stead (graces) when faced with adversity is significantly weakened. Coming from a strong sense of self, where we chose to fully live each moment from the core of our self, from our internal authority, resentment will not grow because we do not need to be rescued, except in some dangerous situations, and therefore we will not darken our thoughts and lead ourselves to misguided, criminal, or evil behavior.
Apathy (not caring) is misdirected blame. When we feel the need to control an outcome and it does not happen, it is easy to blame someone, rather than look at the situation and appreciate the complexity and mystery of life. We pity ourselves and hate those whom we believe to have hurt or disappointed us. We might hold grudges or seek revenge through words, or emotions, or silence, and take pleasure in the suffering of those we blame—feeling fully justified. Often, this blaming bleeds over into resentment and creates a sense of apathy. When this occurs, it prevents us from being generous with our self and therefore with others. Generosity to self and others is a virtue or value of many spiritual traditions. The awareness of such virtue is a deep inner awareness of “being enough” and “having enough” and knowing that “control is an illusion”. Without this sense of self, it is difficult to be generous to oneself. Moreover, generosity to others is most often jaded with attachments such as “see how great I am” or “see how I am generous” instead of knowing that generosity is simply the “right way” to be in body, mind, and spirit. Noteworthy, it is also foolhardy to give more than you have, which typically happens when you do not know at the core of yourself that you are “good enough” just as you are as a human being.
The Alchemical Phantom Fighter—Facing
The phantom fighter involves an alchemical process that draws upon the four fear based phantoms to create the energy to morph the phantoms into the fully developed four chambered heart. As a reminder, “your life belongs to you alone, and the future holds all that you need. At your side, enforcing your will upon your own world, you have the powers of perception, of choice, of appreciation, and of intellect.” (Baker, 2003, 177) All four Phantoms of Fear are fed by the lack of adequate internal support, fortitude, or knowing which creates a sense of danger or lack of safety and prevents us from claiming our right to exist and to fully be the person that we are. If we are incapable of supporting ourselves to feel and to be safe, the four Phantoms of Fear will join forces to undermine our conscious existence through shadow behavior. However, if we are able to draw upon the innate energy of our eternal right to exist, we begin to discover and use our internal authority to face our fears and to transform them into a strong, clear, full, open heart. As Dan Baker so aptly states,
When you begin to feel like a victim, stop!
Facing through the Four Principles of Maturity and therefore Soul Leadership
To fully face the four phantoms, we need to pause long enough to return to our center, to the four chambers of our heart—strong, clear, open, full—where we are self-defined, self determined, and fully responsible for our life. The four principles of maturity and therefore Soul Leadership support facing fear(s). These principles, as briefly discussed in the opening paragraph, are:
Arrien, Angeles. (1993) The Four-Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer, and Visionary
2 Angeles Arrien originally presented this concept to me at her workshop the Four-fold Way.
3 For example, Cree and Ojibway tribes have similar stories of Grandfather fear and the four rascals.
4 Pete Walker developed the concept of Fawn.