Embracing your dark edges

“Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes”

– Walt Whitman

– 1 –

I’ve been listening to Mount Joy’s “Sheep” and Son Little’s “Blue Magic (Waikiki)” on repeat. Both songs have these moments of recklessness and darkness that just capture me. They pierce my sense of self.

Mount Joy sings, almost nervously, “It’s the blood that haunts me / I can’t fall asleep / cause it’s ruthless / and don’t tell me you’re ruthless too.” Son Little sings, “I don’t want to be a bad man / but I’m a bad man all the same.”

And man do I love those lyrics. Something in me wakes up when I hear them. It’s thrilling.

But of course, this is disorienting. I think of myself as a sensitive dude.

– 2 –

We’re walking down the street and M* tells me a story from a year ago. It’s sort of a nothing story, one that’s best dismissed as a curiosity and then forgotten.

And yet, his story made me feel insecure. I responded by lashing out and saying some cruel things. In a striking lapse of self-awareness I turned to him and said, “Dude, you’re being really insecure right now. What’s wrong?”

Eventually M* interrupted me and said, “Whoa. Not cool man.”

He was right. I wasn’t being cool. I was being an asshole.

In a more skillful moment I would have maintained composure, or at the very least, excused myself to calm down a bit. But that’s not what I did. Instead, I bared my fangs and went for flesh…

– 3 –

It reminded me of something simple that I’d rather deny than embrace: there are very real parts of me that suck. They’re dark, crude, raw, unpolished, and every now and then a bit dangerous. They love the idea of crushing the competition and slaughtering the enemy. By normal definitions, they’re ruthless and bad.

They’re also 100% human.

And it’s not just me. It’s all of us.

The question isn’t whether or not these dark edges exist. It’s more a question of what do we do with them?

– 4 –

In a way, society has answered that question for us: we deny the dark edges of our personality.

If you do your best to blend in, humble brag about your accomplishments, and keep your sharp edges hidden away, you’re totally cool.

But if you acknowledge the part of you that yearns for chaos, darkness, wildness, triumph, risk, and instability, people will worry that you’re unwell, maybe even dangerous.

So in reaction to society’s norms, we highlight the parts of ourselves that are smooth, gentle, and harmonious, while trying to deny the existence of the darkness, roughness, and chaos.

– 5 –

Put more directly: you have been trained to forget the fact that you are the apex predator.

– 6 –

But denying parts of yourself is never a good idea. To do so is to reinforce the illusion that who you really are isn’t worthy of love, respect, or connection. At best, self-denial will destroy your love of life and sap your potential. At worst, it will amplify the exact thing you’re trying to suppress and inspire unnecessary violence.

Instead of fearing your own darkness – or pretending that it’s not there – you should embrace it.

– 7 –

To be clear: this is not a green light to do harm. If you’ve done harm in the past, express remorse and ask for forgiveness. If you feel like you may do harm in the future, and you can’t get a grip on yourself, seek help. This goes for harm done to yourself and others.

Instead, it’s an invitation to finally acknowledge your wildness and allow yourself to ride your emotional edge. It’s an invitation to feel the raw, unbridled life pulsing within you. It’s an invitation to realize that at your core, you’re capable of destruction and creation, violence and harmony, cruelty and love.

Doing so will further connect you to life and your power within it.

– 8 –

As your power grows, you’ll need to develop your skill in working with it. You neither want to be tamed nor untamed. Instead you want to be capable of using your edges to serve yourself and the world.

One way to do this is by creating situations where you can safely sink your fangs into life. While the specifics vary for each individual, here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Explosive sports: boxing, martial arts, CrossFit, axe throwing, football, wrestling, etc.
  • Expressive arts: dancing, painting, singing, chanting, writing, etc.
  • Professional or philanthropic endeavors that make use of your edge: entrepreneurship, negotiation, leadership, acquisitions, demolition, penetration testing, etc.

Another way to do this is to channel your edge and use it for personal or spiritual growth:

  • Spend meaningful time in silence and solitude. When intense emotions take over, allow yourself to surrender to them. Then approach them with curiosity.
  • Study nature and the ancient myths of our world, both of which are rich with stunning moments of darkness and light. Use what you learn in your approach to life.
  • Take on some of the more difficult and esoteric practices of your religion or spirituality.

By allowing the darker parts of yourself to play in their own arenas, your life – and the lives you touch – will move more vividly into the light.

– 9 –

Through it all though, remember this: you are a literal force of nature. To lose sight of that is to lose sight of your own humanity.  

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