“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain….”  I awoke this morning with that quote and image from the Wizard of Oz in my mind.  Wizard of Oz fans may remember this part of the movie toward the end when Dorothy is requesting to the Great Oz that he provide her with a return journey back home while the Great Oz flashes scary images and threats onto the screen and tells her to go away.  But while this is happening, Toto has found the hidden room where the man is controlling the images projected onto the screen, and Toto is exposing the man behind the curtain to Dorothy.  “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain….” the man behind the curtain desperately implores.  To me, this image of the projection screen and the man behind the curtain is a metaphor for what we all can sometimes do with ourselves as we project the image that we want others to see into the world.

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,” we say while we hide the parts of ourselves that we think might be displeasing behind the curtain.  We shove the scared one, the vulnerable one, the loud one, the big one, the controlling one, the needy one, the one who thinks we could never be lovable as we are…we shove them all in a little room in the back—behind the curtain.  And we place our hands on the controller for the projection screen, “I am the great and powerful Oz!” we say.  Hoping, just hoping that others will buy into the image on the screen, perhaps that even we will buy into the image on the screen….under the delusion that the projection will enable us to finally experience the love and acceptance that we so desperately crave.

But it will never work.  It will never work to lock parts of ourselves in the back room or hide parts of ourselves behind the curtain.  It does not allow us the opportunity to see and embrace ourselves in the fullness of our humanity, nor does it allow us to be truly seen and connected with others.  We cannot learn to truly love ourselves or one another unless we can allow in the fullness of our humanity–the light and the darkness.

What we are looking for in this journey of life is right relationship with the parts of ourselves that could wreak havoc on our relationships if not healed and attended to.  I don’t want to BECOME the controller, the needy one, the fearful one, the irrational one, but I also don’t want to deny those parts of myself either.  Through the many tools available (including, but not limited to prayer, meditation, therapy, contemplation, mindfulness, self-compassion, patience, time, intention and wisdom), I want to learn to embrace and hold, touch and heal those deeply human parts of myself and my psyche that all humans share. 

At a Mindful Self-Compassion training that I attended last year, our cohort attended a lecture on a  model of psychotherapy called Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS), which suggests just this approach to embracing the many parts of ourselves.  I am currently reading Jay Earley’s book on IFS, entitled, Self-Therapy, and I wanted to share two illustrations from his book.

This first illustrates our psyche when we are hiding certain parts of ourselves from ourselves (and the world) and defending against the pain of being fully exposed.

In this first illustration (above) the love of the heart is obscured by its protectors, and the parts of ourselves that deeply need healing are obscured from the light of consciousness.

The second illustration shown above illustrates the psyche when it has become Self-led—when it has learned to embrace and integrate the man (and women and children) behind the curtain.

And I would like to share with you how deeply freeing and healing it has been to learn to embrace ALL of myself.  I used to fear that if I embraced the “dark” parts of myself, that they would grow bigger, but instead I am finding that the “dark” (aka human) parts of myself become “right sized” when I hold them in the spacious light of loving awareness.  Yes, the needy one, the controlling one, the fearful one, the irrational one…they are a part of me.  But they are a part, not the whole, and when I relate to them in a healthy way they enhance my compassion and ability to relate with others.

As I shift my focus away from hiding from my dark parts, I am starting to allow in the light of self-appreciation.  I am intentionally cultivating an awareness and appreciate for the fact that I (like you) am amazing, courageous, inspired, open, authentic, encouraging and creative.  The miracle of this integrative work is that as I learn to embrace the wonderful parts of myself, I am simultaneously learning to behold and appreciate the amazing parts of you, too.  And there is an awareness growing in my heart that who I am and who you are is much, much bigger than the sum total of our parts.

So it is my wish that you and I—sisters and brothers on this journey of life—may cease to put our energy into hiding and controlling the images on the projection/protection screen.  It is my wish that we may cultivate the strength, grace, courage, love, resilience and connection to embrace and integrate the many uncomfortable and amazing parts of ourselves. For it is only from a deep place of self-love, self-appreciation and self-acceptance that we can truly love, embrace and appreciate one another.