When I am unconsciously following the rules and stories installed in me during childhood, I sometimes worry that I am doing my life wrong. For instance, I was never taught that there are times when it’s perfectly justified to follow my instincts, to do or be what my heart urges. In fact, a life well-lived is a life entirely guided by the heart’s urgings. Still, I can feel a bit guilty when I need to withdraw from the world’s demands on me.
For so long, I believed that my retreat from conflict, difficulty, boredom, hostility, shame or blame was a bad thing that I inflicted, selfishly, on my close relationships. In this beautiful essay on hiding, the poet David Whyte sees it as a form of self-preservation, a drawing inward to prepare for transformation, and a necessary storing up of vital energy for growth.
“Hiding is one of the brilliant and virtuoso practices of almost every part of the natural world. . .”
A comment on a recent post here brought up the question of hiding not out of fear, but from being out of sync with the world, or, as she put it, the world being out of sync with her. I love that the latter phrasing implies that she is just fine as she is; the world is simply not yet ready for her. I’m attracted to people who are comfortable in their own skin, who radiate self-acceptance. As Brené Brown puts it, they know they are worthy of love and belonging. They live whole-heartedly.
It feels healing to consider that hiding is not only natural and understandable at times, but therapeutic and even generous towards myself and others. If others in my life take it personally, or spin out a story of abandonment or betrayal, isn’t that on them?
Of course, it’s not so black and white as that. My hiding was and is necessary—and it can become too much of a crutch if I indulge or wallow out of reluctance to participate in the life around me. I know the difference: the same heart’s urging that bids me to withdraw also nudges me to re-engage. It arms me with self-acceptance and insights so I can enter encounters with fresh awareness. It supports me in not falling back into habitual, unconscious responses. As David Whyte writes:
“Hiding done properly is the internal faithful promise for a proper future emergence. . .”
There are seasons of hiding, periods of deep withdrawal, even depression, when I have wandered in the underworld of shadows. There are cycles of hiding, of honoring and conversing with Mystery, as in my daily journaling. There are special times of incubation, as for a creative project, when all distractions from the outer world must be blocked out.
David Whyte writes of hiding yielding the freedom and independence from mistaken ideas of who we are, or from misguided needs to keep us safe and protected. The stage of relationship past independence—interdependence—is best experienced from a clear, self-loving autonomy. This multifaceted weaving, called Interbeing by the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, most closely aligns with how the whole Web of Life works.
I have hidden in the past out of pure, dark instinct to escape oppression, rules and expectations. It was always with a sense of guilt and the labels moody and selfish that I withdrew into my shell. I can now entertain the idea that such hiding was a generous act of self-love. I was guided by the whole, shining heart deep in the center of my being—even though, at the time, I knew nothing of it.
I feel ready at last to trust that when I am out of sync there is no fault involved—on my part or the world’s. It is simply the dynamic dance of opposites, of energies dark and light, judging and accepting, oppressing and freeing, that swirl around me always. If I need to hide, I will. And I promise myself also to heed the urge to reconnect when it comes, as it always does.