Nice is a knife you use to cut-off parts of yourself that are unacceptable to you.

Via Eric Klein
on Jan 12, 2012
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A yoga teacher emailed me to ask: “Can I harness my power and still be nice?”

The short answer is no. Because power is the ability to create and sustain what matters most in your life. And what is nice?

Nice is a knife.
It’s a knife you use to cut-off parts of yourself that are unacceptable to you. You started using this knife when you were young. Cutting off the parts that didn’t fit with family expectations. We all do this. It’s part of the human condition. But those dismembered parts are still there, are still part of you.

The dismembered parts don’t disappear.
They go into, what Robert Bly evoking the work of C.G. Jung, called the “shadow bag.” All the cut-off parts of your soul go into the shadow bag. Here’s how it works . . .

Imagine you’re a child feeling the buoyant energy of Spring.
You run into the living room. You’re feeling pure joy. But to your parents your being noisy, wild, loud. They tell you in no uncertain terms to cut it out. And, you do.

You cut out the buoyant, leaping, energetic parts of yourself and stuff them into the shadow bag.
Year-by-year the bag gets heavier, filled with the unacceptable parts of your life. The parts of your soul and self deemed unacceptable by powerful others – parents, teachers, leaders, friends, lovers, etc.

Those parts aren’t gone. They’re in the shadow bag. You drag them behind you but don’t offer them to the world. You tiptoe along. You modulate your voice. You’re nice.

Every cut diminishes your power.
You can still proceed with your life with parts cut off. You can even do quite well – you’re nice after all, and people respond positively to nice. But there’s that bag and all those cut-off parts dragging behind you.

Sooner or later things start to stink.
You begin to notice a strange odor. At first it comes and goes. It’s bothersome but not persistent. If you neglect it too long, the stink gets stronger. Soon, everywhere you go you can smell it.

It’s the odor of your cut-off parts seeking to rejoin your life.
They’ve been reaching out to you for years. But you were trained not to notice. So you didn’t. You were taught from a young age to hide your deepest longings, to deny essential and sacred parts of who you are. In your family, school, and at work you’ve been encouraged to act as if you are complete while simultaneously cutting off parts of yourself and exiling them to the shadow bag.

When you cut off parts of yourself, you cut off the flow of your life.
To get unstuck and live a more powerful authentic life, start reclaiming what’s in the bag. This starts when you notice that persistent stink.

In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus is quoted as saying “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.

The stink that is pursuing you isn’t a problem to make go away. It’s a call to live more fully and contribute more completely.

But it’s not easy to turn and face the stink.
Let me be the first to admit – I’d rather use air freshener than face my own shadow bag. But at a certain point, it becomes clear that turning towards the stink is the way forward.  The path to freedom travels through the shadow bag.

It’s not a matter of being either nice or being powerful.
It’s a matter of facing your experience fully, truthfully, without leaping to conclusions or solutions.

So how can you proceed? There’s really no road map. It’s a step-by-step process. Step towards the unacceptable places within you. You don’t need to do anything else. Simply step with awareness towards the shadow bag. Take your time.

As you step forward, your experience of the stink changes.
You begin to see how the difficulties you encounter (especially the really stinky ones) are precisely structured to call forth the cut-off parts that are waiting to be redeemed from your shadow bag. The conflicts that you face at work and in life point towards the unintegrated parts of yourself in order to return them to life.

I don’t want you to think that this path is automatically strewn with flower petals. But I do want to encourage you to pay attention. Notice the stink. Step forward. Keep breathing.

As you breathe, you’ll notice something strange. That stink – which had been so noxious – is starting to smell like flowers. Now, that’s nice.


About Eric Klein

Eric Klein is one of the few people on the planet who is both a lineage holder in a 5,000-year-old yoga lineage and a best-selling business book author. You can get his free ebook & guided meditation audio "The 7 Reasons Meditation Doesn't Work (and how to fix them)" at Eric has worked with over 35,000 people to infuse greater meaning, awareness, and purpose into their work and lives. His book "You are the Leader You’ve Been Waiting For" won a 2008 Nautilus Book Award for being “a world-changing book promoting positive social change and responsible leadership.” With his wife and partner Devi, Eric is also the creator of the Healing Family Karma programs and The Meditation Habit. Eric and Devi have two adult sons, a ball-obsessed pup, and live in Encinitas, California. To learn more about their work (and access free teaching videos on meditation and mantra), go to


9 Responses to “Nice is a knife you use to cut-off parts of yourself that are unacceptable to you.”

  1. Nice one Eric; also in a 5000 year old lineage, and also hopefully join you as one of the few who are "best selling authors" when my book is released by Hay House Int'l soon….it's out the bag!!! 🙂

    Posted to Elephant Spirituality on Facebook

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    Lost & Found in India
    Editor, Elephant Spirituality
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  2. Joe Sparks says:

    There is nothing wrong with any human being except the results of mistreatment.

  3. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Really loved this article, Eric. Thank you.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
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  4. YogeshvaraOM says:

    I really like the image of toting around the cut off parts of yourself and I'm confused by the central thesis, that being nice is the root of each of our stinks. Hopefully, I can express my exuberance at the emergence of Spring by going outside to whoop it up and still let my friends get their studying done for finals. To be nice to yourself I think you have to recognize your own needs and take care of them, while also respecting others. Sometimes conflict arises. Whoops.

  5. ValCarruthers says:

    Yes, conflicts will arise, YogeshvaraOM. However, I don't believe that Eric intended we should disrespect others in the process. Sometimes when others feel disrespected, hurt, etc. by your drive toward wholeness that could be their own fears and projections playing back at them. Often on the spiritual path friendships or careers that seemed so solid and enduring will suddenly fall away yet that's part of what reclaiming your total power is about. For me, the essence of Eric's article is summed up in this quote from Anais Nin: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Peace.

  6. ValCarruthers says:

    People will do that with about any paradigm you offer them.Then there's the precious handful that will smell the roses instead and use it as the way out and upwards to full blown power. Ultimately it comes down to our own path and how we walk it, trite as that may sound. It's like Marianne Williamson's famous line about it not being our darkness that we fear, it's our light.

    Toe-stepping goes on all the time, in the yoga world as much as in the corporate world I started out in. You might take it for granted in business. In yoga it can seem especially shocking. Here's something that I experienced recently around the matter of being nice:

    A meditation group that I occasionally attend meets in a room with a very creaky door. I discovered how noisy that door was coming in one time about 10 minutes after their session had started. Though I tried desparately to control that door, a silent entrance was impossible. Afterwards as everyone was leaving, I apologized to the facilitator for being disruptive but he waved it off. That's for them, he told me. They have to deal with that. Since this particular group practices meditating with unconditioned awareness, simply being with what is in the moment, the idea was to take even my door creaking entrance into their meditation, just allowing it to be there. But there was a lesson in that
    for me as well.

    You have to stop worrying about pleasing them, he told me. Bingo! He had me there. Being a pleaser and the emotional issues of that were things I thought I had worked my way through. But obviously there was more to be done. I too had to take that noisy entrance into my all embracing awareness and just be with it.

    Touching back to Eric's nice v. power concept, I think that a lot of where people derail from their power is in fearing that if they do certain things somebody else won't like them. But there is a way to balance this out, I believe. If we're moving ahead, acknowledge who supports us, with Metta, with thank you, whatever. That's a lot different from using people. In return, give them a leg up when we can. That's gratitude, not indifference. Maybe our own emergence into power will inspire somebody else.

    Maybe it's possible that "nice" is a misused, misplaced and overblown word.

  7. Aurora says:

    so appropriate right now for me. thanks.

  8. yogijulian says:

    nicely done – love that bly book!