The gift of troublemakers


Whenever there is a disturbance, there is an invitation to become more familiar with what is happening… from the awakeness side and from the form side.

I wasn’t there, but some new folks came to a local spiritual group this week and asked questions of the teacher which apparently upset some of the old timers. They should have read the teacher’s biography before coming. They should be more respectful. They should go somewhere else if they don’t like it. They shouldn’t ask those type of questions.

I usually find it refreshing and exiting when people break the rules of a group I belong to, even if there is discomfort as well.

What are some of the gifts of troublemakers?

  • They serve as a mirror for everyone there. Can I find in myself what I see in them? In what ways am I disrespectful, argumentative, obsessive? Maybe I do silently what they do openly? Maybe I do it in other situations? Maybe I do it towards them?
  • They shake things up, breake and make visible the norms & unwritten rules of society or the particular group. In this way, they invite us to notice these norms and question them for ourselves individually and as a group.
  • They allow us to see how it is dealt with by the teacher, group and individuals in the group, as a test and mirror. Whatever comes up from anyone involved is something we can find in ourselves, whether it seems to come from reactiveness, confusion & obscuration or receptivity, wisdom & heart. And it also highlights the level of skills we have for dealing with this in ourselves, others and at a group level.
  • It brings attention to group shadows. They may express views, emotions and ways of behaving marginalized by the group and the group norms, speaking for others in the group who themselves won’t bring it up. In this way, there is an invitation to notice and address group shadows individually and as a group.
  • Whatever is brought up most likely has some grain of truth in it. Can I find it? How fluid is my relationship the stories and identities brought to attention here?

All of this relates to different forms of shadows…. The shadow of habitual and unquestioned stories, norms, rules, ways of behaving, and so on, and these show up at individual and group levels.

Shadows of groups


The only (?) thing that really has a shadow is a belief, but it comes in many flavors. Beliefs create identities, so identities have shadows. And beliefs create group norms, so groups have shadows.

This came up for me earlier today in a group that has meet monthly for a while. There is a strong focus on transcendence in the group, and on release from suffering, which in themselves are fine. But it also gets a little one-sided sometimes, and the groups creates a quite obvious shadow for itself.

Some of the things in this group shadow:

  • The inherent neutrality of it all. There is a caught-upness in a sense of good/bad about various forms of content… awakening good, delusion bad, freedom from suffering good, suffering bad. Again, it is very understandable, and itself neutral (!), but it does marginalize the realization that any situation is inherently neutral.
  • The process not always working, and also absence of flashy experiences. There is a strong focus on the process working, and just about all examples people bring up is of how it works rather than how it apparently does not work (which is just as valuable and informative). An absence of flashy experiences is also marginalized, along with more mundane and everyday experiences (which still may be significant to the person). In both cases, people feel marginalized and alienated from the group. I know a few examples of that (Including from myself… knowing how much is marginalized, and that people genuine experiences are being marginalized, makes me not quite feel part of the group either.)
  • Appreciating what is, as it is, for its own sake. Many experiences are used only as stepping stones to something else, as something unfortunate to get beyond, as something to transcend, something to manipulate to get something else out of it, as a doorway into awakening. They are not appreciated as they are, for what they are.

Any group has norms shared by the majority, creating a culture which leaves certain things out (marginalized), and so creates a shadow for itself. And some individuals in the group will experience this shadow more clearly, either because they happen to fall into it, or because they generally are more sensitive to it.

Attentive facilitators and participants will actively encourage the group shadows to be brought out and shared in the group. It tends to break the spell, allowing what was previously outside of the group norms to be brought in.

At a group level, it helps the group bring the norms into the light, discuss them, and maybe make a decision to actively follow different norms. It helps the group become more conscious of group dynamics in general, and how they play themselves out in that group in particular. It helps the group bring out and share what was previously left out and marginalized. And it may even help the group re-evaluate its culture, goals, and strategies.

At an individual level, it helps each one find in themselves what was marginalized by the group norms. It helps those who had group shadow material come up for them feel more seen and included. And it helps each one be more conscious of shadow dynamics in general, whether they happen at individual or group levels.

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