As who I am, this human self, I can find wholeness by noticing here what I see in the wider world. I can see, feel into and eventually find appreciation for it, whatever it is. The world is my mirror.
And when what I am notices itself, I find that there is already a wholeness there. It is that which all happens within and as.
To the extent I find the first form of wholeness, there is less neediness, less looking for something to complete me, less being caught up in attractions and aversions. This is an ongoing process before and within what I am noticing itself.
Life as is invites such a reorganization, it invites us to grow up. And when what I am notices itself, the invitation is even more pronounced.
Our stories create a limited identity for us, and to the extent we identify with it, we are at odds with reality.
There is an identity to justify, defend and prop up. Someone may see something in us that doesn’t fit, and we feel a need to defend against it. Or our human self may do something that doesn’t fit, and we feel a need to defend our identity there too. We are at odds with life as it is, and there is a sense of drama and struggle.
So whenever this happens, it is a great opportunity to notice our identification with a particular identity. We take the offended identity as true, but what is more true for us? What do I find when I explore it for myself.
Someone may say “you are …” (fill in the blank). I notice a reaction to it, a movement to defending an identity, and this is a sure sign that I identify with and take a story as true. There may be stress. Tension. Hurt. Defensiveness. Reactiveness. Getting caught up in stories.
And I can meet and explore this in different ways. I can allow and meet the experience, and the fear behind it. I can notice the belief behind it, and find what is more true for me. I can feel and see the characteristic in me, as a part of my human wholeness, and our shared humanity.
In each case, what I find is that behind the initial reaction, there is pure gold. I find another piece of my lost wholeness as a human being. I am released out of a false – and too narrow – identity. I find another aspect of our shared humanity right here. I experience more of the fullness of who I already am.
If I get caught up in defending the threatened identity, all the usual things happen. A sense of stress. Tension. Conflict. Separation. (To myself and others.) Getting caught up in obsessive thoughts. Hurt. And more than that, I miss out of pure gold. I miss out of finding a previously excluded piece of my own wholeness.
The only problem is that most of the time, I don’t know what people think about me. They just don’t tell, at least not if it is anything they see as unfavorable. I miss out of the gold because it doesn’t happen that often. So what can I do?
Fortunately, there is a way around it. I can use any statement that comes my way, no matter who or what it is about and where it comes from (including my own thoughts), and turn it around to myself.
How is it true for me? Can I find it right here? What happens when I inquire into the beliefs and identities preventing me from feeling and seeing it in my human self? What happens when I allow myself to feel and see it right here?
Whatever statement comes up, I can turn it around to find it in myself.
This process leads to a healing and maturing of who I am, as this human self. And it releases identification out of stories, which makes it easier for what I am to notice itself.
The former Republican vice presidential nominee told reporters in Anchorage that a recent Fox News report — which cited unnamed campaign sources as saying she did not know Africa was a continent and could not name the countries involved in the North American Free Trade Agreement — was false, and that her comments were taken out of context.
“That’s cruel. It’s mean-spirited. It’s immature. It’s unprofessional, and those guys are jerks if they came away with it, taking things out of context, and then tried to spread something on national news. It’s not fair and not right,” Palin told CNN in an interview.
At the bus today, I overheard a conversation where someone said what a dork.
Whenever I hear descriptions about someone or something, I can turn it around to myself. I can find it in myself, befriend it right here.
So in this case, I took the opportunity to first feel into that statement – what a dork – applied to me. There is some slight resistance here, then a shift into feeling and being it. There is a felt sense of openness in all directions. A felt sense of don’t know. A felt sense of a nurturing fullness. Healing.
After staying with this feeling and these shifts for a while, I also look at how it applies to me. What are the different ways I am a dork? It is easy to find many different ways, including doing and writing about this – and this blog in general!
So here, in feeling and looking into it, there is a sense of nothing to defend. There is no “not-dork” identity to defend or prop up. There is a sense of openness in all directions. A sense of us. Recognition.
And from here, a natural sense of gratitude and appreciation. Gratitude for finding it in myself, for a wide sense of us, for not having to defend an identity. Appreciation for finding it here and for the invitation to find it here. (Any statement about anything – and said by anyone – is an invitation to find it right here.)
(If I am caught up in the conventional and cultural programming around this, I may get hurt and want to defend myself if I am called certain things. But when I am familiar with this way of working with it, whatever I am called is gold. It helps me align myself more with reality, and find freedom from having to defend any identity. Also, since I am not called things all that often – that I am aware of – I can use whatever statements I hear or read about others and apply them to myself, and find the gold that way. Why let go of a good opportunity?)
So for myself and my own sake, I find it right here and find that we are all in the same boat. I feel it. See it. And there is a genuine gratitude for it.
And sometimes, when appropriate, I can differentiate in all the conventional ways as well. Although that is for practical reasons only and usually very short term and specific to a situation.
I have read a few portions of Karen Armstrong’s The Bible so far, and found the history of Christian fundamentalism especially interesting.
(Listen to an interview and read the preface at NPR, and read an interview and review in The Guardian.)
One antidote to religious fundamentalism is knowledge of the history of our religion and its scriptures. Another important antidote is knowledge of how the faithful have viewed our religion and sacred texts through the times. Both are fluid, always changing, so why assume that the views (and versions of the scriptures) we have today is the final word or somehow privileged in terms of validity?
Why, for instance, is this early Bible so different from our contemporary versions? And isn’t it interesting that Christian fundamentalism, as we know it today, is a relatively new invention – from the 1800s?
Milarepa went through a process of relating to his demons in different ways, from asking them to leave, going into dharma combat, welcoming them, and finally feeding them. (I have read a few differentversions of this so am not sure what it says in his own writings.)
In any case, it is a good illustration of how I find myself relating to my own demons…
I may ignore them, pretend they are not there. Push them aside for a while. But they stay around and continue to do their demon things, so I need to find another way of relating to them. (Milarepa was probably smart enough to pass through this one quickly.)
I ask them to leave. Some may leave. Others may leave and come back. Many don’t leave. This one is also not very effective.
I go into arguments with them. I tell my version of the story. They tell theirs. And it doesn’t work very well.
I welcome them. Wholeheartedly. As they are. Allow them to stay as they are, even forever if that is what happens. (Which it isn’t.) Some go away. Others transform. And again, some stay. Some even continue to bug me.
I may ask (pray) for guidance, inviting in intention and receptivity for a shift in how I relate to them.
I may have a dialog with them. Asking them who they are. What they want. What they need. What I can do for them. What they can teach me. How they can help. This is more productive.
I can shift into their role, find myself as them and what I see in them in myself. Taking time to sink into it.
I may find any beliefs related to the demons, including the ones that make them appear as demons, and inquire into them. Is it true? What happens when I hold onto that belief? Who am I without it? What is the grain of truth in each reversal?
I feed them. I give them what they really need – love, kindness, sense of safety, and so on. I hold them within Big Heart, and allow them to transform in whatever way they want – within Big Heart.
I can notice them – and anything else – as awakeness itself. As the play of awakeness in/as form. This is the other side of the coin from working with it on the form side.
In the beginning of shadow work, it may be difficult to find here what we see in others. After all, I am a relatively nice guy, so how can it be that the monster over there is mirroring something in me?
The trick is to be specific enough, and also keep in mind that it may look quite different in degree and form, although the quality is the same.
So I see someone who is a monster.
First, I see that he is misguided. Can I find where I am misguided?
Yes, I can find examples of that in the past and also now. Whenever I get stuck in a rigid view, I am misguided, and it usually has undesirable effects, even if it is just an achy stomach from eating something I knew I shouldn’t have eaten.
The outcome in that example is dramatically different, but the quality is the same. We are both sometimes misguided.
Then, he is cruel. Can I find that in myself?
For me, I can most easily see it when I see my own actions from the perspective of others. I walk past someone asking me for money, and I can understand how that can be seen as cruel. I could have helped, but I didn’t.
Also, there are lots of people in the world who could have benefited immensely from the money I use on frivolous eating and entertainment. I get a little bit of short lived entertainment out of it, and they could have used it to stay healthy or even survive. That is certainly cruel, from their perspective.
I sometimes eat meat, so I support the meat industry. The current meat industry is cruel. It is a system of massive imprisonment of living beings, of conditions that often amount to torture, and systematic killing just so I can get a meal from it. From the perspective of nonhuman beings, that is definitely cruel. (And quite possibly cruel from the perspective of future mainstream human society considering the longer term trends in morals, and who is included in a sense of us.)
Additional qualities may be heartless, manipulative, lier, and so on.
For each of these questions, I find examples of how it is genuinely true for me, and I take the time to see it in more detail, and also to stay with it and feel it in my body.
To summarize, the trick is to be detailed enough in what I see in the Other that is repulsive to me, and in finding it in myself. To find genuine examples of how I do the same. To take time to investigate, to stay with it, and to feel it in my body. And to remind myself that the expression of it can be quite different in type and degree.
In this way, I can find in myself anything I see in even the most misguided (evil, cruel) person out there.
This helps me embrace more of the whole of who I am, so I can relate to it more consciously and not be at the mercy of it. It helps me open my heart to myself and others. And it helps me act out of a little more wisdom and compassion, and a little less from reactiveness and rigid views.
Trigger: This post showing how it sometimes is difficult to work with extreme examples.
[…] Based on more than 50,000 interviews conducted between 2001 and 2007 with residents of more than 35 nations that are predominantly Muslim or have sizable Muslim populations, the poll surveyed more than 90% of the world’s Muslim community, making it the largest, most comprehensive study of its kind.
The research suggests that conflict between Muslims and the West is not inevitable and, in fact, is more about policy than principles. “However,” caution Esposito and Mogahed, “until and unless decision makers listen directly to the people and gain an accurate understanding of this conflict, extremists on all sides will continue to gain ground.” […]
Some of the key findings of the research include:
Muslims and Americans are equally likely to reject attacks on civilians as morally unjustifiable.
Large majorities of Muslims would guarantee free speech if it were up to them to write a new constitution and they say religious leaders should have no direct role in drafting that constitution.
Muslims around the world say that what they least admire about the West is its perceived moral decay and breakdown of traditional values — the same answers that Americans themselves give when asked this question.
When asked about their dreams for the future, Muslims say they want better jobs and security, not conflict and violence.
Muslims say the most important thing Westerners can do to improve relations with their societies is to change their negative views toward Muslims and respect Islam.
I have explored this before, but keep coming back to it:
Any belief has a shadow, and it is no different with the most basic belief, the one in a sense of a separate I, and I with an Other.
In this belief, we take ourselves to be content of awareness. As an object. As one of many. As a center.
So the reversals of this is then the shadow of the belief in being an I with an Other.
The reversal of taking ourselves to be content of awareness, is to find ourselves as awareness.
The reversal of taking ourselves as a thing, is to find ourselves as no thing.
The reversal of taking ourselves as one of many, is to find ourselves as the field it all arises within and as.
The reversal of taking ourselves as a center, is to find ourselves as no center.
And we relate to these the way we relate to projections in general. And we are attracted to awareness. We fear nothingness. We ignore the field with no center.
In each case, the reversals are already here. The awakeness. The no thing that allows all things. The field all arises within and as. The absence of a center anywhere.
And in each case, it doesn’t fit our identity. So we see it out there.
I have awareness, but it comes and goes, and it is not me. Nothingness is out there somewhere, or after death. The field with no center is the universe or God, not me.
I did a brief exploration of the shadow of the Buddhist precepts a few days ago, and it turned out that this was one of the topics of Arny Mindell’s class earlier today.
We each have our personal ethics, whether we are aware of it or not. And as he hinted at, it is meant for ourselves. If we don’t pick it up, it is still around, but we assume it is for others. It is the classic it happens, it can’t be for me, so it must be for everyone else.
Then he talked about the denier of the ethics, both our inner denier and those in groups who take on the role of the denier. This is the voice that asks why, how, when? The voice that criticize and question the ethical guidelines.
How do we relate to this denier? Do we squash it? Disown it? Listen to it? Find the validity of what it has to say? Find a perspective that hold the truth in the initial ethics and the view of the denier? Refine our ethics?
The voice of the denier is essential. It helps us see our ethics, question it, refine it, explore the larger landscape, and much more. It also helps us not get trapped in the shadow of the ethics, disowning in ourselves whatever doesn’t fit with our personal ethics, whether we are conscious of this ethic or not.
One way of exploring this is by noticing our personal ethics as it shows up in daily life, explore the views that criticize it, and then find ourselves as that which holds both. (Process Work has exercises that makes this come alive, and also helps us find our deeper ethics, the ones just emerging, the ones not quite conscious yet.)
Another way is to explore the reversals of our ethics, as I did with the Buddhist precepts. What is the grain of truth in them? In what ways are they sometimes better? What is the gold in these reversals?
I dreamt about ghosts last night, and when I looked into it afterwards, was reminded of how our relationship with the truth in reversals often can appear as ghosts. It is there, yet at the same time is ephemeral and almost not there.
I believe a story, yet somewhere know that it is only a story, that the reversals have truth in them as well, and even that the situation is inherently neutral without the stories. And since I believe the story, these truths in its reversals may appear as ghosts. There, because somewhere I already know them. Yet not quite there, because I ignore them. Disturbing, because they upset the belief I try to make appear true for myself. Persistent, because they have truth in them.
This is of course the same with shadows in a Jungian sense. Any belief has a shadow, and this shadow is the truth in its reversals. And sometimes they appear to us as ghosts.
In my case, it may have to do partly with my image of Norway. Society has changed quite a bit since I used to live here, and not in a direction my personality likes that much. And a conversation last night brought this up for me, including how there is some resistance to admitting that my stories to myself about Norway are not as accurate as I would like.
The truth in the reversals of these stories appear to me as ghosts. There. Yet ephemeral, not quite solidified. Slightly disturbing. Persistent.
From the outside, it is pretty clear that Turkey wants to uphold a certain identity, and that this identity does not have room for genocide. It is limited, which means it is at odds with life, and fragile. It is something that has to be vigorously defended.
Seeing that, the question is: What types of identities do we, on collective and individual levels, cling to that are too narrow, too exclusive, at odds with life, precarious, and triggering the same blind reactiveness we see from Turkey?
For instance, the US is founded on genocide. If we are US citizens, is our identity large enough to comfortably include that? Or the habitual interference in the internal affairs of other countries, including active support of the toppling of democratically elected governments and of brutal dictatorships?
Being from Norway, is my identity for my country of birth large enough to include what happened to the indigenous people there? The tremendous amounts of fossil fuels extracted and burnt due to our oil industry, and its effects locally on people’s health and globally on the climate? The way the jews were left on their own when the Nazi’s invaded? The way gypsies were treated? They way the enormous wealth of the country is used mainly on its own citizens, leaving only a small amount for people around the world that have almost nothing? The petty focus on minor problems when people live in better conditions than nearly everyone any time and everywhere?
And in my personal life, where are the limits of my identity? What is left out? What can I not include yet? And how does it impact my life to constantly have to work on excluding it? Where do I feel I need to defend a precarious and limited identity? What would happen if I let go of defending it, and allowed whatever I tried to keep out?
It my experience, it may be disorienting for a while. Free up attention and energy for something else than defending an imaginary identity. And uncover what is already there, temporarily hidden by the drama of defending an identity, including a decisive engagement coming from clarity and an open heart.
Through some of the subquestions, The Work helps us explore how our beliefs and perceptions are formed and maintained by culture and community and more.
For instance, asking the question when did I first have that thought? tends to bring up the whole initial context, how it came from family, society and more, and how it continues to be maintained by those around us and our culture. Question no. 4, who would I be without the thought? and the turnarounds help us see that having that belief, that identity, and that way of filtering the world is not inevitable. Other people and cultures may indeed see the world quite differently. Their experiences and interpretations may be very different from what I initially took for granted, and I too glimpse this now.
The Work also helps us work with the he/she/it, you and I dimensions. The initial statement is about Other, a he, she or it. When we read our inquiry to the one it is about, for instance our partner, the you dimension comes in. And the I dimension is there throughout.
Here are some of the ways The Work works with the shadow…
It brings it up and out by encouraging us to find a stressful statement. Whenever there is a stressful thought, aka any belief, there is also a shadow inherent in it.
Often, a part of us see that belief as unacceptable, even if it is there, so we squash it and try to not make it visible to others or even ourselves. In this case, we may partly be aware of our shadow, and uncomfortable with it.
Other times, we may be completely identified with the initial statement and corresponding identity, so don’t even question it. In this case, it is usually a blind shadow, and we see it only out there in the wider world.
It works with the shadow in its many forms, as a shadow of a belief, an identity, and a group identity.
We work with the shadow of a belief through the turnarounds, which help us see the grain of truth in its reversals. The shadow of a belief, a statement taken as absolutely true, is exactly there, in the grain of truth of its reversals and also the limited truth of the initial statement.
Any belief creates a corresponding identity, at the very least an identity as someone who has that belief, filters the world that particular way, and behaves in relation to that identity (whether these behaviors are aligned with the identity or not.) When I explore what comes up through question no. 3, what happens when I believe that thought?, I explore this identity and its consequences. Question no. 4 and the turnarounds helps me explore what happens when this identity is not blindly identified with anymore, and I allow myself to move more freely among the different reversals of that identity. These reversals are the former shadow of the initial identity, and this is a way to begin to make more friends with it, bring it more actively into my daily life, see what it asks of me, and harvest its gifts.
And from the shadows of the belief and its corresponding identity, group shadows form. Again, through questions no. 3, 4 and the turnarounds, we get to see and explore this group identity, its consequences, its shadow/reversals, and what happens when there is a release from blindly identifying with it.
Through taking one or more of the turnarounds into daily life, we get to explore it more actively there as well, with the insights inquiry gave us.
We get find the truth in the reversals/shadow of the initial belief, live from a space holding the limited truth in all of them, and find a fluidity among them in daily life.
We get to find in ourselves the the reversals/shadow of the initial identity, explore how it is to admit to and live from those reversal identities, and finding a fluidity among them in daily life. What is different when I live from an identity that previously was not acceptable? What gifts does it offer? How it is to find more fluidity among them in daily life?
And we get to explore the corresponding group shadows as well. Which groups in my life have these shadows, and how are they expressed? What happens if I deliberately move outside of the group norms and acknowledge the grain of truth in the reversals of the belief, and maybe shift into the reversals identities? Is is accepted or not? Does it help shift the group into a wider embrace? If not, maybe I could leave the group?
The impulse to explore this in a little more detail (not that I haven’t many times before) came when I read some discussion about The Work in the context of the Ken Wilber type integral framework. Sometimes, we can be so intent on finding how things does not align with a particular framework that we miss how it does. (Not that it has to, or even should.)
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.
One of the things that sometimes trigger irritation in me (when the I-Other split is already primed) is people blindly acting from contraction… people who are tense, wound-up, seem hunted or haunted by something, and are blindly caught up in it, blind to what is happening.
(This is obviously a shadow-projection. At the very moment I see them as blindly tense, I am describing myself as I am right there and then.)
And as usual, there are some valuable gifts in here…
When I am blindly tense (which includes seeing it in others and being bothered by it), it is an invitation for me to more clearly see what is going on. The discomfort in it nudges me to do something about it, and the only way that really works, in the long run, is to investigate my own reactions… to identify and explore the beliefs behind it, be with whatever comes up in an heart-felt way, tracking the process behind it, and so on.
So again, what seems like an annoyance when I don’t notice it as an invitation, becomes a great gift when I do.
It leads me right to my own blind spots, inviting me to see more clearly what I previously was oblivious to.
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 worksrather 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.
There is no shortage of monsters… from those in movies, books, art, fairy tales, legends, to those in politics, religion, and different forms of cultural phobias (such as xenophobia and homophobia), to those in our dreams, nightmares, neighborhood, families, ourselves.There are lots of them… many different species, many different forms, many different qualities, many different ways they are monstrous, many apparent origins.
Yet, they are all born in the same very simple way: by making a story into a belief.
I tell myself a story is true, and right away, anything that opposes that becomes a monster. At the very least, it is somewhat monstrous, and if it is persistent and powerful, then it becomes a great deal monstrous.
I tell myself that people shouldn’t lie, so those who lie is tinged with monster qualities, and when lies surface in myself (as they do) then those impulses are tinged with monstrous qualities as well.
I tell myself that I should be healthy, so any signs that I am not becomes slightly monstrous, and any clear illness becomes quite definitely monstrous.
I tell myself it is good to be smart, so stupidity becomes monstrous, especially if it comes up right here.
I tell myself there is a separate self here, so any glimpses of anything else also becomes monstrous, something to fear.
Any story that is believed in has its shadow side, which is the truth in all its reversals, and these take on monster qualities. Similarly, any belief creates an identity, and this identity has a shadow which is anything that doesn’t fit this identity, and these too take on monstrous qualities.
Since life inherently allows all of it, what is inside and outside of our beliefs, there is no shortage of monsters. They crop up everywhere, in countless forms.
And since we know that all of it is included, there is a draw towards what is excluded through our beliefs. What terrifies us naturally also fascinates us. We are drawn to the wholeness that is split up through our beliefs and identities. Storytellers have always known that, which is why monsters are rife in popular stories. And our dreams know that too, which is why there are plenty of shadow characters in our dreams.
Life constantly invites us to get to know and befriend these shadows, but if the situations seem too real, our beliefs are activated and often get in the way. That is why stories, whether in waking or dreaming life, can be very effective in slipping in some familiarity with the shadow. We know they are not real the same way as real life (or we tell ourselves that at least), so our guard is down, and we may even find enjoyment in befriending the shadow that way. Which in turn may rub off into our daily life.
With beliefs, monsters appear monstrous, and there is rigidity, a certainty of being right, and a closed mind and heart.
But on the other side of beliefs, monsters appear simply as what they are… fictional characters, people, other species, our own qualities (which are universally human), or whatever else they may be. And we may even see that they are inherently neutral, as anything else.
There is more clarity, a more receptive mind (allowing for a more clear and differentiated view) and heart (allowing for recognition and empathy), and actions that are a little more wise and compassionate.
We are renting out a room in our house, and since our first priority is finding someone who is a good match, we are pretty relaxed about the timeline.
Last weekend, someone came over to look at the room, and since there wasn’t a big yes! there, we let it go. (He also had a big story about how he repeatedly was being turned down, which he was happy to share.)
Yesterday, someone called about the room, and as I explained where we are located, he interrupted me and said “you are an asshole” and hung up. At that point, I realized that he must have been the same “Jim” that came over last weekend, and obviously hurt by being turned down again.
There wasn’t much coming up for me about it, apart from surprise and also empathy with his situation, but it is still helpful to explore more in detail how I am (or can be seen as) an asshole.
How can I find that in myself?
I didn’t call him back saying that he didn’t get the room. I never said I would, and did tell him we would take our time with finding someone, but I could certainly have been more clear about it. I could have said that if he didn’t hear anything from us, it meant we were still looking. Or asked him if he wanted us to call either way. So by not being clear there, and not taking his needs into consideration, I can certainly see how I (or my behavior) can be seen as an asshole. It fits.
After he called, I found myself siding with clarity, seeing his confusion as Other. So in my arrogance, I can easily find myself as an asshole. It balances out the situation.
And I can easily find it in myself in other situations in my life.
I sometimes don’t take other people’s needs fully into account (or rather what they perceive as their needs), for different reasons, and especially those who are not regularly in my life.
I sometimes procrastinate about things which don’t seem all that important to me, which can bring up stress in others.
I sometimes see myself as better than others.
I sometimes (often) don’t share my insights, even if it could be helpful to others. (I tell myself it is too obvious, or myself as not having anything to contribute, which is another form of arrogance, of seeing myself as separate and special.)
I am not aware of all the far-reaching and long-term impacts of my actions, so engage in actions which certainly harm others. Sometimes I am even aware of the harmful impacts, but still engage in the behavior.
In all of these, and many other, ways, I can be seen as an asshole, and rightfully so. And seeing that, owning it, is a release. I don’t have to push it away, try to deny it, defend an identity as “not-asshole”… I can side with it, find it in myself, see certain sides of myself more clearly… and there is a beautiful release in that. An opening… a receptivity… a meeting of myself and others where we are at.
arrogance > inferiority, stupidity, not knowing (even in a relative sense)
knowing > not knowing (in an absolute sense, seeing all stories as only having a relative truth, and a relative sense, knowing that our relative knowledge is always limited)
skilled > unskilled
human > not human (leaving out the rest of the seamless field of form, and also awakeness and emptiness)
separate self > no separation, and also absence of a separate self
good > bad, evil (seeing both out there, in the wider world, and also in here)
in control > out of control, and also absence of control
masculine > feminine (and the other way around)
awake > asleep (in any sense of the words, for instance seeing how the field of awakeness and form – absent of a separate self – naturally arises as both)
deserving > not deserving (canceling each other out, as all of the other polarities do)
civilized > uncivilized and also noncivilized (independent of civilization)
good taste > bad taste (canceling each other out)
healthy > disease, unhealthy, and also nonhealthy (being that which is independent of health and disease)
thing > no thing (void, emptiness)
All of these beliefs and identities split the field, creating a sense of a separate self here and Other out there. When the shadow is seen simultaneously with the belief and identity, we notice the inherent seamlessness of the field… in a relative sense, finding both out there and also in here, and in a more absolute sense the one field, inherently neutral, and always and already containing both.
For a while, it takes work to discover this, and it may sometimes feel like more of an intellectual exercise, seeing it more than it is deeply felt and sensed. Then, it may become more and more alive and immediate… alive in immediate awareness even without much prompting, at least most of the time. Still requiring a more thorough exploration of remaining areas.
Initially, it may all feel like a big drama. We cling onto beliefs and identities, and experience what is outside of these as scary and undesirable (even as demonic, sometimes.)
Then, as we become more familiar with this landscape, the gifts of what was left out becomes more clear. What appeared as undesirable and even demonic is now revealed as pure gold. And then, as we get even more familiar with it, the inherent neutrality in all of it becomes more and more visible.
The beliefs and their shadows cancel each other out, as identities and their shadows do, revealing the inherent neutrality of all of it… the beliefs, identities, shadows, effects, and the ground it all arises within and as.
As I continue to work with projections and the shadow, many aspects of it become more and more immediate and alive as it happens. One way it manifests is having the shadow of a belief or identity come up along with the belief and identity.
A belief arises, and right there is the shadow of that belief. An identity arises, and right there is also the shadow of that identity. Or at least parts of the shadow.
So when arrogance arises, along with it arises inferiority, stupidity, not knowing, and whatever is left out from an identity which gives rise to arrogance. I see both out there, in others and the world, and also in here in this human self.
Together, there is a fuller picture, a wider embrace of what is. And it is all revealed as inherently neutral. The initial identity is neutral, what is left out is neutral, and the landscape (always) including both is inherently neutral.
Of course, our personality may not see it as neutral. It sees different parts of all of this as desirable or undesirable, mature and less mature, good or bad. But that too is inherently neutral.
One of the things that brings up discomfort in me (=shadow) is people who seem agitated, driven in an unsettled way, haunted, hunted… who perform daily activities in a harsh way.
I notice for myself that when I feel this way, it is because I have created a box for life and myself, through beliefs and identities, and life comes up with something that is outside of this box, reminding me that it is too small. It comes knocking, I try to ignore it, it keeps knocking, and I become unsettled and agitated, haunted by its presence.
So what happens when I become unsettled when there are unsettled people around? I have a belief that people should be more conscious, more at peace with what is, and I also have an identity for myself as more conscious than that, and more at peace. So what the person is doing comes up outside of the box, and is unsettling to me. Their behavior becomes a reminder of what I left out in my views and identities, and that is exactly what unsettles me and haunts me.
As usual, what I see out there, in someone else, is exactly what is happening right here, at the same moment. It is a precise mirror.
I think he is stupid, and maybe it is a little stupid of me to believe that? What do I really know? Maybe there are some good reasons for his choices and actions? I think she is agitated and shouldn’t be, and as I believe that, I am agitated because what is shouldn’t be, according to my story. I think someone is brilliant, and right there, there is a hint of my own brilliancy in even noticing. I admire someone for having an open heart, and if my own heart was not at least partially open, I wouldn’t recognize or admire it.
The whole process of having things show up outside of the box can be unpleasant, but it is also a good thing. Life invites me to examine those beliefs and identities, broaden them to make them more widely inclusive, and eventually allow any identification with them to release.
It has been very alive for me how I box myself and life in through beliefs and identities. I create a dividing line through life, and saying that this is true and ok and that is not (beliefs) and I am this and not that (identities.)
Since life is bigger than any box I try to put it and myself inside of, it will come knocking on the door. It wants to be let in, and ultimately, it invites me to allow boxes in general go… or at least the taking of them as true, and the taking of them as defining who I am.
When life comes knocking, when it shows me that my belief is flawed and my identity too narrow, and I resist and try to hold onto my beliefs and identities, there is stress.
The parallel is very close to having someone knocking at the door of my house that I don’t want to let in. I try to ignore it, I become agitated, tense, frustrated, rigid, angry, sad, depressed… there may even be a sense of being driven, hunted, haunted. At times, there may be a relief. Whomever is trying to get it is not there anymore, or at least has quieted down. But after a while, it comes back. The knocking is there again. And my stress is there again.
The only solution is to take a closer look at what is happening. Is this boundary, this idea that I take as real, really an accurate reflection of life, and of what may already be more true for me? And is this boundary, this identity I take as defining who I am, an accurate reflection of who and what I am, in my own immediate experience? Is there something that is already more true for me, if I am receptive to it and examine it closer? And is what I find closer to what life is trying to tell me about itself and my life?
Beliefs have their own shadows, and beliefs also create identities with their own (very similar) shadows.
The shadow of a belief is all the reversals of the thought or idea believed in. The shadow of an identity is anything that does not fit into the identity. And any belief creates an identity.
Say I have the thought that people shouldn’t lie, and believe in it.
The shadow of the belief is the grain of truth in each of its turnarounds, mainly that people should lie. Why should they? Because they do. And because people often have good reasons for it, at least as it appears to themselves. There are many reasons why people should lie, and even the gifts in it, and I can always find one more.
The shadow of the identity is the ways I lie. My identity is as someone who does not lie, so the shadow is the ways I lie in my own life. How do I lie? At one level, everything I say is a lie, or rather at best only a relative and limited truth. At another, more conventional level, I lie as well. I may come up against a threat to an identity, and come up with an (apparently innocent) lie to protect it. And I also lie to myself in many ways. I lie to myself when I believe in any thought, since I at another level already know it is not true. The list is endless, and here too, I can always come up with yet another example.
The shadow of the belief has to do with how I box the world in, and the shadow of the identity has to do with how I box myself in. And the two are of course closely related, just two faces of the same boxing in.