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.
Statement: They shouldn’t marginalize.
- Is it true?
Yes, it certainly feels true.
- Can I know for certain that it is true?
No, I cannot know that for certain. Also, I don’t know what is best for their, and my, paths.
- What happens when I believe that thought? (And they do, according to my story.)
I feel like an outsider, tell myself I don’t belong to the group. I don’t speak up, or if I do, it is often on that particular topic (and there is some contraction there when I speak, which is uncomfortable).
- Who would I be without that belief?
At peace with what is. Free to speak up about that or any other topic, free from charge around it.
(a) They should marginalize
Yes, they do. It is what is happening for them right now, it is part of their process, of what is unfolding right now. Also, it helps me become more aware of these types of group dynamics and see them in action. It helps me see another place where I am stuck and hold onto rigid views, and nudge me to inquire into it. It helps me speak up about these things in groups, even if I am the only one who sees it this way (which is usually not the case, but it can feel that way before speaking up).
(b) I shouldn’t marginalize
Yes, that is more true. I am the one who is marginalizing when I believe that they shouldn’t marginalize. I marginalize them, and the marginalization that is happening in the group. I make it into something that is not OK, something that should not happen, something that does not have the right of life. I am the one who is splitting life up, into acceptable and not acceptable, good and bad, valuable and not valuable. I am doing exactly what I see in them. The only thing I can be sure about is that I am doing it, here now, not what is happening over there for them.
(c) My thinking shouldn’t marginalize
Yes, that is also more true. When I believe my thinking, saying that they shouldn’t marginalize, then it is my thinking that marginalizes. It is happening right here.
(d) I should marginalize
Yes, also true. It is what is happening. It is the guest that is here right now, coming and going on its own as anything else. Also, it helps me experience it from the inside, becoming more familiar with that particular process. And it invites me to inquiry, to see more clearly what is already more true for me (than the initial belief).