The Work and owning the shadow

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.)

Here is an example, illustrating the abstractions earlier on:

Statement: I shouldn’t be sick.

  1. Is it true? (inviting a release of the grip on the belief, allowing us to explore what is on the other side of it, including its reversals)
    Yes, it feels true.
  2. Can I know for sure it is true? (can we know anything for sure?)
    No, I cannot know that for sure.
  3. What happens when I believe that thought? (exploring where it comes from and its effects)

    • I feel discomfort around the thought of being sick, or more sick, and also when I am sick. There is an additional layer of stress there whether my story tells me I am sick or not.
    • I have an identity as someone who should be healthy, so if life is different, I either deny being sick or the extent of the illness, or I feel bad out myself as if I am a failure.
    • I feel a lot of stress around the idea of being sick, so often put off going to the doctor, and may not make changes in my life that would help my health just so I don’t have to think about it.
      Q: When did I first have that thought?
    • Probably as a very young child.
      • I may have seen my parent’s reactions to someone being sick, and absorbed the belief that people shouldn’t be sick.
      • I may also have missed out on something due to illness, or experienced discomfort when sick, which may have formed or strengthened the belief.
      • Also, I see how our whole western culture has a thing about illness, seeing it as bad, unfortunate, undesirable, and so on. Maybe most cultures do, each with their own flavor.
      • And I see how there is an evolutionary component as well: it makes sense for us, in terms of biology and evolution, to experience discomfort when sick, so to avoid it as much as we can. And this discomfort can easily be made into a “should”. From discomfort comes the idea “I shouldn’t be sick”.
  4. Who would I be without that thought?
    • I am free from feeling good or bad due to my health status. My happiness or contentment is not hitched to it anymore. I don’t have an identity as someone who should be one way or another.
    • This may also free me up to look at my health more realistically and act in more appropriate ways around it, for instance by going to the doctor more frequently or change other health habits.
    • I am also free from others and the culture having certain ideas about it. Now, I see it as just ideas, and it is even amusing and entertaining. I also realize that it is possible for cultures to see this differently, just as it is possible for individuals to see it differently.
    • I may even more actively point this out to people I know, or on a larger scale: Look, these are just ideas, shoulds that create a great deal of additional stress. Maybe there is a different way, one that sees beyond illness and health and is able to find appreciation for each. And maybe this freedom from stress around it will help us relate to our health and illness in a more effective way, at individual and social levels? Maybe one of our obstacles to health is all the shoulds we have, including this one? (The shoulds create stress which in itself contributes to many or all illnesses. And the stress prevents us from acting and speaking clearly and effectively on individual and collective levels, which in turn is not good for taking care of our individual/collective health.)
  5. Turnarounds:
    • I should be sick. Wow. That is different. Well, if I am sick, I see that it is OK. Infinite causes led up to it, and in a different way, it just happened. It is what is on my plate now, so I may as well find some peace with it. Through experiencing illness, I may find a natural empathy with others who are sick or struggle in other ways. I may also learn something about health and illness, and some ways the mind – filtered through different beliefs – relates to both. I may learn to find some appreciation for being sick, and include it in how it is OK for me to be. I also see that when I am sick, I allow others to help me which creates a more substantial bond between us.
    • Others should be sick. If they are, then that is what is right now, until it changes. Illness is a temporary visitor, as anything else. This helps me see beyond the illness and find the person, the one there independent of illness and health. That certainly helps me, and may help the other person as well. Also, when others are sick, it allows me to be in a different role to them and assist them in a different way.
    • Others shouldn’t be sick. I can actively help others, when they ask for it or the situation otherwise calls for it. And I do. I also see that the fewer beliefs (hangups) I have around illness, the more available I can be for what the situation calls for, and the more clear and effective I can be in actions and speech.
    • Living turnaround, the one I take more deliberately into daily life in the next few days: others shouldn’t be sick. (The other ones are actually quite familiar to me, so this is the one excitement comes up around.)

So here, I explored some around how the belief came about. I saw the effects of blindly holding onto the belief and its identity, which is the effects of having a blind shadow. And I found the truth in the shadow belief, and the freedom and gifts in the shadow identity. I also explored some how I can bring this into daily life more, seeing the truth in the turnarounds and allowing/embracing the reversal identities.

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