Reduced capacity to set emotional issues aside in an awakening process and from exhaustion

When we have a reduced capacity to set aside emotional issues, they tend to naturally surface.

And that can happen in several different situations.

FATIGUE AND DYSREGULATION

I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS/ME), and this is far from regular tiredness. It’s a profound fatigue and dysregulation of the whole system.

When my system is extra fatigued, it’s no longer able to regulate very well. It has trouble regulating temperature (too hot, too cold), thoughts (difficult to think clearly and make decisions), emotions (more sensitive, reactive), and much more.

This includes difficulty regulating emotional issues. When my system has more resources, it can more easily set old emotional issues aside. (Although they will always color perception and actions.) And when it’s more fatigued, these old issues surface more easily.

That’s one reason I prefer to just go to bed when this happens and set aside any tasks or conversations for when my system functions a little better. (And often, I don’t have much choice. My system desperately needs that rest and anything else is automatically set aside.)

OUR NATURE RECOGNIZING ITSELF

When our nature recognizes itself, something similar can happen.

For a while, it takes itself to most fundamentally be this human self, a separate being in the world. Or, at least, it pretends to do this since others do it.

And then, the oneness we are recognizes itself. It shifts out of its temporary self-created trance.

And, as Adyashanity says, this can take the lid off a lot of things, including anything very human and unprocessed in us. What’s unprocessed comes to the surface to be seen, felt, loved, recognized as love, and recognized as having the same nature as we do.

I am not sure of the exact mechanism, but here is my best guess: It takes active regulation for the oneness we are to pretend – to itself and others – that it’s a separate being, something specific within its content of experience. When it recognizes its nature, it is no longer actively regulating, and that (sometimes) means it’s also not actively regulating old emotional issues. It’s no longer setting them aside, so they surface.

This doesn’t always happen. It can happen a while after oneness first recognized itself. (In my case, it happened several years into the process.) And when it happens, the oneness we are can react with confusion, feeling overwhelmed, fear, and much more.

It’s humbling, it can be very messy. And – as Evelyn Underhill said – it’s a very human process. And it’s not necessarily easy. In my case, it’s been the most challenging phase of my life by far.

And it’s also necessary. For the oneness we are to live from consciously recognizing itself, our human self needs to be a good vehicle. And that vehicle needs tune-up and cleaning. Any remaining emotional issues (beliefs, identifications, emotional issues, traumas) operate from separation consciousness, and they inevitably color our perception and life even if they don’t seem activated.

So they surface to be seen, felt, loved, and recognized as part of the oneness we are. They surface to join in with the awakening.

OTHER SITUATIONS WHERE OUR REGULATION FALTERS

There are other situations where our system has trouble setting aside emotional issues.

The most obvious is when strong emotional issues are triggered, and our mind identifies with what comes up. Here, we take on the perspective and identity of the issue and actively perceive and act as if we are that part of us. We may not even try to relate to it in a more intentional or mature way.

I suspect it also happens in some kinds of mental illness, and under influence of some kinds of drugs. (Sometimes this happens when drinking alcohol.)

CHALLENGES & GIFTS

There are challenges and gifts in our system being unable to set aside old emotional issues.

I imagine the challenges are familiar to most of us. It’s uncomfortable. It can feel overwhelming. We may get caught up in the struggle with what’s surfacing. And we may get caught up in what’s surfacing and view the world and act as if we are that hurt and confused part of us.

There are also gifts here. When these issues surface, we get to see them. It’s an invitation to see, feel, and find genuine love for what’s here. It’s an invitation to examine these confusing and hurting parts of us. It’s an invitation to get to know them. It’s an invitation to recognize that and how they operate from (painful) separation consciousness and unexamined and painful beliefs.

It’s an invitation to find healing for our relationship with them and to find healing for the issues themselves.

All of this is can seem obvious if we are familiar with it, but navigating it is often anything but easy. It takes skill, dedication, experience, and time.

It’s not something that’s done and dusted. It’s an ongoing process.

It’s part of being a human being.

It’s part of being oneness taking on the role of this human being in the world and living that life.

And it’s also where awakening and healing become one process. Where the two are revealed as aspects of the same seamless process.

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C.G. Jung: The shadow is the first manifestation of our future inner wholeness

THE SHADOW AND OUR WHOLENESS

The shadow is the parts of us that don’t fit into our conscious self-image.

It’s not an entity or anything like that. It’s just whatever is here where we say “that’s not me”.

For that reason, we tend to see it in others and not in ourselves. When we see it in others, we are often annoyed by it. We dislike it.

So what we dislike in others, and obviously in ourselves, is a manifestation of our own wholeness.

It’s a part of the wholeness we already are, it’s just not yet the wholeness we consciously recognize, embrace, and relate to as part of ourselves.

In that sense, the shadow – and anything that annoys us in others – is a reminder of what can be our own future conscious wholeness.

It’s the wholeness we already are. And it can be the wholeness we embrace if we have the receptivity and willingness to explore and embrace it.

We push it away because it doesn’t fit our self-image, and it doesn’t seem desirable to us. And, in reality, there are great gifts in it. It helps us find more of our wholeness. And the essence of it is always useful in our life.

AN EXAMPLE

What are some examples of this?

One thing that sometimes annoys me in others is being noisy. I see them as inconsiderate and unconscious.

When I can find that in myself, I see that I am often inconsiderate – for instance in my mind when I see them that way. I am often, and really always, unconscious. There is always a lot in myself I am not conscious of, and there is a vast amount I am not conscious of when it comes to others and the world. Most of what is – in the world, others, and myself – are things I inevitably am not conscious of.

When I have those thoughts about someone else, I am describing myself and I am describing myself as I am in that moment.

Also, how would it be for me to be more free to sometimes be noisy? Maybe it would feel liberating? Natural? Maybe I would find another side of myself I would actually enjoy, at least now and then?

Stranger Things & the shadow

I love Stranger Things.

Like many others, I love it for its 80s nostalgia and for being more 80s than the 80s were. I love it for the characters which often are more stereotypical than their inspiration. I love it for the dialogue. I love it for bringing Kate Bush back on the charts and introducing her to new generations.

And as with any story – whether it’s fiction, mythology, or about others or the world – we can explore it as a dream. We can use it as a mirror for ourselves.

What I see in Stranger Things is a group of nerds and outsiders, much as myself at that age. (A part of me wishes I had found the type of community back then that they have, which is perhaps also why I enjoy watching it.) They don’t quite fit in. Some of them are bullied.

And I see the upside-down as one of many representations of what Jung called the shadow. The parts of all of us that don’t fit into our conscious or desired identity. The parts we sometimes push aside or even deny. The parts of us that may take on the form of monsters since they are exiled and we are unfamiliar with them.

In this case, we can take it even more literally and see it as the shadow we tend to create for ourselves if we feel like an outsider, if we are bullied (or bully), and so on. We may experience a mix of emotions and painful beliefs and identities — pain, loneliness, self-criticism, blame, bitterness, anger, sadness, victimhood, and so on. And since these may be painful and confusing to us, we may partially exile these experiences and parts of ourselves. We may also attack the sides of ourselves we feel are responsible for us being outsiders, so these become partially exiled. When these experiences and parts of us are exiled, they tend to take on the form of monsters to us. They go into our shadow. They don’t fit into our conscious or desired self image. And they can look, to us, as the upside-down.

Stranger Things operates from a classic good vs evil duality, at least so far. But it does also have some healing qualities. It shows healing and supportive friendships, which mirror how we can be friends with ourselves. (Even as we may also battle other sides of us.) The new season gives us more understanding of how the upside-down may have been created, and with understanding comes a less adversarial relationship. (Although they’ll still need to protect themselves and their world.)

How could Stranger Things reflect an even more mature process and way of relating to our shadow?

I am not sure, there are several options. In Star Wars, we got the back story of Darth Vader so we could understand him better and find empathy with the person he used to be. We learned that the hero (Luke) and villain (Darth Vader) were as closely connected as two people can be. And the villain was redeemed before his death.

In Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver by Michael Ende, the main characters capture the evil and dangerous dragon. Instead of killing her, they put her in a cage so she couldn’t do more harm. And that allowed her to transform into a golden wisdom dragon for the benefit of everyone.

Stranger Things does hint at intimate connections between the main hero (Eleven) and Vecna and perhaps the upside-down itself. If that theme is continued, it reflects the intimate connection between the two. They are both parts of each of us. And if we create a “good” identity for ourselves that excludes certain things in us, then what’s excluded is often transformed into apparent monsters. (This also goes for excluding discomfort and pain. What we exclude tends to take on the form of monsters to us.)

It’s also possible that One (Vecna) could be redeemed. In terms of contemporary storytelling, that could be seen as a bit naive and sentimental. (Unless it’s well done with realism and grittiness, which they probably could pull off.) But in terms of mythology and reflecting inner processes, it would give us another image in popular culture that shows how we can find redemption for parts of us in the shadow.

And it’s possible that Eleven somehow, through facing her past and the uncomfortable sides of herself, could redeem herself and the upside-down. It could bring about a transformation of her and the upside-down. Again, if the story was to reflect a healthy and deep inner transformation, something like that would happen.

Note: I am writing this after having seen the first release (this first seven episodes) of the fourth season.

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Anakin & Judas

I see that Anakin Skywalker plays a central role in the upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi series.

There is something beautiful in how Anakin is written The prequels show his journey from a gifted and innocent child and youth to someone who – through loss and trauma – descends into bitterness, resentment, and hatred. Darth Vader isn’t just a regular villain and evil character. He was the boy Anakin who later became Darth Vader through how he responded to his own loss and pain.

THE ARCHETYPES OF STAR WARS

The original Star Wars trilogy was explicitly written around archetypes, especially Luke’s hero’s journey, and that’s one reason it resonates so widely.

These archetypes mirror universal parts and dynamics in each of us in a clear and simple way that brings out their essence. We are fascinated by these stories because, somewhere in us, we want to better get to know these sides of ourselves.

WHERE DOES THE FASCINATION COME FROM?

We may be fascinated with archetype-rich stories for a couple of different reasons.

The fascination may be built into us through evolution. Fascination with archetype-rich stories helps us to get to know more about these universal human dynamics, and that gives us a survival advantage. It helps us relate to them more consciously when we meet them in the world or in ourselves.

We are also inherently whole, whether we notice it or not. Our mind seeks to bring this wholeness into consciousness. One way that happens is through a fascination with what appears as “other” while it’s in reality us. And archetype-rich stories are an especially good way for us to learn more about universal dynamics and how they may play out in our life and in ourselves.

A third reason, which rests on the two other, is that all (?) human cultures emphasize archetypal stories. We grow up with fairy tales, mythology, and other classic archetypal stories. This may even further encourage our inherent draw to these stories.

ANAKIN & JUDAS

I’ll focus on Anakin’s journey to Darth Vader here, and Darth Vader’s redemption, and leave out the other archetypal dynamics in Star Wars.

For me, Anakin is an example of how we sometimes respond to our pain in a way that hurts ourselves and others.

In the case of Anakin, he indulged in hurt, anger, and reactivity. And when this becomes extreme, some like to label it “evil”. (I don’t find it a useful label.)

Judas is a similar figure. He is an image of how we all sometimes react to our own hurt and pain by betraying our inherent kindness, clarity, and wisdom. Judas betrayed Jesus. We sometimes betray our own clarity and wisdom by how we react to our own pain.

And there is no lack of these types of figures from fiction and history. Sometimes, they are presented as just inherently evil. Other times, we are presented with a background story that presents their journey from a relatively healthy person to one who indulges in reactivity to their own pain.

ANAKIN SKYWALKER & DARTH VADER

Anakin’s story shows us what happens when we respond to our pain with reactivity, and specifically bitterness, victimhood, and so on. We all do this, sometimes and in typically less dramatic ways.

And Darth Vader is both an example of how it looks when we live from this, and that we always have an opportunity to turn it around. He turned it around at the very end of his life. He chose to meet his pain and respond to it differently, in a more honest and vulnerable way.

HOW WE RESPOND TO OUR PAIN

We can respond to our emotional pain in two general ways.

We can react to the pain. This can feel good at the moment. And it’s really a distraction from the pain, it tends to create more pain, and it also reinforces the habit of reacting to pain.

And we can befriend our pain, which invites healing for how I relate to it (reinforces a habit of befriending instead of reacting to) and it invites healing for the pain itself.

When we react to our pain, we seek to distract ourselves from the pain. And the best way to ensure distraction is to go into compulsions and a pattern of indulging. We can be compulsive about and indulge in just about anything: Work. Status. Perfection. Sex. Relationships. Entertainment. Food. Anger. Sadness. Ideologies. (Political ideologies, conspiracy theories, etc.) Spirituality. Awakening. Healing. Religion. Victimhood. Blame. Bigotry. And so on.

A MIRROR FOR OURSELVES

Anakin and Judas and a wide range of similar figures from fiction and history are a mirror for ourselves.

What stories do I have about each of these? What do I find when I turn that story back to myself? Can I find genuine examples of how and when it’s true?

How do I react to my own pain in a way that hurts myself and others? In what situations have I done it? Can I find specific examples?

How is it to befriend my pain instead of reacting to it? How is it to explore this when the pain is milder and I am in a supportive setting of exploring how to befriend it? How is it to support and deepen a new pattern in how I respond to my pain?

This is an ongoing process, and it’s important to have some compassion for ourselves in this exploration. Many of us are trained to react to our pain instead of befriending it, at least when it comes to some types of pain and in some situations. It’s often an ingrained pattern, and something we have learned from family and culture.

How is it to befriend any reactions in me when I notice I still sometimes react to my pain instead of befriending it?

SOME WAYS TO EXPLORE IT FOR OURSELVES

Most or all of the approaches I write about in these articles can be used to explore this for ourselves.

We can use tonglen, ho’oponopono, and forms of prayer to shift how we relate to this in ourselves and others. We can shift how we relate to our own pain, and what triggers our pain.

We can use inquiry to examine our beliefs about our own pain, and what triggers our pain, and find what’s more true for us. (The Work of Byron Katie.)

We can explore how our mind – largely through associating mental representations with sensations – creates its experience of all of this, including the identities we create around it. (Traditional Buddhist inquiry, Living Inquiries / Kiloby Inquiries.)

We can engage in dialog with these parts of ourselves. We can listen to what they have to say and how they experience the world and us. We can help them see things in a way more aligned with reality. We can learn to recognize them as parts and relate to them more consciously. And so on.

We can find our nature and what we are in our first-person experience. This helps us recognize all of this as coming and going and living its own life, and it’s not what we more fundamentally are. (Headless experiments, Big Mind process.)

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The world is my mirror here and now

If I react to something in the world, typically in another person, I can find the same in me. 

I can find it here and now. And I can find examples in the past. 

For instance, I get annoyed by people being inconsiderate and playing loud music in the neighborhood. So how am I doing the same as what I see in them? How am I inconsiderate at that moment? Right now, I am in the countryside outside of a small town in the Andes mountains. The ones playing the radio at high volume at 5 am are farmers or do other manual labor. They get up early to do their work, and this is one of the enjoyments they have in a generally difficult life. So without knowing the fuller picture, it’s a good guess that judging them for playing loud music, and wanting them to stop, is – in some ways – inconsiderate towards them. They, most likely, would see it that way. I am doing what I see them as doing. That doesn’t mean I can’t talk with them about it to see if we can find a solution that works better for everyone. But it does mean that I likely will be a bit less reactive and a bit more understanding in how I relate to them – and myself.

Another example is how I sometimes react to people who go into conspiracy theories. I feel frustrated, angry, and disappointed. These are all signs of reactivity, unexamined beliefs, and that I have the same here that I see in them. So what’s my conspiracy theory at that moment? One of my favorite ones is that they are pretending, they can’t be that stupid, they must know they are just repeating patterns from history, they know their stories are founded in bad logic and bad data, they are saying these things just to rile others up. This is the unexamined conspiracy theory I have about them, and since this story is out of alignment with reality, it’s part of the reason for my reactivity. I am telling myself they are pretending, knowing that many of them may actually believe and feel that their stories are true.

I do the same when I see many spiritual and even nondual teachers. I see a lack of clarity. A lack of differentiation. What looks like immature views. And I tell myself they know better but for an unknown reason chose to present it that way. They have to know better. They have to have more clarity than that. When I tell myself those stories, I am doing what I see in them. I am pretending. I know better but chose to make myself dumber than I am. Somewhere in me, I know they are probably just doing their best.

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The spiritual path & comparing ourselves with others

Comparing ourselves with others seems relatively universal although I am sure it plays out differently in different cultures. It’s also part of what fuels our current consumer culture, and advertisers know how to make use of it.

TWO WAYS TO COMPARE

There are two ways to compare ourselves with others.

One is for pragmatic reasons. It can give us useful information.

The other, which is often overlaid on the first one, is to make ourselves feel better or worse than others. This is not so useful. It can feel good to compare ourselves with someone and make up a story that we are somehow better than the other. But it’s a temporary victory since it means we inevitably are worse than someone else in the world, on the same scale, and we’ll inevitably be reminded of it. And it’s hollow since we know – somewhere in us – that it’s just a mind game.

In terms of spirituality, we can tell ourselves we are more advanced, sophisticated, or mature than someone else and it may feel good for a while. At the same time, we know we are less advanced, sophisticated, and mature compared with some other people. And we know, whether we acknowledge it or not, that it’s a mind game.

We cannot know for certain where people are in their process. We know we are comparing to make ourselves feel a bit better about ourselves. And we know it’s a losing game in the long run.

OUTSIDE VS INNER VIEW

When we compare ourselves with others, we often compare the public image of someone with our inside knowledge about ourselves.

We all have a public persona, which is more or less polished and inclusive. We present a certain image to the world and often leave out a lot of the confusion, pain, and unsavory attitudes and behavior. At the same time, we are often very aware of all the confusion, pain, and unsavoriness in our own life.

So it’s inherently an unfair comparison, and it tends to make us feel not so good about ourselves.

Often, it looks like the spiritual path and insights of others is clean, easy, and perhaps even joyful. And we know that our own spiritual path is windy, confused, didn’t go as planned, and so on.

HOW WE TALK ABOUT OUR SPIRITUAL PATH

The pain of comparison is greatly enhanced or diminished depending on the culture (or subculture) we are in.

If we are in a culture where spiritual practitioners and teachers like to present a glossy image of their own path, and of the spiritual path in general, it can lead to a more unfavorable impression of our own path.

If we are in a culture where spiritual practitioners and teachers are open about the messiness of their own path, and the spiritual path in general, it can help us see that we are all in the same boat. My own messiness is less painful since I know it’s similar for others.

And if we are in a culture that encourages us to work with projections, then…

MAKING USE OF THE TENDENCY TO COMPARE

…we can make good use of the tendency to compare. We can use it as material for our own exploration, and to invite in healing and maturing, and even awakening and living from the awakening.

We can make a practice of finding in ourselves what we see in others. (And in others what we know from ourselves.)

We can identify and examine our painful comparing-thoughts and find what’s more true for us. (Often, that the story is not absolutely true, and that the reversals have validity as well.)

We can explore how the comparing appears in our sense fields. What are the sensation components? The mental image and word component? What happens when I differentiate the two and rest with each? What do I find when I follow the associations, for instance back in time to my earliest memory of having that feeling or thought?

Instead of indulging in thoughts and feelings relating to the messiness of our own path, we can take a pragmatic approach and make use of whatever comes up.

THESE DAYS

I am grateful that these days, in our culture, there is more transparency and openness about the messiness of the spiritual path. People seem to feel more free to share all aspects of their experience. And many work intentionally with projections and inquiry, which also helps.

A glossy image of the path may serve as an initial carrot. But in the longer run, it seems far more helpful to be open about everything that can – and often will – happen on a spiritual path, warts and all.

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Light and dark in the same sky

I am at the cabin in the forest near Oslo, and saw this amazing sunset rainbow a few days ago.

Light and dark in the same sky.

As anything else, we can use it as a mirror for ourselves. For instance, and in this case, as a metaphor for the mind.

WHAT WE SEE AS LIGHT AND DARK

What do we metaphorically see as light and dark in this context?

We can see some states, emotions, orientations, and experiences as light, and some as dark. Perhaps we see joy, generosity, love, peace, and so on are light. And distress, depression, anger, hostility, and so on as dark.

We tend to see what we are aware of as in the light. We shed light on it. And what we are not aware of is in the dark. As who and what we are, some things are in the light, in that we are aware of it (or have a story about it), and some things are in the dark and we are not aware of it (yet).

We can also talk about our shadow. Our desired personality is in the light, and what’s undesired in us is in the shadow and the dark.

And we sometimes talk about enlightenment. We shed light on what we are, and notice what we are. Or it’s in the dark.

BOTH ARE HERE

This light-and-dark-in-the-same-sky metaphor can be helpful in a couple of different ways.

One is as a reminder that both are here. Even if we mostly notice one, the other is also here.

We may be very aware of sadness, depression, anger, hopelessness, and remind ourselves about the things in our life we are genuinely grateful for, and that these states change and we’ll still have good days. And we may feel content, joyful, and happy, and remind ourselves that we still have unresolved things in us and perhaps even explore these even if they are not on the surface.

We have a desired personality and identity, and remind ourselves that this is not the whole picture. We also have felt or thought or done things that don’t fit this desired image. And we have unmet and unloved parts of ourselves that may not fit this desired image, and these parts of us want to be seen, felt, understood, loved, and included.

We may notice what we are, for instance as capacity for our world, and what our experiences happen within and as. And yet, there are always more layers, more to discover, further to sink into it, and so on. And conversely, if we don’t notice what we are, and wish to, it can help to remind ourselves that what we are is always here. It never went anywhere.

This helps us keep the larger picture in mind.

IN THE SAME SKY

There is another way this metaphor can be useful.

Both are in the same sky. Our emotions, states, and experiences pass through the same sky. Our desired and not-desired parts of ourselves happen within the same sky. Noticing what we are and not are in the same sky.

Is this sky “other” to us? Is it just a background that’s somehow out there in the world and different from us?

Or is it what we are? Are we this metaphorical sky that all our experiences – whether we see them as light or dark – are in?

Can we find ourselves as this sky? What happens if we do? And how would it be to live from it?

We may find we are capacity for the world as it appears to us, including anything we think of as light and dark. Our whole field of experience – whether it’s of this human self or the wider world, and whether it’s something we can label light or dark – happens within and as what we are.

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Stranger Things & the shadow in stories

I love Stranger Things, partly for its ’80s nostalgia, its heart, and the friendships.

Earlier in life, and especially in my late teens and twenties, I used to see any and all stories from a Jungian filter. I would see them as a dream with all parts mirroring parts of me and their dynamics mirroring dynamics in me, and then take the opportunity to find it in myself.

I find I don’t do that so much anymore. I mostly just enjoy the story.

But sometimes, it comes up again. For instance, how do stories depict the shadow – the parts of us that don’t fit our conscious or desired self-image?

In Stranger Things, it’s quite polarized and a kind of a caricature. The shadow is just about as terrible as you can imagine, and there is no chance of dialog or reasoning. If we meet something like that in waking life, we’ll likely have to deal with it more or less as they do.

It’s different with our own shadow. We can certainly perceive and fight with some shadow material the way they do in these types of stories, and it’s exhausting.

The only real resolution is to befriend what’s in our shadow, what has been neglected, ignored, pushed away, denied, and so on.

Some stories show that way of dealing with shadow material, and perhaps especially fairy tales and some mythology.

I have been looking for stories that depict a healthy, wise, and mature way of dealing with the shadow. One of the first contemporary ones I found was Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver. Here, the main characters capture a dangerous dragon, put it in a cage so it can’t harm anyone, and through that containment, it turns into a golden wisdom dragon.

If they had killed it, they would never have know what it could be. And if they had let it be free, it would have continued to harm people. Instead, they contained it and let it live – and, to their surprise, transform.

I don’t know if Michael Ende was familiar with and influenced by Jung, but I think it’s almost certain. The story shows, in a simplified way, a mature way of dealing with shadow material.

We don’t need to try to eliminate or escape it, and if we try we may find it doesn’t work. Instead, we can meet it and metaphorically restrain it so it can’t do so much harm. In reality, we find a more conscious way of relating to it so we are less likely to be caught in it and our reaction to it. And by this discipline – meeting and relating to it more intentionally – the shadow material can become a golden wisdom dragon. It becomes a source of healing, maturing, and perhaps even some wisdom.

The shadow is not one monolithic thing. There are a lot of different qualities and characteristics in the shadow of our conscious self-image. And although there is a general way to approach it, we’ll also need to adjust our approach depending on the person, situation, and what’s coming up.

What’s in the shadow colors our perception, thoughts, emotions, and life. As long as we haven’t befriended it, it will run us. When it is triggered, we either get caught up in it and live from it, or we are caught up in and live from our reaction to it, or both. And this will keep going on until we befriend it.

How can we befriend it? I have written about it in many other articles so won’t go into it much here. We can do explicit shadow work and inquiry, notice and allow it when it’s here, do heart-centered practices with it, dialog with it, and so on.

And when we befriend it and get to know it, we find the gifts it has for us. We find a missing piece of ourselves. We expand our repertoire in how we can be and are in the world. We become a little more healed and whole as a human being.

There is something fitting in using stories from our culture as a mirror for our own shadow. What we see as a desirable personality comes largely from our culture, which means that what goes into our shadow will also largely reflect our culture. And the darkness of the shadow depends on the strength of our ideals, which also reflects our culture.

Jean de La Fontaine: You meet your destiny on the road you take to avoid it

You meet your destiny on the road you take to avoid it

– Jean de La Fontaine in Fables

There are several ways to understand this.

If we want to avoid something in ourselves, we take actions to avoid it, and we may meet it anyway. Life has a tendency to bring it up for us no matter which path we take.

What’s hidden in us is always here. Any number of life situations can trigger it and bring it to the surface. And there is also an inherent dynamic in us that brings what’s hidden to the surface. (Of course, we may resist and struggle with it.)

Also, sometimes, by actively trying to avoid something, we make decisions that causes us to meet just what we wanted to avoid.

For instance, if I try to avoid confrontation, I may avoid revealing important information to someone, and that omission may be the cause of a future confrontation.

The quote is sometimes misattributed to Jung, which is understandable. I imagine he could have said something like it in a specific context.

Giving my inner demons what they want, what they really really want

I assume most or all of us (?) have our inner demons, so the question is…

How do we relate to our inner demons?

Do we distract ourselves from them? Do we pretend they are not there and allow ourselves to be influenced by them without much conscious awareness of what’s going on? Do we try to fix them or get rid of them? Do we try to transcend them?

Or do we meet them, get to know them, listen to them, and see how we can create a mutually beneficial relationship?

What does the monster wants from us?

What I find is that they want what we all want, whether we are a monster or not and whether we are a child or adult.

We want attention, respect, understanding, love, and sometimes limits to our behavior.

What are some examples of inner demons?

It can be an emotion or state like anger or depression. It can be a compulsion or addiction. It can be some other distressing or undesired behavior pattern. It can be a distressing identity or belief about ourselves. It can be trauma.

Anything about us that’s there and we struggle with or don’t like is, in a sense, an inner demon.

Very broadly, we can say that any emotional issue is a kind of inner demon, as is any (stressful, as they all eventually are) belief about ourselves, others, a situation, or the world.

How does it look when we befriend an inner demon?

It can be scary, confusing, and a struggle at first, so it helps to have someone guide us through the process. Someone who has experience, skills and good tools, patience, kindness, gentle firmness, and heart.

And it can be immensely rewarding. Not only does it mean we are more free from the struggle with our demons and the way our demons impact our life. Finding a new relationship with them can be very enriching and supportive in our life.

The demons may turn out to be something quite different – and essentially more innocent and lovable – than we initially thought.

In some cases, we may find that a new partnership with them allows their qualities and abilities to be used in a constructive and enriching way in our daily life.

Befriending our demons often gives us more grounding, sense of wholeness, and realness, and we find new sides of ourselves we can draw on when the situation calls for it.

How do we befriend our demons?

There are many approaches and we each have to find the one(s) that work for us. I’ll mention some I happen to be familiar with and find especially useful.

emergency tools –

If I feel overwhelmed or uncertain about how to meet the demon, some emergency tools can help.

For instance, I can bring attention to my sensory experiences in general (hands, feet, smell, sight), or specifically to the sensations coming up with my inner demon. This brings attention out of the (scary) thoughts about it, and it helps me ground and have a little more space.

I can also move my body. Jump up and down. Splash my face in cold water. Talk with a friend who can hold space for me.

In general, I can do whatever helps that doesn’t hurt.

getting to know the demon in the moment

When a demon comes up, I can notice the sensations and thoughts (images, words) coming up with it – that makes it up or reacts to it. I can notice, allow, and see it’s already allowed (by mind, life).

I can use some pointers and reminders to help me notice, allow, be with, and get to know and perhaps even befriending it.

I can say: You are welcome here. Stay as long as you want.

Thank you for protecting me. I love you.

I am sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you. (Ho’o.)

I can ask it a few simple questions and listen to what it has to say.

What do you want me to know?

What would you like from me?

How can I support you?

getting to know the demon more in-depth

I can also set aside time to come back to the demon and engage in a more thorough exploration.

Whatever approach we use depends on what’s available to us, what we resonate with, and what we are drawn to use for that particular demon.

In my case, it can be dialog (Big Mind process, Voice Dialog etc.), inquiry (The Work, Living Inquiries), reorientation (tonglen, ho’oponopno), somatic work (TRE), and energy work (Vortex Healing).

Wendell Berry: To go in the dark

To go in the dark
with a light
is to know the light.

To know the dark,
go dark.

Go without sight,
and find that the dark,
too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet
and dark wings.

– Wendell Berry, Terrapin: Poems by Wendell Berry

This is a very beautiful poem and I wish to allow it to work on me and do its part in transforming me.

In our culture, we are used to elevate the light over the dark, physically and metaphorically. We light up our rooms from corner to corner. We light up the outside and the streets. We bring bright flashlights with us into nature.

We value knowledge over the unknown. We value knowing over not knowing. We use light as a metaphor for something good and desirable and dark as metaphor for something bad and undesirable.

What does it mean to go in the dark with a light? Physically, it can mean to bring a bright light into the dark, for instance when we are out in nature. We see things mostly as we do in the day, we lose our ability to see in the dark, we don’t see the stars as clearly, and it silences and scares away the animals that are out during the night.

In some situations, we may also miss out of realizing that we can navigate in the light of the stars and the moon, we just need to allow our eyes to adapt to the dark, pay more attention, and slow down.

If we instead go dark, we get to experience a whole different side of nature. We get to experience and know the night as it is, with its own life and animals and activities. And we may realize we don’t need to bring a light to function and navigate in the dark, we just need to adapt, pay attention, and slow down.

I am reminded of two of many memories of being in nature at night.

One of my most beautiful memories from childhood is of a Saturday when my mother was out of town, I was going to watch children’s TV in the evening, the TV broke down, and my father and I instead went into the local forest at dusk and quietly walked in the forest after dark. We listened to birds and other creatures rummaging in the forest. It was a magical experience I still remember fondly and it did something to me. At the most obvious level, it helped me appreciate nature at dark.

Another memory I have is on the same theme but different. I did a wilderness retreat in the beautiful desert in southern Utah with Kanzeon Zen Center. The moonlit landscape made it easy to get around at night at night without a flashlight and I never used one. Most people attending the retreat – including teachers – were loud, only in passing seemed to notice the amazing beauty of the starry sky and the landscape at night, and used bright lanterns and flashlights which must have ruined their night vision.

Metaphorically, going into the dark with a light can mean to meet another person, a situation, or ourselves thinking we know. We know how the other is. What the situation is. How we are. And we know what to do. We stay within what we know, unless there is grace and the situation surprises us enough to release us out of this fantasy.

To go dark means to acknowledge we don’t know, to meet the person or situation with curiosity, receptivity, and get to know what’s there as it presents itself to us. It means to slow down, listen, and learn.

This also applies to meeting metaphorically dark areas or parts of ourselves. Parts we – and perhaps our culture – don’t like. Parts we wished were not there. Parts that don’t fit how we want to see ourselves. Or parts we simply are unfamiliar with and perhaps didin’t even know were here.

If we think we know what these parts are and how we should relate to them, or mainly rely on familiar techniques and tools, we go in with a light and may miss out of something essential.

If we instead go dark, knowing we don’t know, with receptivity and listening, we may discover more of what’s there. We may discover how these parts of us experience themselves and us. What they would like and need from us. Something we don’t know and didn’t know we didn’t know. And how we can create a more fruitful and rich partnership.

We may get to know the dark more on its own terms and we may learn from it. We may also find that getting to know it in this way transforms us. We may find just the medicine we need in the dark, and it may be something entierly different from what we expected or knew from before.

Although we are mostly day creatures and the day and light – both physically and metaphorically – are important, useful and even essential, there is also value in the dark and in going dark and getting to know the dark on its own terms.

They are two sides of existence, and two faces of life and the divine.

They are both expressions of life, the divine, and who and what we are.

And while it seems that getting to know each requires a slightly different approach, what’s required is perhaps not so different. It’s slowing down, listening, receptivity, realizing we don’t know, and a willingness to discover and learn.

In that sense, the dark can teach us not only about itself, but about who and what we are and existence in other forms that just the dark.

The Work of Byron Katie as shadow work

In a Facebook group for The Work of Byron Katie, someone asked for recommendations for how to do shadow work. For me, the most obvious answer is to do The Work! It’s a direct and powerful approach to working with projections in general and the shadow in particular.

In The Work we….

(a) Project out on someone or something else, and do so with pettiness and without much if any filter. (This is the Judge Your Neighbor worksheet.)

(b) Examine what happens when we believe the thought(s). In this process, we also get a more detailed sense of what we see in the other. (Step three in TW.)

(c) Turn the initial thought around in several different ways. This includes finding in ourselves what we see in the other, with several specific and genuine examples. (Turnarounds.)

The process helps us (a) project without holding back, (b) examine this projection, and (c) find what we see in the other (also) in ourselves.

Each step helps make the process gentler and together they make it easier to find in ourselves what we see in the other, recognize it, own it, and – often – experience relief from (finally) finding it in ourselves.

After a while, after doing this process many times, it also becomes easier to do this spontaneously in daily life. The inquiry lives in us.

What is the shadow? It’s whatever qualities and characteristics in us we deny, reject, or overlook, and see more in others (and the world in general) than in ourselves. It’s whatever doesn’t fit the image we have of ourselves or want to have of ourselves. It’s whatever it’s easier for us to recognize in others than in ourselves.

It’s often what we and our culture sees as undesirable, although – depending on our image of ourselves – it can also be qualities our culture generally see as desirable qualities. (In some cases, our own gentleness, kindness, wisdom and so on may become our shadow.)

As we work on our own shadow, the ideas of desirable and undesirable tend to soften and are recognized as our own ideas and culturally created. Even the apparently undesirable qualities and characteristics have something of value in them. By recognizing them in ourselves we become more whole and real human beings. We have a far greater repertoire. We learn to relate to these parts of us in a more conscious way and make use of these parts of us in a more conscious and constructive way. And we realize – in a more visceral sense – that we are all in the same boat.

What I see in you is also in me. And – if you are like me – what you see in me is also in you.

And that’s perhaps more important than holding onto rigid ideas of me as inherently better or worse than you.

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Dream: Working with Trump

I am the educational minister for Trump. He likes me. And I have sympathy for him even as I disagree with much of what he says and does. I am free to do as little or as much as I want.

This dream went on for a while and continued even after I woke up briefly. I did have a genuine sympathy for him in the dream and I noticed it felt peaceful, even if my views on what he says and does is the same in the dream as it is in my waking life. When I briefly woke up, I was aware that this was – in a sense – a shadow dream. It is a dream about befriending the shadow.

Trump does – to some extent – represent shadow material for me. I sometimes see things in him I don’t admit to in myself, at least in the moment. And this dream was a reminder that getting to know someone is often to understand and find sympathy for them even if we still may not agree with much of what they say or do.

Why educational minister? Perhaps because it’s a little less contentious than some other positions so it allowed me to get to know him in a more peaceful setting. And perhaps because this dream is an education of myself.

The saint and the beast: when I modeled for a painting

Twins with knives, Odd Nerdrum

Back in the 90s, I was a student (aka apprentice) of Odd Nerdrum and also modeled for this painting.

I knew he saw me, but I was also embarrassed to admit it. I was embarrassed by the knives and that aspect of me.

If people asked me what the knives represented, I would innocently say “I don’t know”.

So here it is, all laid out.

This painting is of a saint and a beast.

The face is that of a saint, and I have that side of my personality.

The arms and knives are those of the beast.

What is the saint-beast dynamic? And what is the beast? It can be seen in several ways.

The first is one I don’t like to admit to so much. I have a tendency to people-please and set aside my own needs, and that comes with suppressed anger, feeling like a victim, reactivity and so on. The face is the people-pleasing, and the knife is the suppressed anger. (This also reflects a family and cultural pattern.)

More generally, any identity comes with a shadow side, and if I identify as good and “spiritual”, what in me doesn’t fit goes into darkness. It’s more hidden. Not acknowledged. And I have spent a lot of time exploring and owning – or owning up to – those sides of me, even from before this painting was made.

The beast also mirrors a ruthless side of me. If something is important to me (awakening but sometimes other things), I can be ruthless going after it.

And that’s related to another way to look at the knives. Swords and knives can represent cutting through the bullshit. Going for the truth and reality, even if it’s uncomfortable (see Manjushri). (This is best applied to oneself.)

I think this dynamic in me is also why I resonate with characters like Hellboy (especially as depicted in the del Toro films). He is born a beast (demon) but has a pure heart.

Why the twins? I am not sure. If this image was in a dream of mine, I would wonder if it represents a division or kind of a split. The saint on one side and the knives and beast on the other. Something that’s not (yet) brought into or recognized as part of a whole. That was more true of me then although it’s still part of me. I am still working on it.

And the primal clothing and setting? It’s typical for Nerdrum (and one of the reasons I resonate with and love his art). And the theme is primal too, whatever the theme is. That too is typical for Nerdrum.

Most of the subjects have a mythic or archetypal feel to them, and we can have a sense of it, but the exact meaning is hard to pin down. My sense is that by trying to pin it down, we miss the point and the power of the paintings. They are meant to work on us at a more primal level.

Here are some comments about the painting from Alejita, my partner.

The painting: They are two. Two parts of you. Although the clothes and the hair are of a mystic, the look of him (especially in the man behind) is bestial. And with the knife, he is opening the left side of your body, your heart. One of them covers the heart of the other. One, the one behind is more beastly than the one in the front. However, most beastly is the one who opens the heart. The force with which he is taking the knife is abysmal. And the horizon is at neck height, splitting your body from your head.

And what she wrote after reading this post:

I feel that the two of you are both a beast, both have a knife, both are ready to kill the “things” are not any more “useful”. I don’t see the two characters as a separation, rather they are the complete image of you. It looks like the two coexist with the beast, there is no separation. The double image is more the feminine and masculine together, living with the beast that is not a third party. It is completeness, union.

I resonate with that way of looking at it. The one on “stage right” is more masculine (this is the original) and the one stage-left is more feminine (he copied this based on the first). And both have the saint and beast together. It’s all one – feminine and masculine, saint and beast.

Afraid of ones own shadow

Mickey Mouse in The Haunted House (1929)

In depth psychology, the shadow refers to what we disown in ourselves. Qualities and characteristics in us that we see (more) “out there” in the world and in others than in ourselves, and that we haven’t yet befriended and gotten to know in ourselves. These are usually qualities and characteristics our culture tells us are undesirable, and that don’t fit our desired image of ourselves.

We are scared to admit to them as part of ourselves and our life, often because of fear of how others may see us and judge us, so it’s easier to pretend they exist mostly or only in the wider world and others.

This means we often become afraid of our own (psychological) shadow.

It scares us when we see it in the world because it seems threatening to our well being. We may be afraid of angry people, or immigrants, or people with a certain ideology, or wolves, or aliens, or ghosts, or anything at all. Of course, sometimes it may be appropriate to be afraid of someone or something. And a sign that its a shadow-fear is that it’s consistent, out of proportion to the situation, and often made into an ideology.

And it scares us when someone (which may be our own mind) suggest it’s part of us because it threatens our desired identity. Often, this scares us because we are afraid of how others may see us, judge us, and treat us if we admit to it in ourselves.

Say I am a US businessman with a checkered history. My father gave me almost all my wealth and bailed me out repeatedly when I went bankrupt. My business dealings are often based on deception and semi-illegal activities. So I feel like a fake and a failure, and instead of admitting it (which would be a threat to my desired image of being a successful businessman) I call others failures and fakes. And since I’ll need to keep this up in order to maintain my desired image, this becomes a habit.

Defending and propping up our desired (and very partial) self image is tiring. So eventually, we may realize that it’s easier to just admit to it in ourselves. It’s a relief. It makes us more human and ordinary. It puts us in the same boat as everyone else.

To the mindset that wants to maintain a desired self-image, this can seem threatening. But when we actually do it, we find it is a great relief. We are able to be more real with ourselves and others. We don’t have to be so vigilant when it comes to our self-image. And our views and actions are more fluid and less dictated by the need to maintain our old desired self-image.

As usual, this is an almost infinitely rich topic so I’ll just add a few things.

It is easier to do this among others who do this. It makes us feel more safe. So making a shift to befriending our shadow sometimes does come along with a shift in who we spend our time with.

And there are more structured ways that makes it easier for us to befriend our shadow. There are specific shadow work approaches. Tonglen is great. Most forms of inquiry tends to do it. And for me, the most effective and thorough approach I have found is The Work of Byron Katie.

As we befriend our shadow, it’s no longer a shadow. What seemed scary and threatening no longer is that to us. I suspect that’s why I rarely use the term shadow when I write there. It would make sense to use it since it’s a well-known term but it doesn’t fit my experience so well.

The term shadow makes it sound like something monolithic and one single thing. It’s not monolithic. It’s not a single thing. And it’s not even a thing in the first place. It’s just one thought held as true, which makes my mind see it out there and not in here, and spend some effort trying to maintain that division. And then another thought. It’s something that happens here and now, with the thought that’s here and now.

And the content of that thought varies. Sometimes, it’s about heartless politicians. Sometimes, it’s about idiotic people wanting to shoot all wolves. Sometimes, it’s about a friend who is too angry. Sometimes, it’s about how my mother treats my father. Sometimes, it’s about noisy neighbors.

Since we can project the shadow (any unwanted characteristic) onto anything, we can also put it into the past and future. We can vilify the past, and we can scare ourselves with scary images of the future, whether it’s our own or the world’s.

The image of being afraid of one’s own shadow is a bit comical. And that’s how it is with the psychological shadow as well. We are afraid of something we don’t need to be afraid of. We scare ourselves. It seems real before we investigate it, befriend it, and see it’s literally almost nothing.

In one sense, it’s almost nothing since it’s all created by the mind. In another sense, it’s something since admitting to certain characteristics in ourselves can lead to others judging us and treating us differently. (Especially in more traditional and smaller societies.) And in another sense, it’s something since befriending our shadow allows us to experience ourselves as more whole, more deeply human, more connected to everyone and everything, and it allows us to draw on all of these characteristics in ourselves and make use of them in different situations in life.

How is it all created by the mind? It’s the mind putting labels on the world, others, and ourselves. Deciding these labels are either good or bad, desirable or undesirable. And then making the effort of putting bad labels out there and good ones on ourselves. These labels of good and bad are partially cultural and partially individual. Sometimes, we decide that culturally “bad” labels are good for us. They serve as protection for us. (For instance, being stupid, ugly etc.) So we reverse the usual

These labels of good and bad are partially cultural and partially individual. Sometimes, we decide that culturally “bad” labels are good for us. They serve as protection for us. (For instance, being stupid, ugly etc.) So we reverse the usual good/bad content and tell ourselves “I am stupid, and she is brilliant”. In this case, our own shadow contains characteristics that our culture see as good and desirable. We just don’t think we deserve to see it in ourselves, and we find some sense of safety in it.

Why can it be so difficult to recognize and befriend our shadow? It’s largely because of our culture. It tells us some characteristics are good and some are bad, so we naturally want to see the good ones in ourselves and put the bad ones somewhere else. Our family demonstrates this to us as we grow up, as do friends and society in general. It becomes a habit for us, ingrained almost from birth. So it naturally feels difficult and perhaps scary to befriend our shadow, at least at first, and at least with the characteristics our mind most strongly tells us are bad, undesirable, and scary.

I also assume that in some traditional and smaller societies, it could be risky to openly befriend our shadow. If done with some wisdom, we would just appear as more whole and wise people. But it can also be done in a less balanced, more brash, and less mature and wise fashion, and that could be risky in any culture and society. We’ll get a backlash telling us to wise up.

Our culture does also send messages about befriending our shadow, often through fairy tales, poetry, books, and movies. It tells us humanizing stories about the gifts of befriending our shadow. These are very valuable pointers.

I’ll also say a few words about projections in general. The shadow is one type of projections. And projections are, in one sense, images our mind creates and puts on the world. These types of projections are essential for us being able to navigate and orient in the world.

In another sense, projections are when the mind tells itself that some characteristics are mostly or only in us and not in the wider world, or the other way around, and when these stories are invested with energy (associated with bodily sensations) so they seem more solid, real, and true.

And the shadow are the characteristics our mind tells itself are undesirable, and sees more in the wider world than in itself.

What does it give us to befriend our shadow? When we don’t, we have a unrealistic picture of the world, and we tend to get caught up in (harmful) ideologies and reactivity. It can lead to dehumanizing other people and groups of people, and “demonizing” people or parts of the world. We also make more misinformed and misguided decisions, and we are less able to work around or strengthen our weaknesses. We are, quite literally, prone to be blind-sighted by our blind-spots.

When we befriend our shadow, it gives us a more realistic view on ourselves and the world. We are better able to make good and informed decisions and take care of our own weaknesses (find workarounds, strengthen). It creates a sense of us all being in the same boat. And we are less caught up in reactivity, dehumanizing people, and demonizing parts of the world. We are hopefully a little more able to act from informed clarity and kindness.

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Adyashanti: Sometimes your deepest shadow comes up after your deepest awakening

Sometimes your deepest shadow comes up after your deepest awakening.

– Adyashanti, The Way of Liberating Insight

Why does it come up? We can say that an awakening is an opening to reality, and that reality includes our shadow. Or we can say that bringing the shadow into awareness is required for us to live the awakening in more situations and areas of life.

In any case, long before this happened to me, I thought this and other forms of a dark night sounded noble and a bit heroic. I thought I would be able to continue keeping what surfaced at a safe arm’s length’s distance and remain firmly centered in clarity and presence.

When it happened, it was more experienced as a complete disaster. And for me, that was part of the shadow that surfaced. I was unable to remain clear, centered, and keep it at some distance. And I had to finally admit to myself I was completely and utterly human.

Note: Healing unhealed parts of us is part of the embodiment process. As long as they remain unhealed, they will be triggered by life situations and we tend to live from reactivity to these unhealed parts. To the extent they are allowed and healed, there is space there to instead live from responsiveness, clarity, kindness, and wisdom. The shadow surfacing in the way Adyashanti talks about it is an important part of the embodiment process. It’s not comfortable. It may not be what we think we want. But it’s what’s needed for us to live more fully from the awakening.

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Shadow material surfacing in an awakening process

It’s common – or perhaps inevitable – for shadow material to surface in an awakening process.

What’s shadow material? Anything in us that’s unhealed, unmet, unloved, unrecognized as the divine. Anything in us we are unaware of, or deny, or see in others and not in ourselves. Anything in us we live from and react to without openly recognizing that’s what’s happening.

Why does it surface?

The mind’s ability to push it down is weakened or gone. In an awakening, the mind opens to all as the divine. And that opening is also an opening to whatever in us is still unseen, unprocessed, and unhealed.

It surfaces with an invitation for us to recognize that too – the most painful and unwanted parts of us and our experiences – as the divine and what we are. That is another piece of the puzzle. Another phase of the awakening and embodiment process.

It comes to be seen, felt, met, healed, and loved, allowing for a fuller embodiment of the awakening. It allows the awakening to be lived in more situations in our life. When life triggers something unhealed or unprocessed in us, we may respond by reacting to it. When that’s healed, we are more free to respond from clarity and kindness.

And what about the role of identification? The more identified our mind is with how it reacts to the surfacing shadow material, the more it tends to struggle and suffer. But it can’t just decide to not identify. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t. What we can do is notice what it all happens within and as. We can invite our center to shift somewhat in that direction. And although it may not make it any easier in the moment, we can remind ourselves that the cycles of identifications are part of the process. It’s part of what allows the mind’s tendency to identify to gradually burn out.

What can we do when we are in a phase of surfacing shadow material? Here are some thing’s that’s been helpful for me, at different times.

Go for walks. Spend time in nature.

Notice and allow. Rest with the noticing. Notice the space it’s happening within.

Invite it – and my reactivity to it – to heal through whatever approach works for me. In my case, inquiry, dialogue (kind, respectful), ho’oponopono, TRE, Vortex Healing etc.

See if I can find a way to meet it – and my reactivity to it – with kindness, respect, patience, allowing. Befriend it. Ho’oponopno, dialogue, and tonglen can be helpful here.

Find and talk with people who have gone through it themselves. People who understand and shows us we can get through it.

It can be a very painful process. It can feel unbearable and overwhelming. It can feel like it will never end. And yet, it does. At least the intense phase does, in my experience. And as more shadow material is seen, felt, healed, and loved, it does create more space and opening in our system for living from the awakening in more situations in life.

Note: I added the “dark night” tag to this post since an intense phase of shadow material surfacing is one form of dark night. It’s one of the things that can happen in an awakening process that the mind doesn’t immediately like so much.

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Awakening and what’s left

Chogyam Trungpa and many other spiritual teachers have shocked, puzzled, and baffled their followers with their apparently unenlightened behavior. It may be drinking, drug use, frequent affairs, bullying behavior, abuse of their followers, and more.

In our culture, we tend to have an image of awakened people as perfect. And yet, they so often are not. Why is that?

To me, it doesn’t seem so puzzling. In a way, it’s to be expected.

There can be a relatively clear awakening, and yet a lot left to heal at the human level.

If the person is receptive and open about it, then it can become a very helpful part of their teaching. It also helps their students know what they are getting into, and it helps the teacher to work on it if they are ready to do so.

And sometimes, there can be some degree of defensiveness around it, both on the part of the teacher and his or her followers.

The teacher may try to live up to an image or expectations from others. Admitting ordinary human flaws and hangups may not fit this image.

They may feel they are above criticism. (And perhaps lash out if they perceive criticism.)

They may justify their behavior, for instance as crazy wisdom or that they are above conventional expectations.

And really, they are just scared to admit it and look at it, as we all sometimes are. And they use all sorts of tactics to avoid facing it for themselves.

This is pretty universal. We all avoid facing certain things in ourselves because it seems too scary, and we use different tactics to avoid it. And this continues to some extent whether there is an awakening or not, and whether we happen to be in a teacher position or not.

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Boomerang vs shadow

What’s the difference between the boomerang in Living Inquiries and the shadow?

The shadow refers to seeing in others what I don’t like and don’t fully acknowledge in myself. The other is a direct mirror. If I judge the other in words, I can turn those words around to myself and find specific examples of how that’s true.

The boomerang question is more open: What does the situation say about me? We are looking for an identity triggered by the situation, and there may be a range of identities triggered.

So for instance, someone in my household is not doing their dishes.

Shadow: She is sloppy -> I am sloppy. She is irresponsible -> I am irresponsible. For each, find at least three specific examples of how that’s as or more true than the initial statement.

Boomerang: What does it say about me? What identities get triggered in me? I am responsible. I am tidy. (Inflated selves.) I am a victim. (Of her messiness, a deficient self.)

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Awakening includes rude awakening

If you have a rude awakening, you have a severe shock when you discover the truth of a situation.

– from The Free Dictionary

An awakening process can be a rude awakening.

Some parts of the awakening process is what our personality likes. It aligns with what our personality likes and wants. For instance, an early and temporary transcendence gives us a taste of freedom from trauma, pain, and hurt.

Other parts may be more difficult for our personality. They can challenge or clash with habitual patterns our mind initially created to stay safe. These include but are not limited to:

Disillusionment. Awakening includes disillusionment and especially disillusionment about what awakening is and what “we” get out of it. We may hope for a state of eternal peace and bliss, and what it’s really about is awakening to and as that which already allows any experience and state, including sadness, anger, and pain.

Awakening to the shadow. Awakening means awakening to everything, including our own very human pain, trauma, and hurt. At some point, this comes to the surface with an invitation to question the unquestioned stories holding the hurt in place, feel the unfelt feelings and emotions, and love all of it as it is including any reactions we have towards it.

Most people have a lot of misconceptions about awakening or enlightenment. This is partly inevitable since awakening is a change of the context of our experience rather than a change within our experience, and most of us are only familiar with the latter until there is an initial opening or awakening. These misconceptions are also partly encouraged and perpetuated by some spiritual traditions and teachers, either for strategic reasons (which I happen to not agree with) or because they don’t know better.

It’s difficult to know in advance how much of the trauma is healed or cleared up by the initial awakening, or any practices we engage with before or after the initial awakening. It’s also difficult to know how much is there in the first place. A lot of it is “collective” trauma passed on through the generations and by our culture, and some may also be due to epigenetics. I was certainly surprised by the amount of pain and trauma that surfaced for me.

What do I mean when I say that awakening is a shift in the context of our experience? It’s because an awakening is an awakening to – and then as – what experience happens within and as. This is sometimes labeled awareness, presence, Spirit or something similar, although any label will make it seem more discrete and like an object than it is. Content of experience doesn’t have to change at all, although it often does as a side effect of this shift in context.

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Pitfalls of openings and awakenings

Here are some common pitfalls of openings and awakenings:

New identifications. With an opening or awakening, new identities may surface and the mind may identify with these for safety. These identities include but are not limited to awareness, oneness, spirit, free. These are just more thoughts that the mind identifies with, and it’s good to notice and inquire into these as soon as they arise.

Unprocessed material. With an opening or awakening, the lid may be taken off any unprocessed material. Anything that’s unfelt, unloved and unquestioned comes up to be felt, loved, and questioned. Any unfelt emotions or feelings surface to be felt. Any unloved parts of us or our experience (including our whole world) comes up to be loved. Any unquestioned stories surface to be questioned. This can lead to a version of the dark night of the soul.

Kundalini. With an opening or awakening, kundalini may activate. For some, this may lead to a kundalini overcharge. It may feel like high voltage is going through regular house wiring, and as if parts of us – and perhaps our brain – is fried. This can be prevented and reversed.

What do I mean with an opening or awakening? I mean that we realize what we are, or what we are realizes what it is. This is what the mind may call awareness, oneness, no separation, spirit (or even Buddha Mind, Brahman if it’s so inclined). This may be a glimpse, or it may be a more stable recognition. Often, there is a mix of this recognition and remaining identifications which partially obscure this recognition. We then live partially from noticing what we are, and partially from remaining identifications. This is very natural, and there is not really any problem here, but it’s good to be aware of and acknowledge, and also to have ways to work with these identifications.

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We are what we fear

In the classic cave scene from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes back, Luke Skywalker meets his nemesis and representative of the dark side, Darth Vader. After a brief sword fight, Luke decapitates Darth Vader, and sees his own face inside of Darth’s helmet.

Luke is what he fears the most. He is the dark side.

That’s how it is for all of us. We are what we fear. And that’s true in a few different ways.

It’s happening within and as what I am. It’s all happening within my world. It’s happening within and as (my) awareness. When it’s here, in awareness, it’s what I am.

The world is my mirror. Whatever I see “out there” in the wider world or someone else, is what I know from myself. Whatever stories I have about the world and other people, I can turn them around to myself, and find specific examples of how it’s true. (It may not look the same, or be expressed the same way, but that doesn’t mean I can’t find the same here as I have stories about in others.)

It pushes back. When I try to push something away in myself, and in the world, it tends to push back. It wants in. It wants to be acknowledged. Life is kinder than allowing me to reject something for good.

And why? Because life invites me to see what’s more real and true than my initial beliefs about it.

Life invites me to…. Recognize it as happening within and as what I am. Find in myself, as a human being, what I see in others and the wider world. Realize we are all in the same boat.

Life invites me to…. Meet it – the fear and what I fear – with respect, kindness, curiosity. Take a closer look and examine by beliefs about it, and how my perception of it is created by my own mind.

Life invites me to see that what I fear is not how it initially appears. (That doesn’t mean we become passive bystanders to injustice or cruelty, or approve of it. On the contrary. We are in a much better position to do something the more clear and mature we are in our relationship to it.)

How does it push back? We may find ourselves in situations where we encounter it again. We may replay a situation in our minds. We may have certain qualities or emotions surface in ourselves.

For instance, if I see anger as bad and try to push it away, I’ll still find myself in situations where people are angry, perhaps even at me. I’ll still replay memories of people being angry, or imagine someone being angry with me in the future. I’ll still experience anger, even if it’s pushed down and perhaps comes out as frustration or restlessness, or even feeling flat. It doesn’t go away.

P.S. I am aware that the usual interpretation(s) of the cave scene is slightly different. I imagine the more standard interpretation is that Luke has the potential to go over to the dark side, just as his father did. He has the anger. The impulsiveness. The restlessness. He is his father’s son, in that way. The cave experience is a warning, and also an invitation for him to recognize this in himself and take it seriously.

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The Lotus

The lotus has always had an important mystical meaning. Its roots are down in the slime and mud at the bottom of the lake and the flower unfolds on the surface of the water.

– Carl Jung, ETH, Page 113.

There are several ways of understanding this.

One is that our “roots” are in what’s hidden to us, and they feed and lead to what’s visible. That happens within content, where dynamics we are unaware of inform what’s visible. It also happens in that what we are – this no-thing that it all happens within and as – is the metaphorical “roots” of who we are, this form and human self.

In a more conventional sense, we can use difficulties (mud) to grow (flower). We can use challenging situations in life, or embracing and finding kindness towards inglorious sides of ourselves, to mature, be more fully human, find more empathy, be more real, find a more open heart, find resiliency and more.

And in another sense, we can explore the basic ideas of mud and flower. We may see that they are not as they initially seem.

For instance, I may find that the “mud” in me – perhaps anger, grief, confusion, tendency to isolate, neediness, hopelessness, arrogance – comes from a wish to protect the me, it comes from deep caring, it comes from love. The mud is perhaps really a flower. And the flowers, what I and perhaps others see as my “good qualities”, may turn to mud if I hold onto them and take them as too precious. They may create problems for me and others.

Also, when I look, can I find “mud” or “flower”? Can I find what I see these as referring to? Can I find it outside of words, images, sensations? Is it findable?

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Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver

Simplified terribly, there are three ways of dealing with apparent evil:

(a) Let it have its way. Stay passive.

(b) Kill it off. Get rid of it.

(c) Treat it with respect and kindness, and contain it, prevent it from doing harm.

Most stories – whether fairy tales, mythology or contemporary movies, take the second approach. Some describe the first as a cautionary tale. And a few take the third approach, the more wise and mature (?) one.

One of the stories that take the third approach is Jim Button and Luke the Engine driver.

Instead of killing the evil dragon, as is described in so many other stories, they capture the dragon. They treat her with respect, contain her fury, and prevent her from doing harm. And she turns into a golden wisdom dragon. If they had let her have her way, or if they had killed her, she and they would never have benefited from her transformation.

For me, doing The Work and other forms of inquiry, and also holding satsang, doing ho’oponopono and tonglen, are all examples of capturing the dragon, treating it with respect and curiosity, prevent it from doing harm, and giving it space to transform into a golden wisdom dragon – if that’s what will happen.

It’s interesting to note that in western cultures (at least in western Europe), we generally take the third approach at the social level. We are, after all, civilized. And yet, when it comes to things in ourselves a thought may label “bad”, “undesirable”, or even “evil”, we are often trained to take the second approach. We try to get rid of it, or at least put a lid on it. That’s why simple processes such as The Work, holding satsang, and ho’oponopono may seem revolutionary. They are very simple and even natural ways of relating to what’s here in us, and yet they go against – to some extent – what we have been trained to do.

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Shadow material

Something more abstract about shadow material:

Any belief creates shadow. As soon as an image or thought is held as true, some things goes into the shadow, hidden (mostly or partly) from view.

(a) The validity of the reversals are in a shadow. I don’t see the validity in it’s reversals, and I don’t so easily find it in my own life. I don’t so easily acknowledge it, feel it, take it in.

(b) The reverse identities go into the shadow. Any image or thought comes with an identity, and when it’s taken as true it’s identified with. That means that the reverse identities are unfamiliar to me, I don’t so easily see how they too fit me and my life.

(c) The limited validity of all of these images, thoughts and identities goes into the shadow. The image or thought held as true appears more true than it really is, and its reversals appears less valid than they may be – if I am honest with myself.

Underlying beliefs – and their corresponding shadows – tend to be quite universal, shared by most people in a culture or perhaps by most humans in general.  Beliefs are transmitted by family, friends and culture. And they are also personal when they are adopted and taken as my own.

In a process of (a) consciously embracing and finding the wholeness of who we are, (b) what we are noticing and acknowledging itself, and/or (c) who we are aligning more with what we are, there is an invitation to see, feel and find love for these thoughts and images, the tendency to take them as true, and the innocence and love behind that tendency.

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David Whyte: Shadow

Even the most beneficial presence casts a shadow. Mythologically, having no shadow means being of another world, not being fully human. To live with our shadow is to understand how human beings live at a frontier between light and dark and to approach the central difficulty: that there is no possibility of a lighted perfection in this life; that the attempt to create it is often the attempt to be held unaccountable, to be the exception, to be the one who does not have to be present or participate, and therefore does not have to hurt or get hurt. To cast no shadow on others is to vacate the physical consequences of our appearance in the world. Shadow is a beautiful, inverse confirmation of our incarnation.

– David Whyte, from Readers’ Circle Essay, “Shadow”

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Shadow of a thought

I usually don’t use the words shadow or projection these days. And that’s perhaps a good reason to see what these words  would mean to me now.

For instance, shadow is usually defined as:

A dark area or shape produced by a body coming between rays of light and a surface. (Physical definition.)

In Jungian psychology, the shadow or “shadow aspect” may refer to (1) the entirety of the unconscious, i.e., everything of which a person is not fully conscious (2) an unconscious aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not recognize in itself. Because one tends to reject or remain ignorant of the least desirable aspects of ones personality, the shadow is largely negative. There are, however, positive aspects which may also remain hidden in ones shadow (especially in people with low self esteem). (Wikipedia.)

For me right now, focusing mostly on The Work, I see that any thought – when taken as true – comes with it’s own shadow.

The shadow of a thought is, to put it simply, (a) the truth in the turnarounds of the thought, and recognizing (b) that it’s just a thought, an innocent question about the world, and has no absolute or final truth in it. This is what’s not recognized, especially at a felt level, when a thought is taken as true.

If I – in a certain situation – think that life is unfair and take that thought as true, then it’s shadow is examples of (a) how life is fair and (b) how I am unfair (in my thinking about life), and (c) that it’s a thought, an innocent question, and I honestly cannot know.

If I think that M. is caught up in conspiracy theories, and believe that thought, then the shadow is examples of (a) how M. is not caught up in conspiracy theories, (b) how I am caught up in conspiracy theories (about him, life), and (c) that it’s a thought, an assumption, a question, and that I don’t know.

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The dark side of the sacred

I came across a blog post called Holy Irreverence: A New Series Exploring the Dark Side of the Sacred by Vanessa Fischer.

It’s an interesting topic. What comes up for me around it?

Definitions of Sacred and light/dark

First, what do I think of as the Sacred? The Sacred for me is the same as life, reality, God.

And light and dark? Light and dark are not inherent in reality, they are only found in my thoughts about it. Since they are labels in my thoughts, what’s called light or dark is arbitrary and influenced by culture, tradition and personal experiences. (It’s arbitrary from a big picture, and yet often not experienced as arbitrary within a particular culture or tradition.)

Aspects of the Sacred

Then, when we talk about the “dark” side of the Sacred, what aspects of the Sacred may we refer to?

I find three: (a) The “dark” side of the Sacred (God, reality, life). (b) Approaches that address the “dark” sides of the Sacred (life, reality). (c) The “dark” sides of a Sacred process (awakening, maturing).

The dark sides of the Sacred as inquiry

A simple way of defining the dark side of the Sacred is to see it as the shadow of our typical images of the Sacred (reality, God) and a Sacred process (awakening, maturing, living from it). If I see God as good, can I also see the bad (what I label bad in my own mind) as part of the Sacred? If I see clarity as sacred and part of a sacred process, can I also include confusion? If what I see as desirable is included in my image of the Sacred, can I also include what I see as undesirable?

If I see something as sacred, can I see the rest as also sacred?

(a) The dark side of the Sacred. What’s my image of the Sacred or of God? What’s the reverse? If I make a list, can I find genuine and simple examples of how each one is equally part of the Sacred?

(b) Approaches addressing the dark side. Any approach to the Sacred worth it’s salt will have ways to address and work with the dark sides of life. Some may be of the first aid variety, making the process a bit easier in the moment. Others will go more to the core of the issue, and may even uproot any ideas of shadow or light, right or wrong, desirable and undesirable. Some of my favorites are tonglen and various forms of inquiry (the Big Mind process, sense field explorations, The Work).

(c) The dark side of the Sacred process. I am not even sure what to define as a sacred process. If it is a process of awakening and/or maturing, then it does have it’s “shadow” sides, which – when I examined it a little closer – turned out to be it’s bright sides! For me, these have included loss (of dreams especially), disillusionment, illness, and primal fears and beliefs surfacing so intensively that they cannot be ignored, pushed aside or sidestepped.

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Percolate

We all have hidden beliefs, the ones we don’t really want to admit to ourselves and others.

Since certain things came easily for me, and it was supported by my culture, I internalized beliefs about people for whom things didn’t come that easily.

They are lazy. They don’t get it. They should be able to pull themselves out of it. They are losers.

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Coming to clarity by way of delusion

The way to clarity is by way of delusion.
– Adyashanti, paraphrased

Here is a couple of ways this is true for me right now:

I find clarity by going through the shadow, by meeting (noticing I am) experience, inquire into beliefs, releasing tension/traumas out of the body etc.

And I sometimes find clarity by using delusion as stepping stones.

In a conventional way, I sometimes get caught up in a delusion which puts me on the course to more clarity. For instance, I may first meditate to change states, and through that realize the inherent discomfort in that impulse and allow the shift into allowing what is as it is. Or I may try to cultivate compassion, and then notice it’s already here – and available if it’s not covered up by the noise of believed stories.

In a more basic sense, any insight is a stepping stone for clarity. An insight serves to reorient, and is then another question and pointer for inquiry.

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Dream: Old graves

I am in an old town and Alder F. is going to lead a series of workshops. He has a plot, but it’s an old cemetery with just a few graves. He asks me to dig them up and remove the bones etc. so the space is usable. I am reluctant. My inclination is to clean up the appearance of the graves, place candles there, perhaps have a Christian ceremony since they are Christian graves.

I am now in a more residential area. A lively young woman lives in a house there, with her sister next door. She asks me if I can dig out and remove a few graves there so she can use the space for gatherings and events. Again, I am reluctant. I am partly concerned about what I’ll find, and partly don’t want to disturb the dead.

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The unembraced seeks embrace

The dark seeks the light. The unloved seeks love. The unseen seeks to be seen. The unfelt seeks to be felt.  The unappreciated seeks appreciation.

Last night after going to bed, a stream of shadow material surfaced again. Some it is was personal, and most of it was archetypal.

It’s easy for me to resist. To get up and have a cup of tea. To listen to a podcast. To go for a walk. To find someone to talk with in another time zone.

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The shadow – what is it?

I first started out with a longer post on the shadow, but it didn’t feel right so I will post it in shorter sections instead.

First, what is the shadow?

To put it simply, any belief creates it’s own shadow.

I take a story as true. Overlook what doesn’t fit that belief. What I overlook includes the truth in the reversals of that story and that I don’t know. And that becomes the shadow of that belief.

Why is it called a shadow? The light of awareness shines on the story itself, so whatever doesn’t fit falls in its shadow. It is in the dark for us, until we shine the light of awareness there too.

This way of looking at the shadow is simpler than the traditional one, and perhaps also more inclusive.

Whatever beliefs I have about myself creates a shadow. And whatever beliefs I have about others, life and God also creates a shadow.

I believe I shouldn’t be stupid, so exclude that from my conscious self-image, and that becomes a shadow for me. I believe another person is only noble and good, so whatever doesn’t fit that belief becomes a shadow for me in how I relate to that person. I believe life should be fair, and whatever doesn’t fit that idea becomes a shadow for me in how I relate to life.

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Two-way mirror

I keep coming back to this:

The world is my mirror, and it goes both ways.

1. What I see out there, is also here.

(a) The stories I have about the wider world, equally apply to me. Whatever qualities, characteristics and dynamics I see out there, in others and the wider world, are right here. I can find specific examples of this to ground it and make it more real for myself, and I can always find one more. Whatever story I have about someone else or the wider world, apply to me, and not only at times in the past, but right now in how I relate to the ones I have this story about.

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Fascination with the unpleasant

A quick look at the entertainment world – books, movies, songs, fairy tales, mythology – tells us that we are fascinated with the unpleasant.

Why is that? I can find several reasons for why I am drawn to it….

The most obvious is that these things (death, pain, cruelty etc.) are part of human life, and this is a way for me to get familiar with it in a safe way. I get to explore it without putting myself at risk. And I get to prepare for it should it happen to me or someone close to me. If or when something like it happens in real life, I am somewhat prepared.

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Wolf!

wolf

There is a pitifully small band of wolves in Norway, and still some folks are afraid and want them killed.

It seems so thoroughly idiotic. No human has been killed by wolves in recorded history. The few sheep that are killed are generously compensated for by the government.

And we chose and accept far greater risks all the time, for instance every time we use a car, or use toxic chemicals in our homes or in the yard, or allow bees and wasps in nature (a significant number dies each year from stings). Most obviously, we chose and accept far greater risks through how we organize ourselves as a society, in ways that are not aligned with ecological realities (ecological footprints way over what the Earth can support, economical models and policies that ignore embeddedness in ecosystems, huge gaps between rich and poor, and so on).

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Blasphemy day

Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow (America’s Evolutionary Evangelists) have published a new, as always excellent, podcast. Among other things, they talk about Blasphemy Day and ways of relating to religious fundamentalists.

There are many ways to relate to fundamentalists, and as usual, these are all mirrors for ourselves. We can find it here, in our own daily lives and right here & now.

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The energy of others

It is quite common to hear people say they are sensitive to the energy of others. It may be especially noticeable – and sometimes uncomfortable – in close quarters with others over time, and if the others have relatively strong internal conflicts going on. I notice it mostly on the train or bus, and I know many others notice it – among other times – when giving bodywork.

There are lots of ways to work with this. Visualize a cocoon around oneself. Working on grounding. Visualize roots down the earth. Visualize clarity. Pray for the other and yourself. Visualize healing for both of you. And so on. All of these may work fine to some extent and for a while, but they won’t work completely or always because they are just alleviating the symptoms.

When I explore this for myself, I find that the discomfort I experience has one source, and that is my own beliefs about what is going on. Here too, I find that the discomfort I experience comes from friction between my stories of what should be and what is.

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Michael Jackson

michael-jackson-london-concerts

Some people and situations are especially good projection objects. They express qualities we are not in touch with in ourselves, characteristics outside of our conscious identity. So when we see it in others, it fascinates us. We may even be caught up in blind attractions and aversions to just those qualities, expressed in these people and situations.

Michael Jackson is a good example. His genius for music, dance, image and marketing gave him attention, and in itself made him a good project. Add eccentricity and scandals that never were resolved, and you have an irresistible and explosive mix.

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Iwo Jima

letters_from_iwo_jima2

I watched Letters From Iwo Jima earlier tonight. As one of two movies about the same battle, this one from the Japanese perspective, it is a great example of post-modernist approaches going mainstream. Why show just one perspective, when there are – at least – two major ones, and then several perspectives within each of those? 

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