In a recent conversation with my friend Rabbi Marc Gafni, he said something to the effect that “shadow is the part of your life that you have not lived.” And I thought to myself, “There goes Marc again, a Seven on the Enneagram, putting a happy spin on things.”
My current working definition of shadow is that shadow = that which is in the darkness. I’ve come to this conclusion based about 60% on my inner work and work with my students, and about 40% on what others have written or said. What is in this darkness? Just about everything: Who and what you really are, your wounds, your wisdom, your amazing ungiven gifts, all of this, and more. As we practice and relax into our depths and learn to loosen our contractions, this stuff will emerge as night follows day. And as it does, these dark dragons (or light dragons) that have been hanging out in our unconscious come to be acknowledged, seen, felt, and transmuted into the light and life that we have not been living, as the Rabbi said.
Shadow elements do not just come from the long ago past, but from the right here present. Right now, I am in the process of surviving two family reunions back to back, my family’s and my wife’s. During this time, as I practice, dozens of little cuts and wounds from interfamilial interactions become very apparent, which need to be dealt with in the gross, subtle, and causal bodies in nondual openness. I think that maybe a lot of shadow work becomes ineffective when it does not encompass all the necessary energetic bodies; it becomes partial and therefore less than effective.
To use a military metaphor, sure to gross out and offend many readers, doing the merely cognitive recognition of shadow elements is like storming an enemy-occupied beach and having a map on the enemy pillboxes, machine gun emplacements, etc. This is a great help and could definitely save your ass, but to take the beach, you have to use guts, guns, bayonets and grenades to get beyond the mere map and take the damn beach. And most of the guys manning the emplacements are not going to give up without a fight. (Wouldn’t that be nice!) Again, this work of waking up the shadows and enlightening our darkness takes guts, great effort, and Grace (or serendipitous dumb luck for the less religious out there reading this).
So, this morning, as I was jogging on the beach on the next to the last day of this family reunion, I felt all the little emotional wounds arise to the surface of my awareness where I could allow them to express themselves as thoughts and emotions, hold them in gratitude and openness, and release them into my expanded awareness. This is a beautiful process and it works. (By the way, sometimes I like to double up on my practices. In this case, I jogged for a half hour down the beach, listening to the first half hour of my current level of Holosyncâ, and jogged a half hour back listening to the second half hour of Holosyncâ. Works great. Try it. This way, you get an hour of cardio plus an hour of great meditation and inner work.)
And a last note: As I was watching the footprints I had made in the sand on the return leg of my jog, I noticed that the ocean was already covering my tracks and I had one of those existential moments about life and all that we accomplish during this oh-so-short journey. Then I had a transpersonal moment, when I realized that he who was making the footprints was just a drop of the ocean itself, and the waves were simply returning the drop of consciousness to itself. Not an impersonal dead ocean (not less than personal, but more than personal, again the Rabbi) but an endless ocean of Love and Light, as Quaker founder George Fox described God. Does the drop survive as some discreet unit of awareness? Don’t know really. What I do know, what I do get, is that Ocean that we are, always have been, and always will be, is not wonderful-it is more than wonderful.