Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Making Peace with the Shadows

Spiritual teacher, Shakti Gawain, wrote, "If we truly want inner peace and world peace, we must do the difficult but fascinating work of owning and appreciating all aspects of who we are—truly making peace with ourselves. Real consciousness involves holding both sides of any polarity, not identifying with one. Exploring and embracing our darkness is the only way we can truly live in the light." Living in the Light

The human tendency is to create enemies. The real pain lurks behind the shadows of unresolved personal frustrations. This pain is too hard to face, so we suppress it and direct our frustration at other people, making them the problem. Carl Jung said the shadow is “that which we think we are not.” We are intolerant of qualities in others that we have not fully embraced in ourselves.

This suppressed pain is the root of conflict in relationships, homes, communities and nations. If we could heal this pain, we could go a long way to healing global conflict. You might expect to heal the pain of inner demons by destroying them in a battle to the end. However this just feeds them and makes them stronger. Its far better to embrace them, give them what they want which is a little TLC and they will have nothing to fight.

In ancient cultures, there were many superstitious beliefs about shadows. It was believed that there were healing powers in the shadow of a great person. You still find the same ideas in parts of India, where a person may throw away food if the shadow of an outcast has passed over it. On the other hand, it was not unusual to have vast crowds of people position themselves on the streets of New Delhi so that Mahatma Gandhi’s shadow might pass over them as a blessing.

Superstition aside, the shadow is a metaphor for hidden qualities. Shadows are powerful and seem to have healing qualities, if the light of awareness shines on them and they become part of a conscious self reflection. The world will know greater peace when we stop projecting our fear onto others, and own our own pain. Jesus described shadow projection as “being so distracted by the speck in your neighbor’s eye that you fail to see the log in your own eye.”

Easier said than done of course. It can be uncomfortable, like looking in a crazy mirror at a carnival and seeing your distorted self image. But there are practical ways of integrating the shadow and learning to love what you see in the mirror.

Byron Katie offers some pointed questions to do this healing work.

1) What is my story?
2) Is it true?
3) Do I gain anything from believing this story?
4) Do I gain anything from dropping this story?
5) What is this story telling me about myself?

There is something I can do about global conflict. Katie calls it a turn around. Shine a light on my own story. That’s something I can do to make a difference, and I can do it right now. What do I gain from my story? I make other people the problem, but in my most honest moments I know this is not true and it prevents me from being all that I can be. Who will I be without the story? I will be more patient, less frustrated and more loving. Let it begin with me.

Next time you find yourself pointing a finger at someone or something, follow the three fingers pointing back at you. You just might discover that you can turn around some of the stories by exposing the fear lurking in your shadows. When your shadows are touched by the light of awareness, they become doorways through which you can enter into peace and your peace radiates to all around you. You begin to see the divine beauty in all people and all things.

As Thich Nhat Hanh said, “If we are peaceful we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone will benefit from our peace.” Let there be peace and let it begin with me.

Ps. Soulseeds offers some awesome resources around peace. There are inner peace affirmations and an inner peace E-Retreat. Stop by and increase the peace in your life.


Paul Reinig said...

Ian, your post here is fantastic. I couldn't agree more with it. My writing has always expressed the importance of identifying with compassion rather than the painful aspects. I have resolved tons thanks to this approach. So thank you very much because your words and energy have gone out into the consciousness and will make it easier for someone who is ready, who has had just enough of suffering that they ask for a better way--and suddenly they tap into your consciousness. This is true service to humanity.

Anonymous said...

hi Paul. Good for you. Keep at your work, and keep in touch