Saturday, July 25, 2015

A New Year's Blessing

We all need to look into the dark side of our nature - that's where the energy is, the passion. People are afraid of that because it holds pieces of us we're busy denying."
(La Gitana Eva)

Darkness is part of us, as is the light. In fact, both forces necessitate each other. When the Universe was created, positive energy arose together with the negative one out of on giant OM sound. Good and evil came in pairs. When you think about it, the good is meaningless without the bad. Or as Frankie Ballard puts it in his Helluva Life song, "bad times make good times better!" 

A spiritual path guides you out of the darkness into the light, but you face resistance for the very reason that the "holy you" looks down on the so-perceived lower self. Shadow work is the process of sorting out who you truly are and of integrating all aspects of your being by becoming whole. It is a painful journey, but there is also so much energy and insight along it. The trick is to channel an otherwise destructive period into a creative and healing pathway.

Take something as useful and innocent as eating. Good food gives us the nutrients but our digestive system also leaves stuff behind that doesn't look so appetizing when it comes out. We have to accept these by-products that come with the superb cuisine. Similarly, the shadow experience is a creation of our mind that wants the "good" stuff but minds the not so kosher stuff. By simply accepting what is, you can deflate the ghost in a heart-beat.

Ernest Becker in "The Denial of Death" quotes a poem by Jonathan Swift that jokingly shows the rude awakening of a lover who discovered one fine day that his beloved dame has the same bodily functions as the rest of us: 

No wonder how I lost my wits;
Oh, Caelia, Caelia, Caelia shits!

Well, I am sure that, helped by other biological assets of his lover, he eventually got over these natural necessities and appreciated his dame as is.

An Aghori Master - that is the Indian discipline of experimenting with the not so kosher stuff along a spiritual path - once gave these three pieces of advice: do not be embarrassed, do not fear and do not doubt. Dealing with the dark side is a bit messy but the only way to move forward with it is to go right through it. It is an experiment really. You are afraid to engage; you beat yourself up over it, but what choice do you really have if life sends you temptation after temptation. Deal with it just like a scientist would, sort things out and put it to rest once and for all.

Did it ever occur to you that in fact our spiritual path may be responsible for many of the conflicts that are battling inside of us? If we always reach for the light, the shadow has a habit of catching up with us. We may teach ourselves never to speak a hurtful word, while our neighbor next door lets off steam with his buddies at the stadium as they swear at the visiting team and the referee. Or, we may want to teach our children proper family values by never straying, while the attractive couple across the street has fun every Friday night at the nearby swingers club. No wonder that they always look so relaxed and happy while we channel our sexual frustrations into yard work. 

Shadow Experience: Only You can Punish Yourself

You probably remember Jacob's wrestling match with God from Sunday School. What Jacob went through is a classic shadow experience:  

So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Than the man said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak". But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." Then the man asked him, "What's your name?" "Jacob", he answered. Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome". (Genesis 32: 22-32)

When you study the evolution of the Bible over the millennia, you can observe how God changes with it; first from a jealous and vengeful God, to a more compassionate and understanding God, until at the end of our spiritual evolution, only pure love remains. So what exactly is the force that dislocated Jacob's hip? Perhaps it is the karma of his previous sins; perhaps it is Jacob's super-ego. While I can't speak for Jacob's dark night, I do want to share my shadow-work experiences below. My observation, God doesn't punish us; only we can. 

Shadow Problem: Can't Live With or Without You 
I remember a night around the time when my spiritual path opened up when I directly appealed to my Guide and asked what my personal struggle was all about. The answer I got was, "Well, you are cycling my friend!". Wow, that hurt. I had been an over-achiever all my life, and this was the first time I remember that I seemed to have run into a wall. If anything, the harder I tried to do the "right thing", the more power I gave to the demon inside. Shadow work is not about will-power; shadow work is about opening to a new dimension of your being that you had neglected thus far. When it comes to the dark corner of your soul, don't work harder, work smarter. 

Listening to the radio one day it struck me that the U2 song "With or Without You" summed up my current state of affairs pretty well. 

See the stone set in your eyes.
See the thorn twist in your side.
I'll wait for You.
Sleight of hand and twist of fate.
On a bed of nails She makes me wait.
And I wait without You.
(U2, With or Without You)

So what exactly can you do when you reach this fork in the road when you are doomed either way? Nothing! Just sit there and be one with the tension. Sometimes your self-appointed higher self will have the upper hand, and sometimes your lower self will take you for a spin. The trick of shadow work is to find out that you are battling on the wrong level. There is arrogance and falsehood in the higher self next to holiness, and there is a diamond in the rough in the shadows. One day you will be tired of the merry-go-around games and you simply transcend to the next spiritual level. I remember once reading the recovery story of an alcoholic in which he said that one fine day he heard a voice telling him that he was done drinking as he was walking down a street; and he was! Yup, that is what transcendence is all about. It is a a shift in consciousness; but in order to get there you have to struggle a little, just as Jacob and I did. 

My Own Shadow Experience

My struggle has been with sex. I always felt that I had a pretty liberal attitude about it, but in the early days of the internet it got a little out of hands even for my standards. Around the time when half of America seemed to be on AOL and MSN, I enjoyed having steamy sexual chats with other folks. I did that for a while and discovered the joys and downside of living in sexual fantasy land. My personal take-away from that period, sex is not a hindrance for spiritual travelers, but "mind sex" is. (See the note I published with my co-author Su Zhen, "Don't Confuse Mind Sex with Mind-blowing Sex",

When my spiritual path opened up to me, all this had to stop, which wasn't easy. A long shadow process started that brought big insights, and transcendence to a new spiritual plane, but I certainly had my share of disappointments and frustrations getting there. An inner war started that lasted a few years. While at it, I was reminded of the "With or Without You" theme. I just couldn't keep that dark feeling away, especially not on a full moon night  when I woke up at 2 am. Similarly, whenever these mind sex episodes happened, my spiritual power base got undermined. Always a few days afterwards it felt like I was climbing out of a deep hole. Something had to stop this war inside, but what?

A Liberating Dream

One night I had the following dream. I was in a vacation resort when I heard on the radio that convicts had escaped from a near-by prison. I turned around a already saw five convicts following me. I heard one saying, "There is fresh meat!" I ran away but one guy followed me. We ran into a house and somewhere on the second floor he caught up with me. We wrestled and I started to have a close look at him. He was pure strength and muscles, with white skin and blood veins sticking out. He had a demon-like face. Despite his strength and fury, I could keep him at arms-length. He increasingly turned angry and his face increasingly looked grotesque, but he simply couldn't advance on me. When I woke up, I felt calm. After all, whoever that demon was, he just couldn't advance. I also felt a little  curious. What was hidden in the basement of my subconscious? What exactly did he he want from me?

A Shaky Handshake

I am not violent, never have been and never will. Yet, this demon in me certainly felt violent. So what was going on? At one point I finally figured it out: it was repressed yang energy! The first eye opener happened one day when I walked into our London office. The manager who was quite a big fellow accused me of not having a firm enough hand shake. I laughed it off at the time but afterwards it became a symbolic breakthrough moment for me. While I am still not a fan of handshakes of any form, I certainly made it a deliberate effort to accentuate my yang energies in all professional interactions, and I found many outlets: Divisiveness, assertion, leadership are all yang qualities and I discovered that this transition worked wonders in my career as a financial strategist. It was as if there suddenly was that additional engine that kicked in. A force that had been slumbering in me all my life. 

So it turned out that the scary demon in my dream in fact had a message for me in store. All I had to do was to redirect that destructive energy from the dark corners of the sexual fantasy land, and channel that creative energy right into the bed- and the boardrooms. I once read an intriguing book by the German author Kim-Anne Jannes, "Das Ich als Lehrer des Lebens". She made exactly the same observation that I discovered, namely that you can transform your demon from a grotesque threat into a life-affirming force that in fact helps you. Her demon looked pretty similar to the one I discovered in a my dream, but over time her demon transformed into a beautiful dragon who defended her in the real world against evil.

Androgynous: When Yang Embraces Yin

The expression androgynous implies a perfect balance between male and female energy. I came across that expression for the first time in Daniel Pink's "A Whole New Mind" in which he makes the claim that we are all on a subconscious or conscious journey towards wholeness. As it turned out, I have been undergoing this transition on my spiritual path but by no means has it been an easy one. At work, I specialize in putting the individual analyses of our team members together into one internally consistent strategy piece. Part of this job requirement contains many yin elements, such as being in tune with the individual analyst perspective, or integrating contrasting perspectives. I remember on of my bosses calling me the "glue guy", that is, the player who ensures the functioning of the entire team. Another boss called me the emotional center of the group. Both had a point, and it had been a mission of sorts for me. Yet, something in me rebelled at the same time, especially when I initially got very little recognition for this line of work.

Perhaps the demon popped up because he minded that I was not aggressive enough; perhaps he felt that my yang energy was taken for a ride. Who knows! What I can say is that when I consciously opened up to embrace my yang energies, many attributes that we would associate with female energy also got stronger. So it has been a journey towards wholeness for me. I remember a day when one of my investment calls had gone horribly wrong, and I just went into my room and wept. I overheard our little boy telling my wife, "I think Papa cries." To this day I can not remember the last time I had cried before with that intensity, so that day certainly was a break-trough moment for me. Energy channels that were lying latent for so many years finally started to open up.

Men are less connected with their emotions than women are. I remember someone from the Spiritual Networks community who told me about his struggles with pornography, and claimed that he was able to put this all behind him when he finally managed to let his blocked emotions circulate freely. He credited his break-through experience to the book "The Emotion Code", by Dr. Bradley Nelson. I can't comment on this particular book but I certainly know what he was talking about. My spiritual friend and co-author Su Zhen (see The Dance of the Tao, forthcoming) helped me opening up to my emotional side and slowly, over many painful months, they started bubbling to the surface. I remember how good it felt - after many years of hibernation - to put my music collection back together again. Perhaps my final break-through came when I was ready to download fiery Adele into the collection, with all her sadness, anger and fire. 

The message of the Crow: Open up to all of of Life's Dimensions

We spiritual travelers tend to have a problem with aggressiveness and violence. Yet, does aggressiveness and violence always have to be bad? When God created this Universe in one Big Bang, wasn't that a rather violent event? Yet, this act created Gaia with all its beauty on planet earth; so it turns out that violence and aggression are part of creation too. I remember a story from the 19th century Indian mystic Sri Ramakrishna, who once forced one of his disciples to kill a cockroach to teach him to open up to all of life's dimensions. Personally, I had an incredible wake-up call when the symbol of the crow introduce itself to me. A former professional hockey player moved into the office adjacent to mine. He had a painting above his desk with a prominent crow staring right at me. I wondered what this was all about and soon found out. 

In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjun got enlightened on the battlefield when Lord Krishna told him to had to fight a war he didn't want. While I am the the lucky position that I don't have to resort to violence in any form, some occasional dark symbols shows up in my life too, and they are often, heralded by the crow. I will always put my best foot forward to get the messy job done without hurting anyone in the process. One of recent crow encounters I wrote up in this note:( the crow alerted me to an upcoming problematic email exchange. As you can see, the crow has in the meantime become a meaningful shadow messenger for me, and I will never forget when hundreds of crows nested near the hotel I was staying in. This was the year when I finally said good-bye to my shadow struggles and the crows apparently wished them farewell en masse.

The Mysterious Ear infection

Anyone who is on a shadow path knows what Jacob went trough. My symbolic feedback mechanism was a mysterious ear infection, not a dislocated hip. It all started when my son challenged me to dive into the pool. I knew that it wasn't a good idea given that I had damaged ear drums from the many ear infections during my childhood, but I did it anyway. Soon afterwards, I developed what I thought was an ear infection, though later a doctor told me that these were excessive fluids in one of my ears. Anyway, the most amazing back and forth started. Whenever I succumbed to my dark longings, my ear would start oozing for days. It worked without fail. I certainly didn't think that a God was punishing me for my sins, so I figured that my own super ego was beating me up over my perceived shortcomings. 

A New Year's Blessing: Get Your Passion Back!

My sister-in-law used to have debilitating migraine attacks, so as a New Year's Eve blessing I wished that they would disappear. She looked at me and responded, "Well, I wish your passions back!" It turned out that her migraines got better pretty soon after, and this was also the year when I felt re-energized at work and on my spiritual path. Out of a sudden everything seemed to be clicking. I had built the support system I needed, both at work and in my spiritual community, and I finally had the means and ability to express my creativity in all dimensions. But, as always, light and shadow come in pairs. This year I not only re-discovered my passion and creativity, I also stumbled on a lot of hidden anger inside. In that transformative year, I learned that the ear-infection was nothing but a symbol for repressed emotions bubbling to the surface, and had little to do with the dark side per se. To this day I feel some fluids in one of my ears when I get overly excited or angry about something. It is as if all that previously hidden lava is finally bubbling to the surface.

Cancer: An Expression of the Anger Within

When I learned about the cancer of a colleague I had worked with for a long time, I made it a point to visit him on my regular visits to Germany. We picked a restaurant in the center of Frankfurt and each time I visited, we had lunch there. Initially I wasn't quite sure what exactly my role was in this process. Could I be a healer, a helper, a psychologist? I told my friend about my other career as a spiritual writer and he was naturally interested to learn more about it given the seriousness of the disease.

I knew there was something meaningful about our friendship; we worked in the same industry, we were born in the same country and he was just one month younger than me. In one of the conversations, it seemed that I perceived anger in him. Was it all the accumulated anger and frustration of working in the - sometimes brutal - financial industry? Was he angry at the situation he was in? That would be only natural. After all, he was married and had children just as me and he was afraid and angry. Caught in a situation like that, who wouldn't?

I never had the chance to find out what the true underlying cause of his anger was. His conditions deteriorated and he died before we could catch up again. What I learned in this period, though, was that a similar war was brewing in me. I realized that I wasn't spiritually superior in any way; I had exactly the same painful soul-searching process to go through. Maybe I have a better genetic disposition than my friend had; or just maybe I had a better support system. Maybe my challenges are trifles compared to what he had to go through. I don't know any of this. What I know though, we are all in the same boat. So let's help lifting each other up as best as we can!

The Need for Purity 

Walking the Tao is a full-contact sport. There are some who treat it like a hobby, like taking yoga classes or writing eloquent spiritual poems. Joining a spiritual path means to be exposed to a Force that lifts you up and throws everything you ever learned upside down. And it hits you with the strength of a tornado. My personal hunch is that you need to be thrown into the vortex to reduce your internal resistance to the process as much as possible. In this turbulent period you have to hold onto something that you truly believe in: the sanctity of your family or soul siblings, the mission you feel you are born to do, or some religious ideals you hold sacred. In this time of turmoil, hold on to those spiritual truths and let the Tao do the rest. You gonna be just fine!

The Message of the Demon: You Can Have it All

I realized that after countless years, the slumbering lion within was finally waking up. Around the time when my friend died, I simply hit the wall. Something inside was rebelling, and my energy source had been depleted. There was nothing left in me to continue the way I had. I simply had to trust my demon and had to make all the changes he wanted me to. So I stood up for my career at work, I accepted and embraced my emotions, and I drew a line in the sand for everyone I was interacting with to simply respect my personal space. And it worked! I rediscovered my creativity and passion, and have become whole and more comfortable in my skin at the same time. So yes, you apparently can have it all, but you have to be willing to look into the dark corners of your soul as well. Listen to your demon, he has a present for you. Find the authentic power he wants you to discover and make the change to get it.  Wholeness and peace are waiting for you. Enjoy!

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