Saturday, December 26, 2015

A New Year's Blessing (Revised)

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 in one 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 into one whole personality. It can be a painful journey at times, but there is also so much energy and insight along the way. The trick is to channel an otherwise destructive force into a creative and healing pathway.

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 - once gave these three pieces of advice: do not be embarrassed, do not fear and do not regret. Dealing with the darker side is a bit messy, but so what. If it is your mission to face the dark side, just walk through the tunnel so that you can enjoy the blazing light afterwards. The one additional piece of advice I would have for the spiritual travelers, whatever it is you think you have to do, just get it done with! In my experience the only way to move forward with the shadow process is to move through the tunnel without hesitation. The psychologist Otto Rank once remarked, "babies should be delivered quickly." He had this insight before the advent of epidurals, but it still rings true even today. So run your experiments when life knocks on your door, stop beating yourself up over it and just do it!

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 he swears at the visiting team, or as they show the finger to the referee. We may want to teach our children proper family values by never straying, but the attractive couple across the street has fun every Friday night at the local swingers club. No wonder that they always look so relaxed and happy on Sunday while we channel our sexual frustrations into our yard work. Life is full of choices. Make the ones that satisfy your soul longings without throwing dirt on your spiritual path. No worries, life will show you how.

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. Then 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, or perhaps it is Jacob's super-ego. While I can't speak for Jacob's dark soul night, I do want to share my shadow-work experiences with you in this note. 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 Him why my personal struggles were so hard. 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 ever 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 our being that we had neglected thus far. When it comes to the dark corner of our soul, working harder doesn't cut it; we have to work smarter instead.

Listening to the radio one day it struck me that the U2 song "With or Without You" summed up my state of mind at that time 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.

Through the storm, we reach the shore.
You gave it all but I want more
and I'm waiting for you.
With or without you,
with or without you,
I can't live with or 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 coal that you hold in your hands. It is all ok; one day you will be tired of all the merry-go-around games and you simply move on to the next spiritual level, but until that day you have to struggle to the best of your abilities. I remember once reading the recovery story of an alcoholic in which he said that one fine day he heard a voice in his head telling him that he was done drinking - 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 unfortunately have to struggle a bit, just as Jacob 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 doesn't have to be 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 in earnest, all this hanky-panky had to stop. Not because the Bible says so, but because I felt in my bones that this war with myself was wearing me down. It wasn't an easy thing to do because on the dark night of the soul episodes all the spiritual stuff seemed pretentious and false. You simply ask yourself, "so why exactly shouldn't I have a little fun?", and there is no one around at that time to defend the guardian angel's point of view. Well, experience this merry-go-around dance for a while and see where it gets you. The upside in this soul searching process is that you learn so much about yourself. And you will struggle exactly as long as it takes you find out what authentic need you may not have yet granted yourself.

So a long back and forth process started that brought many insights, transcendence, but also many disappointments. While being at it, I was often reminded of the "With or Without You" song. 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. When I looked over my shoulders, I saw five convicts coming after 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. He threw me through a window onto a balcony, and while we wrestled I started to have a close look at him. He was pure strength and muscles; he had white skin, with blood veins sticking out of it. He also had a demon-like face with sharp teeth. Despite his strength and fury, I could keep him at arms-length. He increasingly turned angry and his face increasingly looked grotesque; whatever he did, he simply couldn't advance on me. When I finally woke up, I felt actually peaceful and calm. After all, whoever that demon was, he just couldn't advance on me. Suddenly I felt curious. What was hidden force in the basement of my subconscious? What exactly did this demon 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 there? Eventually 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 an Aha 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 for it. As it turns out, decisiveness, assertion and leadership are all appreciated yang qualities in a professional setting, and I discovered that this personal transition worked wonders in my career as a financial strategist. It was as if there suddenly was an additional engine that kicked in; a force that apparently had been slumbering in me all my life. 

So it turned out that the scary demon that popped up in my dream had in fact an important message for me in store. All I had to do was to take that destructive energy from the dark corners of the sexual fantasy-land and channel this forceful energy towards life instead. As it often happens to us spiritual travelers, I stumbled upon a book by a German mystic just in the nick of time to understand what my transformation was all about. Kim-Anne Jannes made in "Das Ich als Lehrer des Lebens" the same observation, namely that you can transform your demon from a grotesque threat into a life-affirming force that is there to help you. Her demon looked pretty similar to the one I discovered in my dream, but over time her demon transformed into a beautiful dragon who defended her in the real world against evil of all sorts.

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 together the individual forecasts of our team members 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 on a team who ensures the functioning of all players together. 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 because 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 I was taken for a ride by others. Who knows! What I can say though, 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; as a matter of fact, I can't even recall the last time when I had cried period! So that day certainly was a break-trough moment for me. Energy channels that were lying dormant 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 several years - the repressed feelings 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. Do you know that our body consists of star dust? Entire galaxies had to collide and explode for us to experience our body, and with it, Creation!

Violence and aggression are part of life. 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 introduced itself to me. A former professional ice hockey player moved into the office opposite 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 that he had to fight a war he didn't want. While I am in the lucky position that I don't have to resort to violence in any form, some occasional dark symbols show 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 trying to hurt anyone in the process. One of recent crow encounters I wrote up in this note:( when 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 the night 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 having had many ear infections during my childhood years, 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 simply excessive fluids in one of my ears. Anyway, the most amazing back and forth started. Whenever I gave in 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 her 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 afterwards, 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 and suppressed feelings inside. In that transformative year, I learned that the ear-infection was nothing but an subconscious outlet of the inner tensions and frustrations. All that bottled up lava needed to come to the surface. As a side note, one day my wife just had it with all these shadow experiments and ordered me to  go to the doctor, and the antibiotic treatment cleared it up once and for all. Looks like shadow work has become easier since the Jacob days.

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 that 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 like me and he was naturally afraid and angry. Caught in a situation like that, who wouldn't be?

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. It hits you with the strength of a tornado. My personal hunch is that you need to be thrown into this vortex of energy to reduce your internal resistance to this creative process as much as possible in the transition. In this turbulent period you have to hold onto something that you truly believe in for dear life: the sanctity of your family or your soul siblings; the people you care for, the mission you feel you are born to do, or some religious ideals that you hold sacred. In this time of turmoil, just hold on and let the Tao do the rest. You will be just fine!

The Story of the Sad Song

Every spiritual traveler has an idiosyncratic mode of connectedness with the Beyond. Number sequences like 11:11 are much quoted examples in this direction. One of my divine connection is music. There was once a sad song in particular that always announced the dark side descending on me. As you can imagine, this is one of the less joyous experiences of synchronicity if there is a Force that tells you with perfect foresight that pain is coming your way. somehow thought then that once I would say good-by to my compulsive habits, this song would simply disappear from my life, but not quite yet. To this day the song it is still with me, but its meaning has completely changed; instead of announcing anything, it simply reminds me that a somewhat deflated pain body is still with me; a little irritation, a minor inconvenience, a lingering sadness. My hunch is that as the years will go by, the song will become just a nice song. Meanwhile, my perception of the song has changed as well. When I saw the video of the song I realized that it actually has a very loving, creative and uplifting finish. Yup, this made perfect sense to me. There is so much creative power in the dark side, but you have to make it to the other side to experience it.

The Message of the Demon: You Can Have it All

I may not be completely healed yet, but I have successfully put aside my destructive habits and channeled the vast raw energy at my disposal into creative and productive outlets. My energy level and health has thanked me for it. Today, I am actually grateful to my demon. I realized that    after countless of years of struggle, the slumbering lion within was finally waking up. Not that I had much of a choice in any of this. Around the time when my friend died, I simply hit a wall. Something inside was rebelling, and my energy source had been completely 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 do. So I stood up for my career at work, I accepted and embraced my emotions; I drew a line in the sand for everyone to respect my personal space, at work, at home and in the spiritual community; and it worked! I rediscovered creativity and passion in all areas of my life; recognition started coming my way; and as a person, I simply feel more comfortable in my skin. So yes, you apparently can have it all, but you have to be working for it, sometimes quite hard. Don't be scared to look into the dark corners of your soul. Listen to your demon for he has a present for you. Find the authentic power he wants you to discover and make the change to get it. Wholeness, power and peace are waiting for you. Enjoy!

No comments: