Monday, December 9, 2019

Shadow Work, Easy As 1, 2, 3!

Well... actually, it's as easy as 3, 2, 1, but who's counting?

Yesterday I gave a sermon called 'After Enlightenment, the Shadow Work' and we explored the premise that while many many parts of us might be quite mature, even "enlightened" in a way, other parts of us have been repressed and are operating in a kind of shadow-world rather than the light of our awareness.  Freud, Jung, and others explained how this repressed material can then be "projected" onto others, causing us to misperceive our world and suffer from feeling triggered a lot of the time.

If you'd like to watch that talk, you can view it here:

This talk was focused mostly on becoming aware that these disowned aspects of ourselves exist, and using that understanding to help illuminate why we'll sometimes "fall from grace" (as will famous spiritual leaders!).  I briefly mentioned a process by which one can work directly with Shadow material, called the 3, 2, 1 Process, and got some requests for deeper explanation, so I'll give you the short description here for your home practice.  I learned this process through the study of Ken Wilber's Integral Theory and body of practices.

Step one: Find a Trigger
For this work, we'll define "Trigger" as "An emotional response that is out of proportion to the stimulus."  (In work on complex trauma and PTSD, "trigger" can have a different meaning).  We want to find these triggers because they are the signal that we've likely got repressed material in there.  As my friend and mentor, Scott Catamas sometimes says, "The treasure is in the trigger."

A calm or motivated response of dislike toward something isn't the type of trigger we're looking for.  If you feel moved to educate people who don't recycle, well that's healthy, but if you hate them, or find it an outrage, you're probably triggered.  "Hate" is usually too strong, but if there's something that is your pet peeve, or "gets your goat", that's usually a trigger.  You're thrown off balance by it emotionally.

Step two: Feel the Blame!
Ok, to start, we're going to do the opposite of Compassionate Communication.  We need to really get into the feeling of our trigger emotionally to be able to access this -usually subconscious- material.  So, you're not going to make an "I statement" here, you're going to let yourself say what you really think about those people.  What is it about people who don't recycle?  It could be "They're SO inconsiderate!"  or, "They're careless!"  "They're slobs,"  "Immature!"

Notice, we're not calmly observing their actions - that would be good Non-Violent Communication - we're digging into what our actual projections are.  Do we think they're a slob, a narcissist, have no self-control?  What is it about this that is so triggering?

This is the "Three" section of the 3, 2, 1 Process - because it's working with people in the third person.  We're dealing with them, out there.  Contemplate or journal about this step until you really get the solid sense about what it is that triggers you.  Be able to say it in a one sentence format as above "They are ___________."

Step three: Have a Conversation
Now we move from third person to second person.  In your imagination, you're going to sit down and have a talk with this person.  Imagine them in your mind's eye as you tell them directly how they are:  "you're so thoughtless!"  "you're a bully!" "you're a coward!" etc.  Notice any feelings of energetic release or integration that happen somatically as you do this.

Now you begin a process of re-humanization.  Rather than an inhuman "they" you get to project all over, this person gets to talk back.  Imagine that they begin to explain why they act in the way they do.  What their motivations are.  Imagine that they explain it in a way that you really begin to understand what's behind that behavior.  Again, practice in this way until you get an insight, or you feel some emotional release or energetic integration in your body.  You can do this as a contemplation exercise, or if it helps, you can write the narrative out in a journal (or even role-play it with a trusted friend or therapist).

Step four: Re-own the Disowned
This final step is the big one, we move from second person ("you"), to first person ("I").  Now in a state of contemplation, listening to your bodily sensations and emotions, try on the statement: "I'm so _______"  and fill in the word for your projected trigger.  So it might be "I'm so inconsiderate," or "I'm a bully,"  "I'm a coward," "I'm hypersexualized," etc.  Note what sensations, thoughts, or insights come up for you as you try this statement on.

Likely, one of two things will happen.  First, there can be a moment of insight: you say "I'm a bully" and you recognize all the subtle ways you do bully people, but don't notice because that's not how you usually think about yourself.  If this comes up, take some time to be with the insight, let whatever sensations in the body are happening integrate.  Perhaps journal about what you realize and what this brings up for you.

The second thing that might happen is that as you say the phrase "I'm so thoughtless," or whatever it is for you, your mind may respond "NO I'M NOT, I WOULD NEVER!"  This too is a big insight, because it means that you've identified a part of yourself that is not allowed.  The essence of the repressed Shadow is that which is "not ok" for us to be.  We push it down to try to be safe and good.  But the thing is - as you can hear described in the sermon linked above - when we push these things down we lose both the good and the bad.  If you're NEVER allowed to be thoughtless, but you also cannot get your mind to shut up when you go to sleep or meditate, it becomes obvious how these are connected.  You're trying to be a good, conscious person, but you also never get to be thought-free, you always have to be on guard.  Similarly, some people may reject that they are a sensually desirous being, but also suffer from confusion over marital or sexual problems - where sensual desire would be healthy and appropriate.

So if you get the "no I'm not" response, first think about what might be the healthy side of this issue you've projected.  If it's about anger, think about your relationship with healthy aggression, is a healthy form of anger allowed?  If greedy people piss you off, how's your relationship with desire, self-care, abundance?  Are you allowed to desire things for yourself, or was it steeped into you that this is always evil?  Through this process we can come to recognize that what we've repressed as Shadow material is always an expression of an Essential human need - things like autonomy, or nourishment, communion, sexual expression.  We were taught that we must be afraid of and hide the "bad" parts of that need, but in doing so we lost all access to it.  Our own lives become less rich and we're also subject to finding triggers everywhere we go.

One final troubleshooting note:  This last step will only really work if it's a general enough projected quality that you can find a healthy aspect of it.  In the recycling example above, if you thought "They hate the earth", when it comes to saying "I hate the earth" well, that just might not feel true, and I personally can't think of a redeeming benefit to hating the earth.  On the other hand, simple "hatred" is a very scary and oft-repressed emotion, but it does have it's other face - it's an aspect of disgust, often born of powerlessness, and underneath, there's a wellspring of vital energy being hidden by hatred.  Saying "they're so hateful" and trying on "I'm so hateful" could bear many, many insights.  The point is not to become a more hateful person, the point is to recognize and integrate the facets of our human being we're repressed so we can make them conscious.

It's a subtle process, and like all things of the psyche, it's more an art than a science.  With a little practice, though, this type of Shadow Work can unveil aspects of your being that you never even knew were repressed, and also help let some of your loved ones off the hook for the things you're projecting on them!

In this darkest part of the year, what a potent way to bring in a little illumination!

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Made For These Times

Having been around a bit in the New Age world, I've heard the phrase "we were made for times like these" a lot.  I'm not hearing it as often nowadays, I'm not sure whether that's just because I've changed who I hang out with, social media's got me on a different algorithm, or because as a culture we've learned a thing or two about spiritual bypassing.

Is this phrase always a form of spiritual bypassing?  Probably not - I mean, that's going to be the point of most of this blog - but I think maybe it has been used that way sometimes.  Why would I say this?  Well, in my own experience, a slogan like this gives us the sense that there's a bigger spiritual meaning to world events that are taking place.  Maybe we feel that we've got a "soul contract" that caused us to incarnate when things were getting crazy so we could learn a lesson.  And I think this would be epic if it sparked us to get up and use the unique gifts we've incarnated with to make significant change for people suffering all over the planet.  But too often it seems like we get comfort from the sense that maybe there's something deeper going on and then we make a story of what this says about "me", and then we sort of go back to business as usual, now that we've used a spiritual concept to help us handle it.  We've got a new spiritual "identity" that makes the pain a little less.

I personally have no problem with spiritual concepts or identities - I'm a person of faith in my own practice - but it seems like sometimes these concepts are helping us to check out, when we should be checking in.  "It's all part of god's plan" makes it easier to ignore the suffering of people or animals that should be ripping us apart inside.

So the bad news is, I think, that if you aren't feeling a lil ripped up inside, you are probably checking out.  

But the good news is: we were made for these times!  Not in a way that requires you to believe in past lives or soul groups or anything like that (though if those beliefs empower you, nothing inconsistent here).  Rather, we were made for these times because of how our human heart is built.

Most of us received a mis-education of the heart, and this causes us fear.  We've been taught that compassion might make us weak, or that there's a finite well of it for us to draw from.  We've been taught that hope is naive and leads to disappointment.  But we've been taught backwards.

We've been taught that our compassion should somehow depend on how the world looks coming at us, how we feel that day, how the object is of our loving.  We've been taught to base hope on how likely our preferred outcome looks.  But this is upside down and inside out, because the truth is that compassion is something that comes forth from us as an intrinsic quality.  Hope is a light that we shine out to illuminate our own lives and others.  Joy is a gift humans have manifested in the most dire of conditions.

We can let go of the false notion that hope cannot live in a broken heart.  Our hearts are breaking because of the love that lives in us naturally and wants to burst forth.  All too often we try to tamp down these pesky feelings so we can get on with the "necessities" of life.  But this is the soul-nourishment without which none of the "necessities" have any meaning.

We were made for these times because the goodness and luminosity that we ARE are not limited in what times or situations they can express themselves.  Every moment is a moment for empathy.  This one, this one, and this one too.  It's not a stoic stance to vow "I will open my heart under even the hardest conditions."   It's not a punishment.  It's simply a commitment to living from and as your truest self.  Living from this core and source of our Being is the joy we've been looking for all along.

We've trained so long on how to dim our light, when the despair of the world adds its cry to our own within, it can seem unbearable.  But this shock could be the ripping away of an unnecessary bandage. You were never truly wounded, there was no obstruction to your giving your gift fully.

Even now, when times seem darkest, the dark is no obstacle to your light.  And in times like these we need that light to shine all the brighter.  So truly, you were made for these times.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Anger, Gaia, and Love's Other Faces

I made a mistake this morning.

Instead of hitting the altar first thing - or even the shower, or the coffee pot - I hit up the social media feed and got the ol' bad news blast I'm so used to by now.

A lot of days I'm unfazed, I know that my sense of hope is something that springs forth from me, not something requiring external circumstances to be just right.

But I think today a combo of physical fatigue and introvert-fatigue has me a different kind of sensitive.

There's something about the planet burning, and racist rallies, and war threats, and indefinite detention that just really impairs my ability to see the good in others.  It's been building for a few days, this vague discontent.

And I'm privileged to be able to note what's happening in me.  To be able to say "oh look, there's anger, and it's arising because of these stories I hold, and these needs, and these values."  Often, the cascade of feeling goes so fast that we're not able to gather any insight about the process.

For me, what often happens is that this type of emotional energy will arise and almost immediately I'll push it down.  I have all kinds of good origin-stories for this response: a "no back-talk" childhood household,  upbringing in a "religion of peace", and further training in new age and ancient pacifist ways.  Whatever the cause, the result is that this energy arises and I clench up around it with the thought that it's bad or inappropriate, and this just causes further discomfort.

Perhaps people came up with this strategy of repression because the opposite is not much better - acting out.  Most of the time, acting on our anger is reacting, and even that assumes you have a path of power through which you could make change.  In many cases, people lash out wildly because their anger has no real hope of effecting positive transformation.

So with all this, when a roiling, tumultuous, cataclysmic emotion arises in me first thing in the morn, Im forced to taste the complex bouquet of all these various elements.  And the question that lives in my heart - which I believe is a question we all need to hold - is how can we let this natural emotion arise in us while neither blindly lashing out, nor self-destructively repressing?

The thought that came to me by Grace at the end of my meditation this morning (once I finally sat down to Work) was something like: "Your anger is a response to great tragedies in our world, it would be sacred if you just continued feeling it for as many years as necessary."  And this was such a wild and far-out thought to my mind!  As many years?!?  Because in the past, my own capacity to hold the hot coals of anger has been so limited.  This particular emotion has been so destructive and so fatiguing in my experience that I've always worked to get the hell away from it whenever it arises!

But somehow this simple message at the tail end of my meditation felt like it was coming from Mother Gaia herself - the great big Goddess of the earth.  And the feeling was like we were holding it together, I had my lil heart, but it was wrapped up in Her big heart.  There wasn't a tight little "me" that all this energy was bound up in, but a whole planet.  And it wasn't just my needs I was concerned about - the longing to see justice and possibility for everyone felt like it expanded my capacity.  Being mad because of my personal pet-peeves made me tight and constricted, but being mad for the sake of goodness, for the animals and forests and maybe even humans of our earth - seemed to turn me into a being big enough to hold that anger.

And I was surprised.  Because I felt like I could do what Gaia was calling on me to do.  I could not have a message of love and light and hope to help ease these pesky feelings.  I could not know the exact solutions necessary to solve all our problems.  I could have intense energy coursing through my being... and it could be ok.

This is exactly what I've been taught by my Buddhist and Daoist masters.  That these energies that arise in us are natural - not to be denigrated or denied.  To the Daoists, the anger that arises is the energy of the Wood element.  When it's constricted through excessive self-concern, it's anger, but when liberated by understanding our real nature, it is called Benevolence.  To the Tantric Buddhists, this energy is the piercing clarity of the Space Element.  When crimped by the cataract of self-grasping, it arises as anger, but when liberated by orienting from our Buddha Nature, we see this is part of the dynamic display of our deeper being.

Put simply, anger - and any emotion - is another face of Love.  I feel these discomforts because some value I hold is violated.  To deny the emotion is to denigrate the value.  It is to say that a longing for justice, peace, kindness to prevail is foolish, childish or useless.  But when I remember where this feeling is coming from - it's coming from the longing for a better world, for a better way - I recognize that this feeling is itself Love.  It's a form of love I'm not familiar with, it's a form I've been taught to avoid.  It's a form with almost no representation in our world as love.  But it is no less compassionate for all that.

Love can ache, and love can bleed, and at times that makes the love all the stronger.  It's an answer to my question of how do we hold this anger without harming self or others.  How much love can you hold?  How long could you sustain compassion.  I've been taught that these qualities - love and compassion - are without limit, if we but train them.  And I intuitively feel that it's true.

It feels like the dawning of a new era in my practice and my relationships.  Moving from a place of telling others how to calm down, how to get peaceful, how to soothe those wild energies, and into a place of greeting these feelings as the face of love, and helping each other become large enough beings to contain them.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

A Prayer

Great Spirit of life who lives in our hearts and all things, we call upon you again for comfort.

Come and bless us in the words of those inspired and holy hearts who came before, bringing our minds peace through deeper understanding.

Come and bless us as the spirit of nature, inspiring us with your beauty, majesty and wildness, reminding us we were never in control.

Bless us in the form of uncanny coincidence that shakes us from the doldrums of the “ordinary” and awakens us to connectivity and inner meaning.

Bless us through inspiration arising within.

Bless us through the hands and hearts and glances of true friends, may we be embraced.

In moments of witnessing the tragic, bless us through spaciousness, calling us home to our presence so that we may be with whatever is arising, neither turning away in fear, nor closing our hearts in reactivity.

Let us become your instruments, purveyors of Grace, enfolded in the knowing that we are One in this Spirit.

Flow forth to those who have experienced loss today, ease their tears.

Flow forth to those burned by hatred, cool their fires.

Flow forth to those empowered to lead others - open their hearts.

Bind us ever closer, heart to heart, as one humanity, one earth, as a family partaking together in the spirit of Life itself.

Come to us oh great Spirit, we call, and may we be comforted.


Monday, July 29, 2019

I have no wisdom for you

I have no wisdom for you

I wish I did.  When yet another tragedy strikes I wish I had exactly the right thing to say.  How do we find comfort in times such as these?  In the midst of taking some “me time” - going out to a movie to recover from the work-week - I turned my phone on and was shocked by the news of a racist, mass-shooting right here in my own neighborhood.
Why does it strike you deeper when it’s in your own backyard?  It shouldn’t, right? But somehow while it still cuts deep when tragedy strikes far away, it doesn’t cut as deep as when it’s on our own turf.  The mind can say, “that could have been my loved ones!” much more easily.
And it feels like one more straw on this camel’s back.  One more vision of horror amidst all the others on display everyday, and it’s hard to feel wise and compassionate and all that right now.  I had just given a sermon yesterday morning on the Fire of Commitment, and while I’ll stand by those ideas, they don’t soothe my heart in this moment.

Right now I have no wisdom for you, only grief.  I think we long to be able to “fix” it as soon as possible.  I want to be able to give you the perfect Buddhist meditation for just such a moment.  If I were a pundit, I would be spinning your pain into the kind of action we need to take against our enemies.  There are thousands of ways to try to fix what we’re feeling.

Perhaps it’s good that no “wisdom” comes to mind.  While I have to deal with my own imposter syndrome about it (“Shouldn’t you be leading a candle-light vigil or something, pastor?”  “Shouldn’t you know just what to say to provide comfort?”), maybe it’s good that I can’t jump to some platitude about the afterlife, or some political slogan about who or what our enemies are, or some self-help method to try to numb an uncomfortable feeling.

Because the grief is REAL.  To not feel it deeply would be disrespectful.  It would be to disrespect and close my heart to those who have been hurt or killed.  It would be to deny how deeply I long for a better world in which we can care for each other in fellowship and love.  And so the grief and terror I feel are important.  I don’t want to “wisdom” them away, not really. I want to be uncomfortable, because this discomfort is a face of love.

I haven’t any comforting words for you today.  I don’t have an “action plan” or a “coaching tip”, no petitions, and I don’t even have any prayers.  But I will feel with you.  I will sit here with my heart raw and demolished.  In that we can be together. And that does bring some comfort, maybe a real comfort, one that doesn’t deny our pain, but recognizes that if we hold each other up, the pain can be borne.  That may be the only way it can be borne. It’s too heavy to carry alone.

Friday, March 1, 2019

On Sustainable Happiness

It was a wonderful synchronicity that the day I gave a sermon about how consumerism has given us all a skewed sense of where happiness comes from that we also , in our environmental justice class happened to watch 'The Story of Stuff'

It will take you 20 mins and some of the info is dated now, but it's certainly worth the watch.  And in our discussion afterward, many of us noted the parallels in messages.

For me, something very interesting happened:  Rather than feel pounded down by the heaviness of our environmental crisis like I often am when I watch these sort of videos, I felt motivated and inspired.

I felt this way because I had just given a talk the same morning with the main take-away being that happiness is actually not increased by more "stuff".  It's not just a religious thing, or something that meditators will tell you, it's a fact borne out by research.  There is a type of happiness ("hedonia") that comes from the thrill of novelty or consumption, but when left unchecked, that type of happiness can actually lead more toward addiction than fulfillment.  There is another type of happiness ("eudaimonia") that is somehow more pervasive and fulfilling, which comes from our connections with others and our sense of meaning in our lives.

The Sunday sermon links these types of happiness to aspects of the neurotransmitters Dopamine and Serotonin, and you can watch it here:

What inspired me was reflecting on how people just don't know this.  Here we are destroying our only planet to the tune of power accumulation for the wealthiest, and we don't know that this won't make us happy!  Our possessions, waste, and things-to-do accumulate every year, but our happiness decreases.  So if we look, we'll find that all we're doing is trading the delicate balance of the ecosystem that keeps us alive, for unsatisfying addictions.

The main take-away from my talk (in case you haven't time to watch it) is that we're regularly accepting analogues for real happiness.  We take something that looks like happiness, but just provides us momentary stimulation and no long-term satisfaction.  It's much like how sugar tricks the brain into rewarding you as if you're being nourished, but actually leads to ongoing craving for more sugar - and deleterious health effects downstream.

When you combine this knowledge with that presented in the 'Story of Stuff', showing how the cost of this constant consumption is outsourced to the most marginalized communities, you can start to see how this is not only self-destructive, but ethically deplorable.  In exchange for the Christmas-morning feeling of buying something new, we destroy the homes of people and animals in the "Third World", where extractive policies chew up cultures and people.  Perhaps we'll wake up as global climate change brings some of the issues home to "first world" consumers.

But why exactly does this inspire me?  It sounds pretty depressing!  I'm inspired because I understand that we humans all just want to be happy.  The reason we're in the situation we're in economically, environmentally, politically, is because we want to be happy.  But we've let our reward circuitry be hacked and accepted addiction to consumption in exchange for real happiness.  But real happiness is available!  That's the good news.  In my talk I mentioned how the dopamine-reward "hedonic" type happiness is not a bad thing, it just needs to be balanced out by the serotonin-contentment type happiness that comes from a sense of meaning and connection.  Eating a good meal, having a delicious coffee, crushing it at your job, these are all fulfilling in the short term, and what staves off the feelings of depression and isolation that might come in the long term is having a sense of purpose, a group of good friends, a code of ethics.

The great news is that the "eudaimonic" happiness of connection and meaning is pretty much free!  I mean, it's not great news for advertisers and colonial war-machines, but it's great news for the rest of us and for our planet earth!  Because it means that if we figured this out, we could drastically cut the waste we produce, the natural resources we consume, and the harm we inflict - with no loss of happiness.  The research shows our happiness would actually increase!

So what do we do?  Well, today I'm writing a blog about it, because I see the big problem as people's ignorance about where happiness comes from.  There's an entire advertisement machine built to keep the church of consumerism running and funded, but there's little information about how to hold one's loved ones close, create beloved community, meditate, and garden - and how these things are the real cause of the satisfied feelings we want.  I believe this information needs to be out there - I believe that the revolution we need starts from within, with our priorities and worldview.  I believe that if we start this conversation it can only lead us in a good way!  What do YOU believe?