Shadow and Nonduality: A Cry of the Heart

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Recently, a contemporary spiritual teacher in the nondual tradition invited me to have a conversation for a video blog on the topic of ‘The Shadow and Its Integration’.

A few days after our meeting, I received an email explaining that after carefully viewing our exchange, they had decided not to use it. They felt that our discussion had taken on an argumentative tone their audience might have perceived as fractious.

When I asked to listen to the recording, I was informed that it had been deleted, leaving no trace.

The conversation had been friendly and open, and yes, there had been a slight rub and some divergence in our views, bringing a spark of friction and an element of discomfort.

The ‘shadow’ had attempted an appearance! 

It was the very phenomenon we had proposed to explore, inevitably showing up in the interstices of our conversation, through the cracks of what appears as certainty via readymade answers, threatening to enliven and vitalize our exchange, only to find itself uninvited and relegated back to whence it came.

So much for welcoming the unconscious, I thought to myself.

So much for honouring and wrestling with the darker shades of experience so that ‘it’ and ‘we’ might become more integrated with each other. 

So much for the humility to acknowledge the vast and hidden wealth of guidance living in the waters of our psyche.

Here it was, the infamous spiritual bypass that contemporary nondual teachings are so prone to, legitimizing and perpetuating a deeply rooted habit of repression and division in our human psyches and societies.

*     *     *

We often hear nondual teachers evoke the here and now as the placeless space out of which whatever arises, including negative feelings, effortlessly dissolves back into awareness. 

In the here and now, there is no place for time and space, no past or future, no localization, and thus, no individual entity. Everything that arises is allowed without resistance and its trajectory takes it back effortlessly to its source.

When we are in meditation, body and mind gradually surrender what they hold as beliefs, both tactile and conceptual, to stillness and silence. Here we abide in, and even as, open presence, without referring to past and future. 

Here there is a dedicated listening to the tactile realm and to the background of borderlessness in which it unfolds. Here we may well realize (in glimpses of peace and vibrational tranquillity echoing through the body-mind) our essential nature, where light and shadow merge into the heart of silence.

Awareness prior to experience casts no shadow.


. . .

But, but!

Manifestation or Creation is the very unfolding of time and space, of past and future, of inner and outer perception, of a person and a world, of a subject and an object. 

It is a magnificent mystery governed by laws found in the myths, rituals, dances, and traditions of all cultures.

As such it is universal and divine. 

By nature, it is multiple and divided.

Even when we rediscover the singular reality of Consciousness as the essence of our being, we continue to be individuals, each with our unique history, character, culture, limits, and conditioning. For each of us, and as collectives, there is a hidden side to be explored, rippling under the surface of waking-state consciousness. 

In Jungian circles it is known as the personal and collective unconscious. In Christian mysticism it is the hidden face of God.

*     *     *

In its Jungian meaning, the shadow lives in this unseen territory. It is everything we would like not to know is true about ourselves. It is what our family, culture, education, and religions have encouraged us to split off and suppress. 

It is a certain sexuality, a boasting ambition, a selfishness, a loud, unrefined manner, an anger, a hunger. It is crude and inadmissible, a green jealousy, a sticky substance, an untamed, disheveled beast, a dictator, a righteous racist, sexist, fattist, you-name-it-ist, a maimed infant, a madness, a rage, a superiority, an entitlement, even an evil.  

Simply said, it is that which we unconsciously cast off, individually and as a collective, and relegate to the basement of our being and to the dark corners of our civilization.

In our culture, there are very few places where we can engage personally and collectively with this hidden dimension of existence.

There is a scarcity of rituals and rites of passages, our gods and goddesses have disappeared, our bodies have been numbed, our stories and myths have lost their numinous power. We are in denial, entranced by the archetype of MORE and by egoic materialism. Everything conspires against an interior individual and collective life.

Our vision and language have lost their symbolic thrust.

*     *     *

We are walking on thin ice, on the brink of devastation and destruction, utterly dependent on and hypnotized by the emptiness of what our collective humanity has invested its security in. Our shadow is in the claws of the devil!

In myths and tales of all traditions, the hero(ine) goes on a journey down into their own depths to pay off an inner debt and accomplish an inner marriage. It is a voyage into the unknown. Leaving the horizontal plane, they go because they must. They go because they hear a calling. They go because they are in longing. God’s call is their longing; the journey will be made.

As humans worthy of that name, we must engage with the inner and the hidden aspects of our experience. We must question our points of view and convictions and make way for those voices that creep up from the dark in our dreams at night or in daily projections. 

We must reacquaint ourselves with a listening from down below, question our certitudes, dialogue with the images that visit us, welcome our shadows.

We must engage in the conversation, not so much to come to resolution but to hold the tension of opposites and perhaps be blessed by the alchemy of this sacred intention.

This is not a comfortable or safe endeavor. Why should it be?

*     *     *

In The Red Book, Carl Jung wrote:

The image of God throws a shadow that is just as great as itself. The supreme meaning is great and small; it is as wide as the space of the starry heaven and as narrow as the cell of the living body. The spirit of this time in me wanted to recognize the greatness and extent of the supreme meaning but not its littleness. The spirit of the depths, however, conquered this arrogance, and I had to swallow the small as a means to heal the immortal in me.

*     *     *

Unfortunately, there is a tyranny of light (what Jungian analyst and dancer, Marion Woodman, referred to as the ‘addiction to perfection’) that threatens to undermine some nondual circles.

In the hands of an unexamined ego, there is a danger of the nondual understanding becoming an ideology that can turn into a violence. Seemingly benign with its promises of effortless peace and happiness, it ruthlessly denies the emerging and unfolding of darker shades of experience by shining upon it a light that is simultaneously blinding and deadening.

How, I wondered, was this video conversation a real dialogue, opening up a space of not-knowing? 

Is it not in the field of relationship that the shadow chooses to show itself, demanding of all parties involved a willingness to feel, explore, and engage, to postpone judgement and share the discomfort?

Is it not in taking part together in such conversation that life can come back to life, precisely because we share in both knowing and not-knowing? Are we not safe to ask ourselves, ‘What is it in this other being that I cannot fathom, cannot be touched by, cannot open to? What reflection is this offering?’

And where, I wonder, would there be a better place to model this than in a conversation between seekers of truth?

Sadly, it is often so much easier and more convenient to retreat to the position of knowledge and certainty than to face the discomfort of one’s unknown territories and shadow. Yet what am I really doing when I choose to remain not only untouched but untouchable? 

What am I doing when I insist on the reality of the Now alone and deny the existence of a limited self, of a genuine and embodied suffering? When I impose on experience a certainty reached through impeccable spiritual logic, its meaning shining implacably?

What am I up to when, with a couple of blindingly luminous formulations, I claim to take my stand as Awareness and to allow everything, free from resistance, effortlessly?

Who is this one who can adopt such a position if not the ego, wrapped in spiritual garb, offering a spiritual totalitarianism to a hungry and vulnerable flock who continue to seek safety in authority?  

*     *     *

If each day falls inside each night,
There exists a well
where clarity
is imprisoned.
We need to sit on the rim
of the well of darkness
and fish for fallen light,
with patience.

Pablo Neruda

Ellen offers meetings and retreats in The Awakening Body, a direct exploration of experience sourced in the non-dual tradition of Kashmir Shivaism, Authentic Movement, and self-inquiry.  In addition, she has a private practice as a Psychotherapist with a Jungian orientation.


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