What’s hiding in YOUR shadows?
During my 30+ years as a teacher, I’ve had the opportunity and good fortune to get to know and in some cases spend significant time with many of the top personal and spiritual growth teachers in the world.
If there’s one quality these top teachers share it’s that they’ve developed their awareness.
As difficult as it might be to believe this, you might even say that awareness holds the answer to nearly all personal challenges. Awareness is closely connected with both intuition and creativity. The more aware you are, the more obvious the solution is to any problem, and the more the daily problems and challenges of life automatically sort themselves out.
The less aware you are, the more it can seem as if there is no solution to the challenges in your life—and, the more likely it will be that you’ll unconsciously attract people and situations into your life that you don’t want. Zen master Genpo Roshi once said to me that what you’re unaware of will inevitably be the place in your life where you’re stuck. Becoming more aware, then, is an extremely valuable undertaking.
As I said in my last post, there are two main ways to increase your awareness. One is meditation, and of course I’m partial to Holosync meditation because it’s faster, easier, and actually allows you to meditate more deeply than traditional methods. I meditated in a traditional way for 16 years before I stumbled upon what eventually became Holosync, and though I received a lot of benefit from my years of traditional meditation, I have to say that I experienced more positive change in the first year of Holosync than I did from my entire 16 years of traditional meditation.
Holosync speeds up your growth, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. In addition to being a huge benefit, this is also the main drawback to Holosync (or any kind of deep meditation). When you meditate, or do anything that causes you to open up to aspects of yourself you may have been unaware of—if you see a therapist, or attend a personal growth seminar, for instance—you discover things about yourself that you may not like. We then resist these aspects of ourselves that we don’t like.
Resistance, though, is something you DO, not something that just happens to you. You “do” resistance by making internal representations (internal pictures and internal dialog, for instance) of what you don’t want. When you do this, you feel bad, because internal representations directly create your feeling state. And, to make matters worse, your mind figures out a way to unconsciously attract more of whatever you focus on—in this case, what you’re resisting.
The second way to become more aware of how you’re creating your experience of life is to watch your mind and observe how it works, which was the subject of my previous post. Since the internal representations we make lead directly to our feelings, our behaviors, and which people or situations we attract or become attracted to, becoming aware of how we do that gives us choice. It allows us to stop creating our experience of life automatically, based on the past and, instead, to create our life by choice, in the moment.
Observing your internal representations takes some practice, but it is well-worth learning how to do. So, again, awareness is a major key to living a happier, emotionally peaceful, and successful life.
One of the things that makes awareness more difficult is our tendency to push out of our awareness certain things we think are wrong or inappropriate. Though we sometimes feel better in the short run when we do this, over the long run it creates all kinds of problems. What we repress or push into the basement of our awareness is eventually expressed anyway. Even worse, what we repress or disown is expressed in covert and dysfunctional ways, creating serious problems.
An extreme example might be a straight-laced fundamentalist preacher who is caught having sex with underage church members. In repressing what he thought was his sinful sexuality, he ends up expressing it anyway, but in a covert and dysfunctional manner. This is also an example of how focusing on what we don’t want causes us to create more of it. By focusing on “I don’t want to be a sinner,” the preacher ends up creating or attracting more of what he thinks of as sinful. His sexuality ends up hurting himself and others.
We all repress or disown normal human qualities that we think are wrong or inappropriate. Many of the difficulties we have in life are the result of these disowned parts, which many psychologists refer to as shadows. When repressed, these shadow parts come out in immature and dysfunctional ways. By repressing them, we actually end up creating, attracting, or expressing more of them.
In working with hundreds of thousands of people over several decades, I’ve found that nearly all human unhappiness is connected to disowned or repressed human qualities. If a certain area of your life isn’t working, you can be sure that there is a shadow part involved.
Shadows are areas where we are unaware, and re-owning shadow parts creates more awareness, which gives us more choice. Increased awareness turns out to be the key to making your life better.
In this post I want to share an interesting way to look at this phenomenon, a game we teach all new members of the human race, called The Game of Black and White. As you’ll see, when you become aware of how you play this game, you’ll be able to choose how to play it, and in doing so you’ll eliminate a great deal of the suffering in your life.
In every society there is social agreement about which aspects of us are “wrong” or “bad”. There is, of course, variation from family to family. What one family sees as “wrong” might be okay in another family. Excellence might be a positive quality in one family, while in another the child who excels might be told, “Who do you think you are? Do you think you’re better than other people?”
Whatever our family’s values, we received negative reinforcement when we exhibited certain qualities and positive reinforcement when we exhibited others. We learn that it isn’t safe to express what our family or our culture consider to be negative qualities. To keep ourselves from expressing them, we disowned them, which means that we pushed them into the basement of our consciousness, out of our awareness.
As I said earlier, we don’t ever really get rid of these repressed shadow parts. They leak out anyway, appearing in our life in covert and dysfunctional ways. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that pretty much everything that bothers you in life is the result of your disowning some aspect of life.
Let’s say that for you anger is a bad thing. Because it’s bad, you resist it in others, and you resist it in yourself. However, like a balloon, which when squeezed in one place pops out in another, the anger expresses itself, in one way or another.
Perhaps you’ve made anger wrong or bad because your father’s anger was painful for you when you were small. It also wasn’t safe to show your own anger toward him. He was bigger and stronger and he didn’t like it when you disagreed with him. So, you repressed your anger. You also decided to avoid angry people. After all, you don’t like them. And, they scare you.
Ironically, when you disown anger in this way it becomes a central feature of your life. You see angry people everywhere. And, when you encounter an angry person, you’re strongly (and negatively) affected by him or her. Angry people really bother you, even if you aren’t the one they’re angry with. You’re afraid of them and you’re angry about them.
A person with no anger-related trauma, however, and who therefore has not disowned his or her anger, sees the same angry people—after all, they aren’t invisible—but isn’t triggered by them in the same way you are.
For you, though, life seems to be a constant stream of angry people. How do all these angry people find you? By disowning your own anger, your attention is drawn to the angry people, and you’re less likely to notice or be attracted to people who aren’t angry. Because your father’s anger traumatized you, you’re on the lookout for it, so you can avoid it.
As I’ve said many times, focusing on what you don’t want actually causes you to create or attract more of it. So, even though it’s the last thing you want, you attract angry people. And, when you encounter them, you’re powerfully affected by their anger.
Everyone can plainly see that you have a lot of anger—everyone but you. You, however, don’t acknowledge—or even realize—that you’re angry. You’ve disowned it. It’s a shadow. For you, it’s out there, in others. You don’t see it in yourself. You’re against anger, because it’s such a bad thing.
Ironically, even though you’re against anger, you often express your disowned anger to others in covert and dysfunctional ways. Perhaps you’re late for things you really didn’t want to do, or fail to do what you say you’ll do because you really didn’t want to do it. You may avoid responsibility, make excuses, or blame others. Perhaps you’re “conveniently forgetful.” You might complain a lot, use sarcasm, make cutting jokes about others, or be sullen or stubborn. And so on. In one way or another, your disowned anger is expressed.
In other words, you’re passive-aggressive. You express your anger, but not directly. You can’t express it directly because you’ve disowned it. It’s still there, though. And, in addition to being unpleasant for others, you suffer, too. Your own disowned anger eats at you.
Believe me, I know. Anger was a huge shadow for me before my years with Holosync. Not only did I attract angry people—who really pissed me off—I had so much anger that passive aggression wasn’t enough for me. I lost my temper often, and defended my anger when it was pointed out to me. Those other people were being assholes when they were angry, but I had a good reason.
And, of course, anger isn’t the only thing you could disown and repress. I’ve just been using anger as a common example. You could also disown fear, or selfishness, or thousands of other qualities. You’ll likely disown anything your parents or other authority figures didn’t want you to express: wanting, happiness, sexuality, joy, sadness, aggression, pride, intelligence, the urge to be noticed, neediness, being good at things, feeling like a victim, or thousands of other human feelings and urges.
A positive quality can also be a shadow. When you see a negative quality you’ve disowned, it triggers you in a negative way. When you see a positive quality you’ve disowned—for instance, charisma, kindness, leadership, talent, or intelligence—you’ll put the person who exhibits it on a pedestal. You’ll adore or admire that quality in others, but you won’t see it in yourself. You’ve disowned it.
In fact, it’s a general rule that all qualities—disowned or not—exist in all people. And all of them, no matter how positive or negative they seem, are normal human characteristics.
In the last post I made an extremely important point, that when you’re unaware of something you don’t have choice about it. When you’re unaware of a shadow, you don’t have choice about your emotional reaction to it—you just react. And, you have no choice about how you express that reaction. And, you’ll also attract—unconsciously—a constant stream of people who exhibit the shadow aspect you’ve disowned.
When you become aware of a shadow and re-own it, you have choice over it. You move from unconsciously being it to consciously having it. As I gained awareness of my disowned anger, angry people stopped triggering me, and I stopped attracting so many of them. I still notice them, but now, instead of being triggered, I feel compassion for them. That doesn’t mean I like to be around them, or that I don’t see the harm they sometimes cause—or that I might not intervene if I see an angry person abusing another person.
The difference is in my own emotional state. Angry people no longer throw me into a negative emotional state because I’ve re-owned my own anger. I’ve also stopped expressing anger in covert and dysfunctional ways. Anger, which used to be a huge problem in my life, is now just another normal aspect of being human. It happens now and then, but it doesn’t run my life.
Here’s another key point, and it’s connected to what I said a moment ago—that all qualities capable of being disowned exist in all people. When you re-own a shadow, what seemed to be a negative quality matures into something positive. Immature, reactive anger, for instance, might turn into a mature and reasoned unwillingness to tolerate injustice. Narcissistic selfishness matures into mature self-love. Every shadow has a mature form, and re-owning a shadow allows you to express that quality in a mature and positive way.
Now that you have a basic understanding of shadows, I want to introduce you to a game we teach to every new member of society as soon as they’re old enough to understand it. The game is called The Game of Black and White, and the main rule of the game is that White Must Win. This game is actually about shadows, so let’s take a closer look at it.
To play the Game of Black and White a person first must learn to divide everything in the world into separate things and events. We learn to do this so well that once we’ve learned it we never question whether separate things and events actually exist other than in our mind. Your common sense probably tells you that of course the world is full of separate things and separate events. All you have to do is look around.
But let’s look at this idea more closely, because it has a lot to do with the Game of Black and White, with shadows, and with your own happiness and inner peace.
As soon as you were old enough, your parents taught you the names of things. This gives us the idea, first of all, that there is something called a “thing,” and also that a thing and its name are synonymous. Let’s look at why this actually isn’t an accurate way to see the world—useful, in many ways, but not accurate—and why this way of thinking leads to some basic life problems.
Think of a bee and a flower. The flower is rooted to the ground and the bee buzzes around it. Everyone knows that a bee and a flower are two separate and individual “things.” But are they? You never see flowers unless there are bees, and you never see bees unless there are flowers. They go together. Bees and flowers need each other. They’re one, interconnected, organic system, what a physicist might call a “unified field.” You can’t have bees in isolation, nor can you have flowers in isolation. Bees and flowers exist in relation to each other. In that sense they could be seen as one organism.
Then, of course, there is the soil the flower is planted in, and the bacteria and worms that live in the soil and contribute to the nutrients the flower pulls from the ground. That’s part of the system, too, as is the air, with a certain mixture of gases needed by both the flower and the bee. Of course we also need a planet a certain distance from a certain kind of star, with the right temperature, and the right amount of light, the right amount of air pressure, and the right kind of cosmic rays that allow the flower, the bee, the worms, the bacteria, and so on, to exist and thrive.
And, that star is found in a certain kind of galaxy, which is part of a system of galaxies, and so on and so on. Pretty soon you begin to see that this bee and flower system actually includes everything—that the entire universe is one organic, interconnected system, flowing along like water. Mentally dividing the world into separate things and events has its uses, but those divisions are ideas about reality, not the reality itself. In truth, everything is connected to, and dependent upon, everything else.
Thinking of the world as consisting of separate things is just that—a way of thinking about it. In fact, as philosopher Alan Watts used to say, a “thing” is a “think”—a unit of thought, as much of reality as you decide to get your mind around in a particular moment.
Again, I’m not against dividing things up. In fact, it’s obviously very useful. It’s when we forget that all the divisions are actually made-up, though, that we get ourselves into trouble. In fact, though it might not be obvious to you right now, whatever difficulty you might be having in life can ultimately be traced back to the illusion that the world consists of separate things and separate events. Stick with me here and I’ll explain what I mean.
The next thing I want you to understand is that where we make these divisions is arbitrary. Where a division is made—how things are sliced—is really just a matter of social convention and utility. The divisions we think of as being so real are not intrinsic to reality. They are extrinsic. We add them, from the outside.
Let’s look at an example. How big is the sun? In other words, where does the sun end and something that’s not the sun begin? Usually we say that the sun consists of its visible fire. Once you get past the visible fire, you get into something that isn’t the sun—outer space. But you could also say that the sun consists of the extent of its heat. Doesn’t that make sense, too? By that definition, the Earth is actually inside the sun, and the boundary is somewhere out in space, at the point where there’s no more heat.
But we could also say that the sun consists of the extent of its visible light. Under that definition, the size of the sun extends one light year for every year it has been shining, and it’s becoming larger in every direction at a rate of 186,000 miles every second.
So where the sun ends and something else begins is entirely arbitrary, something agreed upon by social convention. There’s no such thing, in isolation, as “the sun.” Putting a boundary on it, just as with the bee and the flower, is a way of thinking about it, not an intrinsic characteristic. And, in fact, all supposed “things” could be seen in the same way. Your skin could just as well be seen as what connects you to the rest of the world as what divides you from it.
What about separate events? As an example, let’s look at the question of when you began. Was it when your mother gave birth? Maybe. Or, was it at conception? Or maybe it was when you were just an evil gleam in your father’s eye. Or, when your parents were born. Or when their parents were born. In fact, we could keep going back in this way until we get back to Adam and Eve.
So you can see that when an event begins—or ends—is also arbitrary. In reality, everything is one huge, interconnected, multi-dimensional ongoing event, flowing along like water in a river. What we think of as separate events are all connected to each other and all go together, just like the bee and the flower. It might be convenient to chop things into separate things and events, but nothing is really separate from anything else.
So now let’s get back to the Game of Black and White. Once we’ve fallen for the supposed reality of separate things and events, we’re taught to divide those supposedly separate things and events into two basic piles. Some things and events go into the “appropriate,” “good,” or “White” pile, while others go into the “inappropriate” or “bad” or “Black” pile. Then, we bring in the main rule of the game, which, as I said, is that White Must Win.
When White—what we think of as appropriate, desirable, or good—“wins,” we’re happy—at least temporarily. But when what we’ve put in the Black pile seems to win, we feel unhappy, frustrated. If you stop and think about it, most of your life—most of everyone’s life—is about trying to get White to win and trying to avoid having Black win.
Here’s the problem with this game: White can never overcome Black, though we play the game as if it must. Good must overcome evil, we think. Life must overcome death. Having must overcome not having. Happiness must overcome unhappiness. Health must overcome illness. What we want must overcome what we don’t want. Pleasure must overcome pain.
You may have already realized that just as the bee and the flower go together, Black and White also go together. In other words, “good” is defined in terms of “evil.” Without evil, how would you know what is good? Good only makes sense in contrast to evil. In the same way, “having” makes no sense except in terms of, and in relation to, “not having.” Life makes no sense except in terms of death.
The same is true of happiness and unhappiness, pleasure and pain, health and illness, clarity and confusion, here and not here, light and dark, empty and full, and all the other Black and White pairs of opposites. They’re all defined in terms of each other. And, they all go together. You can’t have one without the other any more than you can have a one-headed coin.
In each case, you wouldn’t know that the White side even existed if it weren’t for the Black side, in the same way that you don’t feel your stomach unless it feels bad, or you don’t experience your eyes unless there are spots in front of them, or something else is wrong with them. Until its opposite comes into play, things are invisible, unimaginable.
Now it’s certainly possible in any given moment to have more of one side of the equation than the other, but you’re never going to totally get rid of the side you don’t want. That would be impossible, in the same way that you can’t have buying without selling, or up without down. Just try to make everything in your house “up.” You can’t, because up and down go together.
You can, though, have more good than bad in your life. This depends, as you might imagine, on how aware you are. Those who are unaware unconsciously attract more of what they don’t want. But you’ll never get rid of one side of any polarity, because both sides go together.
What is more, as I described earlier, where one side of each pair of opposites ends and the other begins is totally arbitrary. Where does up end and down begin? Where does good end and evil begin? In reality, they’re one thing.
(Just as an aside, let me give you the real secret to all metaphysics: opposites look as if they’re completely separate and at odds with each other, when they really go together and depend upon each other for their very existence.)
Any division you make, then, is conceptual, not real, and where the division is made is just a social convention. So, as I said before, it might be useful in some cases to divide things, but to avoid problems you must remember that you’re making it up. All divisions are ideas about reality, but not reality itself.
And please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that you should just passively allow bad things to happen, either to yourself or other people. I am saying, however, that when you make certain things wrong, you disown them in yourself. Then you attract more of them, create bad feelings for yourself, and exhibit these disowned qualities in covert, immature, and dysfunctional ways. And who wants that?
So why am I making such a big deal about dividing things up, and especially about this Game of Black and White? What’s wrong with wanting things to be a certain way? Well, nothing, if you do it gently, but most of us don’t. The truth is that to be here, to be a human being, you’re going to prefer certain things to other things. I’m more concerned about my children than yours. I’m more concerned about my car than yours.
To be human is to want certain things. Without desire you wouldn’t eat or come in out the cold, or procreate, and the whole human race would come to an end. But when you play a really hard version of the Game of Black and White, where White must win, and where you strongly resist what you’ve placed in your Black pile, you set yourself up for suffering.
Why? For one thing, you’ve put yourself in a double-bind, an un-winnable situation, where you’re trying to get rid of or defeat something that can’t be gotten rid of or defeated. What you’re resisting is, first of all, just an idea, and second, can’t be successful resisted anyway, since it’s one side of a coin, and you can’t get rid of it without getting rid of the other side, too.
Disowning a certain aspect of your self—what I’ve called creating a shadow—is a result of playing the Game of Black and White. If you’ve experienced some sort of trauma, what you associate with that trauma will go into your Black pile. You’ll disown it in yourself and dislike it in others. And, unless you’re aware, you’ll focus on avoiding it, which will cause you to attract or create more of it and express it in covert and dysfunctional ways.
The more trauma (fear, anger, shame, disappointment, etc.) you suffered during your childhood, the more likely it will be that you’ll play a hard version of the Game of Black and White—in other words, the more likely it will be that you’ll have a lot of shadows, disowned parts. You could also say that you’ll be more easily pushed over your threshold. This means that you’ll focus on what you don’t want more often—which, if you’ll remember, you do by making internal representations of what you don’t want.
When you focus on what you don’t want, you feel bad, because all bad feelings are caused by focusing on something you don’t want. And, because your mind take what you focus on as an instruction to create or attract more of it, you’ll unconsciously attract or create MORE of what you think is Black, more of your shadow, more of what you don’t want.
If your father frequently yelled at you and then spanked you when you were small, this was probably a traumatic experience. If, in the present, another authority figure—your boss, for instance—yells at you, it’s very likely that you’ll mentally attach the traumatic memory, particularly the negative emotions, to your boss. You’ll drag the past trauma—or rather, your idea of it—into the present and associate it with your boss. When he yells, you’ll feel the same fear you felt as a child.
Authority figures, then, particularly those with more aggressive personalities, are part of your Black pile. Focusing on avoiding them causes you to feel bad. It also causes you to do subtle things, outside your awareness, that actually attracts them into your life and draws their attention to you.
Even worse, if authority figures are a shadow for you, you’ll exhibit the same qualities you don’t like in authority figures, but in a covert and dysfunctional way. You might be bossy, stubborn, arbitrary, controlling, merciless, or opinionated. These qualities will come out in covert and dysfunctional ways, and everyone will see them—except you.
If you re-own this shadow part (in other words, if you acknowledge that like all humans you have these qualities in yourself, and stop playing such a hard version of the Game of Black and White around authority figures), the immature version of these negative qualities will mature into something else—leadership, perhaps, or wisdom, or mentorship.
What causes you to re-own a shadow part—or, you might say, take a particular game-piece off the game board in the Game of Black and White—is awareness. As long as you are unaware, this entire dynamic will operate on autopilot, and you’ll suffer the consequences. Genpo Roshi’s Big Mind process, where you allow a disowned voice to speak, is an effective way of re-owning a shadow part of yourself, which is one reason why I’ve strongly encouraged you to attend one of our workshops.
When you speak from a disowned voice, you become aware of it. Once you become aware—once you’re able to see how your shadow expresses itself, internally and externally—this awareness causes it to mature. You stop expressing it in a dysfunctional way and begin to express it in a mature way (since all voices exist in all people, you will express it—you might as well express it in a mature way).
As I said in my last post, you can only do something that isn’t resourceful if you do it unconsciously, without awareness. When you become aware of something you are doing—when you are able to observe it as it happens and see the consequences, as they happen—it becomes very difficult to keep doing it if it doesn’t serve you.
Also remember that awareness is not the same as merely knowing something. Awareness is watching the actual creation and seeing the consequences as they happen. Knowing is just an intellectual activity. Knowing is the booby prize in personal growth.
I would suggest that you spend some time discovering some of the key shadow elements in your life, so you can re-own them. Or, to put it another way, to identify the major aspects of life you’ve assigned to the Black pile in the Game of Black and White, and to begin to notice how you play the game. That awareness will cause you to re-own the disowned parts. In the language of the Game of Black and White, you’ll stop playing such a hard version of the game around certain aspects of your life.
So sit down and make a list of the “negative” qualities that really trigger you emotionally when you experience them in others. You might be triggered when someone else is sloppy, stupid, dishonest, sexually perverted, selfish, conceited, angry, stubborn, controlling, disorganized, critical, unreliable, show-off, etc. What really bugs you in other people? List these, then put them in order, with those that trigger you the most at the top of the list.
You might also create a list of the main qualities you have in your “White pile”—what you think of as good, desirable, and appropriate—and those qualities you’ve assigned to your “Black pile”—what you think of as bad, undesirable, and inappropriate.
Then, take each quality that triggers you (or each quality you’ve put in the Black pile) and speak from it, either out loud or in writing. See what that disowned part has to say. Let it out of the basement so it can express itself. If you’ve disowned being a victim, let the victim in you speak. Everyone feels like a victim once in a while, so let the victim speak. Whatever the disowned voice is, it has something to say, and allowing it to speak gives you awareness about it. And with awareness comes choice.
When you do this, the areas of life where you tend to experience a lot of bad feelings, or where you repeatedly experience outcomes you don’t like, will shift. Believe me, this is possible, and when it happens, it will blow your mind. The positive change in your life will be huge, I promise. As I’ve done this in my own life, I’ve changed in ways I never could have imagined. Negative feelings and outcomes I’d lived with for decades faded away. My sense of well-being increased tremendously. Decades later it still continues to increase.
The same thing can happen for you.
Before I go, I want to remind you to come and be with Zen master Genpo Roshi and I in Los Angeles on March 7th and 8th. Because of the difficult economic times, we are offering a huge discount for this workshop. Those who have attended the others we’ve done have described them as “life changing.”
Though we seem to be facing tough and challenging times, and you may not be able to do a lot about that, you can do something about your response to what is happening around you. The two things I’ve found to be most powerful in allowing a person to remain happy and peaceful regardless of external circumstances are Holosync and Genpo Roshi’s Big Mind process.
Please do come and spend a weekend with Genpo Roshi and I that is sure to change your life. I want you to be one of the truly resilient ones who make it through tough times easily. Just go to www.centerpointe.com/bigmind to reserve your spot. If you bring a friend you save even more.
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