One thing that has puzzled me is why issues can become so heated or contentious in spiritual or philanthropic groups. Issues, contention and conflict arise routinely in life. The ordinary everyday world of business, politics, etc. tends to handle issues in a detached way. There can be considerable conflict between unions and management in a workplace for example. They will get together in meeting rooms to thresh out the issues. But at the end of the day they will go home and leave a lot of the heat behind them, or go to the pub to share a drink / meal, etc. There is the attitude – ‘it’s only a job’ and this helps preserve sanity.
Likewise in politics politicians can berate each other in debates. Then afterwards we can see them together at functions, meals, etc. talking and laughing as if nothing had happened. ‘It’s only politics’. Also in sport contestants will strive mightily against each other on the field, but can come together to share celebrations afterwards. ‘It’s only sport’. Such people learn to handle contention in a detached way. It’s a valuable skill for projects to succeed and for people to survive in challenging environments.
In philanthropic groups people can bring a lot of their personal identity with them and invest it in the group. This is a good thing generally as it brings a high degree of motivation and commitment. However a down side I believe is that issues can get personalised relatively quickly. People can then feel their identity being assailed. Personal factors take over and discussion / resolution of issues becomes more difficult. Personalising issues can even become a means of avoiding meaningful discussion.
It is of value I believe to try and focus on issues, influences and behaviours independently of personal factors as far as possible, i.e. to address issues rather than people. Personal factors belong to people and are their responsibility primarily. The other side of the coin is that we do have a responsibility to address shared issues as best we can. Dealing with issues and challenges is part of our learning process. Challenges provide opportunity and facing issues can lead to resolution and progress.
Light & Shadow
There is one very broad issue that was touched on in discussions a while back. In general terms it relates to light and shadow. This is a subtle, deep and very fundamental topic. I hope I can somewhat do justice to it as I am still wrestling with the issues and that the following isn’t misunderstood too much.
Source is the ground state that all in creation emerges within. In the ground state of Source there is pure all-encompassing existence that is totally integrated, all powerful, all knowing and unlimited by boundaries. It is total aliveness that is absolutely free, free of all structure, definition, limitation and form. Creation emerges eternally within this freedom. There is a focus of intention and structure emerges around this focus. This structure initially integrated or neutral subsequently polarises, creating fields of separation within the wholeness of Source. These polarities interact to provide the dynamic or activity of creation. This allows for creativity, experimentation, learning and experience within this field of possibilities. Ideally the polarities then merge within their neutral home space to resolve their separation and release all back to the wholeness and integrity of Source.
This resolution is captured in the beautiful Rumi quote – “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. …”
A fundamental polarity that arises in creation is that of light and its polar opposite darkness. We can think of it symbolically in terms of the colors white and black. If we only had white then black & white photos, pictures, etc. wouldn’t be very meaningful. It is the interaction between white and black that gives definition, form, information and meaning to such pictures.
We can easily understand and relate to light. Managing the polarity around light however provides one of the most subtle and difficult challenges on the spiritual path. We came from Source, hold connection to Source by virtue of being alive / conscious and at a fundamental level are Source. As such to the extent that we are connected to Source we hold an element of Source responsibility for creation and all that it entails. We hold an element of responsibility for resolving the polarities within our sphere of influence. At a fundamental level this includes the polarities of light and darkness.
Darkness manifests at our level as what we normally understand as shadow. Just as we all have a measure of light we also have an element of personal shadow as part of our cosmic responsibility or burden. This isn’t a criticism, but rather a measure of our responsibility as creators. We partake of creation and carry associated responsibility for all that creation entails, including its burdens. If we wish to be Source we have to carry a measure of the responsibility of Source.
Our present vantage point is deep in creation at the nexus of powerful and often confusing forces, currents, polarities and interactions. Our first progression is to move into the light. This is easy to understand and relate to. We may identify totally with the light and think we are home and dry. However that isn’t the whole story. Light itself is still a polarity that needs to be resolved.
A powerful stance for resolving polarity is to progress further into the integrated or neutral (ManU) space that encompasses the polarity and from there hold the space that allows the two polarities to interact and resolve what can be resolved. It needs to be recognised of course that not all polarities can be resolved. Some aspects of polarity may need to return home by the ashes to ashes / dust to dust route of disintegration.
The whole process of managing polarities is one of engaged detachment. We detach from the heat of polarity interaction sufficiently to find their neutral space of integration. From there we then engage the polarities to hold a space to blend them and facilitate their resolution. In other words we don’t abandon the polarities. This process entails a measure of balance. There are valuable skills we can learn in holding space to blend frequency and in holding balance to facilitate resolution. The process of engaged detachment can be illustrated approximately when somebody gets into trouble in a river or whirlpool for example. We don’t get into the river with them, but detach to find safe ground and then engage by throwing a life line to pull them to safety.
In our spiritual evolution advancing into the light is the easy part. We can get high on light and bask in the sunshine for a time. We all need an element of this. The main thing is not to get so intoxicated by light as to lose connection with reality or miss the next phase in our evolution.
It is what we do with our light and how we use it to engage our shadow that ultimately determines our progress. This is quite a subtle and challenging issue and it can take time to get it right. In our exuberance at being in the light we can assume we are beyond shadow and try to shut it out. We can build a bubble around our new found state and try to shut out baleful influences. However we are also thereby shutting out the real world and actually locking ourselves into polarity. We can also assume that shadow is now an issue for other people and point fingers at other people’s shadow, shunning them, etc. We are thereby missing a valuable opportunity to engage and heal our own shadow.
This process is illustrated in the well-known parable of the Pharisee and Publican. The Pharisee goes to the front of the temple, beating his chest and telling God about all the great things he has done. He thanks God that he is not like other people, particularly the wretched Publican at the back of the temple. The Publican meanwhile has no illusions about his position and simply asks for forgiveness / resolution. The moral of the story is that the Publican is more in touch with his situation and has greater potential for progress.
Ultimately we can try to scapegoat shadow. This process has a venerable history and manifests in many cultures. The classic scapegoating posture is to designate locations or structures, to throw stones / pebbles at them as symbols of casting shadow influences into them and then assuming we are clear of those influences. It can also entail demonising individuals and evicting them from the tribe or freezing them out.
Scapegoating would be great if it worked. Shadow however is too powerful an influence to be evicted that easily. We can chase it out the front door and it simply comes right around and in the back door. A significant problem with scapegoating and casting out shadow is that we can end up losing effective engagement with and control of it. It can be a matter of the greatest irony that shadow can be staring us in the face and we can fail to recognise it.
We all have a certain responsibility for our shadow side. When we manage this responsibility shadow issues can be kept in some sort of balance. When we project our shadow outside of ourselves it is still our shadow, but now we have less control of it. Casting out shadow can also entail casting out opportunity to heal certain aspects of it that help us resolve our light / shadow polarity. Our shadow can take on a life of its own and come back to ‘play’ with us. This can happen at both an individual and collective level. We have seen many instances of unresolved shadow. This can help explain why there can be problems, where we would least expect them with religions, such as recent scandals, etc.
There was an extremely interesting case of shadow issues in a book I read back in the 1970’s – Initiation by Elisabeth Haich. She was a Hungarian Yoga teacher who survived World War II. She experienced vivid recall of earlier Egyptian times related to her war experiences. She remembered life as a princess to a Pharaoh in earlier Egyptian times before things became too corrupt there. She had a burning ambition to enter the temples and to progress through the various stages of initiation into the light as quickly as possible. She was cautioned by elders to proceed more slowly and to take time to integrate in a more balanced way. Her desire however was to proceed without delay. She passed successfully through all the training and achieved a high degree of light integration.
In the story she eventually encounters a visitor from a foreign land, who comes to represent shadow to her. She engages with extreme confidence for a time. However while skilled with the light she isn’t adequately prepared to cope with certain aspects of shadow and is eventually overwhelmed by it. She ends up paying a very heavy price for a lack of balance. She has to start all over again, rebuilding her fields through successive lives, broadening her experience base until catharsis in World War II allows her recover most of her former state in a more stable way. Needless to say this is a story from the past and need have no relation to current times. However it does illustrate the importance of balance and broadly based integrated development. It also illustrates encouragingly that difficult situations can be healed and recovered over time.
How can we manage shadow? This is a difficult question and there don’t appear to be tidy answers to it. It appears to be mostly a case of learning on the job. However there can be general principles that help. Obviously holding our Source connection is important. Source is most closely associated with life, aliveness and consciousness. Where we are most alive is where we hold our strongest Source connection. This is in our present, our here and now. It is very immediate and accessible. What is more life supporting in our environment also holds stronger Source connection, e.g. friends, nature, laughter, etc. Our Source connection can help us find and hold the neutral (ManU) space that integrates our light and shadow. This is the most powerful place to handle and resolve polarities.
Balance is also important. This helps us stabilise the swings that polarity entails – the highs and the lows, the ecstasy and the agony, the euphoria and the doubts, the manic depression, etc. An important balance is that between idealism and realism. Realism entails grounding, having a good solid ground connection that holds stability for the airy idealism. Realism also entails not getting too caught up in our own propaganda, e.g. our roles, how important we are, etc. Having the ability to laugh at ourselves is very grounding. As Joan Rivers said – “Never be afraid to laugh at yourself, after all, you could be missing out on the joke of the century.”
Another important factor is taking responsibility for what is in our sphere of influence. Where we don’t take responsibility, e.g. in terms of victim mentality, etc., we can cede control to external influences and gradually give our power away. Taking responsibility can be a pain, but is empowering and leads to mastery.
There is a well-defined phase in classical spiritual development often referred to as the dark night of the soul. This is where we let go of external supports or circumstances conspire to organise this for us! We come to rely more on what inner connection we have built. It is like a toddler learning to walk or a swimmer learning to let go of the side of the pool. We can even find ourselves in the state without realising it. It can be a very lonely and even frightening place. It can help however to realise that it is a phase in growing up and where it arises we can pull through it. Also that other people can be going through it too.
Encouragingly most people do quite a good job of balancing these issues in everyday life. Humanity embarks on life and new ventures with a lot of optimism, good intentions, joy and hope for the future. There can be a lot of happiness, joy and fulfilment in life. However there can also be problems, setbacks, disappointments and even tragedies in our lives.
Humanity as a race has endured much down the ages in terms of wars, poverty, oppression, famine, upheaval, etc. It still survives, overcomes disaster and forecasts of disaster and endures to face into the future with a degree of optimism. Humanity has learned a lot of survival skills and has garnered much practical wisdom down the ages. When we travel we meet wonderful people all over the world often coping with difficult situations with quiet stoicism. Source is present in the warmth and kindness that flows between people.
What is of value I believe is to maintain contact with our own humanity and with humanity in the world around us. Also to see and interpret things in human terms. We can very easily get caught up in cosmic perspectives and miss some of the richness in life and the world around us. Again it is a question of balance. It is important I believe to transcend ideological differences and reach out and connect with people at a human level. There is a lot of wisdom, stability and support in everyday life.
These are deep topics and there can be many perspectives. However if you have got this far you deserve a well-earned rest and I won’t inflict any more words on the subject!