The shadow is there. It is in me and in you. It is that part in us we would rather not know, not show and not be. Greed, anger, jealousy, fear, hardness, evil is inside of us just as there is generosity, peace, gentleness, courage and basic goodness. If I manage to be conscious of my dark side and accept it, it becomes a friend. It gives me the chance to be whole. In understanding my own wholeness, I can let go off projecting my dark parts onto others. The path to the light leads through exploring my own darkness. When I allow myself to stand naked and expose whatever is hidden inside of me, that dark 'thing' loses its destructive energy. Once seen and brought out to the light, it can heal.
I have spent a big part of my life trying to be a good girl. Twenty years ago, I would have rejected Carl Gustav Jung's statement: "I would rather be whole than good". I wanted to be an angel, a kind, loving, gentle and wise woman, a wonderful lover, mother and friend. At the same time there was a small voice inside of me that kept insisting, that I was not authentic. The angel-like being was not quite real. There was also a lot of anger inside of me which could spill out any time and take over, simply because someone blocked the way to my garage. At other times I noticed that after having played with my children, and being gentle and patient for hours, I would suddenly lash out at them. It was as if I had put a leash on my critical side and my impatience and like wild dogs, they would suddenly break free and raise hell. Afterwards I felt helpless, ashamed and guilty. I wanted so much to be a good mother! What was wrong with me? Nothing was wrong with me. I just had not invested any time in exploring my dark side, my shadow. So, one day I sat down and wrote into my journal:
"I want to be more authentic. I want to know my dark side."
This statement, as anything we declare with passion and a longing for truth, started a whole new journey. In the beginning I just wanted to get rid of all my negative emotions. My anger, my impatience, my jealousy, I thought of them as my enemies. They prevented me from becoming this calm, peaceful, meditative person I was longing to be. I needed to condemn them, work with them, I had to change and improve myself. Just as society did not accept these feelings, I could not.
When I came across the contemporary Indian mystic Osho I was in for a surprise. He offered a totally new perspective on these matters. I would listen to his discourses and hear again and again: "Never repress". In fact, he would insist to accept my shadow, to let it come in front of me and even to 'befriend' it. Here is one of his quotes that would blow up my little box of how to deal with these things:
"The only problem with sadness, desperateness, anger, hopelessness, anxiety, anguish, misery, is that you want to get rid of them. That's the only barrier.
You will have to live with them. You cannot just escape. They are the very situation in which life has to integrate and to grow. They are the challenges of life. Accept them. They are blessings in disguise. If you want to escape from them, if you somehow want to get rid of them, then a problem arises - because if you want to get rid of something you never look at it directly. And then the thing starts hiding from you because you are condemnatory; then the thing goes on moving deeper into the unconscious, hides in the darkest corner of your being where you cannot find it. It moves into the basement of your being and hides there. And, of course, the deeper it goes, the more trouble it creates - because then it starts functioning from unknown corners of your being and you are completely helpless.
So, the first thing is: never repress. The first thing is: whatsoever is the case is the case. Accept it and let it come - let it come in front of you. In fact, just to say 'do not repress' is not enough. If you allow me, I would like to say, 'Befriend it'. " (taken from: Osho: Vigyan Bhairav Tantra II, 60)
When I heard these words, I could feel they were true. It was not an intellectual understanding it was as if my heart was saying 'He is right'. I needed to explore this. When I write about my experiences with the shadow work it may sound as if it had been a linear road from A to B to C. But the truth is that more understanding around my dark side and the shadow entered into my life at different times. It was one thread in the carpet of my experiences that would sometimes become very meaningful and important and at other times be completely forgotten.
One of the most wonderful things that happened to me while living in different Osho Centers and communities around the world was that it gave me all the freedom to explore myself. No matter if I wanted to dive deeper into my sexuality or my wildness, understand patterns from my childhood or discover the whole range of my creativity - it was all there, offered to me whenever the moment seemed to be the right one. The overall protective umbrella for all these explorations was meditation. Since Osho had insisted on meditation as the only medicine he had to offer, it always accompanied my journeys of self-exploration. One of the Osho active meditations that offered a great stage for meeting my shadow was the 'OSHO Dynamic Meditation'.
'Dynamic' is one of the most popular and at the same time most feared meditations within the Osho World and beyond. It starts very early in the morning and is physically demanding even for people who consider themselves athletes or runners. To do 'Dynamic Meditation' in an effortless way is more a matter of understanding how your own energy moves through the body than a question of strength or condition. That is why some experienced athletes unexpectedly have a hard time to do this meditation while people connected to energy work and meditation can whiz their way through it.
The meditation consists of five stages and lasts for an hour. Every stage is accompanied by different music, which was composed under Osho's supervision. The first stage uses chaotic, strong and fast breathing. The next one is a Catharsis, allowing you to scream, shout, cry, jump, sing, laugh and throw yourself around. The idea is to consciously go mad.
In the third stage with your arms raised you jump up and down and make the sound 'Hoo!'. In the fourth stage, after a short sharp shout of 'stop' you freeze in whatever position you find yourself. In the fifth stage you celebrate. You dance and express whatever is there.
I am keeping this short because like all meditations reading about them doesn't really give a clue. They have to be experienced. Especially 'Dynamic' is one of those meditations that need to be practiced for at least a few weeks if not months to understand its depth and benefits. In the beginning I simply hated 'Dynamic' and tried to avoid it whenever I could. My mind had all kinds of excuses: It was too male for me - I was just too delicate and feminine for this type of meditation. This attitude changed abruptly when I fell in love with a man, who worshipped 'Dynamic'. I went with him - and just by doing it every morning and experiencing the effect it had on me I also fell in love with it. While the love affair with the man ended, my love for 'Dynamic' never left me. To this day there are periods in my life where I feel pulled to do this meditation.
One of the many benefits of 'Dynamic Meditation' for me was that it allowed me to meet and expose my shadow side. Sometimes in the stage of catharsis I had to scream and shout and rage and physically set my boundaries. At other times I found a mad woman inside of me and only minutes later, a playful innocent child. I would cry or roll on the floor or simply end up in a crouched position whimpering. I allowed my body to act out all these repressed emotions and at the same time was able to watch them, as if they did not quite belong to me. Afterwards I felt great. My body seemed to have no weight, my mind became more silent, my whole being experienced a joyfulness I had not known before. 'Dynamic Meditation' was like a washing machine I entered first thing in the morning and every time I came out cleansed and refreshed for the new day.
But existence had more in store for me once I was willing to encounter my shadow. I signed up for a workshop called 'Path of Love' which in those days was very much feared. People would be secretive about it and whisper that it was a strong and intense group that needed a lot of commitment. When I found myself in the middle of it I more than agreed. I had landed in hell. Why in the world did I sign up for this? Later on, hell proved to be the best place on earth for me. In fact, to this very day, I have a strong passion for the 'Path of Love' and have been part of the assisting team, the staff, for twelve years.
Some of the structures of the 'Path of Love' are kept secret, so that the participants can have a fresh experience, not clouded by any preconceived ideas. But it is safe to say that the process focuses on two topics - the longing in us for truth and an authentic life and the obstacles that keep us from leading such a life. These obstacles are usually areas where we meet our shadows - fear, anger, shame, guilt and other repressed emotions. By exposing, meeting and exploring these shadows they lose their grip on us. Although Osho was not in his body anymore when the 'Path of Love' was created, I find this work totally in alignment with his words. In the following quote Osho uses the word 'Sannyas'. This term means that someone is willing to explore his inner journey under the umbrella of Osho by using all the tools - his discourses and his meditations - he provides in abundance.
"Sannyas means exposing yourself, whatsoever you are - without feeling guilty, without feeling condemned, without feeling that you are wrong, without thinking what others will say, without thinking of others. Sannyas means to be unselfconscious, to open up totally without any fear. And one is in for a great surprise: all misery, all anguish, is simply not found; one is healed. But this healing happens only through exposure to the whole - and our religions, our moralities, all make us hypocrites. They are all against being nude, being in the open.
It is not only that we are hiding our physical nudity behind clothes that is nothing - we are hiding our reality also behind many clothes. We want to appear beautiful and we hide ugliness; we want to appear knowledgeable and we hide ignorance. But remember, whatsoever you hide you will remain; you will remain that which you have hidden inside. You will never be that which you are pretending to be.
It is better to drop all hypocrisy. I don't teach renouncing the world, I teach renouncing hypocrisy. That is the only thing to be renounced, and everything else happens on its own. Be sincere, authentic, true. Whatsoever you are, accept it, because without accepting it you will not expose yourself. The healing is always done by God, but you have to allow him; you have to show him your wound, where it hurts. You don't deceive the physician, you have to tell him the whole thing, whatsoever it is, howsoever ugly it appears. You have to show him your wounds; only then can he take the pus out, only then can he help the healing process." (taken from: Osho: Darshan Diaries, 'Just the tip of the iceberg', chapter 7)
Nothing makes us more afraid then exposing our shadow - even to ourselves - let alone others. In fact, often we don't even know what our dark sides are. How did that happen?
Each family and culture have different laws about what is accepted and what not, or simply put what is good and what is bad. But no matter what the differences are: There is always good and bad. There is always: this is accepted. And: this is NOT accepted. Until the age of two I was able to roll on the floor, throw a fit, refuse to finish my food and pee in my pants without anyone getting angry at me. When I was two and a half I was expected to pee in a pot, and from then on, all kinds of other laws rolled in. Saying 'thank you', sitting still, not getting angry, not crying for too long, eating up the food on my plate just to mention a few. Later on, as I moved from Kindergarten to school the laws of 'Do's' and 'Don’ts' became more and more complex. They involved the opinion of my teachers, relatives, friends and parents of friends. I don't know how all this bundled up inside of me, but I did what we all do. I started to hide and repress what was not okay and expressed only - with a lot of lapses of course - what was generally accepted. I resolved to be 'a good girl'. Whenever I did what was expected of me it brought a reward. I was loved and accepted by my surroundings. But did I truly love myself? Did I stand up for myself and speak my truth? Did I love truth more than being in alignment? Whenever I tried this it brought a wave of conflict and disaster. Naturally I shut down more and more of my natural feelings and energies moving through my body, until it became difficult to even sense them.
Anger was the first one on my blacklist. But many others followed.
By the time we are adult we have all learned to hide and repress the whole array of human emotions and feelings, which I call 'the shadow-friends'. Whenever one of them leaps out of the closet or escapes out of the basement, we feel ashamed. Not only society has a strong judgment on these feelings - so do we. The voice of judgment that once belonged to the parents or the teachers or the neighbors has long since crept into our own head and resides there as 'the Super-Ego'. It likes to say things like: "My God, you are such a coward!" or "How can you be so dumb?" or "Who do you want to fool? You are not attractive anymore - you are way too old!". We mostly agree with this judge because he seems to be a part of ourselves. How can you question your own mind?
We are usually aware of some of our shadow friends - but not all of them. Some highly unaccepted traits we have buried so deep inside of us, that we have become oblivious to their existence. If someone calls us a liar or a traitor, we almost want to kill him. Yet if we take a very deep dive into our psyche and our experiences in life we will always come up with a situation where we have been just that. To become 'whole' as Carl Gustav Jung suggested we have to come to terms with the fact that the big 'I am' includes 'I am also that'.
What happens if we keep denying certain traits that are hard to swallow? The common way out is to project on someone else what we have been so desperately hiding even from ourselves.
Whenever we are emotionally charged about a situation or a person, we are hitting a gold mine inside of us. This is where we have repressed, neglected, forgotten a dark side of our own so thoroughly that it can only come out sideways by projecting it on someone else.
Here is a good yet very subtle example of projection from my own life:
I had spent a few hours in the country-house of an old friend, catching up on each other's life. Naturally we also talked about common friends how they were doing and what they were up to. All this was friendly; we did not dive into any negative gossiping. I mentioned a mutual female friend; I will call her Lisa, who had given me some good advice lately. Lisa had not found a partner for a long time and my friend and I were musing about this. All of a sudden I found myself saying: "Well, for some reason men are not so attracted to her, which I don't understand. I find her very pretty." This remark somehow stood out from our other talk. It had a hidden meanness in it, which I sensed as soon as it had dropped out of my mouth. It smelled bad. My friend did not reply to this and we moved on to some other topics. When I drove home, I asked myself why I had to say this. It had very little ground to it, except that some time ago another one of my male friends had not shown any interest in Lisa - that was all. I could not get to the bottom of this until I sat down with my shadow-work notebook. To my own astonishment the shadow material revealed to me was fear. If 'not being attractive for men (anymore)' was projected onto my friend Lisa, then the fear was with her. It was as if I had given it to her, instead of looking into its face myself. In fact, one of my hidden fears was that - as I was getting older - men would not be attracted to me anymore. But if this fear was with Lisa, then I was safe. This is the kind of childlike logic that any projection works with. Whatever feels uncomfortable inside of us, whatever we do not want to deal with, we move it outside, like some smelly garbage that needs to be out of the house. Once it is out there, we feel safe, it has nothing to do with us anymore. By bringing this fear back to myself and owning it, I took the garbage back into my house thereby stating: "This belongs to me."
When you stop lying to yourself about yourself - you have made huge progress. But if you are not in touch with your hidden desires and fears - then you will project them on someone else.
A friend of mine often complained to me about her new boyfriend's jealousy. When they went out for dinner, he often accused her of 'hooking' a man at a different table energetically. Sometimes he made a scene and one time he even stormed out of the restaurant. My friend was puzzled. Often, she did not know whom he was talking about and where that particular man would be sitting. She had a habit of sometimes staring into the room without seeing anyone in particular but with former boyfriends this had never caused any problems. She was not interested in any other man, so her boyfriend's accusations felt unjust and after some time started to weigh on her. About a year later my friend finished the relationship because she found out that her jealous lover had an affair on the side. My friend thought that this was the most bizarre thing and was quite furious about the fact that he had so often blamed her to flirt with others while he himself was secretly having an affair. I did not think it was strange. It was just a good example for projection at work.
If someone does not own and face their very own sexual desire for someone else - they will project that desire on the partner.
Thousands of priests have projected their hidden sexual desires on innocent women in medieval times and burned them as witches. They tortured women to find out and describe to them exactly how and in which way the devil had sex with them. They were the devil. They were fantasizing about sex. "We have met the enemy and he is us", the cartoonist Walt Kelly Pogo once stated.
Projection makes us blind. Only if you can get in touch with the hidden emotion, which you project on someone else - then the whole thing immediately stops. But how can you find out?
If projection is at work - there is a charge. You are emotionally involved. You are indignant about someone else's behavior or ways. You want to expose that person. It keeps bothering you internally. But if you just notice that a friend of yours is continuously stingy - and it does not really affect you, you don' t make a big deal out of it, and you don't need to judge it - then there is no projection. Maybe you are normally a generous person but still find yourself sometimes avoiding small parking fees at all cost or buying things you don't really need because they are on sale. If someone calls you stingy, you just laugh and admit it. It is not a big deal for you. You are in touch with it. That shadow is out of the box and will not be projected on someone else.
I remember some years ago seeing a movie about a young man addicted to pornography. It is called 'Don Jon'. When his girlfriend discovers his secret, she is disgusted, condemns him and eventually leaves him. After some time, he falls in love with an older woman, who also becomes aware of his addiction. Instead of judging him she very slowly and carefully teaches him a tantric way of expressing his sexuality. It was not a great movie, but it had a great message. Instead of condemning something you make it a friend and bring it to a higher level.
Our shadow side shows up in many different ways. If you have ever been on a fast you will know that experienced fasters warn you about the difficulty of breaking the fast. Because you have been so disciplined the whole time, the pendulum will swing to the other side and you now want to pig out on French fries, gummy bears or chocolate cake - all the foods you were fantasizing about while you were on the fast. It is like a seesaw. I became much more aware of this movement and all its implements when Osho talked about it:
"It is just like a pendulum. The pendulum goes to the left: it creates the momentum to go to the right. It is just like in the day you work hard: in the night you sleep very deeply." (taken from: Osho: The Buddha Disease, #23)
The more the pendulum swings to one side the more it is likely to swing to the other extreme. When all sexual feelings are repressed and have to go underground you provide the perfect script for a shadow thriller. That strong energy will escape from the basement of your being no matter what. And when it does - because it was hidden in the darkness for so long and with such a force, it may take a very ugly shape. Think of the abuse cases in the Catholic Church: Because any normal outlet of sexuality was repressed it went underground and then came out sideways – so many cases of priests forcing or seducing children to have sex with them recently became public. To this day catholic priests don't have any chance to find a healthy attitude towards their own sexual desires. These are the areas where the shadows thrive.
Whenever you take anything a little bit too far - the shadow is already lurking on the other side. It is just a question of awareness to see that.
For some years now I have been facilitating 'Vipassana Retreats' on the Greek island of Lesbos in a small Osho Center, which is called 'Osho Afroz'. In this retreat - although some active meditations are included - we sit in meditation for more or less ten hours per day. We are in silence and our phones are shut off. I love this process so much because often I discover a deep truth about myself or about my life that would have never surfaced without the days of silent sitting. Being in silence has so many magic benefits - it needs to be experienced. Nevertheless, the process can also be quite challenging. In the instructions you are asked to watch primarily your breath and then also your thoughts, feelings, judgments, body sensations and impressions from the outside world. But as the hours pass by the mind rebels, freaks out, gets bored, goes on its own trips. Sometimes you fall asleep and snooze for a little while. For me as a facilitator 'snoozing' obviously is a big no go. It happens but this I want to hide more than anything else. Another shadow! - but it is not this one I want to talk about.
One year I had to leave the island just two days after the Vipassana Retreat. I was very proud of myself. Normally I lead the process together with another facilitator but that year he had fallen sick. I felt I had done very well all by myself, taking care of participants with kindness but also quite professional and then, of course, I had also been sitting in silence for all these days and all these hours. One more time I had mastered the challenge of leading a 'Vipassana Retreat'.
It was early morning when I arrived at the tiny airport of Mytilini on the island of Lesbos. Inside the airport it was empty - only ten or twelve passengers were queuing at my counter. I had all the time in the world. It could have not been smoother.
I had been standing in line for about ten minutes when my counter got closed for no obvious reasons and we were told to queue at the counter next to ours - where by now some people hat arrived and the line had gotten quite long. I shuffled to that side not aware of the small dragon of anger that had risen inside of me. To my dismay and disbelief two young men with boxes came from nowhere and - with no further explanation - jumped the whole queue to check in. By now I was furiously staring at what was happening. People around me seemed oblivious of what was going on. They were either in holiday mode, chatting with each other or looking into their phones. Another young man came and then a couple - all with boxes and jumping the line. When the couple arrived, I lost it. I rushed forward and in a pissed off tone demanded an explanation. The airline employee informed me in a cool but not impolite way that these passengers were all helpers from the Lesbos refugee camps. They were on a special mission and got therefore the priviledge of checking in first. I sheepishly recoiled and took my place in the line again.
The seats in the small plane that connects Lesbos with Athens are quite narrow. Usually, I am lucky and end up next to a normal size person but this time I wasn't. The young Greek man next to me was big and could barely squeeze his overflowing body into the window seat. I felt discontent with life and cramped. "Can you please leave me some room?" I snapped. He moved unhappily back and forth, left and right and - because of lack of space - ended up in the same position, his big arms sprawling over the small armrest onto to my side. I sniffed in a disapproving Mary Poppins kind of way and closed my eyes. By now I was aware that I was moving in a downward spiral but could not help it.
There were the usual security announcements in Greek and then in English, which seemed particularly long this time. "Please switch off all your electronic devices and your mobile phones". In the aisle seat across the gangway an English-speaking middle-aged passenger kept talking on the phone. I watched him like a hawk. His voice and the talking got on my nerves. I couldn’t' wait for him to finish. We were already on the runway. He was still talking. Now the plane was taking off. He was still talking. Nobody else seemed to care. Outraged I called out to the stewardess who was already sitting facing us with her seat belt fastened: "What are all your stupid security announcements about if you don’t do anything about this man still talking on the phone?" The man hastily turned off his phone. The stewardess, who was already in her seat with the belt on kept quiet, turned her head and looked out of the window.
The man stared at me in a mix of disbelief and disgust as if I was an informant that just got debunked. I closed my eyes again. "What is happening to you? Are you the airline police? You just did a silent retreat and now for the most trivial of reasons you are losing it? Where is your meditation? What is wrong with you?" It was the familiar voice of the Super-Ego. I was too weak to stop it. A wave of shame washed over me. Then a wave of guilt. As soon as the seat belt signs were switched off, I made it to the bathroom.
I needed to own and confess my negativity. I had read that in a wonderful book called 'Journey into Now' by Leonard Jacobsen during all my shadow work research. There was no one to confess to. I looked at myself in the mirror. "You are a bitch". It did not sound convincing yet. I stood there and repeated, "I am a bitch. I am a bitch. I am a bitch” until it resonated with something inside of me. This is like a spiritual law: Acknowledge the shadows and they lose their grip.
I returned to my seat - all ruffled feathers smoothed out, smiling to the left, smiling to the right and smiling to myself inside.
Later on, I realized that I had been on the seesaw again. Being so meditative and so kind and so professional during the retreat had provoked the shadows of impatience, righteousness and unkindness. They had been too long in the closet - they had to leap out. The pendulum had swung straight to the other side. I did learn my lesson.
Now, when I finish a retreat, I give myself time in nature or with my friends. I move into a little bit of a holiday, joy and celebration mode before traveling and being confronted with the grit of the road.
One big reason why we are so unwilling to work with our shadow side is the fact that it makes us feel guilty. "One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light but by making the darkness conscious. The latter procedure however is disagreeable and therefore not popular", said C.G. Jung, the psychiatrist who worked with and coined the term 'shadow' as early as 1912.
Over time - working with the shadows - I have learned to let a feeling of guilt or shame flood me for a short moment if this is what needs to come up. I just allow it. Yes, it is uncomfortable but only for a very short time. Then I drop it. Because I know: The shadow and any negative feelings or acts connected to it are intrinsically human. As much as we all know true love, kindness, compassion, we have also been at the opposite end. Everybody sits in the same boat. I am not alone in this. But looking at it and working my way through it is also like a cleansing. Facing my demons, the demons loose power. Truth is liberating. Also, in a strange way, that I cannot quite explain, when you accept and sit and chat with one of your dark sides, just as if it was a friend, then that feeling turns - it becomes the opposite. I have found that very often sadness turns into joyfulness and disgust into pure love.
All in all, confronting and working with my shadow side has been one of the most empowering tools of personal transformation I have found. It has started an ongoing process of feeling more whole and integrated inside of myself. It also makes me feel more authentic. There is a strong connection between being authentic and being able to love and accept yourself. The more I am able to accept and love myself - the easier it is to confront my shadow side. Also, by not projecting my shadow - or at least catching myself when I start projecting - I am actually moving closer to that more conscious, loving and kind person that I originally wanted to be. And this is who I truly am.
Here is a small choice of the books that helped and inspired me around working with the shadow:
"The Dark Side of the Light Chasers" - Debbie Ford
"Meeting the Shadow" - a compilation edited by Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams
"Journey into Now" - Leonard Jacobsen
Methods, which have helped me:
All the OSHO Active Meditations especially 'OSHO Dynamic Meditation'
All information under www.osho.com
Path of Love
My own method:
"Embrace your darkness - Step into the Light No 1 & 2 & 3"
VIDEOS & AUDIOS SATSANGA
or on Facebook under my professional page:
FLOWERING – TOOLS OF LOVE AND GROWTH https://www.facebook.com/floweringtoolsofloveandgrowth
Videos & Audios