Often when I’ve written about Shadow Work, it has been from a defensive place. I hear the skeptical voices of some of my Buddhist friends and teachers in my mind, questioning my focus, especially whether it is downward looking rather than transmuting/transcendent.
However, I think I may have misunderstood some of what they taught me; that the critical tone has lightened may be a signal that some development has taken place, or, I may actually disagree, which would also suggest progress… not always deferring. There are times to be receptive, and times to push back. Both can be respectful. One of my shadows is a tendency to easily experience contrast as conflict, stemming from walking on eggshells during childhood, especially formative years.
“Using my words” the way we instruct young children (although I can’t remember receiving that instruction) at the moment needed is still very hard, therefore I’ve developed strategies to defer. “Let me see about ___ and I’ll get back to you.” If I can make a space, I can think through and give an honest decision that I’ll then follow through with happily. Otherwise I’m likely to respond from the POV of the other who is asking.
Probably the starkest example of this is my accepting a proposal after first rejecting it, which I’ve since learned is not uncommon at all, and is the main reason I’m not fond of public proposals outside of situations where the couple already plan to be married and are going through the rituals together. In my case I was in love, but not ready. We’d been dating a short while and I was very young, scarcely unattached since the age of 15, and getting to know myself. So I said no. I can’t even remember how I said no, but I think it was with confusion over even being asked. But when his face fell, I panicked. I just wanted his pain to stop, and couldn’t find any way except for walking back the rejection, with plans to then just take things slow.
But saying Yes started a process I was not prepared for within myself, within him, and within friends and family. That was the moment, a real Vow, and I feel as though I didn’t know that then. I missed being able to consciously decide and integrate it, as I’m sure would have happened given more time, because I was missing the confidence in my own voice, my own words.
So that’s a really personal story, but a good illustration of what I’m calling (and many others have called) shadows. To know this about myself, is to begin to integrate it into the rest of my personality and way of being, and to be able to share that knowledge with others close to me. No time-bombs. The post I wrote recently about aspiration toward enlightenment is actually another post about shadows, or hidden/easily-misunderstood intentions.
Which brings me to what I came across this week, while listening to podcasts and playing a video game inspired by the classic game Harvest Moon, called Stardew Valley!
I drained my store of podcasts while home during the peak of the pandemic, so went searching around for new ones and remembered Buddhist Geeks! When first studying Buddhism, I really loved the modern, techie, philosophical podcast, but let it drop in favor of a more Vajrayana focus. Thankfully, they’re still going, talking a lot about psychedelics which I’m also interested in, BUT, the specific episode I was drawn to was an interview with Ken Wilbur, who I vaguely remembered as intelligent and interesting.
What I hadn’t remembered, is that his teaching is specifically about integration. He doesn’t discourage traditional therapy the way some do, because as he points out in the interview, there are countless examples of indeed ‘enlightened’ figures who we might characterize as having gotten into moral trouble. There were also greatly realized figures who didn’t take any issue with some of the injustices of their times, such as slavery. It is as though the two universes didn’t touch, spirituality being important and everything else banal.
Their attainment of insight was/is genuine, yet there was nothing in their training to deal with the influence and adoration their students foisted upon them, and nothing like the ethics we in the West have around therapy.
So Wilbur describes what we’re experiencing now as a Fourth Turning, working with the idea of the three turnings of the wheel of the dharma. I like this idea, because each turning was misinterpreted at first, as being in conflict with, if not undoing entirely, the teaching before, ie. “what is poison at one level is medicine at another.” Over time, we can see that the contrasts serve to unfold more and more brilliant angles.
It felt timely, coming across this.
In this fourth turning, rather than turning away “the world” or samsara, perhaps we face and embrace. Back to core intentions.