"The true light never hides the darkness but is born out of the very center of it, transforming and redeeming. So to the darkness we must return, each of us individually accepting ignorance and loneliness, pain and weakness, and, most difficult of all, consenting to wait in the dark and even to love the waiting..."
-Helen M. Luke,
When we befriend our discomfort, our uncertainty, our sorrow, our pain, our anger, bowing to its intensity, honoring its power and uncontrollability, we cease to be victims, for we are now aligned with life, no longer at war with the way of things. -Jeff Foster
This revolutionary act of treating ourselves tenderly can begin to undo the aversive messages of a lifetime. ~ Tara Brach
I would like my life to be a statement of love and compassion --
and where it isn't, that's where my work lies. -Ram Dass
Summer Solstice heralds the beginning of summer and longer daylight in the northern hemisphere. Universally life contains both visible light and dark light and this newsletter focuses on the interplay of these great Lights. It is an invitation to utilize the prevailing Light of this season for Embracing the Shadow, and for bringing the unconscious aspects of our nature into the light of conscious awareness, while deepening our understanding and acceptance of the interplay of both dark and light as a natural and intentional state of existence, designed to bring about greater wholeness and harmony in our lives. We invite you to take a more constructive, loving and compassionate approach to working with the shadow, and to take the time to notice what is showing up in your life and really be with your experience in a deeper way. Shining a light into the shadow and embracing what is arising is a rich opportunity for personal growth, learning and healing.
Summer Solstice has been celebrated for eons. It marks the midway point between Spring and Fall Equinox with the longest hours of daylight in the annual cycle. Summer Solstice is exact this Sunday, June 21 at 12:39 pm EDT here on the east coast.
The meaning of Summer Solstice is highly significant. It honors the light of the Sun as the central source of life, light, and power in our solar system, which pertains to spiritual fire, or eternal Spirit, in the lives of human beings and other living things. It honors the fullness of Light, warmth, and growth inherent in the summer months--something we all love and celebrate-- yet we can always be more intentional and mindful of the magnificence of this season with sacred activities that pay homage to the Light. Here are a few ideas for honoring Summer Solstice but we invite you to use your imagination. If you are Sun-lover (like most of us!), this is the perfect time to rejoice in the Light of the Sun.
- Host a gathering around an outdoor campfire.
- Create an altar of light with candles and summer flowers.
- Create a sun-wheel wreath of flowers and place the wreath in an entryway door or on a table.
- Arrange flower petals and other artifacts of nature into a sun mandala-offering to the Earth in a favorite nature spot.
- Make Sun tea or another liquid infusion using sunlight.
- Meditate or reflect on the Light that you innately are and express that Light in the world.
Creating something to commemorate Summer Solstice is a sacred activity, so infuse it with your positive intentions of a better world, or perhaps say the following mantram to bring in the Light:
I am a point of light within a greater Light.
I am a strand of loving energy within the stream of Love divine.
I am a point of sacrificial fire focused within the fiery Will of God.
And thus I stand.
I am a way by which men may achieve.
I am a source of strength, enabling them to stand.
I am a beam of light, shining upon their way.
And thus I stand.
And standing thus, revolve.
And tread this way, the ways of men,
And know the ways of God.
And thus I stand.
Wishing you all a blessed Summer Solstice-- and to our dear friends in the Southern hemisphere, our good wishes as you transition into Winter Solstice!
Understanding the Shadow
--Adapted from an article by Smadar Efrat Yaish
What is the Shadow?The Shadow is the aspects of self that are kept hidden in the dark and out of awareness. Many of these aspects have great holds on your life and actually dictate your thoughts, feelings, beliefs and actions. A metaphor would be a hidden closet in which you keep those parts of y
ourself that, on an unconscious level, you prefer to avoid or ignore.
The Shadow includes your deepest fears, shames, regrets, judgments, core beliefs, unconscious contracts/vows, "truths" about life, about others and yourself, as well as your greatest power, your beauty, your sacred and divine self. In other words, the Shadow includes all these things about yourself that "you don't know that you don't know" or those things that sit in your subconscious.
Why is it important to get familiar with your Shadow? With the understanding that your everyday life is a reflection of your inner state, i.e., that your actions and manifestations including relationships, career, money, etc. are a reflection of your inner state, the Shadow has a great impact on your life. The Shadow is a major part of your inner self that is hidden from your awareness. Ignoring or avoiding your Shadow is like driving a car that was programmed to turn right at every intersection while assuming that, because you are the one holding the stirring wheel, it should be going in the direction you dictate. Getting to know your Shadow is like cracking the code and revealing the programming that dictates your thoughts, feelings and actions and eventually your manifestations and results.
In addition to healing those parts of you that hold you back from achieving your desired results, getting familiar with, healing and embracing your Shadow can assist you in unleashing trapped life energies, your deepest power, inspiration and authenticity. For example, many people know that they are extremely talented; however their life does not reflect this fact. Their Shadow may include an unconscious vow to never shine as it might cause others to be jealous.
Can you see how much energy is put into keeping yourself small although it does not serve you or those exact people you try to "protect?" Can you see how much of your life force is suffocated? Honoring these old "truths," vows and fears that served you in the past and, then, releasing their hold of you, can free much of your energy and inner power to be used to achieve both progress in your daily like and desired results.
A few ways to shine a Light into your Shadow:
1. Examine your negative patterns and look for those deep-rooted reasons for these patterns.
Before we look into the ways to recognize rooted causes for your patterns, please consider that the things that you perceive as faults, negative patterns or things you do not like about yourself are actually your assets. The only issue with them is that they are over-amplified. If you turn the notch down a little, these so-called faults will reveal their value. In other words, your weaknesses will become your strengths. For example, a person who is extra careful about spending money to the point of deprivation may turn down "the volume" on this behavior and actually bring it to a position of being responsible with money. Being responsible is an asset, while deprivation is a "fault" or negative pattern.
Turning the volume down can be done through revealing the rooted cause of the pattern. Ask yourself or journal about the following: what is my earliest memory of this pattern? What does the picture look like? Who is there? What words were spoken? What was the impact of this mental picture and these words on me? How did my body react at that moment? What did I feel? What conclusion did I draw about life, about myself? What conclusion did I draw about what I should/could be, do or have? This kind of examination will assist you in revealing hidden fears, beliefs and even vows you have made that can be called on to be honored for their past service and, then, released.
2. Take advantage of challenging times and crises to identify and embrace Shadow aspects of your self. Challenging times and crises such as unemployment, break ups, financial difficulties, and illness may bring to light more vulnerable parts of self. For example, one might become overly fearful, needy or rigid. Although it is natural to feel any of these feelings and exhibit more extreme behaviors during crises and major transitions, these amplified responses might shed light on what existed in the dark all along-- core limiting beliefs such as "the world / life isn't safe, " "I am alone," "No one is to be trusted,"... etc. Be gentle with yourself, seek help and support as needed and take the time to examine what is asking to be revealed about yourself beyond this specific situation. What is asking to be healed, released and embraced? Usually it is the "child" part of the self that needs to be seen, heard and embraced.
3. Ask for help from your higher self, spirit or others with wisdom, to reveal those aspects that affect your life that you are not seeing.
Simply ask to have your inner truth revealed to you. This can be done through meditation, witnessing and self reflection, journaling and counseling. As you notice and bring awareness to these feeling and thought patterns and ways that you act less than lovingly to yourself or others, this awareness, this light of consciousness shines and dissolves the shadow. Be willing to sit and see and watch and feel the pain... pain that may have been sitting deep inside for years waiting for this loving Light to illumine it. Consciousness is the great solvent; it dissolves all that is not Real. Be prepared for insights, memories and deep transformation. Be lovingly present with all parts of yourself and through this, you become more compassionate and accepting of others.
4. Focus on your Shadow rather than what needs to be changed in the world or in others.
We must look inward and work with ourselves. It's your life purpose to shine light on the hardened and petrified parts of you. To spread your light on earth, first and foremost reach out to the darkness within. In other words, one does not need to focus on what needs to be remedied in the world or the "other", but, instead, on what needs to be healed within. Everything we perceive as outside and separate is our own projection. Once you embrace your own journey, your light will shine out and inspire others to do the same.
As we begin to take full responsibility for our own Shadow parts, we begin to heal the collective Shadow of humanity and do our part to bring forth a more conscious, more Light-filled, Love-filled New Earth.
There is a brokenness out of
which comes the unbroken.
A shatteredness out of which blooms
There is a sorrow beyond all grief,
which leads to joy.
And a fragility out of whose depths
There is a hollow space too vast for words
through which we pass with each loss.
Out of whose darkness we are
sanctioned into being.
There is a cry deeper than all sound,
whose serrated edges
cut the heart as we break open
to the place inside
that is unbreakable and whole.
--Rashani from Beyond Brokenness
God as a Rockstar
--Adyahanti, Emptiness Dancing
When I used to do retreats at Sonoma Zen Center, where it was very quiet, we'd be up at 4:30 a.m. to start sitting. It was beautiful and peaceful that time of the morning. The sun was just starting to light up the air before it would come up on the horizon, and there was the amazing experience of just feeling the whole world waking up, your whole self waking. It felt wonderful. About 6:30 every morning, across the street from the Zen temple, the neighbors woke up. The neighbors had a different idea of how to get ready for the day. So at 6:30 every morning they played Led Zeppelin in full volume. This is when dharmic relationship can be learned. It is easy to stay conscious to the birds, to the pleasantness, to the beautiful manifestation of the Divine, to your own true self - until Jimmy Page starts striking the first power chords. And there it is. There is the invitation. 'What is that? And what's my relationship with that?'
What I found was that it was just another sound, and that was perfectly okay. And it was beautiful because it widened my sense of the spiritual. It just was what is. There is God pretending to be a rock star. God wasn't just all the pleasant, good little moments, quiet and serene. This takes the idea of spirituality and rips it right down the center. It says, 'Okay, you want to see God? Here is God - all of God. Not just the part you want to see, but all of it.'
The most effective strategy of avoidance, one that we've all mastered, is to remove our sacred attention from our bodies, our feelings, our emotions, our sensations, and shift it into thinking. We become masters at thinking 'about' our experience, rather than actually 'having' it. In seconds, we can abandon what is happening and immerse ourselves in our conditioned histories - falling into the grooves of our traumatic narratives, dramas of unlovability, compelling stories of our flaws and failures, and fantasies of victimhood. All to avoid what is actually alive in the radiant here and now. The new approach is to love the unconscious into being.
-Tara Brach, Radical Self-Acceptance
Into the Demon's Mouth
The spiritual journey involves stepping into unknown territory with a hunger to know what is true. One of the essential elements of such a life is the understanding that everything we encounter- fear, resentment, jealousy, embarrassment-is actually an invitation to see clearly where we are shutting down and holding back. At some point we realize we can't manipulate life to give us only what we want: the rug gets pulled out regularly. So what do we do? Although our deep-seated tendency is to reject the unwanted in an effort to prevent suffering, it turns out that all the ways we resist actually limit our lives, bringing us pain. And yet how do we find the courage to open to, and accept, all of what we are and all of what is arising? How do we tap the confidence to live with that kind of openness and receive what is arising in the moment, just as it is, with clarity and kindness? How do we let life, with all of its disappointments and sorrows soften our heart? In the Tibetan tradition there is a story about the great cave-dwelling yogi Milarepa that illuminates the often bumpy road we travel in the process of releasing resistance and making peace with ourselves.
One day Milarepa left his cave to gather firewood, and when he returned he found that his cave had been taken over by demons. There were demons everywhere! His first thought upon seeing them was, "I have got to get rid of them!" He lunges toward them, chasing after them, trying forcefully to get them out of his cave. But the demons are completely unfazed. In fact, the more he chases them, the more comfortable and settled-in they seem to be. Realizing that his efforts to run them out have failed miserably, Milarepa opts for a new approach and decides to teach them. If chasing them out won't work, then maybe hearing the teachings will change their minds and get them to go. So he takes his seat and begins teaching about compassion and kindness and the nature of impermanence. After a while he looks around and realizes all the demons are still there. They simply stare at him with their huge bulging eyes; not a single one is leaving.
At this point Milarepa lets out a deep breath of surrender, knowing now that these demons will not be manipulated into leaving and that maybe he has something to learn from them. He looks deeply into the eyes of each demon and bows, saying, "It looks like we're going to be here together. I open myself to whatever you have to teach me." In that moment all the demons but one disappear. One huge and especially fierce demon, with flaring nostrils and dripping fangs, is still there. So Milarepa lets go even further. Stepping over to the largest demon, he offers himself completely, holding nothing back. "Eat me if you wish." He places his head in the demon's mouth, and at that moment the largest demon bows low and dissolves into space.
One of the things I love about this story is that it doesn't feed our romantic vision of spiritual life. We sometimes imagine that if we just lead our spiritual life the "right" way, we won't encounter life's sharp edges. We will be on a direct path to ever-increasing tranquility and joy. We are not prepared for all of our unfinished business being exposed, all of our unresolved trauma pushing up from the depths like a geyser of black mud. The story of Milarepa feels much closer to the truth. Working with all that has been pushed down is a central part of the spiritual journey. And when those demons appear, it is not so easy to just relax and let go. We usually try a number of different approaches to get these uninvited guests to go back to the dungeon. This story takes us on a journey that includes the well-worn strategies and habitual maneuvers we attempt-and ultimately abandon-in the process of genuinely opening to ourselves and our lives.
The first stage of this journey is awareness. We begin to see what is happening. Milarepa comes back to his cave, and finds that it is full of demons-maybe they've been there all along, but now he clearly sees them. We experience this dawning recognition as we begin to see the things we have been running from, hiding from, or trying to push away. Our patterns of avoidance and denial can take so many different guises that often we don't even really see them until our awareness begins to deepen. It may be 20 years before we realize, "Oh, I became a doctor because I wanted my parents' approval." Or "I am always taking care of people because I want others to need me." Or "I was the life of the party because I felt empty inside." A lot of times we look at the things that we do without recognizing that what's really driving us is a need for approval, a need to be needed, or a need to fit in. And sometimes our most obvious destructive behaviors conceal something else that is even more difficult for us to acknowledge. We may, for example, be willing to acknowledge our anger, but unwilling to look at the fear and vulnerability beneath it. So we "work on our anger" without touching the raw place underneath.
I remember years ago when I was living with one of my closest friends how appalled I was when I realized how competitive I was with her. She was getting the attention I wanted for myself, and I was burning with jealousy and resentment. I thought of myself as a loving person who wanted the best for my friends, and the situation revealed a side of me I didn't like or want. Even more upsetting was the realization that beneath that jealousy was a deep sense of unworthiness. I came to see that I craved that attention in order to feel good about myself. There was no escaping this situation-I felt like I was in a pressure cooker, and it was incredibly painful. But not being able to hide or run away, I gradually discovered what compassion for oneself really means, and how it really is the basis of an authentic and openhearted life.
When we don't acknowledge all of who we are, those unacknowledged parts will land in what Jung called the "shadow" that we then project onto others. This is one way of seeing Milarepa's encounter with the demons. He was encountering his shadow-all that he had suppressed and rejected in himself-in the demons.
Often when a painful feeling arises, we short-circuit that experience; we don't listen to it. We're afraid to touch it. We turn on the television. We spend hours on the computer. We eat a bag of chips. We go to a movie. We shop. We drink too much. We find some way to keep ourselves busy and numb. We have many ways of distracting ourselves so that we don't feel the full impact of pain. Instead of being accepted into consciousness, the feeling goes underground and enters the cells of our body. It doesn't go away; it goes in, and the body reveals our history in surprising-and sometimes unsettling- ways. Things we've long forgotten, our body remembers with impeccable accuracy. We may imagine that spiritual awakening is something separate from our physical embodiment, but awakening and embodiment go together. To be embodied isn't just about feeling comfortable in our own skin-it's about a complete opening to life.
This is where awareness comes in. With awareness, even if we shut down, we see ourselves shutting down. We may not be able to stop ourselves from doing the habitual thing, but we are watching ourselves do it. Most of us, when we do become aware of something unwanted in ourselves, have a knee-jerk reaction to it, and do just what Milarepa first did when he saw those demons. We ask, "How can I get rid of this thing?" This second stage on our journey is one of our habitual maneuvers. We see something, and if we don't like what we see, we want to expel it. We recoil. We judge. We attack.
We come upon our greediness, jealousy, or impatience, and the next impulse is to go to war with it. We don't realize that all the while we're strengthening the thing we're fighting against. It's like trying to push a beach ball into the water. Holding it down requires a huge amount of energy, and inevitably it pops back up with equal force, taking an unpredictable direction. But if you give the beach ball space and let it be, it will float effortlessly along the surface.
If we're afraid of who we are, we continually feel frantic about filling that space, anything to avoid that persistent unease beneath the surface of our lives. The fearlessness of the warrior comes from stepping again and again into open space, with body, breath, and heart exposed. It is the fearlessness that is willing to be intimate with fear.
As Milarepa's story unfolds, we find that there is a discovery process at work as he decides to teach the demons the dharma. There is a fix-it energy at work here. The indirect manipulation looks like a greater acceptance and accommodation, but it is still rooted in the rejection of experience and bent on avoiding and getting rid of what seems most undesirable. There is a lot of room for self-deception here; this is where we can get caught in spiritual bypassing. We begin to use our spiritual practices and all the things we've learned to perpetuate a disconnection from experience and a disembodiment from life.
This capacity to see every situation in our life as our path marks a shift from willfulness to willingness. Eventually Milarepa relinquishes his solutions and strategies and surrenders to the presence of the demons, and to whatever they may have to teach him. At this point he begins to see that everything that arises is an opportunity to deepen our understanding and to soften our heart. We are willing to be with our experience, whatever it is, without judgment, without trying to fix it or get rid of it. And somehow this willingness, this gentle allowing, starts to calm things down.
In order to be with ourselves in this complete way, we need to be in contact with our inner resources of self-compassion and loving-kindness. Our capacity to turn toward whatever scares or repels us, and remain present with it, depends on our access to inner goodness. When we are able to connect with this ground of inner goodness, it brings a level of confidence and ease that can embrace our full humanity in all its complexity. This connection to our inner goodness is like the rope a rock climber uses to stay in contact with the steep rock face. Without that rope of connection, we can free-fall into self-blame and self-hatred and actually intensify the existing wound. As we begin to really look into our lives we ask, and want to know, "What is this uneasiness I don't want to touch?" "What is this unhappiness that is always there despite all my accomplishments?" "What is this anxiety that is always humming beneath the surface of my life?" We have the courage and strength to move toward that which we may have spent a lifetime hiding from.
This ultimately brings us to the fifth and final stage of complete letting go, where all resistance is gone. We no longer demand that life be on our terms. Instead, we begin living with the understanding that the source of wisdom is in whatever is in front of us--it is in whatever is arising in this moment. Wisdom is not somewhere else. It's not in someone else. It's right here in our own bottomless heart.
So Milarepa lets go of that last shred of holding back and places himself in the largest demon's mouth. The demon dissolves into space. In this space, wakefulness radiates with an unconditioned compassion that, in the words of the late Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck, "goes against nothing and fulfills everything."
Aura Glaser, Ph.D., is a dharma teacher and psychologist integrating spiritual, psychological, and embodiment work. She is the author of A Call to Compassion, a co-founder of the organization Jewel Heart, and a therapist in private practice who works with individuals across the country. To contact Aura Glaser, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you're trying to fix your doubts, your anxiety, your fear, your anger, your loneliness, your grief, your broken heart, your deep longing for Home, you've already made these very natural energies into problems, and so you're already at war.
Your search for a solution implies that something is broken inside you and needs fixing right now. There is a 'good me' at war with a 'bad me', a 'perfect me' at war with an 'imperfect me', separation at war with wholeness, and this internal split is at the root of all suffering.
End the dualistic war. Stop comparing this moment with your IMAGE of how it 'should' be. Let the image dissolve in the clarity of presence.
Turn towards the part of yourself that feels broken, tender, raw, 'bad', and for a moment, stop searching for its solution or its opposite. Life has no opposite. Stay present. Stay very close. Listen. Feel what wants to be felt; there may be valuable information here. Begin to allow these un-allowable parts, begin to accept these seemingly unacceptable energies within yourself. Shine the light of awareness fearlessly into the darkness.
You may come to see that there are no enemies within you, no mistakes, no inner demons, only manifestations of yourself that long to be met, embraced, integrated as part of an infinitely larger picture; only children that long to return Home.
And you are the Home they long for. Always.
No solution? No problem.
Only a love as vast as the sky.
- -Jeff Foster
All this petty worry ~David Whyte
while the great cloak
of the sky grows dark
round every living thing.
All this trying
who we are
and all this
wanting to know
what we must do.
But what is precious
inside us does not
care to be known
by the mind
in ways that diminish
What we strive for
is not what turns us
into the lit angel
and then nourishes
has everything we need.
What we hate
is what we cannot know
but what is true to the pattern
does not need
to be explained.
is a great shout of joy
waiting to be born...
No Awakening Around the Corner
by Matt Licata
No matter how hopeless, sad, depressed, anxious, or frightened you are, you are in the exact right place to take the next step - into the center of being. Rather than see your current experience as a mistake which must urgently be corrected, you can surround yourself with presence and with warmth, and breathe into the aliveness of your tender, achy heart. You can infuse the pathways of your nervous system with slow, soothing awareness and kindness... right now. Everything you are meeting now is valid, is none other than the path itself, and contains important information for your journey.
In the radiance of the here and now, no matter how lost, confused, or neurotic you dream yourself to be, you can cut into billions of mind-moments of abandoning yourself, dissolving the ancient conclusion that something is wrong with you, that you have failed, and your immediate experience must quickly be understood, changed, shifted, transformed, or 'healed' by spiritual process. You can end the war. Now.
While it may appear you are longing for a 'solution' to your life situation - for some shift in the external world, in another, or the return to some constructed state of invulnerability and solid ground - - discover that you are only ever longing for your own presence. When your emotional world is on fire or you have entered the flatland of the psyche, you need yourself more than ever. Please stay close.
Nothing is missing, you are not broken, and that love has never, ever left you. Inside your confusion, buried in the core of the not-knowing, hidden in the soil of the hopelessness is pure being - your heart, your warmth, your tenderness, and your care for others and for this world. You are longing for just one moment of all of you. Dare to see that you are okay and that you are fully alive. Not in the future one day when more grace has come or you become 'awakened' or 'raise your vibration' or any of that.
There is no grace coming in the future, no awakening around the corner, and no love tomorrow. Only now.