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the shadow side of awakening

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A friend told me that every time we get together, he experiences anger. “I don’t even want to talk about it, I feel it right now,” he explained, “I’ve even thought of staying away altogether, but decided against it: it would be like cutting off my foot because of a blister.” Is it something I have done or said that might be the cause of this anger? “No, you’ve been nothing but kind and clear when we’ve talked about this in the past. I think because I can talk to you so freely that I’m associating you with the anger.”

In a way I personify a dark force for you, the scary dragon a hero encounters along the mystical journey. Both Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell have described the threshold of emergence as the ‘road of trials.’ “That makes sense; just so you know I don’t see you as darkness.” No problem, we’re both clear that it’s not me — personally — who’s triggering anger. It’s in my presence that the strong emotions arise in you. That’s a crucial distinction.

Writing about the aspect “encountering the shadow,” Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist Rob Preece writes:

Psychologically, this journey begins with an emergence from psychological innocence and unconsciousness. We embark, either willingly or through coercion by circumstances outside of our control, upon a process of awakening. Answering an inner call, we cross a threshold, leaving behind naïvité, innocence, and irresponsibility, and embark on a genuine path of self-discovery. … We leave behind familiar security and experience what might be seen as a kind of death.

source: Preece, R. (2006). The wisdom of imperfection: the challenges of individuation in Buddhist life. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications, p. 107. image: “this pilgrim contemplates his shadow” while walking el camino a couple of years ago.


7 responses »

  1. I’d like you to know that while I don’t comment very often, I have a subscription to your blog and read it every time you post. It’s both heart and eye opening — thank you.

    Laurie Buchanan

  2. Hah! Thank you for this one, Peter.

    I got to see how my won anger arose, reading those “We” statements from Rob Preece,
    Bless him for them – they reinforce my preference for “I” statements becauseI don’t know how it is for others; often I barely understand how it is for me.
    So it’s better for me to say “I this …” or “I that…”
    I suppose if I were to accept the concept that there is no “I”, only “We” – whatever that may mean – I could also accept his use of ‘We’!

    • attempting to answer your question(s) literally (what fool am i!), I’d say for a book like Preece’s it’s convenient to write about things spiritual and psychological by using the “we” — so as to go beyond the implied limits of “me” and”i,” He’s writing as a teacher and psychotherapist, not only about himself. Throught the book he does speak from personal experience and then uses the first person singular.

      eye hope this response isn’t too pedantic — if you’d like to borrow this book, just ask. an unusual blend of Tibetan buddhism and Jungian psychology.

  3. PS:
    Recently I was told by an artist that black contains all the colors of the spectrum.
    So does white.
    Well, I’ve seen for myself how a prism seems to break white light into its constituent colors.
    But I don’t recall seeing black do the same.
    Then I remembered (from the Torah?): … The darkness is no darkness to Thee, for the night is as clear as the day. The Darkness and the Light to Thee are both alike …
    So I wondered, if Light and Dark is the same, is Good and Bad also the same? Right and wrong?
    Any pair of opposites?
    If so, then perhaps any judgment or comparison I may make is also meaningless.
    Whatever I think other people are, they aren’t.
    And they are?

    • right/wrong, black/white, light/dark, are/aren’t … see the pattern? the mind gets easily trapped by such perspectives. could you enlarge the container and see everything as part of a whole? the “whole” being infinite? good night. p.

      • malcolm: your words sent me to look for a stanza in the zen chant “Identity of relative and absolute” (The Sandōkai) by Master Sekito Kisen (700-790):

        Within light there is darkness, but do not try to understand that darkness; within darkness there is light, but do not look for that light.

        Light and darkness are a pair, like the foot in front and the foot behind in walking. Each thing has its own intrinsic value and is related to everything else in function and position.

        He wrote this in 7th century China. See:


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