Exalt your shadow side: healing a split-self.

Sometimes emotional responses we have to events are desirablee.g. ‘great I achieved something or got something I wanted – let me post a pictureon fb so that everyone can think that is all of who I am’.   But what happens in those times when you seeand feel things that you recognise as undesirable or destructive? Maybe feelinginferior, hurt, unappreciated, or fearful. Do you shut it away and ignore it?. Repeatedly doing this can leave historical potentially dynamic parts ofyou remaining trapped, unknown, unseen and un-exalted.

By exalted I mean seen as a potential source of somethingpositive, something which deserves attention, action and representing a piece ofyour own universal truth.  My Buddhistpractise and my therapy training tells me that there is a place for everyemotion and behaviour in this world and my deep determination and need is toknow everything happening in my inner world has a right to exist and hasmeaning.  So, I pluck up the courage to faceand explore the sides of myself that I shun and discovered they contain a greatwealth of energy and release through creating a bridge with split off parts ofmyself that I rejected. 

It is a long story but in summary, I rejected my father’s violence,my mother’s sense of helplessness and suicidal desires, experiences of sexualand emotional manipulation from the very people who were closest to me.  For many years I shut off their impact – and rightlyso, I needed to; what madness would it be for a child to actively connect withsuch harmful experiences? It totally saved me emotionally at the time.  But there were imprints left deep down thatcaused me great anxiety.  Where was my actionto protect my mother? Where was my voice to say I was being molested and it wasn’tright? Where was my courage to speak truth and voice anger at being manipulated?Where is it now?.

After years of panic attacks at potentially high achievementpoints in my life I decided it is time to acknowledge my inner instinctual animalthat would have acted at crucial times and I consciously empower it to act inthe present.  Rejecting the animality in thoseclosest to me means I reject it in myself, cutting off the flow of energy that arisesfrom acting on my own instincts.  I alsohave the potential to be violent to defend myself or someone else, I might needto abandon someone toxic although I know how it hurts.  My instincts might mean asking difficultquestions.  Hearing and telling difficulttruths. 

As long as my actions are guided from a place of compassion (whichis where 12 years of SGI Buddhist practise helps me), I can exalt these same tendenciescreate benefit with them.  I have hadmany experiences where choosing to embrace this side has stopped destructive situationtowards me and others in their tracks.  Forexample, when I see intimidating youths in my area (within reason), I now approachthem, make sure I show no fear, feel my animal instincts vibrating; I talk withthem – I don’t reject their energy because I also embrace mine and it hastangible impact. 

It might sound stupid but at times when I feel insecure or fearful,over and over I invoke an image of a fearless and wise panther and prepare toact.  It has become a source of groundedenergy that acknowledges every part of me and others without judgement.  Projecting a purely positive image can inspireothers but it can also alienate and intimidate them.  Carl Jung says that the more you supress orreject a part of yourself the more it subconsciously controls and manifests inyour life.  Instead, find support to embraceyour past and the dark parts of yourself as something potentially incrediblygood and healing through exploration.

Russian Doll inside: Holding the trauma of our past to live more fully in the present.

Many people including myself have had experiences that make feeling vulnerable or intimate a bit more overwhelming than it needs to be.  Maybe you had experiences at school being bullied, with parents who were unavailable for support, an abusive or painful heartbreak which left a trail of mistrust and fear.

RussianDolls AnAccidentalAnarchist.blog
Image courtesy of Bradley Davis (CC BY-ND 2.0)

When we encounter a current situation that might resemble one of these experiences, those past feelings can get stirred up and leave us feeling confused, anxious, angry or feel that we want to keep people away.  For myself at times like this I usually don’t feel ‘like my-self’, with feelings that seem unsafe to express to anyone except those I feel close to and they aren’t always available to talk.  I have found that the feelings can affect my immune system, my digestion; supressing my appetite or make me clumsy (although to be fair I’m not usually that graceful anyway!).   These bubbling feelings can affect every day functioning at work where I need to feel focused, positive and confident but they leave me wondering how to pull myself together emotionally when I feel like liquid inside.

At those times I have found it helpful to visualise my life contained in a series of layers in time, like a Russian doll; each layer marking a point in my life where a particular feeling was very strong, such as an experience of family loss, betrayal or feeling alone. The layers go deeper, backwards in time until finally at the point of birth where are my first experiences of being with my parents; the most tiny and vulnerable Russian doll layer.

Connecting overwhelming feelings as belonging to one of those layers has been a helpful way to bring me to a sense of safety in moments when the emotional layers of past and present start to merge.  A way of both owning my emotions (- it is often tempting to blame outwards on the person triggering them!) and knowing that because they arose from my past and are seeping out in to my present that I can contain them; at least until they reduce and until I am able to talk to someone I trust (this is vital).

Finally imagining myself as the outmost layer of the Russian doll as I am now and drawing a boundary around my emotions helps me to stop and take a breath, ground myself in the present and to understand the difference between my feelings and what triggered them. I feel more able to respond the way I want to rather than just react and most importantly brings me back to the self I want to create right now.

We are all so vastly unique and complex, having experienced unspeakable things that creating a structure to help us identify what layer is operating within us can allow us a vital space to climb out.

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Nature revealing the way

Trees and nature, showing how to embrace and accept our place in this world, how to grow and be fearless, a blessing and a prophet?

History expressed as form.  Standing proud, a life before the world, with scars and wounds an intrinsic part of beauty.  The twists and turns of form; magical. Unique. Broken branches, dead wood, clusters of life and leaves, unpredictable angles cutting through space. Textured art as skin.

Steadfastly growing for survival.  Making the best of circumstances that cannot be changed.  Forever imprisoned.  Yet with stoic dignity embracing and accepting the cycles of life and death.  That each year, one must start a fresh from the remnants of the year before.  Another year reaching for the sky.

Sustaining the witnessed; a web of hidden growth below.   Above; the visible drama of life. Below; the unknown story.

People and trees, not so different.

The Frog and the Scorpion

A frog is about to cross a river at its narrow point when he notices a fearsome scorpion prowling the bank. The frog quickly tries to take cover in some reeds but the scorpion has already seen him and moves closer.  Just as the frog is about to jump into the water and flee he notices the scorpion’s demeanour, it looks almost sad.  The scorpion asks, ‘please will you help me to cross this river? I can jump on your back and you can carry me.’   Being a kind creature the frog pauses and listens.  However, the frog is no fool and replies ‘But, you will sting me and kill me!’  The scorpion responds, ‘If I did we would both drown.’  The frog considers for a moment and compassion and kindness take hold.  The frog agrees.  Midway across the river the frog feels a sharp pain in his back as the scorpion’s stinger penetrates his skin.  ‘Why did you do that?’ asks the Frog, ‘we will both now drown!’.  The scorpion replies, ‘I could not help it, it’s in my nature’.

—x—

This is one of those very simple stories that we can relate with in many different ways.  When I first heard this my thoughts was of nature, transience, impermanence and the thought that however hopeful, we cannot change that much of the negative nature of this physical world, time passes, things change, decay and die. Tagging some keywords for this post was revealing about the depth of meaning that I take from this, a much more positive outlook.

Frog Scorpion Keywords - AnAccidentalAnarchist.com

I empathise with the frog, the frog is hopeful or change, it wants to believe the good in something seen as bad.  Perhaps the frog was naive, he should have trusted his knowledge and not trusted the scorpion.  But, the frog tried to make a better world, it died doing so, but at least it tried.

But, perhaps sometimes things are just not meant to be, people are not ready to change, as hopeful and however much we give and try, we often have to accept this and take care of ourselves.

As for the scorpion? I do not view the scorpion as all bad, its acting from it’s conditioning as a scorpion, it just cannot help itself.  It’s ‘nature’ cost them their lives.  Life is such, somethings we cannot change, we just have to accept them.

I can also empathise with the scorpion, sometimes my nature has led me towards patterns of behaviour that upon reflection I have regretted – but like the scorpion we can only act according to our current level of consciousness.

Of course, I would rather live like the frog, with hope and optimism and risk getting stung – that’s in my nature.

Repost: Why it can be good to feel emptiness

 

When you begin to realize that notion of loving and gentleness in yourself, and at the same time you begin to give up the notion of trying to find out the real truth.  And there is the real notion of where shunyata [emptiness] experience begins to happen.

Chogyam Trungpa

Around three years ago I was homeless for 5 months, I lived in a garage. It was my choice I suppose, I had walked out on a broken marriage and made myself homeless so that I could give all of my financial support to my family. This left me with a meager budget and I could not afford accommodation. This experience was hard at times for sure, but it was also very liberating.

You see, a lot of my life I had been operating with a background motivation of avoiding losing things: my possessions, my job, my relationship, my kids and always in the background my life. Losing things was always very painful for me. I think we all try to hold onto things in the belief that they will secure our happiness, its a very human tendency, one I think is wrong and conversely causes more suffering. In our attempts to avoid losing things we form this defensive position which is quite exhausting and extremely limiting. Like a dog defending a bone, growling, tense and upset and unable to do anything but stay with its bone. How much happier the dog would be if it could leave the bone and go off and enjoy the rest of its environment.

My experience of near total loss brought about some insight for me. I discovered that when you do lose things, there is a period of suffering as the mind grumbles in a very real and painful way about the ‘unfairness’ or ‘sadness’ of the situation. The fundamental basis of this feeling is probably the loss of some deeply held belief about oneself and the one’s future, in other words those self constructed beliefs that form our ego.  But, the revelation  that came to me from my loss was that when there is nothing left to lose, when you really are stripped back to the basics of having nothing, then since there is nothing left to lose, there is also nothing left to fear and that is a really nice place to be.

Loss the fear of loss - from AnAccidentalAnarchist.com

So the emptiness of the situation when fully embraced  contains no fear of loss and is quite free. Like a soldier that accepts the hopelessness of his situation and his certain death and at that point loses all fear.

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all

Hamlet, Shakespeare

My understanding of emptiness is that its a wonderful feeling that we can have when we accept each moment with a total fearlessness and acceptance of what ever might happen without judging of good or bad. I am not saying that in my circumstance of loss I was able to be in this feeling for long. It was a challenge to avoid the tendency to keep objecting to the unfairness. However, there were these moments of beautiful acceptance and freedom that washed over me like a cool wave of water on a hot day.

Walking with freedom - from AnAccidentalAnarchist.com

So how does that work now, well, when I remember I try to bring that feeling back into the day. I try to set out with a feeling of whatever will be will be and in doing so I find a more expansive feeling, something I think is closer to my personal Shunyata.

Four universal words of wisdom

Another favourite story of mine, told for centuries passed on here from my own memory.  Anicca, enjoy.

-x-

There was a young king who suffered greatly with events.  He was not a bad king, he just struggled with the ups and downs of life. During his reign the kingdom went through periods of recession, famine, disease and all manner of negative circumstance.  During these bad times, he, his advisors and his whole kingdom would became so despondent, never seeing the end, never imagining salvation.

However, over the years his kingdom  also went through many fine times of abundance and prosperity. But, during these times he would become swept away with the euphoria of events, he would spend, spend, spend, hold many feasts and festival; he, his advisors and his people would  be so happy! They would feel feel immortal; ”what could touch them?’

Then, of course, something would touch them. Events would transpire and life would take a turn towards the negative.  And so his rule continued, up to exquisite highs and down to the depths of defeat.

After many years of these soaring highs and crushing lows, he woke one morning having had enough.  He set his councillors a task. ‘Find me a something to help me to rule better’.

Hs advisors travelled the world seeking wisdom. They found numerous wise men and women that knew how to deal with the bad times.  Similarly they found many words of wisdom for dealing with the good times.  But, they found only one universal advice that could be applied in both circumstance.  The wisdom, they consolidated into four words so that they could have it  engraved onto a ring.  Their king could then wear the ring and forever be made conscious of it’s wisdom.

What was the universal wisdom? Simply,  that ‘This Too Shall Pass’.

-x-

This wisdom reminds me to savour the moments when life is good but not to get carried away by it, to appreciate and to love but not to cling too tightly. Furthermore, I find that an appreciative awareness of the transience of beautiful things enhances them (Freud’s requiem).   Likewise, this wisdom reminds me that darkness passes and light shines through, sometimes we just need to ride the out the storm.

This wisdom – Anicca – is one of Buddhism’s fundamental mark of existence. All things will pass. To avoid suffering, one better embrace this fact of life.

-x-

Many versions of this adage have been told, perhaps the most famous is:

“It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words, “And this too, shall pass away.” How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!”

Abraham Lincoln,  1859

Another version by David  Franko of Turkey

“One day Solomon decided to humble Benaiah Ben Yehoyada, his most trusted minister. He said to him, “Benaiah, there is a certain ring that I want you to bring to me. I wish to wear it for Sukkot which gives you six months to find it.”

“If it exists anywhere on earth, your majesty,” replied Benaiah,

I will find it and bring it to you, but what makes the ring so special?” “It has magic powers,” answered the king. “If a happy man looks at it, he becomes sad, and if a sad man looks at it, he becomes happy.” Solomon knew that no such ring existed in the world, but he wished to give his minister a little taste of humility.

Spring passed and then summer, and still Benaiah had no idea where he could find the ring. On the night before Sukkot, he decided to take a walk in one of the poorest quarters of Jerusalem. He passed by a merchant who had begun to set out the day’s wares on a shabby carpet. “Have you by any chance heard of a magic ring that makes the happy wearer forget his joy and the broken-hearted wearer forget his sorrows?” asked Benaiah.

He watched the grandfather take a plain gold ring from his carpet and engrave something on it. When Benaiah read the words on the ring, his face broke out in a wide smile. That night the entire city welcomed in the holiday of Sukkot with great festivity.

“Well, my friend,” said Solomon, “have you found what I sent you after?” All the ministers laughed and Solomon himself smiled. To everyone’s surprise, Benaiah held up a small gold ring and declared, “Here it is, your majesty!” As soon as Solomon read the inscription, the smile vanished from his face. The jeweler had written three Hebrew letters on the gold band: gimel, zayin, yud, which began the words “Gam zeh ya’avor” — “This too shall pass.” At that moment Solomon realized that all his wisdom and fabulous wealth and tremendous power were but fleeting things, for one day he would be nothing but dust.”

David Franko

Acceptance like a Zen master; Is that so

There was a Zen master who lived a peaceful, illuminated life of acceptance.   He was a source of wisdom for the local community.  Within the community, there was a respected family with one daughter of 18 years age.

The daughter was pregnant and soon her belly became too large to conceal.  Her enraged father demanded to know who was responsible.  Initially the daughter resisted telling but eventually in tears muttered the name of the Zen master.  The father stormed to the house of the Zen master and confronted him, “You have fathered a child with my young daughter, you swine!”  The Zen master replied “Is that so”.

Her baby was born a few weeks later; a healthy boy.  Her father immediately took the child and gave it to the Zen master shouting, ‘Here! it’s your child! you look after it”. The Zen master replied, “Is that so”.

A year later the daughter confessed to her family that the father was actually a handsome young man who worked at the local baker store.  The father returned to the Zen master, he explained the huge error.  The Zen master replied, “Is that so” and handed the baby back to the father.


The Zen master was able to accept all manner of circumstance without feeling a need for complaint or objection.  Can we do the same?


I try to remember this story throughout the challenges of life.  Sometimes facing a situation, an attack in words, or some other circumstance.  I try to find the space to stop and say “is that so” and in doing so try to avoid the need to complain or wish otherwise.

A word of caution, however, some people will react with more hostility if you speak, “is that so”.  So I often find its better to just think it without muttering the words.

 

 

 

Enjoying the honey in the midst of adversity

This is the fourth tale in a series of classic old stories I am posting throughout December, told pretty much as they have been for generations.


Many years ago,  a wise man encountered a hungry tiger while walking through the jungle back to his village. The man immediately began to run and the tiger gave chase.

After a few steps, he recalled a dried up well which was quite fortunately just a few steps further down the path.  He sprinted for the well and quickly dived into it.

However, as he was falling downward he heard a hiss.  Alarmed he quickly reached out a hand and grabbed at the sides of the well.  Luckily his had caught an overgrowing root and he was able to stop his fall.

He looked downwards and saw a huge hungry snake at the bottom of the dried up well. He looked up and saw the tiger peering over the edge of the well.  He hung for a minute or two before his situation got worse.  A small rat appeared from a hole in the wall of the well and it began to chew at the root.

The root soon began to fray.

Meanwhile, the tiger was reaching into the well.  In doing so, its feet were pushing against a nearby tree for purchase. causing it to sway.  The swaying motion of the tree caused a drop of honey to fall down the well from an overhanging bee hive.

The snake continued to hiss, the tiger continued to push, the mouse kept chewing through the root, the tree kept swaying and the beehive kept dripping honey into the well.

The man extended his tongue and caught some honey.

mmmm, honey”, he thought.


Life can throw us so much adversity.   Can you still enjoy the drops of honey that fall even during adversity?

Two monks carrying a burden

An older and a younger monk are walking back to their monastery when they notice a young woman passed out in the middle of a busy road.

The older monk tries to rouse her without response, before finally picking her up and carrying her from the road to safety.  He manages to wake her and set her safely on her way.  The younger monk is shocked and could not believe what he had seen happen.

They walk in silence for an hour, two hours, three then four before finally the younger monk can no longer suppress his feelings and says “You should not have picked up that girl, we are not allowed to handle women.”  The other monk responds, “are you still carrying her? I put her down hours ago.”


What burden do you carry in the mind long after it ceased to exist?

Case dismissed; non-judgemental thinking

Please preside as judge and juror of this familiar scene from life. A scene that we can all probably relate to and yet something that is quite revealing of ourselves.

The scene begins at around 9:30am on a weekday morning, it was a really warm day for southern England in July (around 30 degrees), the day had a spotless blue sky, it was school summer holidays and the coffee shop was near the coast. The object of this scene was a parent sat at a table in a local coffee shop, a man who looked in his early thirties. A man who was seemingly buried in his iPad. He had two young children with him, a girl of probably 8 years and a boy around 6 years. Like him, they were also buried in technology watching some YouTube video. They did not really talk much or engage.

A judgement seemed fairly obvious to me and my gavel fell sharply as I made my verdict, ‘What a bad and dysfunctional family they must be.’ But wait! The man was me, I was the parent and they were my kids, and we are far from dysfunctional.

This occasion got me thinking about how quick we make judgements of others, how quick I am to judge and that if I had witnessed myself in similar circumstances, then perhaps I would have judged myself poorly. Perhaps I was being overly sensitive, but a few people queuing casually glanced at me and my offspring with cold looks of disapproval. We were definitely disheveled, unbrushed hair and dressed in shorts and t-shirts, me included.

The reality was, we were camping in a nearby eco-ish campsite, secluded in the woods, we had no internet nor power for technology. I confess to needed a morning coffee, of that I am guilty, so this coffee shop served a dual purpose of letting me have my coffee and my darlings could have 45 minutes on their beloved DanDTM or clumsy ninja before we had our full day of activity. We were having a wonderful family time, just the three of us. We had been to a theme park and made campfire food the day before; as Londoners it was great for them to experience the rawness of camping a bit wild. The day in question we were going to an adventure centre then the beach. All rare experiences for my big city dwellers. These 45 minutes were but a brief moment and a tiny piece of civilisation for us all.

So the reality was very far from the perception. For all the world we must have looked dysfunctional, on a gorgeous day, away in a pretty town, a parent and two children, lost in technology. On a bad day, I might have made that judgement myself.

What I took from this little moment was that I should not judge people too quickly. I should probably not judge at all as its nearly impossible to know a thing from a brief encounter. All I can really know from meeting a situation is my prejudice and preconceptions about the situation, never the situation as it is. Giving time and space might allow the situation to reveal itself but more than likely it will just pass away and I will be left none the wiser about the nature of the situation. So, since I cannot accurately judge what I cannot know I will make more of an effort not to judge things so fast, but to let them unfold if the choose or simply blow away in the wind as a mystery.

So why not join me with a goal to practice non-judgement a little more? It involves putting our judgemental thoughts aside in a situation and finding a peaceful spaciousness to just witness events. Even if it’s just once or twice a day, it’s a little practice towards a more open and objectively real world.