Saturday, October 26, 2013

Surrender to the Dark Side

This week Halloween will be celebrated in the United States and in a few other places around the world that give credence to this modern, American festival, tenuously linked to the Celtic Samhain celebration.  We had a German visitor in our house this summer--when we asked her if she ever dressed up for Halloween, she replied, "I think Halloween is shit." Whatever you may think of the costumes, the candy and the glorification of guts and gore, one positive aspect of Halloween is the permission it gives us to delve into the Shadow side of reality and of ourselves.  

We live in a culture where everyone is supposed to be pretty, death is taboo and the Shadow is suppressed.  Our collective Shadow is the violence that keeps sprouting up in our culture--we see it in road rage and gun violence, for example. We turn a blind eye to violence as a society, and so it continues to get worse. The solution to this dilemma is to stop running from our Shadow and shine some light into it. At least on Halloween, we can give safe expression to the darker sides of humanity. It is better to dress up like an ax murderer and be playful with that role, than to actually become an ax murderer. 

Working with your Shadow, the aspects of yourself that you condemn or don't want to recognize, is a very powerful practice.  When you open up to your selfishness, your vanity, your anger, your neediness, then you become the master of those tendencies. How do we recognize our Shadow in the first place? We have to greet it with acceptance before it will even show itself to us. If we are fearful and anxious about our destructive tendencies, they will grow stronger--the Shadow feeds on fear and anxiety. To get out of that rut, we need to feel safe enough to let the Shadow out to play. When the Shadow can emerge in a safe and constructive framework, then we can begin to shine some light into it.  

In addition to Halloween, Yoga is a framework we can use for working with our Shadow side. When we sit in meditation, or when we move through our asana, all sorts of fears, aversions and strong emotions arise. When we meditate we sometimes have disturbing and unsettling thoughts. As we sit quietly, we can greet those with our compassionate presence. When we move through postures there are certain ones we hate or feel like we can't do. We may stiffen, frown, engage halfheartedly or refuse altogether. There are other postures we love and believe we perform well, and in these we may show off, look at ourselves in the mirror or even have a few narcissistic photos taken to share. We may relish lion's breath or obnoxiously loud ujjayi breathing. We may sigh audibly and moan with contentment in certain stretches. We may laugh out loud or snort when we fall out of a balancing posture. It's all OK because in yoga, we are safe and free to be who we are in the moment. Our practice is the time we carve out of our lives to relax the restrictions, bring ease to our bodies and go with the flow. Yes, yoga is a discipline, but it isn't about consistently doing something right--instead, it's about consistently accepting ourselves. 

So, today in our practice, let's make friends with the Shadow if and when it arises. Let's watch for it, warmly greeting it and inviting it to stay awhile.  There is a favorite story about the Buddha and his interactions with the Demon God called Mara. As the Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree just before he became enlightened, he was often visited by Mara, who came to defeat him. Instead of fighting Mara or pushing him away, the Buddha calmly greeted him and invited him to stay for tea. In the end, Mara went away, frustrated and bewildered, and the Buddha achieved Enlightenment. When our Shadow shows up in our practice today, let's see what happens if we let it hang out.  We might even give some safe expression to our Shadow side here. I am up for anything, so if tigers come we'll let them roar. 

I'm not suggesting, as Darth Vader did, that we permanently join the Dark Side.  He said, "give into your anger and hate and your journey to the Dark Side will be complete!" Yoda is more my speed, and he probably would have offered some Jedi tea instead. Our Shadows are inevitable companions on our journeys, but they don't have to steer the ship. 

Happy Halloween. 


“Your life will be transformed when you make peace with your shadow. The caterpillar will become a breathtakingly beautiful butterfly. You will no longer have to pretend to be someone you're not. You will no longer have to prove you're good enough. When you embrace your shadow you will no longer have to live in fear. Find the gifts of your shadow and you will finally revel in all the glory of your true self. Then you will have the freedom to create the life you have always desired.” 

― Debbie Ford

“Surrender is the ultimate sign of strength and the foundation for a spiritual life. Surrendering affirms that we are no longer willing to live in pain. It expresses a deep desire to transcend our struggles and transform our negative emotions. It commands a life beyond our egos, beyond that part of ourselves that is continually reminding us that we are separate, different and alone. Surrendering allows us to return to our true nature and move effortlessly through the cosmic dance called life. It's a powerful statement that proclaims the perfect order of the universe.

When you surrender your will, you are saying, "Even though things are not exactly how I'd like them to be, I will face my reality. I will look it directly in the eye and allow it to be here." Surrender and serenity are synonymous; you can't experience one without the other. So if it's serenity you're searching for, it's close by. All you have to do is resign as General Manager of the Universe. Choose to trust that there is a greater plan for you and that if you surrender, it will be unfolded in time. 

Surrender is a gift that you can give yourself. It's an act of faith. It's saying that even though I can't see where this river is flowing, I trust it will take me in the right direction.” 

 Debbie FordSpiritual Divorce: Divorce as a Catalyst for an Extraordinary Life

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