The Zenity of Being Human: Eat Your Shadow

‘At the centre of your being you have the answer;

you know who you are and you know what you want.’

Lao Tzu

The Zenity of Being Human is my term for living with zen in your life as a human being with being-nature, on this planet that has its own planet-nature, and in a world which has its own world-nature – and in space-time that only the One-ness knows the nature of. Zenity is my term for sanity through zen. The Zenity of Being Human is about living in the experience of the moment – and sometimes living with zen means practising Eating Your Shadow.

In Eastern philosophies and cultural ways of being, the light, the energy, the hope has been found in dealing with the Shadow. As far as I know, this self-growth practice and process pre-dated Hinduism in India – moving from the dark to the light has always been the soul’s path in Yoga, with the soul power manifesting right at the moment you discern what the choice before you is. Ancient Ayurvedic diagnosis of pain and dis-ease in the human being used the actual physical shadow cast by the diseased person: if the shadow has no lower right leg, look to the liver (for example).

Astrologer Priya Kale, a wonderfully sensitive writer says this: “Anger, pain, sadness, frustration, love, fear, desire are all simply emotions. It is healthy to allow yourself to feel all of them rather than suppress them. But in awareness we can choose not to “act” on the more destructive emotions. Then there can be a release of painful emotions leading to a breakthrough, creating space for healing. We are in a pivotal point globally . . . asking us to awaken to our integrity as we let go of the conditioning of the materialistic world we’ve built that now threatens the very essence and core of our humanity — our ability to feel and empathize with our fellow humans. “

And along with the individual’s Shadow, every nation has its Shadow side also – so for example, the Japanese formidable dignity and strength of character played against massive crime and social disease.

And this is Master Katagiri speaking about dealing with alienation from our own humanity: “If you just sit down in the midst of the quiet suffering of the human world, you become Avalokiteshvara, The Regarder of the Cries of the World, and you can listen to the voiceless voice of the world. You can open yourself to whatever situation you may be in. It’s no use saying that the suffering out there in the world is foreign, that it doesn’t belong to you. You have to take care of it every day, because it has already appeared. Just keep yourself open to it. This is true compassion. This is living with a kind, pure heart in Zen.”

One way we can acknowledge this regularly is by chanting the Bodhisattvas vows ritually (we do this after Sunday morning zazen practice here in our Baltimore Zen Sangha). These are the vows:

However innumerable beings are: I vow to save them;

However inexhaustible the passions are: I vow to extinguish them;

However immeasurable the Dharmas are: I vow to master them;

However incomparable the Buddha-truth is: I vow to attain it.

So, how do you Eat Your Shadow?

First, Make Friends with the Unacceptable: Become aware of the qualities you find ugly or unacceptable in others, writing down a list if that helps.

Then, realise that these are qualities that also exist within yourself. Make peace with these qualities, both within and without.

The more we repress aspects of ourselves, hiding from them and ignoring them, and project them onto others, the more power these qualities have over us, and the greater likelihood they will appear in our lives as symptoms, bad dream, or repetitive situations which we feel we have no control over. This has been called the Shadow of a human being since ancient times.

Carl Jung did much good work on the way we dump all the unacceptable parts of ourselves into our unconscious, and let it fester there as we hide from it. We then see these qualities in those people and situations that are around us.

Second,Eat Your Shadow: In order to be free of this process, we “Eat Our Shadow”. This means we must reclaim and own these hidden qualities, realise they are part of us, and welcome them into our lives. The very act of welcoming certain qualities or people takes the steam out of them. We can then absorb the energy and transform them into something constructive. (from Zen Miracles)

Zen practice is the practice of doing this – “eating the shadow”, sitting and knowing that we ourselves contain the entire world.

Freeing ourselves to be human.

This is Sheldon Kopp on “Being Human”: Hope is one of the most important qualities that a human being possesses for the challenge of making a life of significance and value; “We will call out to each other in the darkness of the Great Forest, so that we may not be lost to one another. Then, like the innocent Forest People, for a moment we will live in a world created by a God so benevolent that, when there is trouble, we will know that He must be asleep. And, like the Hasidim, just when life is heaviest with pain and anguish, that is the time when we will dance and sing together to waken the sleeping God of our own lost hope.”

You might be interested in this version of the Bodhisattvas vows, issued by the San Francisco-based Gay Buddhist Fellowship in their newsletter 1998, and I found this on Toby Johnson’s website:

I vow to celebrate for all sentient beings.
I vow to enjoy my delusions in vivid and wonderful ways without being attached.
I vow to dance through the Dharma Gates I am presented with
and fully experience them.
I vow to appreciate the fullness and emptiness of all my senses and be with them

without attachment as Buddha taught.

And what indeed is life, if we can’t vow to awaken our ability to feel and empathize with our fellow humans, to “Dance through the Dharma Gates” to awaken the sleeping God of our own lost hope for everyone else?

As Sheldon Kopp said in his “laundry list” (his guide to the reality of life and living it): “This Is It.”

namaste Susan

Susan’s Note: Sources: Lao Tzu: 7th Century Chinese Philosopher and the Father of Tao; Sheldon B. Kopp: If you meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him!; C. Alexander and Annellen Simpkins: Simple Zen; Dainin Katagiri: You have to Say Something; The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara: The Myth of the Great Secret: An appreciation of Joseph Campbell (Celestial Arts, 1990); Brenda Shoshanna: Zen Miracles: Finding Peace in an Insane World. Priya Kale: http://www.priyakale.com

Founder of suZenYoga, Susan Ni Rahilly is a published author, Meditation and Hatha Yoga Teacher.  Her teaching typically draws on breathwork in deep Hatha practice, as well as Raja Yoga (the Yoga of Meditation). She lives in West Cork, Ireland where she writes and teaches.

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