Freeing ourselves to be human is a way of opening up to true compassion, and a way of living with a kind, pure heart: a little bit of the Zen of living simply . . . but which adds up to a totality.
This is healing, and the healing comes in the acceptance that the whole world is hurting and crying out. So we learn to listen to the voiceless voice of the world: the cry from humanity’s heart.
You practice this self-healing by opening 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. And in so doing, give yourself some life-freedom.
Zen practice is the practice of doing this, sitting and knowing that we ourselves contain the entire world: this is a powerful Zen practice – Eat Your Shadow.
In Eastern philosophies and cultural ways of being, the light, the energy, the hope has been found in dealing with the Shadow. You know, as the dark Goddess Kali, embodies for us.
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. As we know this happens at Guru [Agya] Chakra . . .
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 dreams, 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. [As far as I can tell, Jung became aware of this whole process through his knowledge of Yoga, and practices of working with the Root [Muladhara] Chakra.
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.
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.
Gassho [and namaste], Susan
PS: This is my way of teaching the practice – there’s more in Brenda Shoshanna’s book Zen Miracles: Finding Peace in an Insane World: