The Heart of Compassion is the willingness to ‘be with,’ without judgement, in exactly the situation you are in.
The Zen of Letting Go
So, strange confluence of stuff right now.
I sat down to write, and 2 things happened. I got a blog comment from a new reader, with the following question:
Regarding your “5 Paths to Self-Knowing”, how would one look and feel through the Shadows of one’s self? This process of looking deeply, how is that done, what actions does one take?”
I have new comment software installed, and apparently I can simply reply to the e‑mail, and it will post to the blog. I gave that a try, and decided I that I needed to visit the BLOG to grab a link or 2.
Wouldn’t you know it, the blog, and website, were down!
I really have to say that this happens seldom — however, it’s been twice in 3 days, and I’m becoming aware of my Shadow side! What’s coming up for me are the feelings of fear and anger.
- If I just sit with the feeling, I feel an ache in my stomach.
- If I let my head get involved, the stories start. First, I create a fearful scenario that the server will crash, and everything will be lost. I’ve never had to test the backups of the site, and have no wish to.
- Then, I shift to anger. The anger one is obvious, and might even be familiar to you, too. “This isn’t fair! They can’t do this to me. They need to fix it!” Said with great force (as if they are out to get me, as opposed to a server problem that’s affecting many, many sites.)
In order to get past this, I have to shift my attention from my head, and my ego stories, to briefly feeling my pain, to getting back to what I am “called to do” —in this case, write this article!
So, let’s use what I just said to look at the transition from Chakra 3 to Chakra 4, and why this happens so seldom.
Ok, so the Chakra story to date: the developmental path through the first three Chakras mirrors our psychological and physical development. Safety (c1) Relationships (c2) and Self-knowing (c3) form the tripod upon which we stand. As with a real tripod, if any of the legs are weak, stuck or broken, the thing starts listing in the direction of the weak side. Now, here’s the odd part.
The voice of the ego functions to keep us stuck in a loop—the loop consists of the first 3 Chakras
The ego is what causes us to argue with ourselves, and with others. We blame, we story-tell, we come up with excuses. Or, terrified of our self-created drama, we distract ourselves with “pain killers” — TV, work, affairs, drugs, alcohol, food.
… We are immediately confronted by the conditioned tendencies that have unconsciously driven our life. Our history, with its expectations and fears, is embedded within these conditions. These tendencies contain our preset ways of relating to this moment and cannot be perceived as long as we are unconsciously acting from them.
These unconscious patterns assure that our present actions will be based upon our history and that we will endlessly repeat this conditioning into the future. Every unconscious action strengthens our preconceived view of the world and assures our reactions within that view. We find ourselves going around and around like the character in the movie Groundhog Day, aware of being entrapped but finding no exit. Stepping Out of Self-Deception: The Buddha’s Liberating Teaching of No-Self
, Rodney Smith, page 125
What we want to remember is that our ego, or sense of self, is part of what was created during our early development. In other words, our self is created—it’s a story
To use terms developed by Ben Wong and Jock McKeen, founders of The Haven, we are born with an immense yet untapped skill set, which they call the Authentic Self. In infancy and childhood,our families and our tribes help us to become “citizens” who engage in behaviours and methods approved of by our culture.
This process creates an Actual Self, which you might think of as the socially acceptable parts, based upon our culture, that are extracted from the Authentic Self. You might think of it as the Small Self.
Because of our identification with I, me, and mine—which we can call our ego—we readily believe that our Actual Self is both real and all that we are.
The voice of the ego then sets up shop as a vocal critic. It challenges us to try harder (the kind of person we try harder to be is called the Ideal Self in this model), and blames us when we inevitably fail. It’s the Self Hate loop on the graphic.
This ego loop, for many, is all that there is.
The ego loop is concerned with our place in physical reality. In other words, it’s concerned with Chakras 1 through 3. In a sense, this is what destabilizes the legs on the tripod. As long as there’s something wrong, as long as there’s some mess, as long as the ego can come up with some lame-ass story about who and what is to blame, our poor little ego is happy. Even though we, decidedly, aren’t.
Yet on and on we loop, because that’s what everyone is doing.
Interestingly, the way out of the loop is to pay attention. (self-compassion on the above chart.) That’s all. That’s it. Of course, it’s harder than it seems, what with all the ego noise nattering endlessly in the background. This is why we suggest zazen, or meditation. In this way, we just sit there and become really clear about how noisy our egos are. There’s nothing to do about it, other than to simply observe.
It’s sort of like my initial illustration. My server was down, and that was simply reality, in the moment that it was down. My ego, however, simply can’t help getting involved. And its involvement is, as I described, to go in the direction of fear and anger. I observe it, I let myself feel what going on in my body, and I have a breath… and wait.
“Wait? You’ve got to be kidding! I have to do something! Blame someone, yell if someone, whine, throw stuff.”
This, really, is the point. I’m not trying to stop my ego, destroy my ego, or try to force the world to bend to my reality. I sit, I watch and listen, and I smile. And about 50 minutes after it all started, the nice techies, without any help for me, rebooted my website.
Fighting these tendencies only strengthens the assumptions embedded within them. The self adheres to struggle because resistance solidifies these tendencies and simultaneously gives the self a sense of purpose, which is to overcome the resistance… What could be simpler than surrendering? We surrender all forms of resistance and protest to the conditions here and now. Wise Action is the continual surrendering of our separation through all activities of body, speech, and mind, and is more of a release than an action.… Surrender is the collapsing of alternatives into reality.
Pages 125 — 127 SOOSD
Surrender is not a dirty word
People are addicted to hiding, giving up, or fighting the good fight. These approaches get us precisely nowhere. There’s nothing to fight. After all, how can you fight reality?
Now, surrender is not the same thing as blind acceptance. What we are surrendering is the urge to do dumb stuff—like blame or complain. Surrender helps us to see what’s going on, to “simply notice,” and then to do something. Part of the doing might be to express the emotion that’s arising, which allows us to be kind to the workings of our body. Bodywork is really helpful here.
And then, we begin to act from the heart.
This is not what it sounds like. We all tend to think that the heart has something to do with love—Hallmark Cards did that to us when they started flogging Valentine’s Day. The mushy feelings connected with the heart should actually be attached to the genitals. And to our hormones. They’re there, they feel good, and that’s about it.
The heart is actually the home of compassion. Compassion is not pity. Compassion is an action—a sitting with—a being with. I remember times, back when I was a minister, of sitting with people who were dying, and knowing nothing for sure. I’d ask them what they needed from me at that point in time. Often, they simply wanted me to hold their hand, or just be with them. No speeches, no prayers, just presence. Now, my ego would natter in the background, telling me to “Act like a minister.” Whatever the hell that means. I learned quickly to not act like anything, but rather to simply just be me, sitting there, paying attention. Switching into some mode—“helper, healer, fixer, Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief,”—all are designed to get the ego involved, to block being present by inserting the role between me and the other person. Because to just sit there and to seemingly do nothing is hard for our egos to take.
And yet, just sitting, just being, listening, attending, being present—this is the greatest gift we can give. This is what compassion is all about. This is what surrender is all about.
Learning to relate
One of the best things I’ve learned from being in relationship with Darbella is that mostly she just wants to be listened to. In other words, she isn’t looking for me to rush in and rescue her. Occasionally, she is curious about my opinion about what she might do next, but mostly she just wants to talk through whatever is going on. In order to just listen, I have to surrender my need to fix. And I have to accept that my ego isn’t going to like it.
You learn to get over yourself by sitting and listening. By asking “curiosity” questions. You state your own stuff by saying, “Here’s what’s up for me.” There’s no expectation that just because you think something that someone else ought to agree with you.
Now, there might be situations or relationships (therapy comes to mind) where stating your opinion is part of the deal. But again, as you state it, you let go of any desire but the other person do as you say.
Which is a pretty good rule for relating in general. In other words, you let up on expecting the other person to change, you let up letting your ego voice run the show, and you simply sit with the other person and with the situation, exactly as it is.
Carl Jung is the father of Shadow Work. He identified the Shadow as the vast pool of all the stuff that was stuffed. It’s what’s left of the Authentic Self after the Actual Self is removed. It’s the stuff which was judged by our tribes to be scary, wrong, impractical, or destructive to the common good.
In other words, The Shadow contains shit which would disturb.
I can’t really provide you with a visualization for Shadow Work, because you really want someone around to talk with as you do this work. The Shadow contains all kinds of blocked material. One illustration—I had a client decade ago whose parents wanted her to be a Doctor. She was really into painting. She was so pissed off at her parents for refusing her art lessons that she dropped out of High School and became a secretary. You might say, then, as an adult, that her artist existed in her Shadow. We therefore needed to walk together into the darkness of the Shadow world, look for her, and bring her out. That’s an easy one.
Other weird things exist in Shadow land that might be scary. We all have tendencies that are best left unexpressed. At the very least, we all have nasty versions of ourselves buried down there, and much of it shouldn’t see the light of day. The energy of the Shadow side, however, ought to be expressed.
For example, many of us have a very repressed anger side (Google “Anger, Boundaries and Safety” to learn more about dealing directly with emotions.) The problem with the repression, however, is twofold.
1) if the lid is on too tight, we’re risking stress related illnesses.
2) if the lid “leaks,” our anger gets in the way of true relating.
What I’m suggesting is that the Shadow is a part of a heart
Seems weird, eh? Yet, when I do bodywork on the chest, anger, grief, and sadness often predominate. If expressed, laughter, joy, and compassion are released.
Finding your vocation
Vocation is heart work. It’s not so much about finding something to do as it is choosing a way to be. It’s about sharing our gift or gifts and those gifts are likely lost in the Shadows. It’s about sharing without thought of reward—it’s just what you’re called to do. It’s acting out of openness, clarity, and presence.
I think, at our hearts, we all know what we are called to do—or better, who we are called to be. We’ve been stuck and beaten down for so long that it seems better to forget. And yet we can’t, at least not easily. There’s that niggling sense of purpose—we can ignore it, but it never really goes away. We can die with it unexpressed, as many, many people do, and the world loses a bit of what “could be.”
So get on with it. Fight the urge to stay stuck in your ego, stuck in the first three Chakras, endlessly looping, playing the game you were taught, as opposed to living—really living.
Next week, how to enact your vocation.