The Great Shadows

The Great Shadows

While I’ve explored karma in several other posts, I thought it would be useful to take it another step into application.

As the saying goes, we come into this life with a suitcase of karma to work through. There will be lots of little bits plus a few big ones. We might call the biggies life lessons or life challenges.

They’ll show up in certain areas of our life and not in others. For example, we may have reasonable health and good work but relationship challenges and issues with money. These things seem to be ongoing or show up repeatedly. We attract the same kind of partner or turn them into that partner by how we relate to them.

As discussed in Remaining Shadows, karma can make us set in our ways. We have automatic, habitual reactions to things that lead to typical outcomes. This fixity also relates to Tamas – inertia. And it has this quality of shadow, of being hidden from our view. A blind spot.

The key with resolving these issues is to develop inner clarity and presence. Consciousness is effulgent. Raise consciousness and clarity and the light casts out the shadows. We can see the dynamics more clearly and with less entanglement. The best way I know for that is samadhi or yoga. It cultures consciousness itself. From that platform, we can see our dramas a little more distinctly and can wind them down more directly.

In Entrenched Habits, I explored how you can feel your way into this inertia and release the resistance, resolving the karma without having to live it out, over and over. But again, the key is the light so you can see into the shadows. The bigger challenges can be the hardest to see until they’re almost resolved.

But how do you recognize this in your life?

1) Inertia – there are things in your life you want to change or think you should change but there is resistance and perhaps drama about doing anything to change it. This is entrenched habits.

For example, a friend struggled for years to lose weight and keep it off. She could point to various “reasons” for the difficulty, like “stress eating” or an unhappy childhood. We could even add the gut biome to the list. But those are symptoms and not reasons. They are the mind’s stories to justify the behaviour.

You can tell these are just part of a story because they do nothing to resolve the challenge. Except maybe help us feel better or more right. They are our personal “alternative facts.”

The friend then found out that in a prior lifetime, she had starved to death on a ship lost at sea. Unresolved fear and related emotions were driving her current response to food. However, while this information gave her some insight into the issue and may have helped see through some of the story, it didn’t actually resolve anything as it’s still on the level of mind.

What we’re looking for is a resolution to an energetic contraction. You won’t find that with the mind as it’s not on that level. You can look everywhere on the third floor for your missing glasses. But if they’re on the 2nd floor, you won’t find them.

Occasionally, key information can open our emotional doors but usually we have to go there directly. It’s not until we resolve that fear and take the charge out of that old experience that the entanglements and habit will release.

This is key – we have to meet it on its own level. This doesn’t mean reliving the experience – just feeling the contraction and releasing its emotional and energetic charge.

It’s also worth noting that the big ones are often multi-layered. There can be several rounds before the core is resolved. For example, resolving the trauma of one lifetime may reveal another contraction within that from a still earlier life. Or, the trauma of a past relationship may by layered over a childhood trauma that triggered the relationship difficulty in the first place.

There may also be diversionary “masks” that draw our attention away from the actual pain. It’s good to understand that some of this was created in childhood when we didn’t have the ability to process this stuff. As an adult with more presence, it’s much easier to release. Often, it can be like the monster under the bed – the reality is smaller than the fear of facing it.

With experience and detachment, letting go of these old shadows becomes second nature. We know this is not a mental exercise to “figure out” but an exercise in emotional awareness to feel our way into old resistance and let it go.

Then that contraction, the energy it took to sustain it, and all the noisy stories to explain it can all fall away. This can make a big difference in quality of life.

2) Charge – a charge is a point of emotional or energetic reactivity some call a button or trigger. Words, actions, and circumstances can trigger us, most obviously in irrational or excessive responses. Because of our stories, we may think our responses are appropriate. It may be easier to see the excess in others first or a partner can mirror them effectively. A great deal of behaviour in people around us is over the top, like a big drama about a poor driver or what someone said.

If your response is not as neutral as a sale clerks smile, there’s something there to resolve.

Notice how in the Inertia section above, there was a charge under the shadow and stories. Charges are often well covered in distractive masks. But if we have enough presence, when the charge gets triggered and made conscious, we can feel the charge directly and resolve it.

At first we notice after the fact. Oh, I did it again. Then we become aware while we’re reacting. Sometimes, this allows us to diffuse it. Finally, we become aware right at the trigger point. This gives us a conscious choice. Do we act it out or diffuse it?

In our culture, people are often out of touch with how they feel. We live in our heads and tell stories rather than being in the body and feeling how we are. We grew up without skills for resolving traumas and instead learned to avoid and repress. Living in the mind is a common way to avoid how we feel.

If we ask the average person “what do you feel right now?” many will say “nothing.” There is never no emotion so if we can’t feel anything, we’re probably in the head and out of the body and disconnected from our feelings.

You’ll also often find that there will be a pat story to explain everything. Mind does this naturally to feel in control. And yet it resolves nothing.

Ironically, we’re often afraid of how we feel. Yet that fear itself is an emotion. Fear is indeed the big one, often covered by anger, jealousy, and other fiery emotions.

For example, you have a boss who manages by diminishment. No matter how well you do it’s not enough and there’s no way to improve. Not only is this difficult, it may also be a button for us, amplifying our own self-dismissal stories.

Our reactivity tells us we have an unresolved charge being triggered. This is uncomfortable, but it also makes it harder for us to make sensible decisions about the circumstance. The adult wants to be rational but the kid is screaming.

This points to the difference between red flags and charge. For example, for a friend of mine, if a man they’re dating tells a lie, it’s a red flag for her – she’s learned it’s a bad idea to be in a relationship with someone dishonest. However, she also saw she had a charge about it. Catching a lie triggered a general rage about men.

Worse, the charge inclined her to look for dishonesty. Because a charge is active energy, it has a tendency to express and thus draw the issue out in others. It becomes a self-confirming reality we’re creating for ourselves.

It’s valuable to be discriminating, but this is much more effective if we’re not stirring the pot ourselves.

Again, life will bring us opportunities to resolve our charges, so we’ll see dynamics show up repeatedly. As long as we blame others, we won’t recognize that the trigger is actually in us. This doesn’t mean self-blame, just recognize that we have trash from our past that it’s time to toss.

It’s also not about being a victim, wounded, or broken. We all have challenges. We chose this life and these challenges as we thought we were ready for it. So we must be, even if it isn’t today. 🙂

3) Mind Grips – the mind also can develop beliefs that it holds on to intractably, even when evidence piles up that we’re mistaken. This is more subtle than energetic contraction so we usually have to clear some of the above before we gain the clarity to see these deeper grips.

Mind grasping is seen in the beliefs behind the stories we tell and in the roles we play.

For example, many of us have some challenges with certain family members. I’ve seen people have dramatic shifts when they stepped out of playing old roles. The old conflicts resolved when they let go of their position. Of course, this often has some emotional release as well.

Yet it takes two to tango. If the other party choses to hold their position, it won’t heal the relationship. But they’ll have to work a lot harder to keep it going if you’re not upholding your end. And this will have a much smaller impact on you because the charge is gone.

You may recognize elements of Hoʻoponopono here.

Other ways we may recognize mental grasping is in our “shoulds” and “musts.” We may not notice these coming up in the running discourse of our mind. They can be more obvious in what we tell others about ourselves. Watch for words like “have to” and the above in our language. They often show self-imposed restraints.

They also show up in roles we play, like the parent, provider, or supporter. If those roles are being triggered by a should or must, we know it’s a reactive mind contraction.

But again, these are much easier to recognize after we’ve done some energetic healing.

4) Benefits – It may seem odd to mention benefits but karma is action. It includes both events we might consider bad or difficult and the good stuff.

As unresolved karma, the good stuff is also shadowed and can come with entanglements. It shows up unexpectedly. And as we consider it good, it encourages us to try to hold on to it.

For example, a friend has a very successful business. They love the work and the affluence it brings to both themselves and their associates. But because of the nature of desire, there is always the seed for more. As a result, they overdo and their life lacks balance. Rather than an aversion to pain, there is a grasping at pleasure which entangles them. They become identified with their work and success.

When things change, as they always will, they will take it personally and experience it as a personal loss.

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t enjoy our successes. Only that it’s better to recognize them as passing enjoyable experiences that don’t define who we are.

If we notice a tendency to grasping or controlling or manipulating what is arising naturally, we know we’re entangled. When we become less so, it allows more benefits to flow into our life and away.

“When non-theft is established, all jewels (wealth) rise up.”
– Yoga Sutra 3.37

Waking up (Self Realization) has a huge benefit for us as it roasts our karmic backlog. However we still have the sprouted seeds in play for this life. Even the very awake still have unfolding karma or their lives would be very uneventful or over.

“Yogis, abandoning attachment, perform action for self-purification.”
– Bhagavad-Gita 5.11

The additional clarity and ability to let go helps us clear more of our backlog and improve our quality. Recently, a friend sent me a section of Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi. His master suggested that where we go when we die after awakening is heavily influenced by how much of this more subtle baggage we’ve resolved. It’s not how far we got but how much trash we still carry.

In any case, it’s worth it for quality of life.

Update: In the article, I use visual language because I’m visual. I’ve come to actually see these dynamics and can move light into the shadow with attention. But for a long time before this, it was all rather foggy. For most people, this will be a process of feeling into it, noticing.


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  1. Amaryllis

    Whoa! about 85% of the things you write about in this article happened today (triggering a small, scared angry child reaction and a large headache). I was just goading the ‘universe’ to explain what I am not understanding (and pleading to be given a break, and then I read this. As always, thank you for illuminating the current terrain, and pointing out the work ahead ∞

    1. Hi Amaryllis
      (laughs) thats why I thought a more applied article would be good.
      Just be patient with yourself. It takes time to see clearly and clear. That itself is part of the process of karma. It’s in the nature of being a conscious human.

      We just tackle it bit by bit as it arises.

      But as we do so, we gradually unload and upgrade quality of life.

  2. Clarice Davidson

    I’ve bought your book and follow you intently. Recently I asked for your advice on meditation but could not find a local place. I feel so lost and severely depressed most of the time. You seem so sincere and I trust you. I feel so far from having any opening to awakening and am not sure what to do. At second best is there a book on meditation that you can suggest. I see how evolved you and a few others must be and feel as if I’ll be in this dark shadow till I die. I’m 66 years old. I appreciate your responses and need some hope. Thanks

    1. Hi Clarice
      By what you’ve shared and by your interest, we know you’re making good progress. But when there isn’t that deep grounding in being, we can feel tossed about by life. Anchorless. This is why I recommend a transcending technique. It takes the edge off.

      It’s a curious thing about human experience. We feel like whatever is here now will be endless even though life has shown us it always changes. The only thing endless is who we are under all the drama.

      To be clear, it’s not that I’m evolved but that evolution is happening here. This is post-personal development so it’s not something a me has accomplished. 🙂

      And not to worry about an end date. Life doesn’t end with the body and any progress you make is cumulative. It carries forward. Not to mention that waking up just takes a fraction of a second.

      I’ll email you directly with some suggestions.

  3. K

    Thank you for this post. If I understand correctly, the first step seems to start resolving this karma-drama seems to be to raise one’s level of consciousness by effortless meditation, yoga – whatever works for one. One thought I had recently is that awakening is likely accompanied by emotional maturation. I was reading about emotional competence here, “”and I was thinking increasing one’s presence does increase at least some aspects of emotional comptence or makes own aware of lack of competence. The link is from a military leadership training article. Funny how different things intersect.

    On a different topic, in your Mahavidya article, you talk of Chinnamasta. Today, I read the following about the Gucci Fashion show in the washington Post. “During Gucci’s unveiling of its fall and winter collection on Wednesday, at least two models — one male, one female — walked the runway carrying eerily realistic forms of their own heads.” “…So why severed heads? According to Michele, they were about accepting oneself and “looking after your head and thoughts.” I think this is funny.

    1. Hi K
      What I mean by “or” in the post is another word for. Effortless meditation leads to samadhi which is yoga. In practice, asana (postures) are a preparation for yoga, meditation. But yes, whatever gets you to true yoga. I recommend effortless meditation because it seems the most effective for the most people. And because it’s been recommended historically by sages I respect.

      Yoga itself purifies and raises clarity to help us process the bigger stuff per the article.

      On maturation, not really. The greater clarity can certainly help but only if we engage it. We have to be willing to look at our stuff. I’ve known very awake people who were not and the awakeness actually amplified the issues. As Ken Wilbur put it: grow up, wake up, clean up. They’re really 3 different processes. Inter-related certainly but not tied together. This is why I’ve come to talk in posts like this of supplementary cleanup. If we assume meditation alone will take care of everything, we’re engaging a mind grip, so to speak. A concept that will get in the way of growth.

      It does increase our potential for growing and cleaning but doesn’t guarantee we’ll deal with it. Articles like this can help us become aware of our blind spots. It takes time to bring light to everything.

      Now thats bizarre. In Chinnamasta, the head is symbolic of the identified ego, so it’s a kind of a personification of waking up, although actual waking up isn’t traumatic that way. It is odd how spiritual ideas leak into other cultures and art. How would such symbology help sell outfits?

  4. Phil

    Hi David,

    This is a really good post, indeed bringing light to shadows. Shadows we know of and shadows we don’t know of. (That sorta sounds like that Rumsfeld speech, “Known knowns, known unknowns, unknown unknowns”) 🙂

    As it would appear I’m going through some purification period of late, when addressing charges (in whichever flavour they may arise, usually fear, anxiety and grief in indistinct mixtures), I find the energies can in any one instance be present from anywhere between the lower torso and top of the head (I suppose, roughly corresponding to the chakra layout, but more up the the front of the torso than the spine, though sometimes there’s energies there too).

    Indeed, a moment of panic or intense fear is felt throughout the whole body, from the soles of the feet, up the legs to the top of the head.

    Practically speaking, given that the energy placement can be as ranging as it is, is it best to just rest as uninvolved awareness and have the whole body in innocent attention? Meaning, is it important as to how wide or narrow the ‘beam’ of attention is in resolving charges?

    Say for example, there are energies and contractions throughout the whole body, but most of the action is in the chest and solar plexus. Is it better to widen the ‘beam’ of attention to include everything, yet have things slightly indistinct, or narrow the ‘beam’ to just the loudest energies at the chest and solar plexus, putting them more under a distinct microscope?

    Third option would be to narrow the ‘beam’ further to just the solar plexus, resolving the energies there, then moving to the chest and so on. Which would bring in another question of would it matter in which order energies are resolved? E.g from down to up the body, a la like sequentially up the chakras or vice versa.

    Personally, I’ve found that narrowing the ‘beam’ too much and resolving energy placements sequentially, can be a lot like a game of Whac-A-Mole. You may resolve energies in the solar plexus, move to the chest and once energies have abated there, things have come up in the solar plexus again and on a seemingly endless Whac-A-Mole game goes. So I’ve widened my ‘beam’ lately…or more aptly, I got a bigger hammer, for this analogy. 🙂

    The only concern with widening the focus too much, is that whether I’m resolving things thoroughly enough.

    There have been many times when charges arise in worldly activity, say having a conversation with someone and I’ve had to hold the whole body and charges therein in attention, as well as hold the the other person and conversation in attention also. Likely not doing either particularly well.

    Then again this concern could be more mind stuff, thinking you’ve got to work harder (focus more completely) to get better results. Like how a laser burns, but a flashlight doesn’t. However, attention and consciousness may not work like that.

    1. Hi Phil
      Thanks. The key with clearing is noticing and allowing. With big ones, the attention may go to some part of the body where there is a sensation, facilitating the release. Other times, it will simply be a charge to resolve with no obvious “location” or a more generalized one.

      And yes, a lot of this will have little to do with the spine. There are many sub-centers and nadis connecting it all. Or it may not be on that level at all. Don’t make it about the chakras or your concepts will be interfering with what is arising.

      What works nicely for one session may not work for another, so again, just allow it to be what it is and the attention will resolve it. Go with the flow. So no – it’s not important how wide or narrow the beam is. If its called to narrow, allow that. If it widens, allow that.

      There is a natural tendency for the mind to want to “manage” the process. But it will just create requirements that get in the way of it. Notice it doing that but don’t take it seriously.

      Don’t worry about being thorough enough. The key is resolving the core. The rest of it will dissipate after we get that. And it can may up several times as we peel off the layers.

      If it comes up when you’re involved with life, don’t try to deal with it then unless its easy. Big ones are better with undivided attention, then lie down afterward, for example. Sometimes, you can come back to it using memory later on.

      Whac-A-Mole – good analogy. (laughs)

      Just think of attention like light. You bring it to the shadows and the shadows dissolve. Experience will make you more efficient, not trying harder. And be patient. You don’t want to be spending all your time cleaning house.

      Allow, allow again! 🙂

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