Saturday, 31 May 2008

When Light Hits The Shadow

These are some thoughts about the nature of our Shadow Self from early 2007:

When you open up your heart some more, the light of consciousness hits the shadows in the subconscious mind and you can see so much more clearly what heaps of rubbish have been collected there in the dark over the years, over the decades, over the centuries even... The Shadow is in Jungian terms the part of you that contains denied feelings and thoughts. It may take ages to clear up. And meanwhile you have to struggle with all the negative feelings not only about yourself, but also about the other people who act as your mirror, and about the world in it's sad, sad state of misery and chaos. I am sure that out of the chaos comes new order, that is I believe that old physical matter and the more abstract energies are being transformed creatively into new forms, and that that is the divine order of things. Still...

I'm struggling to resolve a conflict between loyalty and compassion towards another human being and a suspiscion that I will never reach a state of equanimity if I continue to receive criticism from this person. Time and time again I have to brace myself and pick myself up and remind myself that I am not as bad a person as I am being told that I am. Mindgames and a weird manipulative way of twisting things around has become a part of my life, and I never thought it would. When someone close to you is dragging you in the mud, should you then cheer and say "YES! I get to work on my shadows now!", or should you say "NO, I deserve to be encouraged and treated with kindness so that I can start to blossom?". The person that is supposed to be my mirror is shifting shape from one day to the next. Is it me or the image who is starting a movement? Which one of us is the one who is truly coldhearted, arrogant, selfish and stupid? What does it say about me? I am willing to work with my own shadows. But it gets so tiring to always be taking responsibilty for all that goes wrong, to be always the one who has to fix a reactive behaviour. Because I'm supposed to be the one who has the wisdom and the inner tools and the time and the motivation. This is indeed a dark night of the soul.

A psychologist told me once that loyalty is just an excuse for not becoming independent of other people and that loyalty only forces you to put up with things you shouldn't have to put up with. Hm, I don't know. To me it's more that you put up with things that you'd like to run away from, but you do it because you don't always put yourself first. And you don't always put yourself first because you see the other one as just as valuable an individual as yourself. But when does loyalty become martyrdom? On the other hand, what would the world look like without loyalty?
My definition of the Shadow, on shadow work, and how to integrate the shadow with the conscious mind
These are thoughts have formed throughout the years. I am not pretending to be a psychiatrist or a psychologist, although some psychology belonged to my education.Some 15 years ago, I read a small book by Jung and "Meeting the Shadow" by Zweig&Ambrams. It made a lot of sense to me. All the things that are past karmas (possibly future ones too) and not known to the conscious mind, as well as repressed experiences from one's present life, are stored in the subconscious mind - in the form of energy ("clumped" or "stagnated" maybe.)

I understand the unconscious to be, vaster, collective in nature. So if we start do dig into that realm, then it can be quite a bit to chew. I believe some people only deal with a few issues in a lifetime. Others are maybe here to clear it all out. I don't see any other way to gain freedom, since this subconscious material is making us be reactive in an automatic response type of way. As a result of evolution, a human being would eventually want to become more conscious and aware of his/her actions. Ok, you can witness one's automatic reactions but your are still not fee unless you are exposing these to the conscious mind (maybe one follows the other). It means you need something to trigger it big time so that you really see that there is a problem. So the idea of letting the feelings come out and befriending them would be more or less the same as making them conscious. However, if we still don't get in touch with the root problem then there is no or little change. Maybe there is some key issue in a person that once it has been exposed, will open up the rest of the garbage bin so that there is no more obstructions for the energies to flow. I believe that deep thinking is also important, there's a reason we have the faculty of a reasoning mind, so that we can make sense of our experiences rather than be overwhelmed by them. By seeing the patterns and understanding their nature, we are able to integrate the emotional self with the mind. I'm not sure the terminology is comprehensive enough to understand these things? I think all this worked for me quite well until I went into that relationship and got all stressed and screwed up emotionally. So I have no more guidelines as to how to manage my strong emotions except to put up with them and try and keep them under some kind of control (not suppressing but containing them). One important thing to consider, as far as what I believe, is that the Shadow distorts our perception of reality so that we cannot see it the way it really is.

Both things that we would generally speaking consider good, as well as bad things, can be part of the Shadow. For instance in my case, love has been suppressed to some deeper level of my being. I was never able even to fall in love. It was completely incomprehensible to me. By allowing mysef to become dependent of someone, I opened up the love thing. It was starting to clear out but it took me years before I felt certain things in my heart (the energycentre) that I could recognize as "love" and "compassion". It also helped to get a pet, because I could immediately see the response from the cat when I was giving love to him. This interaction was crucial. But I don't know if that's what I need from a man too. A more obivous and direct mirror. Or maybe it's now supposed to be more subtle and complex?
Artwork: "The Shadow", mixed media by author, copyright 1997

Random Thoughts On Spirituality From January 2007

These paragraphs were written when I first went online and took part in discussions on spirituality. Since I didn't want all of my thoughts to get lost in cyberspace, I collected them and saved them, and will give them a new home here in this blog space. Again, I have changed since this text was written, but still hope someone might get something out of my musings!

On the issue of unconditional self-love

I think that these questions are at the very core of spirituality, and therefore very confusing. Most of us are at some stage of the process of comprehending what love really means, so there are conflicting feelings and thoughts involved. We are being pulled in two directions. Most of us have spiritual maturity and insight regarding certain issues but we act child-like on other issues. I think that this site contains a lot of insight! But I wonder about the idea of "looking for what you really want". That could be misleading, I think? Children "want" things. It's an ego's request for something to be entertained by or to identify with. It's easy to get all entangled in the quest for the "real" wanting as opposed to a supposedly fake wanting. I think a lot of people get stuck on that issue however much they want to be spiritual. That's just it! You also want to be spiritual. I think it's a phase, and a very needed one. It's not something you can bypass, so really, I think it's ok if you have a lot of wanting going on in your life. But maybe it's important to also bear in mind that you will eventually have to get out of that stage. You've got to "grow up". It's maybe alluring to be engaged in all the wanting, because it's entertaining you. But you're not still there. Tricky!

Personally, I find some comfort in realizing when I'm trying to entertain myself. As one of you were saying, it's okay to have negative feelings or any feelings, for that matter. The point is to take a step back and look at it. Okay, now I was grasping. Now I'm entertaining myself. Now I was feeling hatred. Now I didn't honour my heart. Sometimes we look and we don't know what the heck is going on! But gradually we get somewhere. Slowly. I don't think it can be a fast kind of revelation. If it were, then it would mean that we were very simple beings. But we are not. So it's slow, arduous, painful, oh god it can be hell sometimes. Although sometimes you might want to think that the darker it is, the closer you are? It's really dark before dawn. But I think you will learn to love and honour yourself, because evolution has to go somewhere (and it can only go in two directions, right?). In the end, whatever "the end" means (I don't know!).

I don't know a lot of things. But maybe that's good too. "Not knowing" can be a good state, a place where you give up some of your need to control and all that wanting, and try to listen to the heart instead. I think self-love just happens. You may not even recognize it for a while, because it doesn't look like the kind of love you are used to hearing about. Putting yourself first and all that obscure nonsense that so-called experts on the soul are telling us! Sorry if I'm sounding harsh but there's a lot of advice out there that doesn't suit everybody, as it all depends where you are at in your development. I think those words by Raskin were full of insight. However, the process to get to that kind of blissful state of an egoless kind of universal love is not all so nice and guey, a lot of the time. On the other hand, it's a journey, and should the goal really be more valuable than the journey itself? At least as intellectual beings we can step back and look at the pain and think "hm, that's kinda interesting"!

On the issue of activating other people's shadow-selves

Apart from a host of other problems, I find that one is particularly painful. I seem to unintentionally activate the shadow in other people (especially those of the opposite sex). I'm always alert, perceptive, inquisitive, demanding, questioning, poking and just being me. I have been raised to be polite, but it doesn't help much when that thing in me emerges. I seem to say or do just the very thing that person doesn't want to hear or acknowledge. I'm not saying that this doesn't also help me to see my own shadow and whatever behaviour requires improvement. But to always have to play the role of an adversary or a "holy fool" is not funny, but rather depressing. Does anybody recognize this in their own lives?

Later: At a point in time, if we continue on our spiritual quest, there will most likely be equanimity. A state of mind where we are no longer reactive to other people's standpoints. I think we all agree on that? However, the road to reach such almost utopian awareness sure is a bumpy one! I know we create our own reality, but on the other hand since we are all interconnected, it would seem strange if we could fly around above all of what is going on in the world and not have to get personally involved. One of my personal challenges has been to dive into the chaos of reality as perceived by the collective mind. I navigate somehow, using my common sense, my intuition, and deep thinking. I try and observe my own patterns of behaviour and seek ways to change them. Yet during this process, I also have to live and co-operate with others. I'm not the type to piss others off, not in general. But when a person has a strong mind and some perceptiveness to see what is wrong with a lot of things, and often feels disrespected, then it's hard not to put a foot down and say no, I won't accept this. It's not always the wrong thing to do. Chögyam Trungpa also says in "Cutting through spiritual materialism" that saying yes is not always the answer, sometimes saying no is going to help the other person much more. My point is, is that it's not always bad to activate somebody's shadow-self. This is what I think. I think someone has to do it so that other people's shadow-selves can come out in from the dark and be healed by the light of consciousness. Maybe even Hitler "had" to come and do what he did so that it would get people thinking more deeply about certain moral values.

The trick for most of is is surely to know when it's better not to be assertive or offensive or just whatever that could bring about bad blood, to have discernment enough to see that the person in question is not at a point where they can actually get the message. I'm thinking that there has to be some balance between our own personal-self control and a spontaneous way of being. I personally feel that both ends of the stick are detrimental. So what about the "middle way"?

I think that when you actually do know a little bit more about the deeper meaning of life and where we are heading to than a lot of people around you, then it's a really tough place to be, because more awareness kind of also implies more responsibility for your actions. No? You can't put yourself above others, because evolution is not about ego-tripping. So one has to try and tune oneself down, check the ego-issue all the time, be careful, and as one of you said, think a moment before we react. (In my case I've needed to learn to be less cautious, and actually show anger when it's appropriate and not later when I can no longer make a stand!). Still, we cannot excerpt ourselves from the humdrum and chaos of life with other people. We will be activating other people's shadow-selves, whether we like it or not. I hope I'm not just making excuses for myself but I guess this is what I meant. That there's also a mission in the fact that we influence others and help them become aware of their issues. I mean that it just happens, it's not something you can decide and say something like "well somebody had to tell you what you're doing". That would be arrogant. It's best to just be whatever you are in this moment and fix yourself as much as you can but also accept that you're playing a certain role in the game called human life. Am I making any sense ? :-)

I totally agree that we have our own reality with our own personal sets of beliefs. It's good to keep in mind that it's all relative. But we have to live in this world somehow and what often happens to good little girls (like myself) that we are being used as a doormat. That's hardly conducive to spritiual growth. So we have to make clear to ourselves what we really stand for and then actually stand for it, if under attack.

However, not all situations in life are confrontational so the activating of other people's shadow-selves can happen in a subtle way. Maybe you invested a lot of energy in a relationship and then you get dumped because you wanted to grow but the other one didn't. It hurts. But maybe the other person did learn something from the experience in the end. Who knows. All we can do is play along. But the deeper you go into opening your own heart up, the more it also hurts when you meet resistance or have to back off because you're not dealing with a situation correctly. Learning through the difficult experience of being said "no" to or being rejected even though you're doing things right (or so you think at least), or having to say "no" when somebody is manipulating you, is part of "growing up" and it hurts.

Later: It would be good to get away from the constant need of acknowledgement and positive feedback from other people. So many of us have not been seen enough as children to have a strong sense of self. Or then we are struggling for recognition for some other reason. One of my favourite quotes from a transpersonal psychologist has been "you have to be somebody before you can be nobody". No point in dreaming away about enlightenment (meaning liberation and no more ego-bonds) before we have become real persons, that is people with a sense of self. I risk sounding bookish but what I remember from Sartre's philosophy was the idea that we become somebody only in the eye of the other. I've carried that idea with me all these 20 odd years, and it helps to justify the pain that goes on in the interaction with other people. And as someone here was pointing out, it's probably a never-ending story! Or at least it is a really long story. Some of us are working a bit harder than others. I believe we made that choice on some other level of existence, but anyway, the point is that we probably need to make clear to ourselves by whatever means necessary that we have to respect each other and the level of being and understanding that the other person seems to be at. I'ts pretty obvious that without that respect the planet will go under, isn't it? I have a relationship with a person who gets very angry at some things that unassumingly jump out of my mouth. This person defends the outburst by saying that I shouldn't have said that thing in the first place. Obviously I cannot be controlling everything I say. Gee, some pardon please! Obviously this guy also cannot help that I touched on some sensitive area in his mind. We both end up feeling wronged. This is just to show how hard it can be to get out of a pattern with someone. Yes sure, I believe I should fix myself first then maybe others follow, rather than the other way around. But how can I do this? Surely I also deserve to be respected as someone who still has issues to work with. If I care about the person who acts this way in my company then the solution may not be to just walk away. I wouldn't want for people to walk out of my life just because I have a stubborn behavioural pattern.Later: I guess sometimes we are challenged in cruel ways so that our subconscious crap will really rise to the surface. Many of us have to learn to stand up for ourselves and not accpet all the shadows that other people project on us. That is maybe one way towards a greater sense of self-respect. But what is all this anyway, self-respect, self-love, self-esteem...? I think you can have a sense of self-esteem yet still be challenged in ways that are far more complicated than you could ever have dreamt of or found in a book. Very often there is a hole in the whole, a piece missing from the puzzle that makes it hard to deal with life from a standpoint of equanimity even if the elements conducive to such a viewpoint seem to be there. It would be easy to fix if you could pinpoint exactly what it is. But sometimes it's very hard to get the clues because maybe it's about really deep issues of what Truth really is.

In spiritual or psychological contexts people often recommend that you walk away from people who, as someone suggested, act as robots to certain stimuli. Sometimes it's easy to do that. But sometimes it's really hard to go, because it feels like betrayal. Maybe because we are also repeating a pattern of sticking by our parents as children, or some such incident. Or maybe because we are not really sure if we already got the lesson in its entirety. I often find that when I think I'm clear about one issue, something new and surprising pops up from the subconscious mind. So I have, seemingly at least, a choice of dealing with all that subconscious content or then turning away from the process and taking the easy road which is to look for a more pleasurable way of existance. However then I wouldn't have much to give to the world. And I think I want to contribute, after all. Try and put up with all the shadows in this "valley of the shadow of death". Continue to be strong and stand by those who are also unfortunate and in need of support. I can't leave a fellow soldier to die in the warzone. I wonder if it's really bad to be a martyr? To want so much to help that you are willing to risk your own wellbeing and comfort?

On the issue of sacrifice
How can we always know what our highest moral values are? It's not always so easy to be in touch with Truth. Our judgment is being clouded by so many emotions, not least personal traumas from the past. I'd love to be able to say "thus spoke my heart". But I'm not sure it's my heart that's speaking. How can I be 100% sure? A lot of maniacs are preaching all kinds of things based on what they think their heart or their God is telling them, but it doesn't mean it's of any practical value or conducive to a positive evolution. The same with sacrifice. How exactly are we supposed to define sacrifice? Sometimes I don't get what I want, I get what my soul needs instead. But at the moment when I feel distraught that I'm not getting something, it may feel like sacrifice. It of course doesn't mean that on the basis of that experience I will go out into the world and preach that sacrifice is a virtue either :-/.

My boyfriend has to take care of his traumatized kid. In fact he has to sacrifice his personal life because it's against his moral values to put the kid in a foster home. Thus he has to sacrifice his care for me. He has nowhere to put the kid for even a few days, so he cannot leave his home and pursue other interests, such as seeing me. Then there is me. The future is not known. I have no guarantees that I will ever get what I feel that I need with this guy, because he happened to put a child into this world. Should he be "punished" for having been so "stupid" as to make a baby with his ex-wife who turned out to be a luney? Should I so easily turn my back because right now the times are bad and our shadows are emerging due the stress? Who knows, maybe it's a one in a lifetime chance to fix some old trauma such as co-dependency? When can we ever ask for guarantees? Maybe it's all the wanting and the asking for guarantees that make us truly unhappy, not just the lack of the physcial prescence of someone we care about? Sometimes when we suffer the reward actually comes later. How are we supposed to know? It cannot always be there, in the here and now. The mutual exchange is not always equal to equal in the present moment either.

Should we always abandon people because they make our lives more uncomfortable? What if your loved one is suddenly in a wheelchair. How easily would you abandon them? Or if they go into a coma that can last for god knows how long. Will you be unfaithful during that time?

I just don't see these things as simple choices at all. Maybe my mind is too screwed up. Or maybe my heart is telling me to wait, don't follow your immediate urges. Stay and listen... and in time you may see things that you were not able to anticipate. They could be good things? I've had to put up with discomfort all my life so I know what it is like. I cannot kill my body so there's not much to do about it, but to accept. It is bloody hard. But I don't know if it makes me a more stubborn person in a good or a bad way? Maybe I'm too used to it to understand anything else. On the issue of envy

I think I can say that I am not an envious person. And that is in a country with a people noted for that particular vice. Well, I don't think I ever wanted to swap minds with anybody else. Maybe that's what helped. I felt I was doing enough, working enough, being more or less smart enough. However. As I'm getting older I find myself having traces of envious thoughts. Weird residue from my shadow-self comes up. That's because I'm feeling pressure to fit in with society. More so than ever. And I've struggled with my physical ailments for so long. I'm getting tired of seeing such fit and radiant people all over the place! I'm starting to wish that I could have some of all that success... I've worked so hard, I've earned it! To think that the reward will come later and will be so much more satifsfying for being deep and spiritual, well, when is that day ever to come? A person is happy in relation to his or her environment. If you're gloomy and everybody else is, too, then it's not so bad. If you're gloomy (or sick or poor) but those around you are not, then it's like being in hell! The same with envy; you may not be envious because you are bad in some way, but because others seem better. it's all relative. Maybe it helps to bear that in mind? And maybe to try and stick to people who don't activate a feeling in you that life is unfair and you are less succesful than they are. Or ask yourself if you would really like to be them? Brrrr! At least it's a thought that puts me off altogether, regardless my physical appearance and lack of health.

Later: If you consider that all of us have limitless amounts of potential, then it's really hard to be envious and greedy! I have everything I need to succeed with whatever I'm meant to succeed with, and anyway all that is not really always just up to what I want or what I think about myself as an individual living a certain life. I always think well, the challenges I have is my karma and all I can do is try to fix it. Why bother with craving for something other people have? I might get those things in the end or I might not. I think believing that we create our own reality can be misleading because yes, I think we do create it, but there's also so much in our subconscious mind that direct us. No way can we control our life. Best let go of the control and let life take it's course, and rely on our higher self and intuition to keep us from more trouble. Life just is, life creates itself, hop in the carriage and try to keep your horse on the road, but don't obsess. Well, that's just some of my thoughts anyway.

The idea about getting taxes is probably based in greed and envy like a lot of other things in society. Like the idea that the state shouldn't give too much to the poor because then they would get lazy and not fix their own situation. This is not an assumption, it really is how the authorities (and other people) usually think. Actually some new research proves the opposite. When you feel that people are generous towards you, you feel happier and more motivated to get going with your own life. The barrier of greed and envy can be very very daunting and have a paralyzing effect on those who are less fortunate.

Later: Nothing new under the sun... The age-old issues are always coming out in new versions by new generations. Hopefully we're starting to get somewhere, though! :-/

Well, my ailments are purely physical and the rest is hypersensitivity about the ways of the world, but if I could rely on my mind only I would be a happy person indeed. However, my body has taught me to respect boundaries, and how boundaries actually make us more creative beings. To work with a limited amount of tools is truly challenging, and usually produces more creative results than limitless capacity and access to "everything" (I used to do research on creativity). There is hardly any sense in anything if there are no boundaries? At least from the human perspective?
Boundaries are interesting also from the point of view of greed and envy. Personally, I'm a lover of abundance (or rather, opulence) and don't believe in ascetism. Still, in my own life the kind of abundance that I would appreciate is lacking. I feel like an idiot because I cannot figure out why. I must be missing something glaringly obvious. Is it again a lesson of boundaries? That sometimes people cannot have it all. That even if we have limitless amounts of know-how in a deeper and "higher" sense, then on the physical level it's not always possible to manifest all that. For any number of reasons such as karma, environment, collective issues, and so on. I guess I feel that not only should we respect our higher selves and believe in its power, but also respect the lower self with its scary and chaotic sub consciousness and limiting effect on our lives (including our bodies and our physical environment, of course). To learn to work with the lower level can be as big a challenge as learning to work with the higher levels. On the issue of fearI would normally have bypassed a thread dealing with aliens or whatever the "Others" may be called, but am glad I read it after all. The level of the discussion was really high. It's a tricky thing to grasp the idea of oneness, but my own experience is that once it becomes clear, then it explains a lot, a lot, a lot... maybe everything.

I agree that we shouldn't be bashful about presenting the real person behind the words. After all, we all have a personality for the very sake of expressing it, don't we? And all we have really are subjective points of view that we can agree or disagree on. Discussions for and against can become clinical without a touch of humanness in them... I learned early on to suppress my feelings but I felt quite clear on a mental and spiritual level. It was weird because I didn't feel grounded, yet I had no fears. The fears came when I opened up my emotional deposits and was pretty much swamped by them. There is enormous power in the content of the subconscious mind. Yet by suppressing it we can never become whole, as it won't disappear. Most of the time it's about the beliefs that have arisen from the perceptions which have become distorted beyond recognition. My suggestion would be to keep the beliefs fairly simple, because then you are less likely to get lost in them and be overwhelmed by all kinds of irrational fears.

We don't have to look far to see the "devil". The more you open up your heart, the more perceptive you become. This is anyway how I see it. There's a very fearful time when it's very difficult to tell what fears are real and what are not. I think most people try to avoid getting themselves into that kind of a state. But personally, I felt I had to go through all that, it just had to be done, like springcleaning. Let us try to stick to Earth and mostly deal with fears that are close to us on the physical level. Things we can see and that are easy to agree on. To give power to fears about abstract things is in my opinion a hazard. It is so hard to have a good frame of reference. I'd like to say "reliable" frame of reference, but I guess it's hard to find anything really reliable in this world! Try to stay grounded and always in touch with your own inner self, with your heart and your common sense in conjunction. That would be my advice to anyone who feels insecure (I still do, but I survive!). Ok. Phew, that was it. Hopefully enough for a while. I'm sorry I had eliminated all the great comments that were made by other zaadster during the process of writing these things, but I tried to compress this text to my own views only. God, I take myself too seriously and I think way too much. I should loosen up a bit! :-)

Artwork: Abstract Digital photograph by author, all rights reserved, copyright 2007

Some Texts That Have Accompanied My Exhibitions

Vibrations from the Dimension of Silence
(Art exhibition, 1998)

Far away from the humdrum of daily life lies an ancient site, a secret garden where reigns the deepest silence. This is where you can find the most fertile soil, water and all the prerequisites for the greatest splendour one can imagine - however, the warmth and the light is missing! As abandoned and empty as it seems, it is easy to believe that there is nothing to be found in this place. But if one of these days you are able to get loose from the toil and wear of day-to-day obligations and take the long and winding road to this place, then I am sure that you will be abundantly rewarded with floral splendour, birdsong and tasty fruits. Why? Because you are the warmth and the light. It is in the light of your consciousness that the force of life will come to being.

This is my experience of the mysterious being of silence. Silence is the soil of possibilities in which our experiences and intuitive insights are grounded. Our creative power flows out of the dimension of silence in order to manifest itself in symbolic pictures. Our rational mind is able to analyze and use these pictures in order to increase the understanding of our own development. It is from the dimension of silence that our desire to create and our will to live burst forth, all that make us co-creators of the world in which we live in. But how much do we actually use our inner potential? How much confidence do we have in our own creativity? Are we daring enough to clear the brushy path to our secret garden, or do we prefer to live our lives controlled by fear and anxiety only because this is what we are accustomed to? Do we dare to say yes to our inner development, to movement and change, to mental risk taking, to challenges and to our own intuition? Are you brave enough to listen to your inner voice and follow the vibrations to your silent and secretive homestead, and see what there is to be found?

My pictures follow the logic of dreams, where every colour and every detail owns a symbolic meaning in relation to its environment. I hope that they can be enjoyed and experienced as such, intuitively and emotionally, just like dreams and myths, but also rationally through the help of the intellect. Maybe one way of conduct does not necessarily exclude the other? I believe in a balance between polarities, and in a creative use of all the aspects and resources of our mental self! (V-M C, copyright 1998)

The Tears of Samsara
(Art exhibition, 1998)

Tears of sorrow, tears of joy... Tears rejuvenate and cleanse us. Something dies away and leaves space for change. In the dynamic chaos of transformation the creative seed of potentiality is coming into being. From the ground that has become sopping wet and painful, the tender stalk of a new plant is cautiously reaching upwards, always with the same urgent desire to be noticed and taken care of, to receive love, warmth and light. Nothing lives in complete darkness. But without the darkness, the cold and the shadows, the light and the warmth would be meaningless. In the same way it is grief that provides joy with depth and meaning.

In the worldviews of Hinduism and Buddhism, Samsara is the name of the cycle of life. Life follows death and death follows life. Constant, dynamic change characterizes the inner being of life, and this is something that goes on inside as well as outside of us. But how solid are in actual fact the boundaries between inner and outer, between life and death, between sorrow and happiness? How solid and unchangeable is the one who is residing inside this body and perceiving all this? My experience of life is that the winds of change are blowing right through me, all the time, without interruption. I have no choice but to give them the space they require. (V-M C, copyright 1998)

Encounter engenders Life
(Art exhibition, 1999)

When I look out towards the world, the world comes to greet me. The moment I perceive myself in the vast mirror of reality, I come to being. I am able to see myself - my shape, my features, my thoughts, my feelings, and my soul. All this is being born in the interaction between me and my environment, because it is the experience of this constellation that helps me redefine myself. Books, pictures, objects, people... all these things help me see and understand myself. The encounter lends me the mirror. Without this mirror I am not able to grow, change and become whole.

Life is an encounter, a play of opposites, a breathtaking dance where we unite and pull away, in the whirlwind of life, inwards and outwards, in oneness and in separation.... Like the natural flow of breathing or the play of the waves, like the gushing power of creativity from a well of life that never dries up. Do I dare to encounter life? Do I dare to encounter you? With an open gaze and an open mind? Perhaps the answer to the riddle of life is in the open gaze in the mirror that I encounter? (V-M C, copyright 1999)
Artwork "Yin" mixed media by author, copyright 2000


This is an article that I wrote back in 1997 while I was studying transpersonal theories and mysticism at the University of Helsinki. I have a Masters degree in Comparative Religion from 1999. So while I may be thinking slightly differently of my personal reality today, I hope this will serve as a basis for those who are seeking to understand the dynamics of mystical and esoteric teachings!


All mystical teaching aims at the liberation of man from the fetters of the material world. A prerequisite for this, however, is renunciation; in order to achieve a permanent state of mystical union with the divine, all the desires that confine us to the pains and pleasures of the mundane sphere must be extinguished. Everything we were ever attached to, must be sacrificed for this supreme state of being. If we hold on to as much as one photograph, or even the desire to attain a state of mind devoid of desire, then we are still caught up in the wheel of Samsara.

There are, however, a number of questions in relation to this issue that might be considered. Does renunciation, for example, lead to a sense of real freedom, or does it bind us to new rules and restrictions? Is a lifestyle infused with a renouncing attitude life-denying or life-affirming? Could such a lifestyle be considered healthy or pathological? Does renunciation require great efforts of will? Is it something that everybody should be striving for? Is it something that concerns only a few dedicated individuals or could renunciation somehow be considered a natural part of human life?
It seems to me that the subject of renunciation is very much at the core of the question whether a quest for spiritual liberation is a promoter of mental health or not, and therefore I would like to dedicate this article to a few of my own points of view concerning the issue. Rather than presenting an expose of the way that renunciation has been understood and applied within religious traditions of the world, I will venture at a discourse of a more personal nature. My aim is to try and highlight some central features of renunciation such as they have presented themselves to me during my personal quest for the ontological foundations of my own being-in-the-world.

The spiritual traditions that have influenced me the most are Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism, and these will consequently be lurking in the background of my arguments. I am also indebted to many a contemporary writer, but especially to Ken Wilber, whom I consider the greatest now living advocate of transpersonal psychology. From lack of space, I will refrain from explaining his theories in any detail, however. The interested reader is encouraged to consult his impressive production for thoroughgoing analyses of the transcendental aspects of the human psyche.

Renunciation has a negative ring to it, doesn't it? Somehow the word seems to conjure up images of emaciated ascetics with a keen predilection for using a whip - on themselves. The idea of renouncing all the attributes of living in the world seems, of course, nothing short of life-denying... And that is exactly what many an ascet has tried to do - they have actively tried to suppress the life-force of their bodies in order to gain something else. Since spirit was considered in opposition to the material world, then consequently, all corporeal sensations needed to be suppressed. The Buddha himself was attempting this approach, until finally, weak and famished after years of ascetism, he woke up to the realization that one cannot gain the realm of spirit by suppressing its counterpart. "If the string is too tight, it will break, and if it is too loose, it won't sound" were the enlightening words of a musical teacher to his pupil in a boat passing on the river next to Gautama Sakyamunis abode - so the story goes.

The golden middle way, which entails a balance between opposing forces as much on the physical level as within the psyche, was the answer to his quest. Christian faith has also a long tradition of repressing the corporeal aspect of human life, and this may well be one of the reasons why the liberation of sexuality has erupted with such chaotic and often rather destructive features. Whenever we are biased, we are actually defending our viewpoint against its opposite - whether we are conscious of this or not. This is because we can only understand life through an analytic act of comparison: The concept of "low" is incomprehensible without a comparative reference to the concept of "high". The quality of light make sense only when juxtaposed to darkness. Someone who has never experienced a lack of love, would hardly be able to grasp the meaning of hate nor truly appreciate the value of love. And so on.

Reality in itself is not dual -our perception of dichotomies is dependent on consciousness alternating its focus in a linear and dualist manner. Discursive thinking, which follows our perception of dichotomies on the physical and emotional levels, obviously helps us orientate in reality in a meaningful and constructive way, but it also makes us liable to assuming stances "for" and "against" and thus upholding a judgmental attitude and a sense of boundaries. But the question is, how real are these boundaries? And are we irrevocably confined to language for our understanding of reality? I will get back to the question of language at a later stage, but let us now have a look at the play of opposites in relation to the various levels of the human psyche. Everything goes in pairs. If I focus exclusively on being good, then the quality of badness, which is the natural companion to goodness, will be repressed and dispatched into the subconscious, where it will form part of what C.G Jung called the Shadow.
The repressed material may be just about anything that we do not acknowledge and accept as part of our reality, and may also have positive features: if we identify with certain negative and destructive attitudes, then the positive counterparts of these attitudes may form part of the Shadow. Because our psyche is forever seeking a balance of internal forces, the repressed material tends to make itself known in one way or another - this material is calling upon our attention so that our psychological growth may continue. Perhaps the most important way the Shadow appears in our conscious lives is through other people: we project our obscure aspects unto somebody else.

We mirror each other. If we find a person with ever so little of the very same psychological features that we are repressing in ourselves, then we will react to these in an instinctive and probably greatly exaggerated fashion. We may thus experience unproportionate feelings of fear, hate, admiration, infatuation, or any other human affect towards the object of our attention. All this is perfectly natural, however, because it is through these kinds of constellations that we evolve as human beings. Through projections, valuable lessons are being created, and sooner or later we will have learnt what we needed to learn in order to progress.

According to Ken Wilber and other proponents of the transpersonal theory, the consciousness of a human being is in a constant state of evolution. Through what Wilber calls the spectrum of consciousness, consciousness progresses from level to level in a hierchical order by shifting its focus and identifying with even higher modes of cognition, but always including and integrating all previous levels. According to Wilber, pathologies often do occur, and this is due to the repression of previous levels of consciousness. Humanity is presently dwelling on the level of discursive thinking, and does seem to have trouble relating to previous, more instinctual and physically orientated levels. All our shadows tend to create havoc in our personal lives as well as on a global level. A typical example is our difficulty in acknowledging that as biological entities, we are truly dependent on nature for our well-being, and that exploiting nature the way we do is a means of destroying ourselves.

Now, whenever consciousness transcends a level, it renounces its identification with this particular state of being. It has learnt what there was to learn, and will consequently move on to new modes of perceiving and processing reality. According to this model, then, the act of renunciation does not imply any particular effort of will. There has to be a certain willingness to learn and evoluate, but the actual evolutionary drive will still be functioning whether - as self-reflecting individuals - we are particularly happy about it or not. Spirit will eventually have its way... This also means that repressed material will never stay forever in the subconscious realm - sooner or later the individual will become aware of the pathology, and the blocks will clear out through a reflective process of introspection and conscious work with emotional relationships and mental attitudes.

I believe the taoists were right in claiming that the only unchangeable thing that exists, is change. It seems to me that the creative force is an endlessly pulsating rhythm through which the spirit is manifesting itself in various forms of reality. This rhythm is formed through an alternation between the opposite forces of yin and yang: of feminine and masculine, cold and warm, dark and light, passive and dynamic, inhalation and exhalation, destruction and construction... It is when we really learn to dance to this rhythm, when we really become one with the stream of ever-changing patterns of life - it is only then that we will be truly free. For in resisting change by holding on to the past or living in the tomorrow, by grasping at status and material possessions as if we could own these forever, and by just generally being afraid of losing our (false) sense of external security, we are really binding ourselves to a terrible lot of pain and sorrow. We are forever insatiate, forever seeking pleasure, but as soon as we have gained our object of desire, we start to fear its loss. And we eventually do lose it, because that is the law of change. And there will be mourning, pain and an emptiness, that we will attempt to fill up by focusing our attention on yet other objects or people that we might own.

I do personally believe that there is a purpose in all this, a profound meaning that gradually unveils itself as an individual journeys through life. I believe that Spirit is seeking adventure! It is volunteering for this school of life in order to gain experiences. And one day, after a great many rebirths and deaths, nothing could be more natural than to say thank you and goodbye, and move on to some other form of existence. Life goes on, effortlessly, beautifully -if only we allow it to.

There was a time when I thought that the mystical was something apart from the toil and moil of everyday life, that to become enlightened was to enter another dimension of great magnitude and wonder, but quite specifically other than the dimension we human beings are occupying on planet Earth. This is symptomatic of thinking in dualist terms, of course, which, as we have already seen, is the natural stance of the rational mind. Presumably I was also influenced by the fact that people used to withdraw into monasteries in order to dedicate their lives to a search for God. But then I kept coming across the idea that all is One and that microcosmos reflects macrocosmos and vice versa. I had a very strong intuition that this must indeed be the case, and I ventured at trying the consequences of such an assumption. For instance, if the world has been issued out of the One, then obviously it cannot be other than the One. By definition, there cannot be anything but the One. If there is nothing but the One, then the One can have no external boundaries and it must consequently be boundless as well as timeless and spaceless, for time and space are dependent on the existence of physical and mental boundaries (which presupposes the notion that physical reality is not as solid as we think).

And so on... I am not going to present a long list of rational arguments, but urge you to do your own research, if you find it necessary. Suffise to say that according to this way of seeing things, everything that we see and don't see (for surely our faculties of perception and our rational understanding of reality are restricted!), all the experiences we have had, have and will have in the future, all the various manifestations of the natural realm that we can love and hate, use and abuse - all are but aspects of the One - whose abode, so as to speak, is in the eternal, timeless and boundless Now. My body, my emotions and my thoughts, as well as my spiritual aspects, are accordingly also One and only seemingly different from one another. My soul is only seemingly separated from my body. I am only seemingly separated from you. And what about time? Is each moment a separate bead on a straight string of moments? What happens when thinking disappears? Will there still be a perception of time as passing? I suggest you try this one out for yourself!

You may rightfully ask how it is possible that your experience of the world as consisting of neatly separated objects is so acute and convincing, if reality is really boundless? And who or what is experiencing the world as a conglomerate of separate bits and pieces and random events? These are obviously very complex issues, and I cannot hope but to brush their surfaces within the confines of this article. But I will present you with a few more viewpoints in relation to my previous discussion about the role of language, hoping thus to reinforce the idea of our basic identity as boundless and independent of social conventions, as well as renunciation as a natural part of human evolution.

A human being is very much identified with language, and many a philosopher - notably Heidegger - has considered language to be the prerequisite for our sense of being-in-the-world. As soon as we have an experience, we analyze and define it through a use of concepts. There is thus an automatic division between experiencer and experienced - created through thoughts. But according to transpersonal theory, this is only one of many levels of consciousness. This is the level of the ego - in other words the level on which our sense of individuality is being created and maintained through discursive thinking. And as we saw before, discursive thinking is constantly making choices between pairs of opposites. If a thing is not this, it must be that. Because I am me, I cannot be you. And I do know I am me because I am capable of analyzing feedback from my environment! A sense of boundaries is thus maintained. It is very hard for us to think in terms of both-and rather than either-or, and pairs of opposites are particularly difficult for us to contain underneath the same conceptual roof.

Within zen buddhism, intellectual paradoxes - koans - are being used as a means of forcing the rational mind to surrender to a higher form of intuitive knowledge. Experiences of meditation also show that it is possible to have awareness without having thoughts. And believe me - a lot of interesting things start to happen when thoughts are giving way. Meditation is thus a method for deautomatizing - renouncing - our dependency on rational thinking. But what in my experience also starts to happen is a joining of all sorts of opposites, on all levels of the psyche. Eventually even highly charged attitudes of liking and disliking will be married in a new synthesis of deep and honest compassion towards all living beings.

All the shady parts of the psyche will be brought into the light of consciousness, where if met with patience and acceptance, will gradually be integrated into the sphere of love.I feel that Good and Evil should also be acknowledged as equals, for they are but aspects of one and the same thing, and as transitory and relative as all aspects of the worldly realm. I believe that they exist as tools in the school of life, but that the Absolute One is beyond such dualism. Their mission is to help us evolve and eventually to wake us up from the grips of Maya, the power of illusion. When this has been accomplished, they lose their existential meaning for us and will only remain as points of reference for our continued being-in-the-world. All physical, emotional and mental faculties that were cultivated prior to the insight regarding the true nature of human existence, will be included on this new level of consciousness, but there will be no more dependency on them as they will be understood as transitory and therefore no source of lasting happiness. When consciousness rises above the level of discursive thought, all conceptual categories are transcended. This means that there are no words, concepts or mental categories for the kind of experiences that are now being met. We may have to resort to words like joy, bliss, love and happiness in order to indicate what we are experiencing, but it should be kept in mind that these are concepts issued out of a dualist experience of life.

When consciousness no longer identifies with language, the role of the ego also changes, since it is dependent on the illusion of boundaries for its sense of individuality. The ego has to abdicate its autocracy. It does so reluctantly, but it has no real choice. Because we believe so firmly in its solidity, the thought of losing it seems preposterous. We imagine that without a self-sense we'd be thrown into some indefinable void, where we'd be demolished. The ego doesn't, however, vanish - the enlightened being will remain an individual with a certain personality - but it will have lost its hold of the mind. The ego was responsible for the pains and frustrations brought about by the process of choicemaking. The constant swinging from one opposite to another, from pain to pleasure and back again, from possessing to not possessing, and the driving force behind all this - our desires - were very much dependent on the existence of the ego and its analytic faculties, since these are the ones that tied us up and made us resist the movement of change. The process of letting go of the ego and its liaisons may be long or short, but it will happen, as naturally as flowers bloom and fruits and berries ripen - when the time is right.

For reasons that I am not going to speculate about in this context, it seems that a great deal of people are now going through such transformative processes of letting go of emotional and mental dependencies, and this is often happening with great intensity and an accelerated tempo. Most of these people do not find it necessary to take refuge in the confinement of monasteries. In some respects this may be a harder way of maturing, but there is a great deal of support to be found within society today. Consider also this as a way of learning to understand the meaning of the statement that "All is One": in other words that there is no real difference between the supreme state of enlightenment and the toil and moil of everyday life. And I believe that as a process of unification is going on within a great number of people, so it is being reflected within society as well.

To summarize my previous arguments, I would claim that there is a healthy form of renunciation which concerns the letting go of possessive attachments to places, objects, people, memories, and experiences in general, and that this is a matter of the mind. An unhealthy form of renunciation, on the other hand, is one were any form of repression and resistance is the case. But my point is also, that renunciation is not an exclusively "spiritual" phenomenon in the sense that only people with a particularly spiritual outlook are confronted with such issues. On the contrary, we are dealing with the issue all the time, just through the simple process of living life and seeking ways in which we can live it more fluently.

There are, of course, different levels of renunciation. We have to let go of one moment and one thought in order to pass on the next one - this is happening on a very fundamental level of our being-in-the world. Deciding to give up smoking would, on the other hand, involve the discursive mind and probably relate to a number of feelings as well. Acts of renunciation of greater ontological purport would again be taking place on higher levels of consciousness, and this includes the kind of renunciation that I have been focusing on here, namely the kind that helps us break loose from the fetters of illusion. I admit at being especially concerned with the transcendental aspects of human existence, and I'm well aware that many people find discussions about enlightenment rather high-flying: why concern oneself with something that may take place at some indefinite point in the future? My point is, however, that this very moment with all its petty concerns is as "holy" and purposeful as a mystical experience. I feel that there is no need to mystify the spiritual and to create an awe-inspiring abyss between the heavenly and the mundane. Although in attempting to express the ontological foundations of reality we are helplessly drawn into a labyrinth of theories and conceptual categories, this is still part of our nature and our process of living and should therefore be honored, as well.

The important thing is that we look inside of ourselves and express what it is that we are finding there. If the forces of the unconscious are overpowering, then we can always get help in processing the material. In mirroring each other, we are all each other's teachers! But now some closing words on the subject of "ultimate" renunciation, were the beginning meets the end and the circle closes...When a person renounces all attachments to the worldly aspects of existence, there is a final union of opposites: the life-force of the earth will join its heavenly counterpart. In terms of Hinduist mythology: Shakti will rise to join her mate Shiva, and together they will infuse the physical dimension with the power of ultimate Truth. In Buddhist term, the individual enters Nirvana, and becomes one with the Void. The Void is defined as non-being because in one sense, it is the opposite of being-in-the world, which is the only form of being that we are conscious of before waking up to the state of Nirvana. From an absolute point of view, these are of course not in a state of opposition to. This ultimate state is certainly not a void devoid of life. In fact it seems that the void is the abode of all possibilities, of everything that could ever be manifested. And of course I lack the words to describe what I can only intuitively divine...

It goes without saying that the process of purification - of giving up ones desires and bindings - is, an arduous affair. Not only are there a great deal of conflicts (disharmonious relations between polarities) to solve and dependencies to give up, but there is also the simple fact that we have grown used to the world. The world and I - we have been through a lot together. Giving up such a relationship will necessary entail grief. But it is very important to mourn, for it is a purifying process during which masses of stagnated feelings will reach the surface and vanish. And in this process we will become true masters of our emotional lives. No, not dictators, but skilled and loving masters. The fact that must not be surpassed is that whatever happens to our consciousness, we still are human beings and will remain as such until the moment of our physical death. We will have to go on living as usual. In my opinion, a purified person is not in any way of greater value than anybody else - how could it be otherwise, if all is One. But he or she will be an unclogged channel of Spirit, and in infusing physical reality with this force, I've no doubt that such an individual is of importance in the rebalancing of the destructive (read: disharmonious) forces of our dear and beautiful planet.

If all that I have been saying is anywhere close to being true, then it is possible for man to fly into the soaring heights of Heaven with wings of Spirit, light and pure. But beware, for we are not only spirit! May be that our world is an illusion, but it is a very real illusion infused with real value and real purpose (for can we really talk about real and not real, if all is One?), and we are responsible for it. So as long as we are also this body, in this magnificent but badly bruised and crippled world of ours, we need, at the same time, to stay close, very, very close to the earth with its animals and trees and plants and rocks and soil, and all the things that we have created through our intellectual reflection... We need indeed to draw so close, so close that suddenly we are drawn right into it and we realize that this is us! And this, I think, is the riddle of life, the final paradox that we need to solve. In order to become truly humans. In order to become truly free.

Artwork "The Leap Of Faith", handmade collage by author, all rights reserved; copyright V-M C 2004