Me and My Shadow

Nice Kingdom Hearts Iphone Wallpaper the shadow knows t shirt by lamontcranstonSometimes my shadow side takes over and I get angry and vindictive with those I interpret as acting against the social good. In this case, with several atheists who set out to attack anyone expressing any sort of religious thought. I am not against atheism. I see it as a perfectly reasonable position to take in this world. I counted myself as an atheist for about a decade between the ages of 25-35. My journey has taken me somewhere else, but I still find atheism a legitimate claim worthy of attention and respect.

But I don’t like bullies. (there’s always a “but,” right?) I don’t like people who set out to discredit others based solely on their beliefs, unless those beliefs are demonstrably harming others (I include animals and the environment in this). This was a case of going after anyone who was trying to discuss nuanced philosophical understandings of the divine and conflating them with fundamentalist ideologies of Christianity and Islam. The shadow side of me decided a smack down was in order in some sort of crusade against religious intolerance!

But first, some perspective is needed…

Atheism SymbolIn our history, to be a self-declared atheist could be a death sentence and often it was. Even after the Enlightenment, one could face social and financial ruin if they admitted their atheism in public. And today in America, while atheism is more accepted and mainstream, there are still consequences that go with it. One only need to look at how many vocal atheists hold public office in the executive, legislative or judicial branches of government today for evidence. There aren’t any. At least none that admit it. And it’s one thing a political opponent will dig through first; what religion are they and when did they establish ties to the church they claim they attend? Obama went through this when his opponents wanted to frame him as a Muslim in the eyes of the public. Just imagine if he was an atheist!

EvolutionAmong the academic and scientific communities in the nineteenth century, atheism rose up in the ranks and became respectable. This was largely accomplished through the publication On the Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin. Many intellectuals saw Darwin’s theory as a means to put God to bed once and for all. God wasn’t needed to explain the world anymore.

But many atheists in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, especially those who were not shielded by academia, felt isolated, ostracized and condemned for their beliefs. This still goes on in many communities in America. A number of my friends that grew up as atheists in communities that were overtly religious often felt threatened and afraid to speak their truth. In this respect, I do understand why some would take a position of attack against religion, as religion was the vehicle for attack against them at some point in their life. Was it religion or the intolerance of the community they lived in that led to the abuse and bullying? Likely both. Especially if it came from a person in religious authority.

My reflection of the history of atheism doesn’t excuse someone who had a bad experience with religion from attacking someone with religious convictions, but it does open up my ability to have more compassion for them. My need for a “smack down” says more about me than it says about them. I was ready for a fight! I wanted to show them that they were as irrational and dogmatic in their thought that they accused others of being! Basically, I just wanted them to feel stupid by showing them how little they understood religion and spirituality outside of Christianity.JungShadow

I don’t know if they were bullied by intolerant religious folk in the past or if they’re bullies themselves who like to harass people for disagreeing with them. I don’t think it matters. I wanted them to feel stupid for their actions. This is about me, not them. Could it be if I don’t make a solid defense and tear them down first, maybe my own set of beliefs won’t stand up to the scrutiny either?  Yeah, I think that’s part of it.

Psychologically, humans are messy creatures. My core beliefs are solid, but I’m still formulating what I believe for myself on this life’s journey. Not everything is on solid ground as I sort it all out. The need to lash out is strong when I feel attacked, because everything is still raw. I feel a knee-jerk reaction to protect it. When an animal has a wound, it will lash out if anything comes near it, even if it’s potential help because all the animal can feel is the pain.

In our society, I think a lot of us are feeling the pain right now. We’re trying to protect ourselves in irrational ways to make it stop. This is not productive. Lashing out only creates more tension and more lashing out. It also aggravates the wound we carry. It can’t heal this way, it only becomes more of a problem.

The main purpose of this blog is shadow work. I write to figure out what’s really going on in my head. There’s a lot of fear – when I get down to it – that needs exorcised. My answer to this is to transmute it into compassion. There is a Buddhist meditation that asks participants to rephrase what they are experiencing from their ego perspective to a universal perspective. So, for instance, instead of saying, “I have fear” or “I am suffering,” say instead, “There is fear” and “There is suffering.” This raises the person out of the individual mindset and to the understanding that all of life experiences this. We’re not alone. There is no duality; no, Us versus Them. We’re all connected. With this connection comes a greater understanding and compassion for ourselves and others.

Buddhism

Spiritual Egotism

“Be careful not to wear spiritualism as a badge to decorate your ego” –Unknown

When I began The Great Work of self-knowledge and self-transformation, I read the Dharma the Catquote above in several different places. Many people warned that being spiritually awake was not about being superior to anyone else. One doesn’t start this process or endure it for bragging rights or to lord it over others. I saw a lot of resistance to this warning, as many other people explained that they put a lot of effort into their spiritual awakening process and getting through it was something they took pride in accomplishing.

I don’t think that there is a problem with having pride in one’s accomplishments. The Great Work is difficult and painful, so there is a sense of pride in sticking with it and working through the sweat and tears. It is a hard-fought victory to walk away with a little more knowledge of oneself or to even begin the process of transmutation. I think the problem is capital Pride, and thinking that one is better than others for having done it. It can be difficult to not get caught up with one’s own spiritual and intellectual accomplishments. When I look at others who get involved in petty disagreements or accept obvious lies from politicians or those in authority positions, I often wonder why they can’t see what is perfectly obvious to me. There is a tendency to think I’m better or more developed than they are. This is ego. It makes me feel a little better about myself, even if I’m extremely annoyed and irritated with them.

Extinguish egoOver the past few weeks, I’ve been working on this matter. From the very beginning of my journey, I knew the problem of developing a spiritual ego existed, but I didn’t understand how strong the urge would be. It is especially difficult when watching our political leaders, media personalities and people of renown who I feel should know better for whatever reason. It’s frightening to watch masses of people led astray and given horrible advice that can take a whole society down with them. I worry everyday about climate change, economic injustice, lack of decent healthcare, racism, gender inequality, LGBTQ rights, and yes, the Trump Presidency. I feel great anger when I see people mock and ridicule those who are less fortunate and blame them for circumstances beyond their control.

My anger and fear, however, isn’t doing anything to make the world a better place and it6-9 opinion certainly isn’t helping me. Feeling any sort of moral superiority to those I disagree with does nothing to help any situation. The truth as I know it is my truth, subjective truth. I study and learn what I can to arrive at what I feel is a sound, coherent, and cohesive truth. But it’s mine. I will stand by it, hold to it, and try to do my part to realize my truth in the world through my actions. But it does nothing to hold my truth over anyone else or to get angry at those who don’t share in it. Our society is already deeply polarized by factions who believe they are the keepers of capital Truth. When one thinks they own Truth, how can they possibly hear any other perspective?

We’re all on a journey and at different stages. At some point on my Soul’s journey, it was like so many others, happy enough with the illusions. At some point, the universe started to push my Soul in a different direction. I feel some pride in having heeded the call, but I have no idea how many lifetimes it took me. Nor do I know the struggles of anyone else or where they are in their journey right now. I don’t have to agree with them or accept anything about their beliefs and their truth. My job is to focus on my own thoughts and actions and not to be concerned for the thoughts and actions of anyone else or how superior my thoughts and actions are to theirs.

Ultimately, we are all part of the same Oneness. Feeling superior to others only serves a false duality that separates us from each other. In Matthew 5:44-48 of the Christian Gospel, Jesus says,

44 “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

This is a call for us to get off of our moral high horse. Love means that we extend it to all, even those we do not agree with or like. Duality is an illusion that causes separation: Us versus Other. God is One. One is indivisible. We are of God, therefore we are One.

As Above

Lego My Ego

egoI teach religious studies and philosophy to make my living. Teaching has taught me so much more than I could have hoped to learn as a student myself going through the process. All my students, dedicated and not so dedicated, have given me valuable lessons in both academic and life in general. One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned, is that the ego is very sticky. If one is trying to banish it from their lives, it will try to defend itself in whatever way it can. It can act like a beast or a frighten child to keep its hooks firmly in place.

Normally I start to see egos come out around the time we start studying Hinduism. The idea of detachment doesn’t sit well with most students who were mostly brought up with Christian values in American households, even if they no longer identify as Christian. Individual rights are placed higher than that of community for most of them and those values run deep. Hindu ideas of the Divine, the trappings of the ego, and Eastern values of community over individual entitlements, typically do not resonate with them. They have a difficult time wrapping their minds around a seemingly polytheistic tradition that see the Divine intrinsically tied to all things. For these students, God created the universe out of nothing and is entirely separate from Its creation. Placing community above individual interests is communism and destructive in nature. This is not something that is thought out, it is the result of indoctrination. It is also the ego claiming its stake.Christinaity-and-Hinduism-212

As we go through Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, Jainism, and so forth, the students tend to conclude that we must agree to disagree. For a few students, they have found their home and they continue to research and learn about these faiths. But most walk away with the notion that they’re glad they were born in the West.

This is not to condemn them for this stance. Most people prefer the ideals and religions of the region they were born into, as is to be expected. Our place of origin is an accident of birth, its not something we can control. And each place has their own form of teaching children their values and beliefs. Typically, through the methods of indoctrination by their parents (who were indoctrinated themselves) and educational institutions. Breaking out of the paradigm one was born into is not an easy task and comes with many negative consequences. Even those who intellectually rise above the indoctrination must weigh if that is more important to them than losing the support of family and community. In counties like America that claim to value individual rights, the irony is not lost.

As I watched them resist the new ideas they were exposed to, I’ve recently concluded that I was pretty self-righteous in my own position. I’d sometimes get irked that they wouldn’t even try to wrapped their minds around them. I never expect students to actually change their ideas on their own values or faith, I just want them to understand that there are other ways of thinking and these different modes of thought are not inherently wrong. In addition to that, their out right refusal to entertain these ideas also leads them to form misconceptions. How can they reject something they didn’t understand?

Ego GotG

Ego the Planet from Guardians of the Galaxy Volume #2

Last night I was meditating on the new fall term and how I would approach it. And in an overwhelming sudden realization I asked myself, how the hell does your ego fit through the door? Was I not a student once too who had a difficult time accepting new ideas that were previously foreign to me? Hell yeah, I had a hard time with some of the new concepts! I may have changed my position on many of them, but it wasn’t over night or even over the course of a single class. I was introduced to concepts that then took a few years to stew. Some new ideas I encountered outright scared the hell out of me!  And, of course, I’ve been down right wrong in many ideas I had and conclusions that I drew. I’m often wrong now and change my opinion as I learn more about something. I am seeing these students in 8 or 15-week intervals during one fraction of a phase of their life. I do not know the path they are on or where they will end up as they go through life.

I once read a review that a student submitted regarding my Ethics course. The student stated that they liked me and I was very helpful, but that the subject matter was boring and not useful. I nearly cried. But that’s ego. It is ego to think that what interests me should interest anyone else as well. The example I give regarding the power of the ego, is to imagine your best friend hates your favorite song. Since that song becomes part of the Ego2ego identity, it can be hurtful if people you know and love hate it. It might mean that they hate the real you too! It doesn’t mean that at all. But when the ego is bruised, it can be difficult to shake that off.

It is pure ego to think that after a few weeks in my class, while they are taking three or four other classes, my course should have any effect on students. My job is to present the information and hopefully drive their curiosity to seek more. In my own experience, I’ve found that it’s sometimes years later that a particular class I took or idea I learned starts to germinate. And so, I think, it is with many of us. Some things we learn speak to us immediately and take up our total focus for a time. Others take their time and only come to full fruition years later. And still yet others are quickly forgotten and discarded, only sometimes rediscovered later, or never.  I have no idea what will stick and what will fall by the way side for some students. It should not be my concern. Each of us is on our own path. My job is to teach my courses to the best of my ability and spread a few seeds of understanding. What happens after that, is none of my business. In my previous perceptions of my class and students, I violated Agreement 2 and 3 of the Four Agreements.

FourAgreements

By Don Miguel Ruiz

So, my lesson this term, is to keep the ego in check and understand that my job is to teach my course material to the best of my ability and encourage curiosity and discovery in my students. It is not to judge them or think myself above them. It is not to create young philosophers in my own image. It is my hope that they take this information and turn it into their personal growth, but what they choose to do with it is theirs. When one offers a gift, it’s not a good idea to check up on it and make sure everyone is using it as intended by the giver. It’s not a gift if there are rules attached; it’s a leash.

Cocooning

Back in 2008 I worked as an academic advisor for an expensive proprietary school. I had been there for three years and I wasn’t happy. Rather than helping students through school and to achieve their goals, my job was to keep them there even against their own best interests. It was not what I set out to do in life, I had no intention of hurting anyone. If the situation called for it, I would advise students to take some classes at a community college until they figured out what they wanted in life. If they still wanted to go to our school, they could come back after taking their general education courses, which were probably about 20-25% of the overall bill. I kept this to myself as I couldn’t imagine that the school would smile upon this practice. Though I only did it if I felt the student really needed help and they weren’t doing well in our classes.

boringMeeting-538x218During registration time, the other advisors and department chairs would sit around a table and literally would go through every single student that hadn’t registered for class yet. The Director of Academic Affairs would preside over each minute details of those students. Did the advisor assigned to the student call them? Did they send out emails? Did they try to track the student down in class? Did they text the student? Did the department chair get involved and reach out to the student? It was some form of strange, ritualized stalking that was sanctioned by Corporate. If the student was hospitalized or homeless, we were asked what sort of resources we could provide for them. We would give them numbers and websites for food banks, hostels, and missions. We would give them information for counseling. This was not bad in and of itself, it may have even helped some. But so many of them needed healthcare or help with bills and these were things we couldn’t help them with outside of resources like a nurse hotline. But at norecession time would it ever be suggested that the student shouldn’t be in our very expensive school. Too many had dropped and we had to staunch the blood flow. The Great Recession began only a few months earlier and students simply couldn’t pay for an overinflated education that they likely wouldn’t ever be able to pay back.

towerofbabel

The Tower of Babel

One night I had a dream of a giant ziggurat that reached into the clouds. It housed an entire city of people. It looked like a cross between the Tower of Babel and Minas Tirith. I was flying over it and at first it looked impressive, but in the dream I understood that it wasn’t real. I can recall saying, “This is a virtual city!” The more I looked at it, I came to understand that it was a false construct and that there were faults in the structure. It was crumbling because there was no meaningful upkeep. When I flew close to it, I could tell it wasn’t built from real stone, it was plaster and had been worn by water and wind erosion. It wasn’t going to last long.

During one of those meetings, my mind drifted back to that dream. The only thing going through my mind as other advisors were talking about their students not yet registered, was that the meeting, the school, and everyone in the building were wrapped up in an illusion. The system was crumbling all around them, and no one took notice of it.

If there is a moment where I could pinpoint when I started to Wake Up to Reality, it was in that moment.  Today the school no longer exists, my intuition about it was correct. But I left long before it closed.  Once I made the realization, I had to get out. I never said anything about my thoughts to my co-workers, but I felt exposed all the same. Like I was wearing an “Imposter” sign on my back. I wasn’t of them.

What happened after that was an eight-year cocooning. I taught philosophy and comparative religion courses online to pay my bills. I didn’t get out of the house often and I built walls around myself. Quite literally. While I didn’t develop into a full-blown hoarder, I could have easily. I turned into a clothes horse and I couldn’t get rid of old ratty things that were twenty years old. It was like I was building up a barrier between me and the rest of the world. I felt hurt from the experience and I did not want to go back out into the wild.clothes hoarding

During this time, I didn’t do much to build on that awakening. It’s taken me ten years to realize that it frightened me and that it was a painful experience. Awakening hurts because it puts us at odds with the rest of the world. I began to see that I really do not fit in with what most people call “normal.” I don’t even understand it. What seems obvious to me, so few others see.

During my time of cocooning, two decidedly bad things happened. I closed myself off from the world, and I began to let my ego grow. It seems paradoxical, but it’s actually quite common. I looked down on those that couldn’t see what was so obvious to me. This refusal for others to open their eyes was destroying the world through climate change, economic depression, political apathy, unethical corporate practices, economic injustice, and so forth. It’s only recently that I’ve been able to see that we’re all on our own path. We’re all doing what we need to do to get by in this life. And it’s only recently that I’ve been able to rejoin the world.

namaste-bitches-spiritual-materialism

“Be careful not to wear spiritualism as a badge to decorate your ego” –Unknown

U2FdIahI did return for a short stint to academic office life, which was a disaster for me. About eight years after I shut myself off from the world, the classes started to dry up. Student enrollment was down and I wasn’t going to meet my bills much longer. So, I took another job as an advisor for yet another proprietary school. I was desperate for a steady job.  This lasted for two and a half years, and I even received a promotion. The set up was actually worse than the previous job, and once I was promoted I felt like I entered hell. What got me through this time were the people I worked with on a daily basis. They were wonderful, caring, helpful, and family, some of whom I am still friends with now.

I feel that I was there to meet one person in particular who changed my life. His name was Art. He had an indomitable spirit and he brought life and light to everyone he encountered. He was a light worker and a spirit warrior. He was a Sun Dancer. He was half Lakota Sioux and he did a lot of work with the water protectors at Standing Rock. He was going to cleanse the new house my partner and I were about to move into when he got sick. He had an upper respiratory illness which kept getting worse. This went on for over a month. And then one day in late April 2017, he died.sundog

I was fortunate enough to be at the hospital with him on the day he died. He was surrounded by his family, his tribe, his friends, and his co-workers. There was drumming and chanting, and people speaking to him with love and light in their hearts. I witnessed the most beautiful process of a person transitioning from this life into the next.

I decided that day that I wasn’t going to waste another minute on a life that wasn’t mine. It was the dawn of my Second Great Awakening, and I set up a six-month plan to raise the money I would need to quit my job and transition to my new life. I walked out that October.

I’d like to say that it was easy and life’s been a breeze since then, but a few woes unto each of us must fall. I entered a period of cocooning again. Though this time it was a much shorter duration and I didn’t remain on autopilot. I started to research Hermeticism, meditation and paganism more. I already had a decent understanding, but I wanted to learn more. I wanted to understand it as a practitioner, not just a researcher. I dove into these ancient teaching. I starting to find the Divine in everything and everyone. I started making plans with a close friend to start a business! I went back and forth between thinking I was crazy and embracing this new life. I had several meltdowns, but I kept getting back up.

There was some back sliding, I wrote about the lost job opportunity on this blog back in July. That came from fear. Not losing the job, but rather trying to get it, as that is not my calling in life. It was another distraction.  But the other night I sat on my back porch and started to meditate. I asked myself if now, after all I’ve been through and all I know, could I go back? After my Second Great Awakening, with all the research, knowledge and understanding of the universe and Divine I have now, could I actually go back to my old life and the cycle of work, burnout and cocooning?

No. I can’t. There is no going back to that now. And so…

onward-human-to-glory