Just before you got going on this journey of life, you were whole and complete in your essential nature as a human being. Even though it would take a lot of experience and many years for you to really appreciate the dual capacity of your consciousness, in opening outward to the sensory-physical realm around you (through your body, to the Web of Life) and plunging inward to its mystical-intuitive source within (through your soul, to the Ground of Being), already back then you had all the necessary “equipment.”
Now it was just a matter of flipping the switch – or, to use a preferred term from the spiritual wisdom teachings, of “waking up” to the fullness of what you are.
But the journey proved more complicated than simply flipping a switch. It turns out that waking up is disruptive and annoying, particularly if you would rather stay asleep.
It’s important to understand that you didn’t start your journey asleep. Instead, your tribe slipped a sedative into your mother’s milk, and under its hypnotic influence you fell into a trance of believing that your supreme purpose in life is to become somebody. One of the great paradoxes is that waking up to the fullness of what you are in your essential nature requires that you first fall asleep and start dreaming about becoming somebody.
The body-and-soul wholeness of your essential nature was thus divided in two by the wedge of your ego, a conditioned self or “second nature” that your tribe engineered by a process of socialization – also known as domestication, operant conditioning, brainwashing, moral discipline and social instruction. Your ego is where the trance and hallucination of becoming somebody is rooted.
All along the way you were praised, admonished, and advised by your tribe concerning what was necessary for you to fit in, to be “one of us,” and to become somebody.
All of that is what I’m calling the “first step” on your journey in life. The point was to put you asleep and guide you inside the moral frame of a world where you could find security, identity, orientation and meaning. In a way, this process was a lot like being hypnotized by a kind of seductive lure of emotional security (the feeling of safety and belonging), which you took without thinking because in falling asleep you fell under the spell of a separate self – exposed, inadequate, and unable to make it on your own.
Fitting in, however, came at a price. Your tribe accepted parts of you but not others; it expected you to measure up to its templates, standards, and ideals of identity. What didn’t fit had to be kept out of sight, which in psychodynamic terms meant that these unacceptable parts of yourself had to be ‘suppressed’ – if fitting in was what you really wanted, and you did: you needed to fit in.
All these suppressed parts of yourself collected in a corner of your psyche to become your shadow.
To use an analogy from the teaching of Jesus, it was as if you covered the light of your lamp with a bushel basket so no one would see it.
Inside the moral frame of your world, you did your best (but sometimes, honestly, you barely tried) to measure up to those templates, standards, and ideals of identity, so that you could really become somebody. Inevitably, however, you would fall short, prompting judgments from your taller powers and social peers, as well as internal feelings of guilt and shame. Gradually, after many attempts, some success, and numerous failures, you came to settle down into your roles and daily routines.
Measuring up, falling short, and settling down comprise steps two through four of your journey in life.
For a complete picture of your journey, according to the wisdom teachings, one more step is required, but most of us never take it. The reason is in its uncompromising demand that you get over yourself – the very ‘somebody’ you worked so long and hard to become.
Let’s not forget that in becoming somebody (i.e., fitting into the frame), certain aspects of your essential nature had to be disqualified and pushed into a dark corner of your psyche. Over the years you found ways of accommodating this shadow – not reconciling with it and taking back your hidden light, but learning how to get by without the full light of your true self.
You also discovered that by projecting onto others your own internal frustration and self-judgment, you could experience a temporary relief, a welcome distraction, and a sense of moral righteousness.
Getting out of the frame and leaving your world, if not simply for another frame and a slightly different world (known as conversion), means that you will have to confront your shadow. What you have been conditioned to condemn, dismiss, or ignore in yourself must now be consciously redeemed or “bought back,” and the cost will be nothing less than the “death” of your hard-won identity: the somebody you’ve been pretending to be.
A trusting surrender to life as it is (faith), a freedom to live in the present (spontaneity), the creative construction of meaning (imagination), an unquenchable thirst for discovery (curiosity), and a delighted astonishment in the face of mystery (wonder) – all of those ‘powers’ of your essential nature which had to be squeezed out, closed off, and trimmed back to make you fit inside the frame now need to be recovered and reincorporated.
Many just like you have made their departure, only to confront their shadow (metaphorically in its ‘satanic’ aspect as adversary) and lose heart, forced back by their fear into the familiar frame of their constructed world and conditioned self. Having left with an ambition to “break free and find authentic life,” they soon abandon their quest for the security of life in a box.
Don’t let that be your story. It’s the “life of quiet desperation” that Thoreau warned about.
Take back your light. Your shadow is only the disowned powers of your essential nature. It holds your light and is waiting for you (metaphorically in its ‘luciferic’ aspect as light-bearer) on your way to the liberated life.