Un-lightened Shadows: A Powderkeg of Polarization

Waking up to the realities of our shadows through the vivid mirror of others, can we move past our projections to deescalate the powderkeg of polarization in the world?

Waking up to the realities of our shadows through the vivid mirror of others, can we move past our projections to deescalate the powderkeg of polarization in the world?

In a time so divided and polarized, can we find compassion for those we don’t agree with? Is it possible to foster forgiveness within our hearts for others who we may feel have egregiously breached the social contract of human morals? Holding these seemingly contradictory truths of righteous disdain and compassionate forgiveness in our being, how do we cultivate true mercy at this brimming junction of propulsive paradox?

Propulsive Polarized Paradox

If you’ve been inside an incarnation this year, it’s highly evident there is some raucous turbidity in the proverbial political waters of the world, pointedly frothing to a head on the bizarre, highly polarized stage of the U.S. election. For the first time, the nation’s collective shadow could be broadcast to the entirety of the planet through the digitized social media touch-screen portals we carry around in our pockets.

Constantly mistaking pixels for the world, opinions for truth, and algorithms for reality, what is it that we are actually looking at when we enter our Touch ID passcode and mindlessly, rhythmically, and impulsively click the little glossy social media squares planted firmly on our home screen?

A good portion of the internet–from the surface–is indeed helping aid in connection, service, awareness, and wisdom; but all it takes is to scroll down to the second or third comment on any random Youtube video to see the vividly polarized, bickering reality of separation, name-calling, anger, hatred and resentment from almost every side possible.

“This is not about Republican or Democrat; this is about, we’re in a situation where a lot of fear has been created. That’s what we want to investigate.” – Raghu Markus

Explore politics and polarization with Raghu Markus and Danny Goldberg, as they bring light to the projections of our shadows, on Ep. 331 of Mindrolling
Preferences & Polarization

If you are human like me, you probably have preferences and opinions; whether you like that or not, is just another preference or opinion. Joking aside, this puts each of us in a place where we feel drawn to take sides with an in-group, or by the very nature of others having ‘a stance,’ you are naively placed on a side by others’ categorization of you. These projections of separation we etch onto others and ourselves due to varying outer characteristics and internal preferences, is actually one of the greatest detriments to love, freedom, bliss, clarity, truth, union, and lasting happiness.

“The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences. When love and hate are both absent everything becomes clear and undisguised. Make the smallest distinction, however, and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.” – Third Chinese Patriarch of Zen

Listen to Baba Ram Dass recite lines of wisdom from one of his favorites, the Third Chinese Patriarch of Zen, featured on RamDass.org
Uncovering the Shadow

Even as we attempt to navigate reality with as clear of a view as we can, it is a consistent occurrence to get caught in our shadows, our dancing, lapping, unconscious projections. With so many of us unknowingly acting primarily from these shrouded, unconscious places, it is no surprise how imbalanced and skewed the current world is economically, racially, socially, ecologically, spiritually, and consciously.

“The shadow becomes hostile only when it is ignored.” – Carl Jung

Through not working internally on oneself, the shadow is never made light, and it runs its control untethered from lucid, mindful awareness. What we are dealing with right now on a massive societal scale, is a collective of ignored shadows.

“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” – Carl Jung

For a deep dive into understanding the shadow, Carl Jung, and the psychology of the unconscious, tune into Ep. 252 of Mindrolling
Projection, Separation & Identity

If the shadow un-lightened is the major root cause of unconscious action from our projections, how, then, can we bring light to these darkened, closed-off places bottled up in our being, so we are no longer operating out of the ignorance of the imprints inscribed in our small, scared, separate selves?

BHNN teacher, RamDev explains that we form our projections through the trauma of growing into a separate identity. As we grow up and learn, we tend to stuff things down, creating a shadow – like we’re lugging a big sack of heavy stuff around over our back. The beginning aim of spiritual practice is to become aware of shadow material through meditation and devotion; eventually becoming compassionate toward it, seeing even the shadow as the Beloved.

“These places that we are denying and projecting are really the Mother tapping us on the heart and saying, ‘Hey, pay attention to me. Here’s a part of you that you’re not loving yet.'” – RamDev

Instead of running away from our negative feelings like fear and anger, RamDev invites us to go inward and truly feel them. Through this process, we realize the internal nature of what we thought were external frustrations, allowing us to start to shine light on our shadow and develop a relationship with the Beloved.

“As we settle down, we’re not busy trying to run away from suffering. As we settle into this embodied mindfulness, the heart then begins to open because we’re not juggling, we’re not trying to get away from things. We’re just settling down and the true open nature of the mind begins to reveal itself.” – RamDev

Swim through the dark, turbid, unconscious waters of the shadow, to uncover the truthful bliss of the Beloved, with RamDev Ep. 58 of Healing at the Edge

Social Media & Lightening the Shadow

Through this lens, maybe on social media, you see a certain political figure that particularly sends you into a tailspin, and you impulsively revile, clamoring to the comment box to put this putrid, disgusting person on blast. In working with the shadow, rather than placing blame outwardly at this seemingly external force that is riling you up, there is another option: to see this fiercely emotional overtaking and outcry as a potent opportunity for understanding the processes that are going on inwardly within you.

“When we turn on the news and we see violence, protest, anger, sadness, death and grief, do we pull away from that? Do we get lost in it? Does it make us despondent? Or is it possible to be with the suffering that is being so clearly revealed, and keep our hearts open?” – RamDev

Inquiring into one’s emotions–not only their potential roots, but more so the deep mindfulness of the visceral feeling of the emotion held within vast awareness–is the methodology for getting to know the shadow; the purveyor of our unconscious projections onto the world. In this example, bringing light into our subterranean underlayers helps control our shadow from an unconscious takeover of our biological system to spew more frustration on social media, which would only further trigger other people’s shadows to do the same, continuously perpetuating the same cycle. It can be said that:

Lightening the shadow helps cessate the reverberations of dukkha.

Learn to soften your reactivity and recrimination for self and other, as you open to the boundless nature of the heart, on Ep. 52 of Healing at the Edge

Equanimity: Holding All Sides

Now that we have some insightful light shining on the potentialities of working with our own shadow, how can we begin–amidst our distinct, righteous preferences–to hold compassion, love, and mercy for opposing sides that we disagree with? This question is especially poignant today, where the polarization has risen so intensely that it feels we are living in a proverbial ideological powderkeg. If this is the case, what can we do to deescalate from explosions, both on personal levels and societal levels? Is there a view we can take which allows us to hold contradictory, opposing sides, while still honoring our own truth?

“This is a skill that we learn from mindfulness: how to mindfully hold mixed or opposing views in awareness, simultaneously.” – Trudy Goodman Kornfield

Wife and husband BHNN dharma teacher duo, Trudy Goodman Kornfield and Jack Kornfield, harken meditative wisdom from the vast sky and the full moon, illuminating the loving power of mindful equanimity, steadiness, and balance for holding compassion within opposition, and love within paradox:

“Recite these well wishes for yourself: ‘May I see the arising and passing of all things in life with equanimity and balance. May I be steady and balanced amidst it all. May I live with a caring and peaceful heart.’ And let the sense of balance and equanimity expand like space to become vast, like the sky itself.” – Jack Kornfield

“This image of the full moon, and being able to look at both sides; the sides that are dismaying, discouraging…Yet being able to hold it with the reality of this aliveness that we can connect with in any moment of our life when we’re a little bit mindful about ourselves.” – Trudy Goodman Kornfield

Hold a quiet mind and a steady heart, as Trudy and Jack teach equanimity and the heart of compassion, on Ep. 116 and Ep. 117 of Heart Wisdom
Rediscovering Mercy

Now, as we are healing our projections by bringing light to our shadows, all while holding steady and equanimous in the paradox of opposing sides, how can we begin to offer forgiveness and mercy to both ourselves and others who have hurt so many in such subtle and gross ways due to allowing our shadows to steer the ship unchecked on these great waters of existence.

What exactly is mercy? Is it something tangible we can find? Can we run out of it? Esteemed writer, Anne Lamott and BHNN podcast host, Raghu Markus, explore this notion on ‘Rediscovery Mercy,” offering fresh lenses to look at mercy in the modern world. Sharing that mercy is ever-present and always ready for us to open up to it’s infinite grace, they highlight it’s capability to help create enough space for a deeper internal understanding of ourselves, and a more in-tune, truthful, and honest connection with others.

“Mercy for me means loving kindness, grace, generosity, and forgiveness.” – Anne Lamott

Explore the nature of mercy & forgiveness on Those Dirty Words: On Mercy and Forgiveness from our BHNN Awakened Heart Blog
True Forgiveness: There Are No Monsters

Mercy for ourselves and others is soaked in forgiveness, but how can we love our enemies while still standing up for our human rights and personal truths? Activist and Sikh teacher, Valarie Kaur speaks to her experiences sitting with white supremacists, prison guards, soldiers, and former abusers; and what it took to muster the bravery to truly listen to them and attempt to hold them in love.

Anytime she feels safe and ready enough for that, the ‘monster’ in front of her begins to dissolve into a wounded human being. Beneath the stories, slogans, and soundbites, she can begin to hear their truth, and their pain. Through this process of compassionate listening, both sides can begin to come to a sense of liberation.

“Forgiveness is not forgetting; forgiveness is freedom from hate or animosity. I have found that whenever I’m engaged in that long process of forgiveness–of recognizing that my opponent is a human being–then it’s an act of liberation for me. There are no such things as monsters in this world. There are only human beings who are wounded, who do what they do out of their own sense of suffering, pain, insecurity, anxiety, or blindness.” – Valarie Kaur

For a mindfulness-and-loving-kindness-steeped dharma talk on the foundations of forgiveness, tune into Ep. 6 of the Metta Hour

All There Is, Is Love

As we all begin a new chapter of humanity in each waking second, I hope this short guide offers some flow of love into your life and the lives of those you grace. It is up to each of us in our daily lives and small interactions–whether in person or on the internet–to help deescalate this powderkeg of polarization we–as a species–find ourselves in. No matter what side of the illusory fence we may be planted on this go-around; through lightening the shadow, cultivating equanimity, and imbibing true merciful forgiveness, may we all come to the realization that there are actually no sides. Namaste.

“I asked one of my dear friends, ‘Where does love fit into the revolution?’ ‘Ultimately,’ he said, ‘Where does revolution fit into love? Because all there is, is love.’” Ankhet Rumi


– Written by Ganesh Das Braymiller on behalf of the Love Serve Remember Foundation and the Be Here Now Network


Images via The Indian Express @blueoxstudio, @MIRAHNEVA & @Abeshoots on Twenty20