Confronting the Shadows

The Corona Virus pandemic has hit most corners of the world, and I read somewhere that now more than a billion people are in isolation. To quote Keanu Reeves on the matter: “woah!”

For a lot of people this means life just got a little or a lot more difficult. Being forced into isolation is really going to reveal the kind of relationship many people have with themselves and the people they might be stuck with. Those who have routinely found escapes from spending time with themselves – whether it be through working, in person or digital socializing, or escaping into a good book or show – may be in for a bit of a shock. Being human, we all have very ugly, depressing, weak, violent and dark sides to ourselves and it’s always difficult and uncomfortable to confront these shadows of our personality – isolation is likely to bring these aspects into the foreground.

The Daoist view is not at all about escaping the difficulties of the world and our humanity, but confronting them. The practices from Da Xuan that I do and teach are pretty well designed to expose us to all of these shadows and weaknesses, to deal with the ones that we can do something about and go into a better relationship with the ones that we cannot. It is a systematic process that takes years, starting with the easiest aspects and slowly working our way into the horror of the depths, all the while progressively gathering resources that will help us have enough vitality to confront the deeper and ever more uncomfortable parts of ourselves (as well as wonders we did not know we contained! Balance in all things 😉 ). Even with the aid of a tradition that specializes in this kind of thing and the experience of all the people who went through this process for many generations before us, it is still an extremely difficult thing to engage with. I do not envy those who have suddenly been thrown in the deep end with no preparation or support in a time where the rest of the world is also getting messy really quickly.

Still, despite the unfavourable circumstances (or perhaps because of them), it is not too late to actively get into it. The world has just shown us that our modern life, with all of it’s frantic accumulations, is built on fragile foundations. We might recover from this, but it also might all fall apart. We need to start preparing, and better late than never, as they say. We cannot really do anything else if the relationship we have with ourselves is shaky. Start a daily practice, work on the simple stuff. It’s not useful to aim for enlightenment, or the ultimate accumulation of the ‘best’ skills. We must confront the mundane. The ‘you’ 5 or 10 years from now will thank you for your efforts today.

I am reminded of my teacher’s story about taking out the garbage: when the garbage starts to fill up you can take it out now by your own choice, while it is still manageable and has not begun to overflow everywhere. It’s not necessarily the most interesting thing to do right now, but when it’s done you’ll feel better that it’s out of the house and things are tidy. Or you can leave it for later, and it will build and build and build until it stinks and it’s overflowing everywhere and bin juice is leaking all over the floor and you’re forced to take it out. Either way the garbage gets taken out, but one way is by your own choice and relatively simple, and the other way is a nightmare that takes forever to get cleaned up and leaves you stinking of bin juice.