In The Shadows

We begin our series ‘In the Shadows’ with a reflective piece, by Mo Henderson, which describes how  fear  can distort reality, and how the practice of meditation brings clarity.

There is a story of someone who walks along a path at night, they see a poisonous snake on the path and, feeling fearful, they turn and run away in the opposite direction. They return along the same path the next morning and find a coiled rope on the ground. In the darkness it was difficult to see reality, but in the light it became clear, it was a rope and not a snake.

For me, this story illustrates how the feeling of fear can manifest when reality is not clear, when it appeared to be a snake in the shadows of night the response was based on the emotion of fear. In a sense this is understandable, waiting around to find the truth may have been dangerous in the dark, if it was indeed a snake!

Perceptions of reality can be distorted by thoughts of pending danger at any time, even when we are not in a life threatening situation. When feeling in danger, the bodies natural stress reaction ‘fight or flight’ can kick in to help protect us, by boosting our strength in order to fight or run away.

Dwelling on things that may not be true and the resulting fear, worry and need to ‘escape’ from a situation can manifest in many ways, including, avoidance of certain people or situations, distractions such as addictions and preoccupation with ruminating thoughts. These things can help us function, however only serve to push unresolved issues further into the hidden depths of mind, rendering us ignorant to what truly needs to be done. When living in our own self created shadow like this, it can be difficult to be aware of our own personal needs and to distinguish them from the needs of others. The energy depleted by this ‘bottled up’ containment of powerful emotions can be exhausting and cause a person to project onto others what is within themselves. For example, blame, gossip, rejection, over exaggerating to appear ‘better’ than we judge ourselves to be and trying to please others to prove our worthiness. Life can then become governed by conditioned habit energy which can divide us from reality.

I believe no one is perfect in being able to always see reality for what it is in every moment of the day. For me, it takes a certain amount of stillness in daily life to do what’s best to do based on reality. Thoughts are good in terms of planning my day, however, if I find myself caught up in over thinking things, I need to question what I’m doing and why? Sometimes I feel ‘stuck’ and it’s usually because I’m too concerned about the thoughts of what has happened or will happen and all the while I can miss what is actually happening in reality. The stillness can bring back some relative harmony, then I can listen and observe how to be with my life and the lives of those around me.

Returning to avoidance and distraction, my particular tendency in the early days of learning to be still in sitting meditation was ‘ workaholism’. I was deeply grateful to learn this, as I was ignorant to this fact before the practice. I began to notice each time a discomforting thought arose, I would feel the need to get off my cushion and start working on something. Now I’m willing to be with uncomfortable thoughts and not feel the need to ‘run’. That’s not to say I feel great about it.

Being with discomfort and suffering in this way has allowed me to accept my own suffering, the mistakes I have made in the past, and to forgive any hurts experienced. I believe this acceptance is a form of love and that going on with learning to be still with one’s own suffering, manifests in being able to be with the suffering of others.

I have noticed accepting the pains of life in a deeper way can also bring space to see the natural joys of life. It feels as though there is still much to be known and to delve deeper into. I wish to keep trying to live in the world doing the best I can and trust this means being aware of the reality of each moment, responding to what comes with the best intentions and being vigilant enough to notice when any habit energy is taking me off course. I guess signs of my own shadows in terms of past loss, sadness, hurts and mistakes may crop up at any time and it’s how I accept and live with everything that truly matters.

I read somewhere these habit energies are like shadows, like thieves entering an empty house, eventually the shadows can’t cause trouble.

Mo Henderson

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