Shadow

Shamanic Self-therapy (workshop)

(This is a very different kind of text, and I had some initial hesitations about posting it because it’s simply a practical handout for one of my workshops, rather than the crafted, quasi-poetic essays I’ve usually written. But perhaps its practicality makes it that much more relevant – so I’m sharing it in the hope that the ideas, exercises and guided meditations described in it will find their resonance in the right hands, and hearts…)

The essence of shamanism is dreaming; all the different external rituals of shamanic traditions are secondary. Shamanic dreaming is a wake up call from our habitual sleepwalking, or what Charles Tart called our “consensus trance” … into a non-ordinary reality, in which thoughts communicate with each other like filaments of light, bodies morph and become animal, plant and mineral, and humans soar on the wings of eagles to pluck sacred symbols from the clouds. Australian aborigines describe this non-ordinary reality as dreamtime. In the Mohawk language, a shaman is called dreamer, or “ratetshents.” The original Siberian word “šamán” means one who is lifted up in ecstatic trance to receive the gift of gnosis. Gnosis has a double aim: attaining inner sovereignty by recognizing and integrating one’s subpersonalities and dark shadows, and a direct download of cosmic consciousness, or what in magical-esoteric traditions is called communion with one’s higher self. (more…)

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Shadows of darkness and light

Aurora, the dawn, the princess of light and goodness who is blessed by fairies to always have a smile on her face, has a dark, malefic shadow. When Aurora meets Maleficent (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYemY3xFsB4), she says, “I know who you are. You’ve been watching me my whole life. Your shadow has been following me ever since I was small.” She invites the shadow to come out from the dark forest so she can look upon her face. Maleficent answers “then you’ll be afraid.” In this short but brilliant pre-release teaser clip (which doesn’t correspond to the actual timeline of events in the film), when Maleficent steps out from the darkness, a wall of thorns immediately rises up around the enchanted forest, separating the shadow world of dark, mythical creatures from the human kingdom of light. It sounds like a perfect Jungian account of our first encounter with the shadow – when we first get a glimpse of parts of ourselves that frighten us and we habitually repress, we erect impassible walls to keep them out. (more…)

The luminous will

This is a longer re-vision of an earlier text on the inner power of will and the discipline of willpower. The dream chronicled in the original post was actually a vision I had in a meditation (or more like a shamanic journey), which re-occurred a second time with some changes that allowed me to see further connections. This re-vision clarifies a few ideas that remained vague in the original post and also adds some new elements that deepen the reflection by linking it to the concept of the will in the hermetic tradition of magic that I wrote about in my most recent post, “The lost art of transmutation.” During a presentation in Berlin that was based on the transmutation text, I showed a well-known clip from The Empire Strikes Back – Luke Skywalker, when confronted with an extremely difficult challenge, mutters under his breath “Ok, I’ll give it a try,” and zen master Yoda replies “No! Try not. Do. Or do not! There is no try.” Yoda is speaking about the will from a magical perspective, which he links to the fact that we are “luminous beings” who can harness “the force.” But, on the contrary, I would say that in the ordinary perception that makes up the consensus trance we habitually call reality, there is a lot of “try” – trying is, in fact, what most people do best (and sometimes they manage to succeed, in short bursts, to push themselves into fulfilling their attempts). But there is very little doing of the kind Yoda means, of setting an intention and then having the action – even an action of seemingly impossible proportions, like lifting a spaceship out of a swamp – flow smoothly and effortlessly, from an inner power, without resistance … (more…)

Then, now … and all along

“Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.” – Rumi

Dust rises up from my tires in the rear-view mirror. Ahead, a hazy mirage unfolds, the air heavy with distilled time, which shifts the desert landscape like ripples. Horizontal emptiness, sand and shrubbery stretch out as far as the eye can see. Not a road sign anywhere. I know I’m on route 1258 and that it’s supposed to connect to 655, but an eternity has passed without any intersection. I stop and put the car in park so I can look at my map. The letters and numbers have shrunk, becoming too small for me to read. I bring the map closer to my face to examine it. And then I hear his voice, saying, give me the map. Suddenly he’s in the passenger seat next to me. I hand him the map, timidly, and he rolls down the window and flings it out. I want to protest but all that comes out is a half-audible whimper, I’m lost. He says, lost is just an interpretation. Let your eyes and ears flow into the vastness of the desert, marvel at the trees with the green, pointed spikes that look like they fell down from the moon. Enjoy the intimacy of a moment that will never come again. You’ll get to your destination, eventually. Maybe even sooner than you think. (more…)

The madness of falling in love

I remember when he raced up six flights of stairs, twenty minutes after we had parted, knocking on my door, breathless, to give me the gift of a strange potted plant with rubbery, green flowers. I thought the plant was ugly, but found the gesture beautiful. I remember the first time he washed my feet in a bath of chamomile flowers and sliced lemons. And when he held my hand and helped me climb the rocky cliffs overlooking the Aegean sea, and said, let go of your fears, don’t let the world persuade you that you’re small and you can’t do it. I remember all the times he carried my groceries and my burdens, and performed impulsive acts of generosity, without any reason or expectation. And I felt an infinite appreciation swell in my heart, not because of how he made me feel or what I got out of it, but because he was that kind of person, because of what it revealed about him. In those moments he appeared exalted to me, miraculous. I glimpsed a kind of sacredness in his words, in the way he moved his hands and walked, and in the wrinkles that formed at the corner of his eyes as he smiled at me like a schoolboy with a secret crush. Everything around me – trees, birds, little dogs passing me on the street, people riding their bicycles – began to take on an enchanted glow. It was as if falling in love gave me sanction to be joyful, to break the rules, to abandon my inhibitions, and to become a child again. I felt giddy, danced in parks with my eyes closed, kissed him on street corners and in supermarkets, and held him tightly as he whispered in my ear on the benches of deserted playgrounds. The magic in my heart poured out and filled the four corners of my world. (more…)