Yoga and the Shadow

Lately, I have been noticing that I have not been the same person on and off the mat or meditation cushion.    I know that this is a common experience not just for everyday folks, but also for gifted Yogis and meditation teachers.    In this last week, a prominent American Zen Master admitted to having an affair with one of his students, and it wasn’t the first time for him or the last time we will hear about a great teacher engaging in some form of behavior that is not fitting.     I am certainly not here to discuss right or wrong; I fail each day and sometimes quite painfully.   And failure at life is the very thing that brought me to the spiritual path. We all know that being a human is incredibly difficult; we are part Divine and part animal.    Quite a silly mixture; and being a human means that we have conditioned minds and a range or irrational emotions and a shadow.

We also have a healthy solid wonderful side that we constantly build upon and let go into in our meditation and yogic practices.    And we may make great gains in these practices; we may be able to hold many asanas perfectly and bend our bodies backwards.    We may be able to sit for hours, with an open and relaxed mind.     But as my teacher says to me, “it is the last 10% that is important.”    It is this 10% that gets us in trouble.     I image most Gurus who get caught with their pants down, are in fact wonderful teachers, but this 10% ends up ruining their careers, families and often huge practice communities.     And the same is true with us.   It is our shadow that we trip over again and again, no matter how enlightened we think we are.   It is our shadow that causes us and others pain.

So, if we are going to practice, let us practice in a way that works to transform our shadow.    It is great to be able to sit quietly or to be able to get your heels to touch the floor in downward dog, but if we are still very neurotic, then we must wonder about how we are practicing.    Are we practicing in a way that is selfish, just trying to attain some state of Bliss for ourselves, or do we practice so that we have a beautiful yoga body?    And there is nothing wrong with practicing in this way.     We all want to experience states of Bliss and look healthy.    But if we are tripping over our shadow again and again, and actually adding to the suffering and confusion in the world; we might want to focus on the shadow.    We might decide to begin working in a way that will benefit others.   And gauge the depth of our practice at how far it reaches into and how deeply it transforms our shadow.   To do this we must be willing to work with the difficult and painful parts of ourselves.     And by courageously bringing our darkness to light, that is when we grow and change, and transform into something quite wonderful.

And I think that it is important to remember that we all are Divine in our nature or in our essence.  Sometimes when we look into our shadow, we forget about our innate goodness and beauty.  But to bring this nature or goodness or radiance forward, we have to work through our humanity.    We may have to work with deep conditioning, negative belief systems, painful and difficult emotions, and all the areas we hide in, or wished didn’t exist.    If we practice in this way, it will be radically different than practicing in a way that is focused on our own gain, or to doing standing splits.   It will in fact transform our world.

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