Embodied Transformation & Evolution

Renouncing Our Spiritual Bandaids ~ Growing up in a time of global chaos

Posted by on Mar 20, 2018 in Featured Writing, Lifeletters & Articles | 2 comments

Renouncing Our Spiritual Bandaids ~ Growing up in a time of global chaos

As soon as we engage in spiritual practice, we are facing, as Thomas Huebl, a brilliant and compassionate teacher of mine says, “multiple traps.” One of the main traps is how much we like to use our spiritual practice to escape from our difficulties in life. I became an expert in this particular trap. I often say that the Phd I received in India was really for my advanced studies in spiritual bypassing.

Whenever we have the courage to release our grip on the transcendent reality and descend back down into becoming full human, we find what is waiting for us, after many years of practice: our human homework. It’s so easy to avoid doing our human homework. It’s so natural. There is nothing glamorous, nothing exalted about this homework. It’s messy and raw; and it brings us to our knees. I think most of us tend to avoid it for as long as we can, in some way or the other.

My understanding of our human homework is simple, even though it’s not easy. We learn to shine the light of awareness into the places in us that are still unconscious. We discover how to be fully present in the places where we usually check out, without even knowing that we checked out. Sometimes I call this shadow work. Sometimes I don’t, because this way of describing it creates fear in some people. But whatever it is that we call it, sooner or later we have to turn and face what is still in shadow, the hidden parts of our psyche. Because whatever is still unconscious in us is what is running our life. These parts of us hold so much energy and power, and until we reclaim that energy, we are cut off from our true vitality.

It’s quite strange really, how aware we all are of our own shadows and the shadows of others. We talk about this phenomenon all the time: “I don’t know what happened, I really had no intention of saying that to him-the words just popped out of my mouth.” Or “That woman in my office is driving me crazy and I don’t even know why.” Or “I really want to sit and meditate every morning, but before I know it, I find myself at the computer.” Or, “I had the wildest dream last night; I can’t believe what I was doing.”

You don’t have to be a psychotherapist to know that we are all moved by things that lie far below the surface of our conscious mind. And yet, so often, we stop there. We are quite passive, really, in relation to these shadow patterns and behaviours. It’s as if the unconscious speaks a language we have never learned. To really connect with these shadow parts of ourselves would feel like wandering around in a foreign country, without a map.

But there are signs, there are doorways, there are signals. We can learn to listen to them, and follow where they are pointing. Many of them are somatic. Our hidden dimensions reveal themselves in the feelings and sensations that move through the body. In the contractions, the places where energy can’t flow freely. In the way we move, the way we sit, the way we hold ourselves.

We are a very mental culture, used to paying a great deal of attention to the mind. So learning to listen to the body, to the subtle feelings and sensations, to the movement of our life energy, does feel a lot like learning a new language. It requires a certain kind of attention, a capacity to witness what we are experiencing in a simple, very friendly, and embodied way. The more we practice, the stronger this witness grows. We start to notice things that were invisible to us, up until now.

Learning this new way of perceiving does not always happen quickly. The process can’t be rushed. It requires great patience and persistence:

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
Theodore Roethke

Which brings us to the other part of this work. How did all of these shadows, these unconscious ways of being, get created? There are many different ways to answer this, and the simplest one is this: through rejection. We said ‘no’ to a feeling, an experience, a thought, a sensation. And whatever we say ‘no’ to goes underground.

This is the foundation of all of our human homework–discovering how to turn around the deeply ingrained tendency to judge, fight and resist our own experience. If I feel angry, and I judge anger, that energy cannot move in me. The healthy and awake aspect of anger gets buried, along with the rest of it. But it doesn’t disappear. It reveals itself in a thousand ways, in resentment, in tight necks and shoulders, in the grinding of teeth, in outbursts that make no sense.

This is one of our great tasks as human beings. To shed light, to illuminate the dark places inside us, so that we can live whole-heartedly, in union with ourselves. We can’t do this alone. We have to find ways to heal and integrate our shadows together. Right now they are creating havoc on a grand scale, on our beautiful planet. It’s extremely hard for our young people right now to find a model, a human being who embodies real maturity. In a culture as fragmented as ours is, how do we really grow up? Growing up doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens in an environment that supports the genuine unfoldment of our development and evolution.

Over the last while, I have found that understanding how our brain and nervous system function helps a great deal with this. We judge and reject and push away our own experience because we are trying to protect ourselves. In the midst of our most destructive patterns, we are really just looking for a safe place to rest. We are doing whatever we know to manage the fear, the sorrow, the helplessness that threatens to overwhelm us.

The more we are able to really witness our own conditioning, the more we will see this impulse to protect and care for ourselves expressing itself, again and again. Then we can just say, “All right, it was the only thing I could do at that time. It was an instinctive gesture, not something cruel or terrible. And it didn’t really work. It has hardened me, and created a lot of suffering and disconnection. It has disempowered me, and covered my natural and loving way of being with layers of contraction. I said ‘no’ so many times, hoping to care for myself that way. It’s a different time now. Time to say ‘yes.’ I wonder how that will be, if I align myself, in a real way, with the energy of ‘yes.’

‘If to say it once
And once only, then still
To say: ‘Yes.’
Gregory Orr

with love,


photo credit: Gabriel Barletta on Unsplash


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  1. Fred Pockrass

    Thank you Shayla for expressing that which needs to be said, heard and felt. While the practice of ascension leads to transcendence, it is ultimately avoidance and disconnection from our somatic emotions, i.e. spiritual bypass. And the practice of descending into the body experience itself can be another endless loop of sensation overload. The balancing act of ascending into divinity while descending into our humanity is what we are all being called to do.

  2. Mitchell

    I think I’ll just read that a few more times. Jeez. What a time of shadows. I feel immersed, not quite drowned, definitely not on top. I feel less alone reading this.

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