I have been asked again recently (around the same time as last year),
"What about the shadow side of meditation?"
Which immediately reminds me of this related article...
Ultimately, I believe that there are different stages of meditation
that require different strategies in different contexts... speaking
allegorically, we must navigate a complex and delicate balance between
integrating our shadow & shining our light.
I do not believe that meditation is a one-size-fits-all prescription
for wellness... what might help one person in one situation might
traumatize that same person in another situation... or perhaps be
completely ineffectual to someone else in one context and maybe only
slightly beneficial to them in another. Human beings are extremely
individual creatures and can be capable of diverse degrees of
adaptability in a wide range on situations, and are also occasionally
ignorant, stubborn & even self-destructive sometimes. Meditation can
be an extremely powerful metaprogramming tool, and can produce
feelings of everything from serenity to bliss to trauma & terror,
depending on a wide range of factors, including total life experience,
exactly what sort of meditation is being practiced & other
circumstances at any given moment.
The sage advice is usually to sit through it and accept your emotions
for what they are, since they are only emotions, right? Well, maybe...
As long as we also realize that emotions can also exact a toll of
toxic trauma on the body if people dwell on them too long. Just like a
baby can injure their vocal chords from crying too long and loud...
too much stress can actually cause injurious conditions to the body.
Perhaps along with the age old advice to simply accept our emotions
for what they are & let them pass, perhaps there is also a
particularly safe rate at which our bodies can handle the release &
processing of deep repressed traumas, for instance... sometimes, it's
important to learn how to let out just a little bit of the shadow
while we learn to integrate it, and then practice compartmentalizing
it again until a later time when we have more resources to deal with
more of the backlog?
There are times when I feel that I may drown in a well of tears if I
continue to contemplate all of the suffering in the world; but then I
realize that I must balance such sympathies with a compassion for the
joys and celebrations of life also, or I am completely missing the
Although I have adopted a few additional guidelines throughout my
life, I am also still devoted to my first magickal motto: "Pleasure
production & harm reduction!" It is a concept related to Callahan's
Law: "Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased — thus do we
For people who are encountering severe challenges on the road to
shining their light & integrating their shadow, I have this research
With all of the trauma that people carry around with them, it is
essential for us to learn & practice disciplines we can use to shake
of these oppressive forces, or we can end up developing conditions
like PTSD, chronic fatigue syndrome, and dysautonomia.
A few years ago, I heard a story on NPR about Tibetan monks who were
tortured by the Chinese, and since they would use transcendental
meditation techniques to rise aboe the suffering... when they had
escaped to safety, they found that ***their meditation was triggering
PTSD episodes!*** eventually, they figured out out that more
body-centered techniques like qigong & tai chi (& i would sugest
ecstatic dance) helped them actually release the trauma
An esteemed colleague of mine referred me to this research
that indicates that when a prey animal is captured by a predator, it
will use the immobility/freeze response ("playing possum") to survive
until it can possibly escape... and then, if it does escape, when it
gets to safety, it will *shake* off the tension... literally a
full-body shaking, like an orgasm of celebrating life!
The extra good news is that humans are extremely adept at developing a
myelinated vagus nerve system to engage social systems (including
love) as an alternative to fight, flight or freeze reactions...
Anyone want to venture a guess at what kind of exercise would help
develop this myelinated vagus nerve system? Perhaps everything from
proper nutrition to adequate sleep to a reasonable amount of exercise
and maybe even a bit of meditation in one form or another? And yes, we
each have to do practice these disciplines individually, but I am
willing to suggest that it will probably reinforce the process for us
to practice with other people who are also exercising their
disciplines! It can be useful to have others around to build consensus
together on what best practices are... not absolute restriction from
an authoritarian guru, nor completely relativistic flow without
question... but perhaps we can help each reinforce other to find a
comfortable balance, and enjoy the liberating feelings of actual
healing? In the context of the McMindfulness article by Dr. Rubin,
that is my guess as to what "emancipatory" practices might look like,
"We need to investigate the content and meaning of what we become aware
of in meditation instead of attempting to transcend it or reduce it to
what we already believe based on Buddhism, psychotherapy or any doctrine.
Practicing meditation in an emancipatory way could be a powerful ally in
our efforts in the 21st century to live with greater awareness and sanity,
intimacy and passion."
I also suspect that it helps to step a little bit outside of the self
& open our hearts to feeling what it is like for other people to
interact with us from their perspective, but that is perhaps a deeper
subject for a different long and rambling post in the dark night of
Meanwhile, it looks as though I have managed to carry the sun through
the underworld for another night, so that it can rise into the dawn...
and in preparation for the coming winter months, I will find further
ways to keep up The Great Work & enjoy The Cosmic Play!