When I was three years old my parents took me to the St. Louis Zoo for the first time. As we walked through Big Cat Country I began to notice something following me. When I walked faster it walked faster too. When I turned around and tried to run backwards it ran towards me, landing on top of me as I fell back onto the ground.
I screamed in terror, not knowing that the stalker was in fact my own shadow. Something about being in the presence of all those wild animals made me recognize the dark side of myself. My mother explained that we all have a shadow that follows us wherever we go, but it can’t hurt us. It’s just the dark spot that shows up behind us when we step into the light.
In many spiritual traditions, including the classical path of yoga, the emphasis is on leading us away from darkness and into the light. And while it is important for us to work with the practices of gentleness, truth, honesty, sexual mindfulness, and generosity, as laid out in the Yoga Sutras, it is also imperative that we turn around and face our shadows. In order to fully step into the light of our being we must be willing to also embrace the darkness.
As yoga practitioners, we may hope that through our practice of yoga and meditation we will no longer experience anger, jealousy, or greed. We may try to quell our desire for pleasure and become immune to pain. While this sounds like it might be an easier way to live, it is only a half-life. As the Buddha discovered in his spiritual seeking- true enlightenment is the ability to walk the middle path, to live with anger and joy, greed and generosity, desire and contentment, to fully embrace the paradoxical experience of being human.
Ram Dass says that after 40 years of huffing and puffing, trying to become enlightened, he hasn’t actually gotten rid of any of his neuroses. Instead, he has made friends with them. He has brought each one of them out into the light and had a good hard look. In doing so he has been able to see that at their root all the things we think are so bad about ourselves are simply our basic human needs, not being met.
When we feel greedy it is because we are lacking a sense of security. When we feeling angry it is often because we are not being heard or seen. When we obsess about sex, money or food it is because we are not allowing ourselves to truly enjoy all the natural pleasures life has to offer.
The word Swadistana, which means “One’s Sacred Home”, is the name of the second chakra. Swadistana Chakra is located in the lower belly. It relates to the hips and pelvis. And as they say, the hips don’t lie. In working with “One’s Sacred Home” we must embrace the shadow, turning the light of awareness toward what we may have previously ignored. From this place we learn how to connect to our creative energy, our natural joy and our deepest longing.
Kahlil Gibran said that if we were all to sit in a circle and confess our sins we would laugh at how unoriginal we are. Everyone shares the same basic struggles. The masters among us have simply learned how to be at home in these muddy waters. If we are willing to keep turning toward the shadow as we move into the light we will step into a sense of wholeness beyond what we ever thought was possible. What is your shadow trying to teach you? What would it be like to bring your shadow into the light?