Shattered Youth Dreams

Reflecting on aging, death and dreams, I have just retrieved one of my youth photographs that I had lost. It resurrected memories of lost youth dreams. In the picture, I am with my best friends. We grew up together.
 

From up left, Stepthen, Kujo, Peter, Roger and Kizungu Down left, Mark and Olivier (Ven. Sangharakkhita).

From up left, Stepthen, Kujo, Peter, Roger and Kizungu
Down left, Mark and Olivier (Ven. Sangharakkhita).

This group was called ‘Cenacle Cosmique’. We had a ritual of meeting at the Mont Kigali mountain in a forest at the beginning of each year to set goals together. I had learned to set goals from Anthony Robbins’ book Unlimited Power. I was more or less the group leader. They were my students of Karate, although we were of the same age. By then, I was in the Senior National team, and they all aspired to be there one day...if wishes were horses, beggars would ride....

We had vowed to be the best, and strongest. We were young and had wild dreams. We all dreamt of America. It was a time when Bill Clinton was POTUS, when Michael Jackson was the greatest pop star, when America was really great.

Stephen, Mark and I dreamt of starting a Karate Club in the spirit of Sensei Fidel, whom we all respected from the depth of our heart. We all belonged to Tiger Club. I have not given up to that dream yet.

Along the way, when George W. Bush was in power and destroying Iraq, all of us lost the dream to go to America. Stephen went to Germany. I decided I was going to remain in Africa. Peter went to Belgium after a long odyssey through Greece.

Just as the Tathagata taught, change, old age and demise are as sure as death. Kizungu died. Mark had an incurable tuberculosis. His family put him in quarantine, and I could not take it. By then, I was working as a freelance consultant for the Institute of Commonwealth studies, University of London, on a research project with Professor Paul Gready.

I had money and I decided to take care of Mark. We meditated together and did Yoga, Qi gong and Tai chi. His condition improved for sometime, and then he relapsed. Then shit happened. A Christian pastor came to say prayers for him and upon learning that he has been doing yoga, he boldly and shamelessly declared that Mark has been bewitched by me, that he did not have tuberculosis.

Eventually, he died. His family hated me. Peter hated me. Stepthen became suspicious of me. Roger kept his distance. All my best friends abandoned me. But that only made me strong.

Roger was abducted by the secret police in Rwanda and has gone missing for the past two years. He is probably dead. Soon, I will be a stranger in a strange land, just like Abraham. I believe I will be blessed. But before, I have two important things to do before that: another Uganda workshop of Shadow Work for people who have asked me to redo it again, and a Shadow Work ritual for me to say goodbye to Africa, for some time. I will go to a hill in Fort Port, next to Crater Lake, facing the Ruwenzoli and Tooro Palace. There I will gain spiritual fortitude. Then I will head to the country of Sebastian Kurz, the young and inspiring Austrian leader.

A monk has no home and he should not form attachments to a place or people or things, because they invariably bring suffering. But I am not an arahant yet, and I have bonds to Africa, to people, to youth dreams. But alas, time shatter dreams.

And yet, nothing is truly lost....

C'est La Vie

puppy.png

Three days ago, I was heading to the Goethe Institute in Kampala. She was playing by the roadside, near a home. My heart went out to her immediately, and I knelt down and began to gently play with her. The lady in the house nearby told me that she had rescued this little cute puppy from the road, where she had been abandoned to die.

The little puppy, a few weeks old, did not seem to know that she was no longer needed. She was young and full of energy, a little lovely thing, wagging the tail and licking my fingers and playfully biting me, as if we have been best friends from another lifetime or siblings from another mother. The connection was instant.

When I proceeded towards Goethe Institute, she wanted to follow me, but I had to scare her to go back, and my heart sank. I think she was abandoned because she is a SHE, the Yin. 

The whole day, thinking of her melted my heart and took my joy away. The next day, I passed through the same route to see what had happened. She was sleeping sadly in a corner, curled and lonely, and she seemed to have understood that she had been abandoned now. I picked her up, and she did not respond. She was hungry and sad, dying. People around looked at me as if I was a lunatic, with amused, somewhat scorning smiles. I am used to that.

I decided to bring her with me. I bought some milk along the road and made her drink. Her sagged energy returned, but her joy and playfulness was not at the agenda. I spoke to her kindly and gave her some Reiki. Soon, she began to wag her tail and her eyes lit up. She had many ticks and scratched herself incessantly. Now I had to convince the friend I stay with to stay with this little thing for a few days.

The Karaniya Mettā Sutta urges us to spread loving-kindness and compassion to all living beings as a mother would protect her unique, dyingson.  I have vowed to try my best to live according to the Tathagata’s instructions, not just to chant them.

So, I bought shampoo and food for puppies and washed her and fed her. I am planning to see a vet. I called her LA VIE, Life.  Another name for Life in Buddhism is Suffering, the First Noble Truth. It comes packed with packages of inevitable karmic imprints: rejection, abandon, betrayal, humiliation and injustice. But it is beautiful nonetheless, like this small little puppy.

Life is a gift to be cherished. All children deserve to be loved and protected, just like all puppies. This is an ideal of course. LA VIE is fragile and has a temporary home now. But for how long? I do not know. When I go away in two weeks, I will have to leave her behind. Maybe she will survive or she will be thrown out again to die. LA VIE made me think about desperate, unloved, abandoned children all over the world. We all may have our little concerns and feel as if we the most unlucky persons in the world, but all we have to do is to be a little bit less self-centered and think about those kids in South Sudan who have no shelter, no food, no tomorrow.

In a fortnight, I will go away. I will abandon her. I have no other choice. Maybe the people who abandoned her in the first place had no other choice as well. But yes, c’est la vie, we have to change what needs to be changed and can be changed, and let what cannot be changed alone and be at peace. 

May all puppies and little children be safe

May all those who abandon little kids be safe as well

May all sentient beings be well, happy and peaceful.

Why You Should Forgive Your Mother's Rapist

Frederic_Leighton_-_The_Reconciliation_of_the_Montagues_and_the_Capulets_over_the_Dead_Bodies_of_Romeo_and_Juliet.jpg

We are told that we should forgive, but we are neither told why nor how. Why should we forgive those who have wronged us? We forgive in order to have peace of mind that hatred robs away from us. By realizing that it is our resentment that makes us a spiritual hostage to our enemies, not their cruelty,  we also realize that by letting go of that resentment, we set ourselves free from the mental prison they threw us into.

Right after the war and the genocide in my country, the surviving members of my family were all traumatized: my mother had been raped and infected with AIDS, I had escaped unspeakable horrors of carnage, all of our possessions had been looted and half of our house had been dismantled.  I was in a dark mental prison: there was such a vehement hatred in my heart against the murderers. I aspired to see them suffer more than I had suffered and I was intent on revenge.

Had I had the means to carry it out, I could have tortured them horribly and delivered them an unthinkable death. I enrolled in Karate classes in order to acquire the means to carry out a well-deserved vendetta.

Then one day, it dawned on me that I had already become what I abhorred most: a potential murderer. Once a human, I had turned into a dragon, harboring very cruel thoughts. Was I any better than any murder if we shared common bonds of hatred? No. 

That is when I felt really humbled and compelled to beseech my heart for an unsolicited, unspoken forgiveness to murders and rapists for hating them. That is when the miracle happened. I felt emotionally free for the first time in a long time. The inner oppression ceased.

There is an ancient tale that goes as follows:

There was country that had a misfortune to be ruled by a powerful dragon, who mistreated and killed his subject at his whim.

The oppressed people grew angry, to the point of beginning a revolution to drive the dragon from the royal castle and enthrone a human. They chose a wise young man to behead the dragon and become the king.

It was an epic fight, during which the young man was singed by the dragon’s flames, but he managed to behead it. The people rejoiced for their freedom, but lo and behold, while they were still celebrating the end of a tyranny, the young man turned into a dragon, having been hit by the slain old dragon’s fire. And so the oppression in the country went on and on....

The lethal virus of hatred can be easily passed on from the tormentor to the victim. Thus, the problem is that virus, not those who carry it. That is why the Buddha said that the cause of suffering is Hatred, not the haters. 

We forgive in order to heal that virus, in order to get out of a mental prison--not to do a favor to anyone. The biggest step though is to realize that we are sick and that our sickness will not go away by spreading the virus, but by neutralizing it with forgiveness and understanding.

Hela Erlich, a Jewish woman, grew up in German Nazi, and though her immediate family escaped the death camps by immigrating just before the outbreak of the World War II. Her grandparents on both sides and all her childhood friends lost their lives in the Holocaust.

For many people, the passage of time softens the heartache; for Hela, the opposite occurred. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, her hurt turned into bitterness, and her pain into anger. She wanted to be free to live and love. In fact, she struggled constantly to keep from hardening her heart, but she could not forgive.

Then one day it dawned on her: she would never be able to forgive her family’s executioners until she was able to see that despite their guilt, they were still fellow human beings. When they were the spectre of Evil she was unable to forgive: Evil, being impersonal, cannot be forgiven, only accepted. But humans are not spectres and they are not impersonal. 

Trembling, I realized that if I looked into my own heart, I could find seeds of hatred there too. Arrogant thoughts, feelings of irritation toward others, coldness, anger, envy and indifference ---these are the roots of what happened in Nazi Germany—and there are there in every human being—as I recognized more than before that I myself stood in desperate need of forgiveness, I was able to forgive, and finally I felt completely free”.

Hatred does not drive out hate, just as darkness never drives out darkness. That is why Jesus Christ said: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you." It is easy to love those who love us. Yet, even the people whom we perceive as bad love those who love them. If we do as they do, we are not different from them at all. Therefore we have no right to judge them. 

If we love those who hurt us, we are different from the "evil people," and strangely enough, we have no reason to judge them any longer, because no one judges what he loves. That is why Jesus said: "Judge not, lest ye be judged."

My heroine, Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said: “If you have time to judge people, you do not have time to love them.” There is no logical justification for harboring any hatred, just as there is nothing such as righteous anger.

Paulo Coelho wrote in the Manual of the Warrior of Light :

Hidden behind all sorts of good intentions are feelings that nobody dares to confess : revenge, self-destruction, fear of victory, guilt, a macabre joy of witnessing a tragedy that affects other. The Universe does not judge : it conspires in favor of our wishes. Thus, the warrior of light has the courage to look into the zones of Shadow of his soul. He strives to enlighten them with forgiveness.

What are the Shadow zones of our souls? The secret and dark quadrants of our minds, where we hide dragons of hatred, where stem evil words, evil deeds and evils thoughts.

Evil words (cursing, lying, backbiting), and evil deeds (hurting, killing, looting, raping...) come from evil aspiration (thoughts of cruelty and revenge), and evil aspirations come from wrong views.  Thus, the only thing to judge is the Wrong View or Ignorance.

The opposite of Ignorance is Wisdom, which makes us realize that invariably, it is an emotional suffering, not cruelty, that makes other people hurt us. Those people have been rejected or betrayed or humiliated or abandoned or mistreated, or else, they have been victims of a systematic brainwashing, as it was the case in my country.

Unconsciously, they usher their revenge upon us. As we suffer, we see their Suffering, not their cruelty. And we see that the true cause of Suffering is an energy of Hatred, which can be shared by both the tormentor and the tormented. This is the Right View.

Right View is an insight into the Four Noble Truths: Suffering, the Causes of Suffering, the Cessation of Suffering and the Path leading to Cessation of Suffering. Suffering is impersonal and cannot be quantified or be given any epithet. There is nothing such as a Tutsi or a Tamil suffering different from a Hutu or a Sinhalese suffering.

A small kid’s pain over the loss of her doll can be as acute as a great king’s distress over the destruction of his castle. Who knows what that childhood trauma will make her do when she becomes a queen? 

A king may kill as many people as he can to avenge his castle, including kids with dolls. Ultimately though, dolls and castles, kings and kids are all similar in the face of life’s uncompromising equalizer, Death.

Kings and subjects, Jews and Nazis, rich and poor, Blacks and Whites, strong and weak, all sentient beings share a common bond of suffering, and a common aspiration to be free from it. 

I have been invited to talk about the dark past of my country somewhere in Europe as a peace activist and a monk. I will talk about the dark history but more importantly, I will talk about my humble views on how to learn from it. I will talk about forgiveness and the story of the slain dragon. I have seen people who start wars with a noble aim to end tyranny, but end up becoming more tyrannical than what they fought in the first place, because their struggles and aspirations stem from a place of anger and hatred, not a place of understanding and wisdom. 

Minding Shadows: On the Buddy System

September 2017 is drawing to a close. Since Venerable Sangharakkhita and I filmed in Uganda and Rwanda in June 2017, so much has happened. He’s been adrift on the high seas of immigration red tape in many countries, and I have been at home in Rome sweet Rome putting together our footage and planning for the next round of production in late October 2017. 

Jenn and Venerable S filming Minding Shadows interviews at Banana Village in Uganda. 

Jenn and Venerable S filming Minding Shadows interviews at Banana Village in Uganda. 

It’s not ideal to be finishing a PhD dissertation and working a demanding full-time job while pushing MINDING SHADOWS forward. So these days I’m strategizing with my wonderful Co-Producer Ermanno Martignetti to launch our fundraising and crowdfunding campaigns, and bring on some more collaborators and move the project closer to the center of our concentration. We’ve applied for some film funds and we’ll continue doing so for several months. I know the field is very competitive, but I think we have a story that sells itself. I believe in MINDING SHADOWS and its ability to impact lives with real wisdom and value. We’ve just got to get it out there. 

Jenn and Ermanno planning a political conference together in Berlin, Spring 2013

Jenn and Ermanno planning a political conference together in Berlin, Spring 2013

When I met Venerable Sangharakkita and read his story in his book “Drops of Dhamma” I was struck not only by the extremity of his experience, but by the strength and creativity he showed in his healing journey. Just being around him I felt a sense of charisma and intelligence that compelled me to propose a documentary film project.

Once production was underway in Africa, I was often inspired—and intimidated—by the responsibility I have undertaken in telling his story, and in explaining the Jungian “shadow work” healing method he teaches.

It is not often a documentary filmmaker comes across a complicated, charismatic character with such a dramatic story and such a powerful message of healing and resilience. Our filming process has not been easy and I have been disavowed of my romantic notions about life in Buddhist monasteries, as we have encountered religious politics, jealousies, sabotage, and bureaucratic red tape galore trying to capture the story of this remarkable, and now stateless, young man. It seems an ironic twist of fate that Olivier—now Sangha, as I call him—should endure so much hardship in his youth only to be subject to more of it once he takes monastic vows and tries to teach what he learned through experience and training. Through this film, we see that shadows and politics are part of human nature, inescapable even in a Buddhist monastery. We see that Buddhist vows can’t keep out the past or the ruthless demands of the world beyond the monastery. 

Minding Shadows cover smaller.jpg

When we set out on the journey of MINDING SHADOWS, it seemed like a pretty straightforward task to try and tell the story of how Venerable Sangharakkhita survived the Rwandan genocide and its violent aftermath, survived imprisonment and became ordained as a Buddhist monk. Little did I know! Life has a way of laughing at the best-laid plans. 

If nothing else, this documentary shows that the “shadow work” method of processing negative feelings and pain is important not only for traumatized war survivors, and for ordinary people, but also for Buddhist monks—indeed, for all people seeking psychological freedom and emotional maturity. The documentary also shows that even Buddhist monks are not free from petty community politics and power struggles, nor are they free from the increasingly strict systemic barriers to immigration and asylum seeking in today’s harsh political climate.

We continue filming this Fall 2017. We will journey with Venerable Sangharakkita as he teaches, seeks peace, and performs his own “shadow work” in various settings that I will share…when the time is right. 

It is my hope that he will soon be positioned to change lives in the way he is capable of doing. Sangha has endured a lot of difficulty and has so much to offer. MINDING SHADOWS can bring a lot to him and to his followers, and I hope to bring our vision to fruition.

The project is also changing my life and the way I approach documentary filmmaking. When we were filming in Rwanda, my interview subject Sinzi Tharcisse, a 6th degree black belt and genocide hero, said something to me that I’ll never forget:

“If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, find others to travel with.”
— Sinzi Tharcisse, Rwanda
Jenn, Venerable, and Sinzi "go far" together in Rwanda

Jenn, Venerable, and Sinzi "go far" together in Rwanda

 

Sinzi's encouragement to collaborate has strengthened my determination to raise money to pay collaborators to make MINDING SHADOWS the best movie it can possibly be, with the greatest potential “reach.” I’ve always worked on my own because it was the surest way to get films finished. Since 2010 I have been working as a “one man band,” completing 7 documentaries and I’m in production on a 10-episode documentary miniseries. I handle development, production planning, filming, motion graphics, interviewing, editing and PR. I draw on my training as a playwright, anthropologist, journalist and editor to get my films finished and into the world. I’ve shown these films in my classrooms, at film festivals, and academic conferences.

I'm not bragging. I don't think it's a great idea--for lots of reasons--to try and do everything yourself. I had my reasons but many were fear-based: I was scared I wouldn't find people to work with, scared I couldn't raise money to pay them, scared the films wouldn't get finished. Yes, I finished a lot of charming and informative docs for basically no money...and all that hustle and grit has brought me to this moment. Working alone has a LOT of limits, not only in the quality of the final product, but also in its potential to get in front of as broad an audience as possible. 

MINDING SHADOWS is pushing me out of my "do it all myself" box and into the brave new world of slowing down and finding others to travel with. 

Jenn with Sarah McTeigue and Kiki Miller in Rome for Bellies Abroad (December 2016)

Jenn with Sarah McTeigue and Kiki Miller in Rome for Bellies Abroad (December 2016)

Now I’m ready to direct a team of talented creative professionals--among them editor Sarah McTeigue of So Fare Productions--to bring this film to life. I believe that MINDING SHADOWS can bring healing to its audience and I want to give it long legs.

The time has come to throw off the limits of working alone so I can honor the demands and responsibilities of a story like MINDING SHADOWS. Obviously, this takes a network of collaborators—which I have built in Rome and beyond—but it also takes more funding. 

In the next months we will run hard after that goal in order to make MINDING SHADOWS the best film it can possibly be.

I’ll chime in again when we have more news to share. 

How I Found My Life’s Purpose

bullseye.png

After witnessing the genocide in my country, I took some radical decisions, one of them being to maximize life, since it was so frail. I wanted to live in the place of a hundred thousands of lives that were wasted, then die in peace. I had vowed to live with intensity, as if every single day was my very last day. 

Thus, I oftentimes reflected thus: 

Why was I born? If I were to die today, would Ihave a feeling that I have lived up to the reason why I was born in the first place? Would I go to rest without fear or regret whatsoever? What should be my deepest, grandest, noblest and strongest aspiration? What is the sole thing that I would wait for, work for and dedicate my life to and never regret?

I did not want to scatter my energies and attempt to chase two rabbits at the same time. I needed to be focused as a a convergent lens or a laser. I needed to follow one single purpose. I knew that a life without a single purpose is like a wrecked ship with a broken shudder, without an anchor in a stormy ocean.

To many people who did not know me, my life was either meaningless, like a leaf swept by winds, which swings here and there, unsure where it will fall or else, my life seemed utterly strange to them.  I did not take it to heart, because I was sure that we were hearing a different drumbeat, and had a different calling.

I did not even try to justify my reasons. I acted in silence, assuming that no one has the right to judge my decisions if he does not understand my reasons. I was not afraid to go against the trends, to swim against the currents, to be called a lunatic, to be mocked by all, because I had an inner compass, which came from asking the above questions. 

For many years, my life’s sole purpose was a quest to find answersthose questions, and I had some half-answers. I felt that I needed peace, or the union with God or the ultimate happiness, but all these were not definite answers.

Then, as there is always beauty and depth in simple things, it was a simple, almost a banal story of ice-creams that gave me an insight into what I really aspired for:

A group of children were given a test to determine who would be the smartest. They were to answer on the spot what wish they could make, if each one was given a wish-fulfilling gem that grants only one wish and then vanishes afterwards.

The first kid said: “I would ask for an ice-cream.” It was a hot afternoon, and he thought that it would be great to have an ice-cream to tame his thirst.

The second kid said: “I would ask for a refrigerator full of ice creams.” The first kid felt stupid to ask for just one ice-cream.

The third kid said: “well, I would ask for a convoy of trucks full of ice creams.”

The second kid felt beaten to have asked for only a refrigerator. The fourth one said: “I would ask for a factory of ice creams so that I can produce them myself.” The third kid felt ashamed to have set his standards so low and be thus beaten.

The fifth kid said: “Well, I would rather ask for the creation of infinite wish-fulfilling gems so that I have whatever I want, wherever, whenever and forever.”

The fourth kid was embarrassed. The last kid said: “I would ask for all my wishes to end.”

All were silent, realizing that the last one was really the smartest one.

The first kid represents people who do not see beyond instant gratification. 

The second and the third ones represent the middle class society of endless wanting and hoarding. 

The fourth one represents the international multinationals that control labor and capital.  The fifth one is the deva and brahma heavens, where enjoyments seem to have no end, and the last one is the Ineffable Nirvana, the true freedom

Thus, in midst of uncertainty and petty strivings threatened by destruction and decay, in a life that is less reliable than a candle in the wind, I found the purpose of breathing, the reason of smiling like a little child. I found my gem. Have you found yours?

Homeless and Happy

Screenshot 2017-09-08 09.18.02.png

Right after arriving at the Ironwood Grove Forest Hermitage in the rural Kurunegara of Sri Lanka, (Na Uyana), I spent two months as an Anagarika, preparing to become a Novice Monk. We were six people who aspired to become monks: three Sri Lankans Chandima, Susantha and another, whose name I have forgotten, and Luiz from Brazil, then two Africans: Fletcher Beadon, a White South African, and me, from Rwanda. 

The team of six that we formed worked together in harmony, blending like milk and water: we peeled the fruits for about 125 monks, we prepared hot water for washing the monks’ alms bowls, and we cleaned the big hall in which monks took their single, daily meal. Then we had to put out all the trash and clean the toilets.

In between, we could rest or meditate, and there was a compulsory evening chanting of some specific sūttas in Pāli. At the same time, we were being taught what it is to go from home into homelessness, which is another term for becoming a monk. 

The basic idea of going forth, from home into homelessness (pabbāja), is to renounce all worldly attachments that hinder true spiritual progress. These attachments include family bonds, friendships, possessions and most importantly, fixed views.

The Second Noble Truth states that attachments, hatred and delusion are the root causes of Suffering, the First Noble Truth, and the Third Noble Truth, the Goal(Nirvana, the State of the most Sublime, unshakablePeace) is a result of abandoning the root causes through walking the Path, the Noble Eightfold Path, the Fourth Noble Truth.

Then we became Novice Monks, samaneras. Fletcher was named Bodhirasa (the name means the taste of awakening), Luiz became Lokavijaya (the Knower of the realms of existence), Susantha became Dhammacetiya (a Monument of Dharma) I became Sangharakkhita (the protector of the Noble Ones, i.e. the Sangha). One year later, Lokavijaya disrobed and returned to Brazil.

Right after our novice ordination, I requested the Na Uyana Abbot, Venerable Ariyananda Mahathero, to let me go in the middle monastery, which is the most secluded area of the Hermitage, and I did not request for a monk’s hut (kuti) to stay in, because I felt now that I was officially homeless.

I could now practice like I have always aspired to: sit and meditate, then take very long walks in the huge forest, walking mindfully, like Peace Pilgrim. Peace Pilgrim was an American lady, who felt called in 1953 to dedicate her life to peace. (Called by who? You may find online how she described God. To me it is another version of the Co-dependent Origination patticasamupadda.) She had vowed to walk until given shelter, and fast until given food. She had vowed to walk until the world knows the Path of Peace. She would walk prayerfully and would not accept money or gifts as donation, and she talked with many people. 

She is one of the three women who inspired me: my mother Martha, Mother Teresa of Calcutta who heard a Calling and responded, and Peace Pilgrim. Just as Mother Teresa, I do not doubt that I have heard a calling to find and teach the Path of Peace, after crossing the hell of war.

In the middle monastery, I could finish with my daily chore as soon as possible, which was sometimes cleaning the toilets or sweeping the path towards the Chetiya and the Bodhi tree. I ate once a day, and walked and meditated. The only time I met other monks was at the time of the meal, which was always taken in silence, and at the evening chanting and when I met the teacher twice a week for meditation instructions (kammattana) I had a sleeping bag and a yoga mat, which I used to sleep, oftentimes in the meditation hall.

Several times, I slept in a cave or in the open thick forest, in order to have a taste of how the Buddha and the monks who were with Him lived.

In this life, I had tasted homelessness when I was a thirteen: I had to flee, right after the outbreak of killings in my country. For three fateful months as the genocide was happening, I walked long distances, often at night, in order to escape death.  Homelessness was not terrible; death was. When death is the matter, nothing else matters. The idea of the home comfort is promptly replaced by a heightened sense of urgency and keen alertness. By and by, I could die any moment, and I did not have any generous supporter to provide me with the monks’ four requisites.

Now I am homeless again, but I have become so by a deliberate volition. I am safe and not worried that I will starve or be killed, although life and karma in general are quite unpredictable. I am only looking for a way to relocateand be able to do my job unhindered. And what is my job? Just like Peace Pilgrim, walk as homeless mendicant monk, mindfully, living and teaching the Art of Peace, following the Call, as Khalil Gibran once poetically expressed it with these beautiful words:

The sea that calls all things unto her has calls me, and I must embark, for to stay, though the hours burn in the night, is to freeze and crystallize and be bound into a mould….

…and you, vast seasleeping mother, who alone is peace and freedom to the river and the stream, only another winding will this stream make, only another murmur in this glade, and then I shall come to you, a boundless drop into a boundless ocean.

I sometimes fancy myself doing the opposite of Sun Tzu, the author of the Art of War. I see myself as a drop of Dhamma, walking from sea to sea, from Cape to Cairo through Khartoum and Cotonou, through Timbuktu desert and war-torn South-Sudan and Central African Republic on feet, in robes, sharing the Shadow Work, preaching the Noble Dharma to prisoners, priests and prostitutes, to the upright and to the corrupt, leading retreats, teaching yoga and Tai chi to children, talking with curious folks, and to all those with little dust in the eye.

All I plan to have as possession is a sleeping bag, a tent, my robes, a yoga mat, my begging bowl, an electronic device to share Dharma books. Then, have just one mindfulness centre in Rwanda.

I was to begin that lifetime pilgrimage in Uganda, at the Uganda Buddhist Centre. But the winds of destiny pushed me away from there unexpectedly. I had to leave that place, which had become a second home. I flew to Sri Lanka to join again my Sangha.

Once in Sri Lanka, I planned to officially begin my pilgrimage, from Kurunegala to Jaffna through Colombo on foot, in order to teach Minding Shadows to the Tamil community, who are still traumatized from the 2009 war and destruction, ushered to them by a “Buddhist Government.” 

When I made these plans, I did not know that the rules for obtaining a residence visa had changed. Yet, the immigration website did not make the updates. So when I went to apply for a renewed residence, it was too late, and I had to leave Sri Lanka, my spiritual homeland, and go back to Kenya, Africa, where I am right now striving to get a visa to Vienna. The two unexpected circumstances where I had to leave my temporary homes were sharp reminders that indeed, I am a homeless monk, and happy, and this unplanned zigzag itself is a part of thepilgrimage. There is nowhere to hang my hat.

We, wanderers, ever seeking the lonelier way, begin no day where we have ended another day, and no sunrise finds us where the sunset left us. Even when the earth sleeps, we travel. We are the seeds of the tenacious plant, and it is in our ripeness and our fullness of heart that we are given to the wind and scattered.

 

 

Remembering Eve, the Tao, the Mother of All Beings

According to an ancient Chinese philosophy, life is a wave that comes into being and goes out of being in two distinctive phases: an expanding,  ascending phase called YANG, which, after reaching its climax, recedes in favor of its counterpart, thecontracting, descending phase called YIN.  

This nonstop flux of life’s phases is illustrated by the following symbol, called the T’ai chi diagram:

The white half symbolizes the light side or yang, and the black half symbolizes the dark side, yin. The dots inside each half indicate that within each phase, there is a seed of the other. Within birth, there is a seed of death and within success there is a seed of failure.

 In our patriarchal cultures, it is easy to over-focus on the bright, yang side and ignore or even attempt to suppress the dark, yin side, which is wrongly perceived as ‘evil’. The Yin side is the Shadow, the feminine energy.

 

Why should we mind the shadow?

 In the Tao te Ching, Tao is called the Mother of all being. Tao or Eve is considered as the Sacred Feminine. She gives life, and when life is finished, Mother Earth takes back what she gave. It is a cycle. 

 It is not true that yang, the bright side is good and yin, the dark side is evil or vice versa.  One cannot embrace one and reject the other, since each has its own role and fulfills a specific purpose. 

If it rained all the time (yin), the world would become an ocean, and if the sun shone without stop (yang), the whole world would become a desert. It is the presenceof one which gives meaning to the other.  

Apparently, yang seems stronger than yin, but appearances are often misleading. A rock is strong and unwavering, and water is yielding and non-resistant. Water is yin and a rock is yang. Yet, drops of water can break a rock, but nothing can break water. 

Wisdom sees beyond appearances and urges to be cautious of dormant waters, which oftentimes run deep. 

Noise is yang and silence is yin.  Noise is born out of silence and it returns into it. Noise has a beginning and an end, but silence, which is the matrix for sounds, does not. Wisdom urges to seek silence and have less concern for empty barrels, which make the most noise.

Yang is the beginning and yin is the end. The beginning of all things is vague, but not their end. It is at the moment of final separation that the depth of a love shows its true face. It is the end of life that puts in evidence its true value.

 A woman (yin) may seem weak on the surface but beyond that shallow appearance, she is far more resilient, more powerful than a man (yang). Success is yang and failure is yin. Success oftentimes breeds pride, while failure is one of life’s greatest teachers. 

A wise person learns to understandhis dark, yin side, not to destroy it, knowing that just as the night is a time for resting andrestoringphysical and mental batteries for a better day, the dark side is a place where he draws energy to live, to love and to create.

Just as it is impossible to be healthy without sleeping, it is impossible to be loving and positive all the time without recognizing your own dark, yin side. It is impossible to shine all the time in the eyes of the public without being fully conscious of the dark side in private. 

We all know cases of people who are successful in public but who are totally miserable in their private lives, like celebrities who have everything materially, are loved by a huge number of fans, but who end up destroying their lives with drugs or even commit suicide.

You probably know cases of loving fathers who unexpectedly turn violent and kill their kids and wives for no apparent reason. You must know cases of talented artists or scientists who have bizarre behaviors bordering to madness. 

As a general rule, those who project a dazzling light in the public have a thicker shadow than those who project a dimmer light. That is why so many lives of public figures are marred with scandals and dirty secrets. It is not because these people are ‘evil’, it is because they do not cope with the shadow energy properly.

 

What are the common ways of dealing with the shadow?

One of the common way to express the Shadow is through scapegoating. In ancient Israel, there was a ritual in which two goats were sacrificed after casting a lot. One goat would be offered to the alter ofGod and the other was a scapegoat.

 The High priest would symbolically lay all the sins of the community upon the scapegoat, and it would be removed from the community into the desert. Thus, the evil would be removed from people. That is how Atonement was done.

In psychology, scapegoating is a process of blaming someone for our problems. A scapegoat is a person who is wrongly accused of the evil that befalls a person or a group. But scapegoating and sacrifices do not remove the person or the group’s Shadow. 

Scapegoating is not different from giving someone some painkiller pills so that our headache may be removed. It is delusional. The extreme forms of scapegoating can lead to ethnic cleansing and Genocide. The Jews were falsely blamed of allthe evils of Europe and that led to the Holocaust.

In Biblical times, which were very patriarchal, a woman was regarded as the binger of evil. It is said that the evil was brought in the world through Eve.

Throughout the human history,  the sacred feminine of the human race has been repressed and denied full expression. Women have been subjected to persecution through domestic violence, sexist prejudices, denied of the most basic rights, simply because they are associated with the dark side in the human psyche.

 Black people experienced a traumatic era of slavery, torture and incredible dehumanization, through which they were sold and brought not as humans, but as slightly evolved apes that could be owned as animals, protected as pets or killed at their masters’ whims.  Forcenturies, slavery was perceived as legitimate and morally right.  

Until today, Black people experience morepersecutions and bigotry than people of other races, simply because they are associated with the dark side in the human psyche.

The other way of dealing with the Shadow is through indulging in pain and adopt a role of aneternal victim. The victim is weak and somehow enjoys being weak in order to receive support. The homeless and beggars, the extremely poor people are in this category. Victimhood can attract some attention and support, but it is not different from showing off your wounds without applying a remedy. Sympathy does not heal emotional wounds.

The other way of dealing with the Shadow is through avoidance. The wounded will flee in a parallel world through drugs or alcohol so that he may not feel the pain. Some flee into endless entertainments, sex and frivolity. Most forms of dementia fall in this category.

Drug addiction could be greatly mitigated if those who rely on them took time to face their shadows and allow it to there. It is not there because they wanted it. It is there due to cause and conditions that they did not necessarilyset in motion. But it is their responsibility to recognize the shadow’s presence and let it be.

What happens when you are no longer disturbed by the unhappiness inside you? You cease to be unhappy of course. That is the true healing. By trying to push the unhappiness away, to atone it through scapegoating, toindulge in it through adopting the victim or the guilty identities or to run away from it, it will not go away.

 

How is mindfulness unique?

Mindfulness is different from the above ways. It casts an unblinking eye on the shadow, without judging it, without running away from it, without indulging in it, without projecting it. Finally, it sees through it. The shadow is impermanent, unsubstantial and cannot be possessed. It is not that much threatening, although it seems to be so.

The shadow contains all your sorrows and griefs. In Christianity, its symbol is the Cross. By contemplating the Cross unto which Christ took all the sorrows and the griefs and the ‘sins’ of the world, there is a way of having a glimpse of redemption. You will see beyond the Cross, the Resurrection. 

According to the story of creation, evil came in the world after Adam and Eve sinned, ‘instigated’ by the devil. Symbolically, the devil is the Shadow upon which all the dark energies were cast. Man has suffered because they have not fully repented, or fully faced the shadow.

The Shadow, which contains all defilement, has been the central theme of all great spiritual teachers. Some have called it sin, the Buddha called it ‘dukkha’ or Suffering. Suffering is the common bond that all humans share. They also share the common aspiration of bringing it to an end.

Welcome to Minding Shadows

We are so pleased to welcome you to this website promoting the documentary film and teaching method of Shadow Work. 

We believe in the power of this story and dharma to unlock healing and bliss. We believe that healing inner traumas is the first step in building a better world. 

If you feel compelled by our project, please consider helping us with a donation. Every little bit helps--to pay for production and promotional costs, and eventually film distribution and study guides. 

With Metta,

Jenn Lindsay