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.