Embracing the shadows

All disciples of the Order were informed that, shortly, one of us would be consecrated monk in a ceremony only those who were initiated could attend. There was no question in my mind I would be the chosen one. Even though I was not the oldest student, I was the closest to the Old Man, as we affectionately called the dean of the monastery. Anxiety overtook me. I was feeling proud and spent some nights awake imagining the rite of passage, so much talked about between closed walls, from disciple to monk. Until news broke that it would be another apprentice who was going to be consecrated. What seemed day turned into night. The pleasant breeze that caressed my ego turned into a violent thunderstorm capable of sweeping my finest feelings to a place so far away I felt I would never find them again.

Jealousy convinced me that that decision was unfair. Envy came to warn me that life was like that, naturally unjust. To make things worse, the chosen apprentice was I one with whom I argued and fought the most in the philosophy and metaphysics classes. Resentment covered me with a thick veil, saying in my ears that good feelings grow in the tree of naivety: a sheep does not survive amidst wolves. Yes, I was the perfect victim.

I spent some days contemplating the idea of retiring from the Order. I was convinced it was a waste of time insisting on a dream when I did not have the support from people I trusted the most. Despondently keeping myself to the corners, I pondered if I should make a speech to uncover the farce, or if I should withdraw in silence, without warning, in an unspoken protest. At some point, I crossed the internal garden of the monastery and saw the Old Man tending the flowers. I went around, trying to avoid him. To no avail. When he noticed I was passing, without turning around he asked me to get closer. He put the small tools in the pocket of his habit and asked me to follow him to his small workroom. Once we were alone, he poured me a cup of tea and said: “Yoskhaz, open your heart.”

I replied, curtly, that I was fine. No, I would not give in. My outrage would be silent, and if he had any regard for me, then he should decode my feelings. He looked at me with sweet eyes and said: “Jealousy, envy and hatred will never be good advisors.” I said he was wrong, as those feelings were not part of my personality, and had long been overcome. The Old Man rebuked, very patiently: “All feelings run through our guts. The good and the bad. They are part of human nature, no exceptions. However, the way we deal with them defines who we are and our destination.”

I insisted that he was wrong about me, as those shadows did not dwell in me; I did, indeed, acknowledge them in others and I confessed they bothered me a lot. The monk retorted: “They bother just because you identify them within yourself, even if subconsciously. When you become aware of them, your attitude changes to one of humility and compassion for everyone.”

I regretted the fact that he did not know me better, despite the long-time relationship we had. The Old Man replied, with the softness that was typical of him: “Do you realize, by your reaction, how little you know of yourself? The process of self-knowledge is the first step to reach the harmony and balance of being. The first portal of the Path is having an encounter with yourself. Once we actually come to know ourselves, we become close to our shadows. This complicity is not to nourish them; on the opposite, it serves to identify their manifestation earlier and earlier, so they can be illuminated. Hence, with rapid intervention, little by little the shadows will lose the force to influence our choices.”

“To pretend that the shadows do not dwell within us is very dangerous. By denying the shadows, you grant them permission to move around and take possession of your ego, making yourself big, but in the wrong course towards truth. You will be dominated without realizing it, in a surreptitious way, as they trick you to believe they exist only in others. They deceive us by making us mistake love for jealousy; justice for revenge; right for selfishness; humility for humiliation; success for greed; victory for domination. Do you believe you are safe from their quirks, out of the reach of their claws? You are mistaken, even if it is an honest one. So, unfailingly we are lead to make wrong choices and delay the process of evolution. On the other hand, once we have realized that we begin the great battle of our lives: to illuminate the shadows in order to transmute them.”

I wanted to know how this process of illuminating and transmuting the shadows occurred. The Old Man arched his lips in a mild smile and explained: “Let’s say someone received an award you believed you deserved. The first reaction is to feel you had been wronged, and be stuck with bitching and complaining. The walker who has started the self-knowledge process makes a sincere, emotions-free assessment to evaluate if, in fact, his work was better than the one that won the award. If it was not, he understands that at some other moment he will be acknowledged, and even if he is not, he has learned and moved forward. Thus, he becomes a better person. This is the great prize.” He paused briefly and then continued: “On the other hand, if he is convinced his was the better work, he will impute the mistake to human judgement flaws and, deep inside, is at peace with himself because the walker does not need the applause of the world to feel complete.”

I told him that example was very similar to my case, and therefore it was biased. The Old Man was patient: “Imagine a scene in which the behavior of your girlfriend makes you jealous. With counsel from the shadows, the most primitive reaction is to try to control, repress or change the girl so that she behaves in ways you see fit. Then, conflict and suffering arise, as no one has the power or the right to change anyone. To insist in doing that is to nourish shadows and pain. Upon identifying jealousy, the first action of the walker is to look deep in himself and assess if his feelings are amplified by traumatic situations of the past, open wounds of other relationships that still bleed silently, leading to disproportionate, inadequate responses. It may even be due to sheer immaturity. He realizes that the cause of suffering is within himself, not outside. Then it is time to begin a healing process, so that his life becomes more quiet and just. On the other hand, if the girlfriend’s behavior goes against a healthy relationship, the walker knows that transformations only take place with the expansion of the level of awareness, not by the will of others. Thus, he wishes with all his heart all the happiness in the world for her, and moves on. Free and in peace.”

The Old Man made a pause, and continued: “I could give you many other examples. Even though I presented my examples in a simple way, note that in none did the walker nourish the shadows or allow them to manipulate him. On the contrary, the shadows were an indicator of the improvement he needed or allowed him to give the best in himself when the lessons were already learned. Never forget that what defines us is how we react to conflicts.”

He paused one more time, and completed: “Believe me, we can always choose between suffering and peace; we can always do different and better.”

An out-of-control anger took over me. I told him I knew who I was, and that no one knew me better than I did. I vented out all my sorrow for not being the one chosen for the initiation in the Order. I argued the theory of injustice. I spoke for minutes on end. I kept whining over and over again. By talking I exorcized my suffering, because the more I listened to my own words, I slowly came to understand that they revealed to me who I really was. Those words were as heavy as the feelings they were wrapped in. Little by little, my conscience started to tell me that was not what I wanted. My soul whispered that that discourse was not consistent with my search. I needed truth to flourish in me.

It wasn’t easy to admit. The Old Man listened to me in deep silence, and mercy naturally overflowed from his eyes, what made my anger even worse and made me raise the tone of my voice. He remained undisturbed. As I kept talking the nonsense that came to mind, I came to realize that the mercy shown in the eyes of the monk was not to humiliate or belittle me. It was love. Pure, unconditional love for seeing my suffering, for wishing the best for me, for understanding how I felt. His gaze was one of humility, and told me he had already experienced a similar situation.

At that time, I understood I did not have to feel ashamed or guilty for what I was feeling. Sooner or later, everyone crosses this threshold. I realized it was me who made healing difficult because I hid my pain. I also realized how far I was from where I thought I had reached. That catharsis unveiled my naked soul before a perfect mirror: the ego’s costume was ripped. The mask that showed a persona to the world, someone I have never been, with virtues I was yet to possess, fell off. All of that was no longer sustainable. Showing society strength, power, abilities I did not have only demonstrated how weak and fearful I was. It was about time I turned into the person I had always wanted to be, with no illusions, away from the farce I had staged all my life to deceive myself. I cried and cried until the tears dried up.

For a long time we did not utter a word. I broke the silence to admit that everyone in the monastery was right: I was not yet ready for the next step. My reaction showed that. I also said that I would work hard not with the intention of becoming a monk, but to construct who I actually wanted to be. It is all cause and consequence.

The Old Man smiled and acknowledged: “You have just set foot on the Path. Welcome!”

He strongly embraced me against his chest. I thanked him for making me understand the moment I was going through. He smiled at me with fondness and said: “Don’t thank me, thank the shadows. Instead of fighting, embrace them. Do not lose sight of them so they can be watched and educated. They are the counterpoint, they signal the obstacles to be overcome. They are the precise measure of what we are lacking to have comprehension, freedom, plentitude and peace.”


Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.


Leave a Comment