The Shadow


“Malevolence exists because free will exists, and all things are permitted to exist and coexist. Life cannot know itself as one thing without knowing that which it is not. You would not know you were a loving being unless your opposite was permitted to exist and to be experienced.”


A popular theme in spiritual/psychological circles involves coming to terms with what is typically called “the shadow”, or the “dark side” of the human personality. This so-called shadow represents a semi-entified phenomena generally believed lurking in the unconscious area of the psyche, and consequently rendering it hard to access. In any case, it is believed responsible for generating all of the dubious and troublesome thoughts and deeds, motives and views, which are perceived as less than desirable in our life and relations.

When we experience episodes of greed, anger, envy, hatred, and above all, consuming self-interest, we may claim that it is our shadow side coming to the surface. Hence, it is usually designated as a negative personality figment, or at least one in need of being balanced somehow by the proper application of love, light, and thoughtful recognition to the point that it finally melts away. For example, a highly touted Western teacher, Adyashanti, writes:

“Within the unconscious lies our shadow. We call it our shadow because we often do not directly perceive it. It is usually hidden away from us deep within the unconscious. But by becoming more and more aware, we eventually begin to expose our shadow sides, those aspects of ourselves that we would rather not see and that we avoid altogether.

Mostly what is important is to simply be open to your shadow when it arises and don’t take it to be a true and real accounting of reality. Simply allow it to be without identifying with it. Don’t push it away either. Just allow it to arise without reacting to it. When you can experience it without reacting to it either positively or negatively, it will pass away on its own accord.”

In my essay entitled Prison Planet Samsara, I briefly touched on this matter, but here I am going to delve into it a little bit more, from several different perspectives, and hopefully help to clarify what is often obscured by theories and assumptions. For example, is there actually a clearly delineated dark/light dichotomy within us, or is that just another dualistic concept we employ to account for the mystery of our totality – and one that moreover ignores the many intricate grey layers that comprise the human persona? Furthermore, is it true that we can just adopt some sort of thoughtful, non-reactive attitude, and all of the various self-created disturbances that arise in the course of our lives will simply dissolve of their own accord?

Growing up, I was told there was a good angel on my right shoulder, and a bad angel on my left, and they were both whispering to me in my ears in an attempt to influence my thoughts and behavior. I decided to test that hypothesis, and so spent a lot of time in secluded areas listening to determine what I could hear. However, I noticed that I didn’t hear any angelic or devilish whispers or instructions, but only a kind of soft white noise.

Of course, having been brought up as a Christian, I was regularly informed that there is always some kind of battle going on between the forces of good and evil, and that endless celestial war plays out on the individual level in a contest for our soul. If we align with the good guys and follow their rules, commandments, and teachings, we are rewarded after death with eternal salvation in heaven, but if we “sin” and “go bad”, so to speak, we are damned to the relentless fires of hell.

Almost all human religions preach some variation on this mostly fear-based theme of reward and punishment, by means of which societies have traditionally organized themselves around desirable behavioral conditioning, aka consensus morality. Even Buddhists who claim there is no eternal soul still elaborate all sorts of colorful hells and “inferior rebirths” which one can fall into after the death of the body by failing to cultivate the prescribed (by other humans) behaviors and acceptable (to other humans) attitudes while sojourning in this suffering human realm.

What can we say about such teachings? If they are based on fear, they are certainly not doing a service at all, but rather represent deceptions and illusions. Fear does not grant wisdom, but on the contrary, only tightens the mentally fabricated chains that bind us to ignorance. To truly begin to comprehend the issue of our personal and social “shadow”, we must first discard all associations related to any dualistic religious conviction or fear-based approach to the subject.

Upon inspection, we can see that “shadow” is merely another name humans may currently attribute to something which appears contradictory to our own personal and collective value system. It is disturbing to our preconceived idealism, and that generates a programmed fear response, which in turn initiates a chain of reactivity as we scramble to tame and control it. As mentioned, religious laws and commandments have been the traditional means to do so, though in relatively recent times, a vast arsenal of new age psychological modalities are being deployed by various practitioners in the field of self-improvement to come to terms with the phenomena by dredging or coaxing it up to the surface from the “inner depths”. More often than not, the therapeutic aim is “fixing” a perceived problematic imbalance through some kind of re-integration, for instance, as if it merely represents a pesky neurotic pathology of an otherwise healthy individual.

Rather than treating the phenomena as some kind of affliction (like original sin or primordial ignorance, or even neurosis) that can become integrated, neutralized, or even rendered obsolete with the benefit of certain remedial spiritual practices, psychological techniques, and non-reactive attitudes, perhaps we would better understand the so-called “shadow” if we recognized that it fundamentally is the human persona itself. In other words, to the extent that we identify with the human bio-vehicle, to that extent we ourselves are a living manifestation of the shadow. “It” is us – not just a sketchier part of us, but what we in our human guise actually are! In that light, it’s not unlike the character Walter White, in the award-winning television series “Breaking Bad”. He was the high school science teacher turned meth amphetamine maker who famously claimed, “I am not in danger, I am the danger!”

In its absorbing play, consciousness is said to appear as both light and shadow, functioning in a complementary fashion, though in actuality that also represents a provisional view. Really, light and shadow are only linguistic terms, and terms necessarily tend to separate things into conceptual designations that are essentially one indivisible whole. In reality, there is only “what is”, and as for the human body-mind organism, it too is what it is, despite any contrived notions of value we can apply to it. From that perspective, it is a dodge to blame the “shadow”, just as it is an error to blame the “ego”, for simply being the pre-installed software programs of the total human package.

Nevertheless, there is a deeper truth at play, albeit one that we may not recognize without the benefit of an expanded and transformative self-realization, or more typically after returning to our truer nature as beings of light, once we have dropped off the material form at death. That is, we are not the human being, nor have we ever been the human. The human persona is very much like a holographic character in a virtual reality scenario, a projection of light and sound resonance. We as light being souls, or extensions of immortal Spirit, temporarily inhabit and fuse with the human persona (as we have done with many other types of species throughout the multiverse) as a way to experience and explore the 3-D physical realm. In that sense, the human persona is a kind of “space suit” for Spirit. By slowing down our vibrational frequency in order to incarnate in this denser environment, however, we as shards of Spirit Energy also accept a kind of amnesia so that our ensuing identification with the human persona can provide a realistic visceral impact to the virtual adventure.

On this current planetary stage, the human persona still tends to manifest as a rather primitive animal — clever, cunning, selfish, and often disturbingly violent. On the other hand, what some are calling “the shadow” might actually be a hard-wired evolutionary mechanism which historically has been required for survival in this relatively harsh and threatening environment. Nevertheless, it is our frequent failure to take responsibility for our animal nature (both on the macro as well as on the micro level), that creates much of the calamity and self-inflicted tragedy that passes for the daily news.

Nanci Danison (who has written extensively about what she learned during a remarkable experience characterized as a “transcendental NDE”) makes some salient points in that regard when she notes:

“While I was in the afterlife, I learned that human animals (like other animals) have the built-in character trait of refusing to take responsibility for the consequences of their own actions. So that character trait is reflected in human-created belief systems. Humans use violence to protect themselves from real and imagined potential threats to their ability to get what they want, to amass wealth in its many forms, and to exercise dominance over others. Aside from natural disasters, humans are responsible for the horror we see in daily life. Humans wage war, engage in gang violence, rob homes and businesses, sell and use mind-altering drugs, abuse children, rape, and murder. And humans alone are responsible for these actions.”

“All of the intelligence, creativity, love, compassion, emotional maturity, forgiveness, sense of humor, and other traits we cherish about humans do not belong to humans at all! Those are all traits of the Light Being soul inhabiting the human. As a species, humans do not have an innate sense of moral values. The ones who do lead exemplary lives are either extremely well trained or have Light Being souls who take control over their human hosts on a routine basis.”

“All of the evil acts in the world would stop today if we would collectively use the one tool that is available to each and every one of us–our spiritual ability to control our own human host’s actions. We see this power in action every time someone exercises ‘self control.’ Each of us can choose moment-to-moment whether to allow our host body to act out in typical selfish human fashion, or, to do what is best for all of us collectively. . . Each of us can allow human emotions and instincts to run our life or strive to live a more spiritual way. As Light Beings inhabiting humans as their souls, we have the innate power to control our bodies’ actions.”

By accessing an expanded angle of vision – whether by the grace of mystical experience or through certain meditative means — what we can notice is that there is an infinite potential for innumerable viewpoints and value systems to be explored and experienced by sentient beings, and it would certainly be quite naïve for us with our limited human intellects and immature judgmental capacity to categorize any of them as purely positive or negative. We simply do not have access (while identified as these dense and contracted human forms) to the higher frequencies required to make such an evaluation.

Should we somehow manage to access that universal knowledge base, we would also recognize that the only place “the shadow” exists is in our own thought fabrications and perceptual interpretations of value. As the nondual Sage Nisargadatta Maharaj once noted: “Even sin and virtue, merit and demerit are not what they appear. Usually the bad and the good are matter of convention and custom and are shunned or welcomed, according to how the words are used.” In other words, just because something manifests in such a way as to conflict with our conditioned moral mindset does not automatically qualify it as a representation of the “dark side”. That is merely more simplistic human fantasy, masquerading as discernment.

Indeed, the more we examine the issue of our imaginative interpretations on perception that create the sense of some separate “shadow” element in our being – one that needs to be brought to the surface of consciousness in order to then be balanced, integrated, or dissolved — the more we need to recognize the critical role of the conditioned human mind in our habitual and arbitrary discriminatory process. This also includes clearly recognizing the nature and function of memory (an issue discussed at some length in my essay Memory Lane Revisited).

In closing, I have found the following analysis, by the Spirit Guide Sparrow, to be well worth sharing in this regard:

“Thought, to the human being, is very much a reactive program of impulsive responses. That is, thoughts present themselves to the human being from past memory fragments of learnt behaviours or belief systems. In this, thoughts will attempt to inform you and define the nature of a thing by interpreting this moment in the present from values and belief systems held from a past event. This means your thoughts are consistently programming you to re-enact sequences of behaviour and responses you have learnt and memorised as instinctive nature. Things you observe in the present moment trigger memory fragments to instruct your conscious will to behave a certain way, or to think in a certain framework of parameters. Your thoughts then are not to be trusted with any depth of clarity until that memorised self-programming has been rewritten and relinquished from its core control over you.

When you feel negatively, two things are happening. Firstly your feelings, which draw from the wisdom of your spirit, are communicating with you to inform you something is wrong. It is your spirit’s way of informing your human counterpart that something you are doing is not in alignment with your core central values and vibration. This unpleasant feeling is a signal for your human counterpart to act. If it was not unpleasant you would not then have any motivation to change your behaviour or thinking, and thusly drift away from your own spirit connection. In the same way, your physical organism communicates to you through pain signals to inform you something is wrong, and to initiate you into a form of action to prevent damage to your biological system.

The second thing which takes place is that your thoughts re-enact negative emotional states from the past. This is, they create chemical conditioned responses in your biology which you experience as surges of emotion. Certain thoughts that you have bound in cellular memory have associative chemical attractions and attachments, which when stimulated cause a release of chemical activity in your body chemistry. You then say that you are feeling negative within a specific scenario, because your thoughts about it are instructing a specific chemical response causing you to feel a dis-ease. In a sense, your thoughts are disguising themselves as feelings, and you are confused by them.

Rather than listening to your past memory regarding how you should or should not feel about what is presently taking place, focus on the source within you where you feel love comes from. You may feel it comes from your heart, or some other energetic place or source. That is the connection to your spirit and to the wisdom of your spirit. To truly know how you feel, do not think about how you should or should not feel by invoking further thought; go to the source from which Self-love resonates. As you re-member how to love yourself, your connection to your true Self will become stronger. As you learn to focus more of your energy on Self-love and Self-identified-value you will identify a source, a place for you to tune into to recognise true feelings.

Negativity, the dark side, whatever term suits the stage of your life, will always remain ever-present, in order that experiences may be attained of Self. Being spiritual, being ascended, or being a human angel does not dictate one must cower and isolate himself within the box of his own creation. It is not for the person to reject one thing and confine themselves to another. But it is for he, or she, to open the door to all things, black, white and grey. It is for you as an infinite being to stand in the presence of all things, as THEY truly are, and be as YOU truly are, without fear, without doubt, and without expectation. It is for you to recognise the process that is all things, and that such a process is not something to be feared or fought, but loved and lived.

If one is able to stand in the midst of considerable negativity, immense darkness or one’s worst nightmare and prevail in will, in integrity and in love, he has not only mastered himself, but she has also mastered the process to which we are bound, and to which all are set free.”

Shadow Zikr sm


Nanci Danison’s writings can be found in her three published books, including the groundbreaking “Backwards: Returning to Our Source for Answers”. A fourth book is reportedly on the way, and she also has a number of videos on YouTube.

Sparrow’s writings can be found on the blog Spirit Guide Sparrow




About Bob OHearn

My name is Bob O'Hearn, and I live with my Beloved Mate, Mazie, in the foothills of the Northern California Sierra Nevada Mountains. I have a number of blog sites you may enjoy: Photo Gallery: Essays on the Conscious Process: Compiled Poetry and Prosetry: Verses and ramblings on life as it is: Verses and Variations on the Investigation of Mind Nature: Verses on the Play of Consciousness: Poetic Fiction, Fable, Fantabulation: Poems of the Mountain Hermit: Love Poems from The Book of Yes: Autobiographical Fragments, Memories, Stories, and Tall Tales: Ancient and modern spiritual texts, creatively refreshed: Writings from selected Western Mystics, Classic and Modern: Wisdom of a Spirit Guide: Thank You!
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8 Responses to The Shadow

  1. Bob OHearn says:

    “The Darkness, the Void, the space that the mind is terrified to enter, is the beginning of all life. It’s the womb of being. Fall in love with it, and when you do, it will immediately be taken from you, as you witness the birth of light. The Tao doesn’t take sides. It embraces both the darkness and the light. They’re equal.

    The Master can’t take sides. She’s in love with reality, and reality includes everything—both sides of everything. Her arms are open to it all. She finds everything in herself: all crimes, all holiness. She doesn’t see saints as saints or sinners as sinners; they’re just people who are suffering or not, believing their thoughts or not.

    She doesn’t see any difference between states of consciousness. What’s called bliss and what’s called ordinary mind are equal; one is not a higher state than the other. There’s nothing to strive for, nothing to leave behind.

    There’s only one, and not even that. It doesn’t matter how you attempt to be disconnected, that’s not a possibility. Believing a stressful thought is an attempt to break the connection. That’s why it feels so uncomfortable.”

    ~ Byron Katie, A Thousand Names for Joy

  2. Bob OHearn says:

    Tsoknyi Rinpoche

    Powerful and seemingly solid emotions can be transformed and used as a path of liberation once their true nature is understood and fully experienced. Freeing what Rinpoche calls our “beautiful monsters” allows us to find essence love or well being which is the foundation for clarity and Dzogchen practice.

    “The Vajrayana says we’re to take emotions as the path. This view is about not rejecting negative afflictions. But when anger (or another strong emotion) arises, we experience it as something solid and quickly have a reaction based on it. Vajrayana and Dzogchen, however, teach that emotions are no more solid than any other phenomena. With anger, for example, we’re instructed to simply see its empty nature without rejecting, avoiding or transforming it. The spacious quality of mind dissolves anger and completely dissipates it. It ceases to be experienced as solid. Easier said then done! And then there’s an even more difficult approach to working with emotion that invites us to go along with the anger, bringing it to an extreme, to its peak. When the anger has reached its peak, emptiness, which lies behind it, is realized. But without proper training we can easily miss the mark, exploding into anger before it is purified by this method. What to do?”

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