The Shadow on The Spiritual Path – Part Two

On the spiritual journey we discover that we are more than our minds, bodies, and feelings. We open to the transcendent dimension of our nature and, in so doing, our identities expand beyond our limited conditioning. We open to rich qualities of Being: wisdom, love, peace, vastness – core attributes of our essential nature. New worlds of possibility become available to us. We become more trusting, compassionate, grateful, happy, intuitive, and creative. We experience our connectedness with all of life, recognizing Spirit in everything and everyone. We come to see all of life as sacred.

And yet, the spiritual path is not all light and rainbows. Many of us encounter numerous challenges along the way. I wrote about some of these shadow issues in Part One (previous article) and will address additional concerns here.

In many ways, you become a different person as you engage in deep and transformational spiritual work. Perhaps you become courageous in new ways – you find your authentic voice and are more willing to reveal yourself to others. You are taking risks, speaking up, no longer governed by fear and the need for approval. You are expressing your perceptions and declaring your wants and needs. Your confidence in Being has increased and you are not abandoning yourself in ways that you used to. Or, perhaps, you have come to value solitude. No longer afraid of being alone, you treasure and need times of silence. In order to carve out blocks of quiet time you realize that you need to say “no” to others. Overall, you may become less predictable. You are slipping out of the tight jacket that had you holding back, pleasing others, giving yourself away. You are conforming less, expressing what’s true more of the time.

These, and many other changes in our ways of thinking and being, can cause difficulties in relationships and our interface with daily life. You are changing. You may not be showing up with family, friends, and colleagues in ways that you have in the past. You are faced with significant choice points; for example, tell a good friend something she doesn’t want to hear, or be silent in order to avoid conflict and disruption. Having to make choices like this is challenging and stretches us; we are moving outside of our comfort zones.

Another shadow issue on the spiritual path is the tendency to project our light, goodness, wisdom, and other positive qualities onto others – spiritual teachers, therapists, public figures, or friends. As A.H. Almaas, author and creator of the Diamond Heart work, says, “We tend to see what is best in us outside.” Of course, it is natural and wonderful to admire the Dalai Lama’s wisdom and compassion and Maya Angelou’s courage and powerful, poetic voice. It is another matter, though, to put others on pedestals, out of reach, and only see their positive traits, not our own. When we project, we feel diminished; we fail to recognize these qualities in ourselves. Admiration can quickly become envy, idealization, even idolatry. We unconsciously give our light to others.

There is great value in recognizing and working with projections. We have an opportunity to reclaim and integrate disowned parts of ourselves. If you would like to explore your positive projections, here is a reflective writing process:

Who Has Your Light?

  1. Choose one person who you have placed on a pedestal.
  2. What qualities do you most admire in this person?
  3. Choose one of these qualities and write about it for 15-20 minutes. Write about what this quality means to you, what you value about it, and what your relationship has been to this quality at different times in your life.
  4. Ask yourself if you can recognize this as a ‘seed potential’ in yourself. If so, reflect on and write about what may have kept you from actualizing this potential.
  5. If you decide that it’s important to you to bring this quality forward in your life, write about the steps that you can take to develop this part of yourself. Then choose a step and begin.