“Most would agree that our planet is in a bit of a mess; it seems like we’ve lost our way. There is far too much shadow being projected out; each person seems to be trying to take their insecurity out on others. And we are all collectively beating up on the planet. If you heal yourself, you truncate a line of darkness that would have been passed down to you, via your family line, for thousands of years . . . this is something to think about.” — Stuart Wilde
“I have learned silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet strange, I am ungrateful to these teachers.” — Kahlil Gibran
Most of us would agree that love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control in service of higher purposes are all good qualities and redemptive virtues. Yet most of us have also had the experience of those ideals feeling remote and inaccessible when we’re in reactive mode to troublesome persons or events. Then the “pain-body” takes over, with its resentful ledger of every time we’ve been hurt or offended in the same way. Then “the religion of our better moments” doesn’t help us. Emotional toxicity prevails.
What then? We are not always big enough to make room within ourselves for the enemy without, not to mention loving them accordingly, as we would love ourselves. It can also lead to a futile inner wrestling match if we impose an ethic of spiritual generosity on the situation. Even if we did win that battle, the one between the “bad me” and the “good I,” so to speak, it sustains the split and reinforces the divided self, the half-life of the ego.
So how then, do we live “on earth as it is in heaven”? Experience has shown, whether it’s from the individual soul’s workshop in the privacy of our own rooms or in the family and community crucible, that it’s the courage to hold the very human position, the one in the middle between heaven and earth, containing the tension of opposites. The very crux of creative life is the ability to embrace apparent contradictions: busyness/stillness, solitude/intimacy, for just a couple of examples, and of course the core duality — good and evil. The alternative is to project and polarize, which we see rampant in the world these days, with its black and white morality. Let’s pause on that note for another telling quote:
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” — Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
That brings us back to the dark or shadow side we would disown in favour of being a creature of light if our humanity wasn’t lost in the bargain. Angels have a different job description than we do. In the human condition, we are all too familiar with what brings out the worst in us, those who get on our nerves at best, and at worst . . . well, the worst does have a way of coming home to roost, doesn’t it? As one exasperated husband once told me, “You try being married to it!”
The truth is we are all married to it. Do we therefore look to our own shadow nature to heal the darkness we see in others? Or do we simply blame and shame them according to our judgment of their sub-human state? The consequence of that would be to actively reject or passively shun those who appear to spoil our peace.
Yet there is an alternative. We can welcome the psychological or social enemy as a spiritual friend in disguise, calling forth our particular soul work. We can expand instead of contract. When we see the darkness descending in the form of some personal or universal evil, we can name it in order to invoke the antidote in our own being and behaviour, aligned with our preferred state and chosen values.
To practice: sit quietly, close your eyes and visualize a landscape, symbol, encounter, or image that represents a quality or virtue you would like to manifest more consistently. For instance, if you choose compassion you could imagine a healer at work. Then call up a scene that contradicts it, such as a prison camp with cruel guards overseeing it; see if you can maintain your compassion as you place yourself in that setting. If you can’t, then compassionately witness your resistance.
Choose another quality, such as beauty. Experience in your mind’s eye a rippled lake tinged with the glow of sunset, or a loved one whose beauty shines through their face. Now try to hold that sense of beauty when actively imagining a foul garbage dump or in close quarters with someone you find repulsive.
The object of the exercise: finding the centre of the cross, which is built into every encounter and life situation, beginning with both life and death being Life-giving.
Speyer is a Benedictine Oblate as well as Clinical Supervisor of E-Counselling for a major employee & family assistance program and creative director, InnerView Guidance International (IGI). He holds master’s degrees in creative writing, counselling psychology, and education. As a pioneer of e-counselling in Canada, he developed and implemented a short-term counselling model for online practitioners, edited a textbook on the subject, and does related freelance writing. Speyer also directs a documentary series titled GuideLives for the Journey: Ordinary Persons, Extraordinary Pathfinders. http://www.guidelives.ca/