10/10/2012 12:08 am ET Updated Dec 09, 2012

Beauty and the Beast: Learning to Love Your Shadow

"One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious." -- Carl Jung

Recently, on Facebook, I shared a link to an article that appeared on my news feed: "Why I Don't Say Namaste," published in the Elephant Journal, an online magazine devoted to all things yoga, and written by Kate Bartolotta, who describes herself as the love child of a pirate and a roller derby queen.

The title of her article got my attention, for when it comes to using namaste, either spoken or written, like the author of the above article I feel somewhat conflicted.

For clarity, namaste is a Sanskrit term roughly meaning the god in me recognizes the god in you. This greeting is intended to serve as a recognition and a reminder, both to the one who gives it and the one who receives it, that a being in a state of high consciousness is in the presence of and witnessing the same consciousness in another.

So far, so good. What could be wrong with that? Well, absolutely nothing! We need all the reminders we can get that we are more than just the flesh and bones that stare back at us in the bathroom mirror.

So what's my problem with using the term namaste? The short answer is that it's incomplete. But how can it be incomplete you ask, if the truth it expresses is the only truth we need to know?

Bartolotta expresses it this way:

"If all we acknowledge is the light, it feels artificial. It is artificial. It's like sitting under a giant halogen lamp all the time instead of having the sunlight that shifts and changes with the clouds."

This nails it for me. I like to think that I live in this place of seeing the truth about myself and others. But I'm afraid this is not always the case. Even though I've spent my entire adult life living and teaching transformation, from time to time I still find myself traveling down the rabbit hole of unconsciousness, in which I occupy real estate and take up residency in a state of feeling separate. From my rabbit hole vantage point, I cannot even see the truth, much less recognize it as my own. I believe this is called being human, and it's pretty much inherent in the state of human being.

We humans are susceptible to the erroneous thought that we are separate entities. This is not the truth, but we've contracted a case of amnesia in which we have fallen asleep and forgotten the truth of who we are. Life in the rabbit hole of separation has us feel split off from self and the world.

The question most frequently asked is: How long do we have to stay there? A moment? A day? A week? A month? A lifetime? And how do we get out of the rabbit hole?

Well, there are many answers to that question, one of which might be to develop our willingness to fully experience the rabbit hole itself, and thus discover its hidden gifts rather than resist it and scurry around trying to find the way out. We remain in the rabbit hole as long as it takes for us to wake up and remember who we are. As long as we resist being there, we'll be buried in our resistance and fail to notice the shaft of light directing us to the way out. More on this in future posts.

I yearn for my own and humanity's collective realization that we are all one. Not in a Hallmark card kind of way or a let's all hold hands and sing Kuumbaya kind of way, but in a quantum physics kind of way. Or as my favorite astro-physicist, Carl Sagan, reminded us, it's the realization that, "We're made of star stuff."

Those who believe that the world was created in seven days have a problem with this, but I tend to go with the quantum physics theory of creation; that we all came out of the Big Bang, at least at the quantum level. In that moment, all matter was created. The energy that was unleashed in the bang of Big Bang went hurtling out into space and voila! Billions of years later, here we are: its descendants. I know that's a bit simplified, but you get my gist.

If one reads the Bible literally, there will undoubtedly be disagreement with this point of view. It's not my objective to argue the rightness or wrongness of either the Biblical or scientific perspectives. We each will embrace and believe the ideas that most closely match our configuration of reality. And we'll think the other is inaccurate. Who knows, maybe God created the Big Bang, and the seven days described in the Bible are merely a symbolic representation of time. In which case, both theories are harmonious.

So namaste is a way of communicating our recognition of the star stuffness of another. That's fine, but what does all of this have to do with the shadow in the title of this post? Now we've come to the conflicted part and hence, my reluctance to embrace namaste as a way of greeting another. Not in total, however. Just with an addendum. More on that in a minute.

Accepting the premise that we're made of star stuff, then we are beings of light. But since we reside in the illusion of separation, in which duality and opposites appear to be real, we have the experience that we also embody darkness, also called the shadow.

I might be all by myself out here, but it feels to me like we humans are trying very hard, running as fast as we can, to escape our humanity -- that is, to expunge and erase our darkness.

I say we exonerate it. I say we elevate and celebrate it. And in so doing, we evolve it. Or to be more accurate, we change our minds about it. We call it up from the cellar and invite it to sit by the fire at our inner hearth, where the truth is known. We learn to recognize our darkness as simply the aspect of our being we've not fully accepted.

You know what I'm talking about. I'm talking about those pesky little character flaws of yours that niggle at you and trigger your nerdiness, activate all the primitive parts of you that have not yet seen the light of day. These pesky little flaws become traits that our ego has deemed not ready for prime time. Not acceptable, civilized, socialized, or charming enough. We've strategically stored them in the cellar of our being, chained them to the wall in Plato's Cave, deep in the darkness.

Truth be told about this stuff we call the shadow, it's all material for possibility. The shadow is a goldmine of possibility. It houses all our cast offs, which have never really been mined for the gifts they hold. We think it's a toxic dump. It's really a recycling center. Its material is worthy of being given another chance. We could embrace it and thus reclaim it.

Discovering the gifts of the shadow transforms it. It's the stuff of fairy tales and Broadway musicals. It's Beauty and the Beast and My Fair Lady, wherein the unkempt and uncivilized sees its true self mirrored back for the very first time and falls in love with itself, not in a narcissistic kind of way, but in a knowing the truth kind of way.

So let us not hurry too quickly from this realm of our darkness, for darkness is not inherently negative. Notice the implication that to be in the dark is to be banished from life. Well yes, on one level that might be so. But if we're willing to develop our ability to see in the dark, we'd see that spending time there is necessary for new life to begin. A child spends nine months in a dark womb before its birth. A seedling spends time in the dark, fertile soil beneath the earth before it can germinate and begin to grow.

Let us learn to appreciate the darkness for the possibilities it holds, not as a repository of negativity, but as a cauldron of new life, waiting to take form. Let us sit with it, meditate upon it, listen to it, have tea with it. Let us open to it so we may learn from it.

"It isn't something to run from. It isn't something we should hide from each other. If our true desire is more peace in the world and loving kindness towards each other, we cannot get there until we look at our darkness. If I want you to know me, and all I show you is parts of me that are polished and perfect, happy and light -- you will never really know me. If I want to love you, but I don't want to know your fear, your anger, your shame... it won't happen." -- Kate Bartolotta

So for me, the traditional interpretation of namaste is incomplete in that it excludes the shadow aspect of our humanness. My idea of namaste means that I see all of you, the beauty and the beast, as I also see it in myself. And I accept it all. That's a tall order, I know, but it's the work we came here to do.

So here's your homework assignment, should you choose to accept:

"Maybe instead of all the "namaste" it's time we say, it's okay.
I see your shadows and they're a lot like mine.
I see you. I see you, and it's okay.
I will hold your hand, and we'll help each other find our way in the dark." -- Kate Bartolotta

Your turn. What does this topic evoke in you? I'd love to hear your comments here at this place we call The Well. Come on in, your place is warm and waiting. And bring your shadow self. All parts of you are welcome.

And while you're at it, come pay a visit to my personal blog and website: Rx For The Soul. For personal contact, you can reach me at

Namaste (if you know what I mean)

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