On the path of self-discovery, there are certain unavoidable cliches. So let’s just accept we might catch ourselves talking like a guest on Oprah every now and again and sketch out some of the territory.
Crazy Wisdom School is about creating the space for people to explore and take that journey of self-discovery. We also recognise that it can be a lonely path at times, so it is also about creating a community of fellow travellers on the path and a source of information from amazing guides who have walked the territory before is.
It’s an old gnostic (which you could call the Crazy Wisdom branch of Christianity) tradition that we don’t learn anything new, we just remember what we already knew. When we learn something true it resonates in the depths of our unconscious.
Lots of the useful terminology for spiritual growth comes from Jung, the great Swiss psychologist. He was once a student of Freud, but after a transformative spiritual awakening, his psychology became much more optimistic, wide-ranging and spiritual. It’s said that Freud was “fishing while sitting on a whale”, and it was Jung who described the whale.
It’s a worldview that says we all have an aspect to our being that is more than the personality or the ego structure – a connection to an essence of deeper consciousness that we could call spiritual. We are born, as the poet William Blake said “trailing clouds of glory”, still with a connection to that essence.
Over time we develop a personality or an ego structure that filters out that natural, spontaneous essence. One of the key concepts is the shadow. This is all the parts of ourselves that were not accepted by our parents, our community or our wider culture.
“When we were one or two years old we had what we might visualise as a 360 degree personality. Energy radiated out from all parts of our body and all parts of our psyche … Behind us we have a long bag, and the parts of us our parents don’t like, we, to keep our parents love, put in the bag. We spend our lives until we are twenty working out what bits to put in the bag, and the rest of our lives trying to get them out again.” Robert Bly, ‘A little book on the human shadow’.
Those parts of ourselves we repress, we become acutely sensitive to in others. We also tend to create situations in our lives that trigger those repressed feelings or qualities. The innate intelligence of the universe itself – played out through our own deeper unconscious – is always trying to wake us up by creating these situations. The workshop leader Jamie Catto has a smart way of describing it as a benevolent conspiracy.
Our bags are different sizes, some are lucky enough, through enlightened parenting, to have smaller bags than others and to have lost much less of their natural vibrancy than others. Our shadows can be ‘negative’, for example unexpressed anger, but they can be ‘positive’ too – such as someone who was regularly shamed for being too playful or happy.
How do we know what parts of ourselves are in shadow? Generally by looking at where in our lives we have strong reactions to other people. If we are in denial about our anger, then other angry people will trigger us.
These early wounds colour everything we do as adults. The partner we choose, the job we take, the friends we make and the situations we create for ourselves. The personality and ego structure that we developed, quite sensibly, as a way to survive and to get love as children, is then making all the decisions for us in the adult world.
The result is that we create a world that then mirrors those early wounds and disconnections right back at us. We have created our own perfect conspiracy against ourselves. The experiences in the outside world trigger us and push us towards greater awareness of those places we’ve shut down. It’s a painful process. It’s still ultimately a benevolent conspiracy, but it doesn’t feel like one.
Given enough time, our lives will ultimately take us into the situations and experiences we need to learn from, a healing relationship, or one that brings up old trauma, a friend who tells you exactly what you need to hear, or an enemy who tells you the last thing you want to hear. If we can begin to trust enough to realise that everything that happens, no matter how painful, is part of a process of healing, through acceptance, we can begin to transform it.
We can decide to wait for life to provide us with those experiences if we wish – or alternatively, we can create the experiences ourselves, in a loving and supportive environment – like a workshop. This is the path that Crazy Wisdom School is creating – working with some of the best facilitators around.
We know that our patterns of behaviour take the form of specific neural pathways in the brain. We also know now that these can change throughout our lives through something called neuroplasticity. By identifying our habitual behaviours, and working with intention and awareness we can actually ‘rewire’ ourselves.
Most worthwhile methods of personal transformation will work with the insights of shadow work. They will create a safe ‘container’ to identify and express shadows, working with a skilled facilitator. Generally there will be a space to release unexpressed emotion, to at least allow us to build in a space between a trigger and a reaction. Untimately to allow us to change unconscious reactions into intelligent responses.