Where inner growth is concerned, the point surely is weeding out darkness, airing out what’s been bottled up and increasingly dwell in the light — yes? Weeeell. As it turns out, “the light” and getting one-up on itself is kind of a favourite hideout for this master of disguise that is our ego.
Of course, this may not be news exactly. But yet, I encounter people who have been on the path towards inner growth, psychological balance and deepening spiritual maturity for years and years, and I still see them fall into this trap. And the trap basically reads: mental clarity and realisation in the head centre, allowing and befriending what emerges from the heart centre, and watching-from-a-distance and being-careful-not-to-trust-it-entirely when it comes to the instinctual realm. (And the slippery bit is, we do not even necessarily realise that it is instinctual material we are shunning; often, we believe it to be “old thought patterns” or “emotional pitfalls” that we opt not to go into because we already know it.)
The instinctual realm, however, constitutes a BIG part of what true inner work is about. For many years, I facilitated experiential inner work courses that were largely about navigating and finding your way into — and onwards with — the invaluable properties that are found there. Leaving each time, people had new-found strength, ability to both say yes and no, access to whether they wanted to say yes or no, a deeper sense of self-compassion, and overall a truer relationship to themselves and who they were. And that wasn’t just what we in the faculty believed — they said as much, in course-evaluation after course-evaluation. And it was as rewarding to guide them through it as it was glorious to watch the result.
The gut and the instinctual realm — always and forever the base
Obviously, we did heart and mind work, too. And as I said above, often this material is intertwined and will have to be addressed in tandem. But without a solid foundation in the gut, we are going to build our insights and realisations on feeble ground, and whatever we find will be easily washed away as soon as these forgotten aspects of ourselves suddenly cry out for attention. And trust me — at some point, they will.
I regularly come across people saying, “Oh, you’re a gut type, sure that would be your take on things. But see, I’m a heart (or head) type, so I need to do it differently.” This, however, is not strictly true. In fact, it’s multiple shades of wrong. First off, our centre triad tells us what we are over-identifying with. So sure, your over-identification with the heart might have you leaning towards paths of the heart, and over-identification might have you leaning towards theories, reasoning and cognitive understanding rather than grounding practices. And sure, as a type from the instinctual centre, I might like “physical stuff”. However, an over-identification with the instinctual centre is not necessarily advocating for grounding practices, either. As as Eight, I want to use my body for stuff, and it’s not like my ego screams for me grounding myself in Being. As a One, I often want to keep the body in check, so again, I might gravitate towards physical exercises — but they sure as heck won’t be about encouraging my instinctual awareness and impulses. As a Nine I like to hang out in the body, but mostly as a tool for zoning out and taking off on the next bus to Daydream Land. My point is, “belly types” aren’t necessarily doing what we need to be doing with our bodies. Sometimes, it only looks that way.
When it only looks that way
So, everyone needs grounding for any inner work to be meaningful. This is also illustrated by one of my favourite distinctions: the one between choosing on the one hand and knowing what you want on the other. As an Eight, and a sexual Eight at that, it’s usually easy for me to choose. “You always know what you want” is something I’ve heard more times than I care to remember. And for a long time I believed that was true. Then I realised that choosing from a given set of alternatives is not the same as knowing what you want — not from a given set of options, but from you.
With me, it looked like I knew, but that was primarily because I often wanted something to happen, and it was relatively easy to me to choose what to do next in order to accomplish that. However, none of that meant that I’d actually checked in with myself, deeply, as to what I really wanted. I chose within the confines of what I deemed doable in the circumstances. Don’t get me wrong, I had great faith (bordering on hubris) on what I could accomplish. But I wasn’t going to really delve into my heart’s desires, lest they were actually out of reach for me. So my “wants”, rather than being the true raw features of the gut that wants are, were diluted, weighed and strategically moderated by my ego before I even knew about them.
Life grows from the ground up
But I digress. My point is that my preference for instinctual awareness, for starting from the roots, do not stem from “being a belly type”. It stems from two major understandings: That everyone has to build presence in each of the three centres (at least, let’s call them three for now), and that any real growth starts from the ground. Whatever type we are, as long as our aim is to grow our awareness while still in a physical body, we all need a stable foundation, grounded in our bodies. Of course, we can pick and choose and blend the formats of our practice, but when it’s all said and done, any progress in the heart or mind won’t really blossom if there’s no roots.
Fear of the dark: it’s not just for children
Surprisingly often, though, and in many cases even while paying lip service to this truth, people shun the dark. They have discovered the futility of various ego agendas and perhaps been plagued by the anxiety, depression, anger, ill-humour and whatever else has come from those — and they’ve had enough. “I know it’s bulls*it, I know it’s only mind games, so I just do not buy into it when I find myself thinking [violent thoughts/self-demeaning thoughts/destructive whatever].” “I know this old feeling is just a symptom of [my lack of self-esteem/an ‘insignificant’ loss/my old would playing up], so I distract myself until it passes.” Because we have learned that it serves no real purpose anyway. And that’s totally reasonable, right?
As it turns out, no, not entirely. In fact, not at all. Because as long as the thought or feeling or desire is back, and even if only one tiny speck of your system believes it, you haven’t, in fact, dealt with it. You and that belief, fear, or whatever it is, are not done yet. Of course, perhaps you are done enough that the old programme is immediately seen through and not bought into even a little bit — but if this is the case, neither will it make you feel any kind of bad, stressed out, depressed or anything else on the negative side if you hang out with it for a while.
Spiritual bypass by means of light
And this is where the bypass-possibility comes in. At some point in the percentages, we convince ourselves that our remaining investment in a certain thought, fear or concept is so small that it’s more or less gone from our system. At that point, it might start feeling beneath us to even explore it. I mean, we do not really believe it any longer. At least not when asked.
But the interesting question is not what we believe when asked, but what we believe judging by our dreams, by our semi-concious fears and worries, by our spontaneous reactions, or by the thoughts that come to the surface after a couple of sleepless nights, or after a nasty fight, or along with a bad hangover or in other situations where the ego’s resilience is temporarily knocked out. What then? That is where we meet some of the stuff we’ve shoved into the darkness.
The advanced course
When that happens — when we have a moment of weakness and temporarily buy into an old fear or arrogance or belief again — that is actually a precious gift. (Sure, it doesn’t feel like one at the time, but take that as confirmation.) Because, by now in our inner progress, where we currently stand in our level of awareness, this old issue hardly ever comes up. But it still lingers somewhere in our psyche, and this temporary lapse of inner gate-keeping sheds light on this fact.
So next time an issue resurfaces that you thought you dealt with for the last time, don’t take this as a sign you are not as far along as you might have thought. It might just as well be a sign that you’ve entered into the advanced course without realising it! Or, of course, you might not be as far along as you thought. 😉 … but the point is, it does not matter. In any case, the appropriate response is taking a moment to yourself, breathing and going into the issue, not running from it or flat-out denying it as you have “been there, done that”.
And by the way, the idea of “how far along” we are is an ego construct, and a rather inane one, too. To properly evaluate this, even in theory, would require that we know how where someone started, what terrain they have travelled, as well as how far they have yet to go— and since at least one of these parameters is always unknown, even for ourselves, the declaration is meaningless.
So is “the dark” just the work we’ve yet to do?
Most people will, in theory at least, agree to the above when it’s pointed out to them. But it doesn’t end there. Darkness or shadows, as opposed to light, are not signs of imperfection, or flaws, or evil, or even “work to be done”. Darkness is the other side of light. It is, in fact, absolutely necessary for “light” to even mean something. And existentially, it is our animal nature, our roots, our origins as earthly creatures. Neither foetuses nor seeds sprout in the light. They take hold, grow, and develop in the darkness of the soil, of the womb, of the origin of matter. As long as we exist in a world of duality — meaning, as long as we are alive in a physical body — dark is as essential as light. And it does not equal “the bad”; it equals fertility. It equals life. Because yes, life needs light. But it also needs darkness.
We are dual beings. Yes, Being is non-dual, but we, in our human existence, are compounds of light and darkness, subtlety and weight, energy and mass, animal nature and higher consciousness. This seems to be our distinguishing feature. And by emphasising the light and shying away from the soft, infinite, darkness of potentiality, we rob ourselves of half the heritage of what makes us human. Which by any yardstick would have to be what we are here to explore, would it not? So do not shy away.
“Nothing human is alien to me”
The Roman African playwright Publius Terentius Afer, in some countries better known as Terence, is perhaps best known for the quote Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto, or “I am human, and I think nothing human is alien to me”. I have no idea whether this man put the empire’s coins where his mouth was, but the quote always spoke volumes to me. If anything human is indeed still foreign to me, I still have work to do. And if we are talking about a human aspect that I am intimately acquainted with, then it will keep showing up within me until I familiarise myself with it.
But that is where it gets tricky. Obviously, “familiarising” ourselves does not mean indulging each and every impulse that that comes along. And as humans, if we know (or suspect or just decide) that an impulse is not going to be acted upon, we tend to prefer to ignore it as best we can. This can look like “choosing not to indulge” certain patterns of thought, certain desires, and/or certain feelings supported by the rationalisation that we “know what they are” and they “just bring misery anyway”. So we suppress them.
But, as I said, if they do make an entrance, it means, quite obviously, that they are still there. They remain in our system, waiting to be acknowledged. “Familiarising ourselves” means being interested in them. Zooming in, rather than out and away. Being curious. Realising that the only way we’ll get where we want to go is by allowing nothing human to be alien to us — or, at the very least, no aspects of humanness plainly pertaining to ourselves. How can we heal, and grow, and flourish, unless we bring all of ourselves? The concept of weeding stuff out by pushing it down only has it seep out in other (and usually more uncomfortable, expensive, and/or dangerous) ways.
Buried treasures in the darkness
So we need to also venture into the “darkness”. And when we do so — with curiosity and devoid of any judgement — we find that it contains so much more than the less-palatable parts of ourselves that we shoved in there because that was the only way we could handle them at the time. We find rest. We find healing. We find unknown potential, fertile ground, and an indefinite power to grow. And most of all, we get a three-dimensional world, with highlights, shadows, depth and perspective. And all these treasures are buried here, mixed in with our fears, anxieties, frustrations, rage, and innermost wounding. It is all part of the same package, and the only way to access them is to open it.
We do not have to dive in, expose ourselves to all of it at once, to get it over with “once and for all”. In fact, this is not even possible (at least not unless we involve mind-altering substances, which has been known to happen). That, of course, does not stop people from trying. There are courses designed to provoke your strongest defences, only to let them crash and burn to reveal your true, most vulnerable and helpless self. To some people, that sounds like a good idea. Rip off the plaster, swallow the medicine in one gulp, get the discomfort out of the way, “Bring it on, I can take it!”
The body knows —
and just like that, we’re back to instinct
But you know, that’s not such a good idea. Sure, you might break through some of the defences then and there by this war-fashion approach. You might also re-traumatise yourself quite severely, or if not that, still have your shattered defences quickly rally to build an even stronger fortress for your biggest hurts, making it harder yet to coax then into awareness, allowing them within you, befriending them and eventually releasing any constrictions they bring with them.
In my experience, awareness goes a long, long way towards releasing us from destructive patterns and things that constrict or limit us. But it’s important to know what awareness means in this context. It does not mean mental understanding. Usually such understanding follows at some point (although there are exceptions), but this awareness starts way deeper. It’s absolutely imperative that we let the body guide the way, that we respect when it’s enough for now, that we explore with self-compassion and curiosity, and that we do not judge ourselves for what we find. If we can allow whatever “dark” material to be part of us in this way, we provide the means for it to continue on its journey. Sometimes, that means evaporating into nothing. At other times, it morphs into a strength or skill. There’s no telling what will happen to it, and it is not our choice. We can just create the opportunity, allow, open the door, and stay present. When we do, untold magic can occur — all thanks to the darkness ❤️.
PS — By the way, the light is fantastic, too. But they need each other. For life in a human body, choosing only one of either of these is where the trouble starts 😉.