Many of us have often heard it said that it is very important to “know who you really are” as we make your way on our spiritual journey through this world, but have you really have ever had a true understanding of what this means? The essence of “who you really are” is buried under such a mountain of wounds and egotistical constructs that the little voice of your true nature is buried and so difficult to hear. We tend to identify with the ego clutter and lose touch with our true self.
Your Human Nature and your Higher Nature
One of my spiritual teachers was talking the other day about two aspects of ourselves that we have to integrate to understand who we really are. First, we have a Human Nature. We live in a material world incorporated here as Humans, and Humans have needs and desire, fears and doubts, and all kinds of needs and motivations. A large part of our life here involves tending to these demands of our Human Nature. Your Human nature also includes your shadow, and that is the part of yourself that you would rather not look at.
Your Higher Nature is your divine spirit that is incorporated here in the material world. This is the Higher Nature can be accessed when we raise our consciousness up above this material plane. We can connect to our higher nature in prayer and meditation, and we return to our higher nature when we leave this world. But most of us are stuck at the level of our human nature, and this is because we have rejected a part of us that is know as the Shadow.
What is your shadow, really?
You here a lot of talk about embracing your Shadow, or doing Shadow work. But what is this “shadow” that everyone talks about? Really it is simply that part of your true human nature that you do not like. You have feared that your shadow is some terrible set of urges that you really don’t want to know about. But this is not the case at all. At heart, you are a good person who wishes well for yourself and for all beings. Like the spiritist prayer says “May all beings realize their most intimate aspirations.”
But our society teaches us that many of our natural tendencies are bad, and so we bury them and pretend like they do not exist. We whitewash our exterior, and let our insides rot. Human sexuality is a perfect example. It has been so engrained in us that we are bad for having natural sexual desires, that we repress our true inclinations. We start to feel guilty about our natural inclinations, and we don’t want to look at them. This is how something becomes part of our shadow. It is simply that we do not wish anyone to know about our true nature.
And so the continued suppression of our natural tendencies stays in the dark, and there it starts to fester. Unexpressed sexuality creates a wound in our psyche that is subject to spiritual attacks by malevolent spirits. These natural urges, when they are suppressed and left to fester, are perfect entry points for malevolent spirits. And as they enter these wounds they start to do their work, and create truly deviant and unhealthy desires. The case of sexual abuse by Pastors in the American Baptist Church is a classic example. If these people had not so repressed themselves, if they had accepted themselves as they truly are, then they would not have this repressed sexual energy inside them festering. They suppressed these perfectly normal tendencies because they wanted to present a perfect clean image to the world, and thus their integrity was broken, and in this wound of the integrity, perversion festered, and this eventually led to crimes of abuse.
The addiction to pornography that is so prevalent in today’s world is another great example. I read somewhere that the pornography industry makes more money than all of professional sports combined, yet it is entirely underground. But why? Why do people secretly consume pornography? Because they are ashamed of their own sexuality. They have been taught to feel guilty about who they truly are, and so they hide their true nature behind white washed walls, and have a break in their integrity. And so when no one is looking, they sneak off and consume pornography, and this turns into an addiction.
This creates a lot of confusion about our shadows, because once something has festered into such a dysfunctional state, we really do not want to look at it. We then think our true nature is to be this horrible person that wants to do terrible things to people. But that is really only after years of festering. What we all really want is to be loved and to have meaningful loving relationships that are expressed in sexual relationships with people we are attracted to. That is our true human nature, not the diseased perversion of the abusive authority figure.
Look at animals for an example. Most animals are completely free from any concern that they have to hide their true nature. They just are as they are. And so then they really do behave in a pretty normal fashion. Of course, my dog might hump your leg in a display of excessive enthusiasm, and if were to do his shadow work he might need to acknowledge that he likes to hump the occasional leg. He could embrace this aspect of his true nature, and then he could also resist the temptation to hump the legs of people who don’t want their legs humped.
Anyone who has ever walked down the street has seen people to whom they think they might be attracted, and we are, for the most part, perfectly capable of acting appropriately. But we don’t have to be ashamed of our basic nature. It’s ok to feel attracted to people and to acknowledge to yourself that you feel that way. It’s also necessary to keep your actions in check to respect the boundaries of other people. That is the nature of Shadow Work.
So the take away, in people who have not suffered from serious breaks in their integrity left to fester for a long time, the Shadow is really not so bad. Most of us are basically good people who have received bad programming.
Relationships based on Denial of Shadow Cause Stress
In less serious situations than outlined above, failure to acknowledge and embrace our shadows causes us to enter relationships based on our outward appearance and then cause us to suppress our true nature in order to keep harmony in the relationship. I remember when I was working at a bank while also following a medicine path. I had to put on a suit and act like a super conservative banker, when my true self was taking plant medicine and embarking on a spiritual journey. I felt like an imposter in my starched white shirt, and I was terrified that anyone would find out.
A few years into this, I left the bank, and applied to the Florida Bar. Someone decided it would be a good idea to write a little letter to the Florida Board of Bar Examiners and let them know that I was “addicted to ayahuasca” and that I should therefore not be permitted to practice law in the state of Florida. I was very angry at the time, and very afraid. This forced me to appear before the Florida Board of Bar Examiners and explain to them what it was to be a member of the Santo Daime Church, and also to explain to them that my participation in the Church was in no way a danger to society or to my clients. I was very angry about this.
Why was I so angry? I was so angry because I feared I would be rejected if my true self were revealed. I expected to be despised. But I wrote a very good brief backed up by well settled cases, including a unanimous decision by the US Supreme Court involving a similar religion called the UDV, and I presented myself before the Board of Bar Examiners. They sent me a letter giving the the authorization to take the oath of office, and the letter was post marked the day after my hearing. What I had feared the most was rejection, but when the truth came out into the light, it turned out that it was not so bad as I feared.
I am now, in retrospect, very grateful for being pushed out of the closet in this way. Now I have nothing to fear, because the authorities are well aware of the truth about me, and so now I do not have to fear.
We enter all kinds of relationships in which we have hidden our true nature, and then we make promises to behave, either explicitly or implicitly, in alignment with the version of ourself we have presented. I know a lot of people who have to hide their behaviors from their principle relationship or family, because they do not want to get in trouble. Cheating on a spouse is a classic example. A more common one is, for example, someone might hide their alcohol use from a spouse or significant other.
You can see right away how this leads to alcoholism. A person who has an urge to drink and feels like they cannot do so openly, hides their behavior. Once their behavior is hidden in this way, it causes a break in integrity, and then it starts to fester. Such a person will inevitably start finding opportunities to engage in the forbidden behavior until it overwhelms their life.
To know yourself you must love yourself
If you want to know who you really are, you must first love yourself unconditionally. This is the biggest secret to self knowledge. If you do not love yourself, then you will judge yourself, and your natural impulses will be buried. There they will cause hypocrisy and start to fester, and before you know it, you will be dominated by them, and you will be really afraid to acknowledge them. That is how addictions come to hide in denial.
You are a child of God and inherently a good person. If you embrace yourself like this, then you can work on your shadow. Take the example of a person who is tempted to drink alcohol, but hides this from their spouse. If they examined their shadow with the light of love and forgiveness, they would see this in their nature. They might say to their spouse, “hey, I have noticed that I have an urge to drink alcohol when you are not around, and I feel afraid that if you find out about this, then you might reject me.” Then you can look at the urge. Is it bad for you to drink alcohol? Many people say that it’s not bad at all in moderation. You might say I think I’d like to have a beer when I come home from a run, or I’d like to have a glass of wine when I settle down for the evening.
If the person you are in relationship with is not able to handle this about you, you have to ask how you got into relationship with them in the first place. Most likely it’s because you were already hiding the behavior. Thus, when you start to find out and embrace who you really are, you may find that you cause some upset in your relationships. But also you have to be wary, because alcohol can easily lead to addiction. If your spouse is angry because you had seven drinks after work and forgot to pick up your child at a friend’s house on the way home, well maybe it’s time for you to consider your behavior and change. But you can’t do this if you don’t acknowledge it, and you cannot acknowledge your true behavior if you do not love yourself.
The power of forgiveness
The first step to learning who you really are is to commit to loving yourself no matter what you find when you look deep inside. This is like looking through a dark and dusty basement with the flashlight of forgiveness. This is why forgiveness of our sins is so important. This notion of forgiveness is a spiritual truth that has been completely abused by institutional religions for many centuries.
Most people have the notion that forgiveness is something you can give to another person that makes their actions ok. A person sins, and then goes to a priest, and asks for forgiveness, and the priest makes them say some Hail Mary’s and then they are forgiven. But this is not at all how forgiveness works. It is not that Jesus will not let you into heaven unless you ask for forgiveness, it’s that you yourself will not go there unless you love yourself. And the only way to love yourself is to accept yourself as you truly are, and the only way to do this is to go looking in your dark corners and forgive everything you find there.
If you do not forgive yourself in this way, then there will be many aspects of yourself that you do not want to acknowledge or look at. You will turn away and deny these things, and then you will live in a hell of your own creation. You will suppress natural inclinations until they turn into deviant urges, and then you will hate yourself for what you have done. These tendencies will make you an easy target for addictions and obsessions, which once in control of your consciousness are very difficult to get away from.
Healing Addictions and Obsessions
Addictions are powerful patterns of behavior that hide in denial and control your behavior so that you do things that are not in your highest good. The most common addictions relate to substance abuse and food. Others relate to the high of gambling or risky behavior. People can also become addicted to deviant sexual behaviors. The truth that few people want to accept is that anyone can drop an addiction with a simple decision to do so. If you are addicted to cigarettes, for instance, you can right now go and soak your cigarettes in water and simply never take another puff of nicotine again in your life. This is not difficult at all. If you were stranded on a desert island without any cigarettes, but with everything else you needed, you would find it quite easy to quit smoking. This is true of almost any addiction.
Obsessions are similar to addictions, except that they relate to thought patterns. You can be obsessed with attachment or hatred toward another person, or towards an object that you desire. You can be obsessed with order, with perfection, or with anxiety. Obsessions are like addictions, but much trickier to deal with, because they come from inside your own head. There is no way to avoid them by going to a desert island, for instance, because your consciousness comes with you.
So the key to clearing yourself of an obsession is to learn to recognize it. Then as soon as the thought pattern arises in your head, you simply dismiss it. You have to exercise the discipline to not engage with it at all. As soon as the thought comes up, you must identify it, and dismiss it out of hand. You cannot indulge it even for a moment. This can be very difficult to do, but if you succeed, the strength of the obsessive thought pattern will be reduced every time, and your ability to recognize and dismiss it will be stronger every day. Soon you will be back safely in your clear conscience.
Once free from obsession and addiction, and once you have forgiven all that you do not like about yourself, and once you love yourself, then you can begin to act on your natural impulse, and this will become the new dominant voice in your consciousness. You will find yourself naturally inclined to eat foods that bring health and vitality to your body, you will find yourself naturally drawn to positive relationships and naturally avoidant of unhealthy relationships. You will find yourself acting with courtesy and compassion to your fellow beings, but you will not be overly concerned about whether or not they approve of you. You will find your true nature, and that is happy and free.