April 29

Shadow and light – by Joanne Tognarelli


 April 29

A critical part of the inner journey is to resolve our conflict with what is. Easy to say, not so easy to do, and we spend much of our time in some form of resistance to reality. This resistance shows up as our “shoulds” and “should nots”, feelings of unfairness or of being slighted, and so on. We resolve these through constant self-inquiry, by trying to see things objectively, and by trying to act in a practical manner, unclouded by our conditionings. 

However, we grapple with an even greater conflict with ‘what is’, which is that with our own self-image - with who we think we should be, who we try to project and convince ourselves we are, who we fear we really are, and with the fear that others will see through even our most well-crafted stories. The Mahavidyas will accept none of this and demand that we bring all aspects of ourselves into awareness. 

“The Mahavidyas are all fierce because they require us to face parts of ourselves that we’d rather not face.”
Dr. Kavitha Chinnaiyan

It seems surreal that we ourselves could struggle to know our own selves and yet, this is pretty universal. What do we really want? Who are we really? Until we can get clarity on this, our attention will always be scattered and we will be unable to make any real progress on the inner journey - or in anything, for that matter. And yet, we so desperately protect our self-image that our default state is one of posturing, especially before the judge, jury, and executioners in our own minds. 

It takes a persistent and radically honest self-inquiry to wade through this to the truth of why we do things. So much of this posturing has as its source what Kavithaji calls the ‘core story’ against which we battle. And while we each have our own variant, we’re all really battling with that inner suspicion that we are somehow especially flawed, or not good enough. 

I can give you a litany of personal academic, athletic, and professional achievements that were the result of my battle to prove my worth and yet, it can never be enough to prove to myself that I am good enough. Through Kavithaji’s guidance, I understood that to find contentment, the change has to happen on the inside, and for change to happen, I need to acknowledge what is actually driving me and my actions. 

“The Mahavidyas’ shocking iconography reminds us that creation naturally has within its fabric both dharma and adharma – light and shadow.”
Dr. Kavitha Chinnaiyan

For this, I love the Mahavidyas’ fierce iconography. They remind me that all aspects, the good, the bad and the ugly, are within me.  To progress on the inner journey, I must welcome and accept it all. To reject the shadow, in the world or in myself, is to reject these “Great Wisdoms”. 

And yet, I used to want to reject those aspects of myself that are misaligned with the self-image I wished to portray. I would bludgeon myself for my self-perceived faults and rack myself with guilt when I fell short of that to which I aspired. In so doing, I rejected the Mahavidyas and got no closer to self-knowledge. 

I sought out a teacher and then reacted defensively, explaining and justifying myself when she would point out those aspects of myself that I would wish to deny. I have to accept that many of my pursuits have been the result of trying to negate this inner sense of unworthiness. Simultaneously, I have to acknowledge the sense of pride and arrogance that is the result of these very same achievements. These shadows coexist in me whether I like it or not.

In the sadhana of Matangi, Kavithaji challenges us to see things as they are without addition, evaluation, or judgment, noting that the more we see our rage, greed, envy, and lust, the more we are healed of it. In fact, the very act of seeing lessens its power. The very arrogance I felt defensive of sometimes seems so funny now.

Obviously, acceptance of all aspects of myself  doesn’t give me a license to act out on these baser emotions. With great awareness, comes a great responsibility to act in a manner that is unclouded by their sway. As an example, when I feel impatience, I know it is a tendency of mine. I don’t have to feel like a bad person for it but I still ask myself what makes the most sense in any given situation - in each case,  is a little impatience called for or should I be adjusting myself to others? Do I behave perfectly in every situation? No, but I see a shift. It comes gradually with awareness. 

When I question my motivations, I can begin to eliminate those things I have done under the wrong premise. As I declutter my life of those things I was doing to build up my self-image, it becomes more focused. Ironically, as I’ve eliminated those things done for visibility at work, it has left more energy to focus on having an impact, thereby making me more effective. Accepting that I actually want recognition, I can skip the false modesty and actually enjoy it when it comes my way, and so on. 

Why is any of this relevant to the inner journey? On this path, we are seeking truth and authenticity. We need to eliminate all of these falsities and conflicts from our lives so more and more of our energy can be directed inward. In the end, the more I can accept myself, the more I can accept others and the world around me as it is without being in conflict with them. It’s only by resolving these conflicts that my mind becomes clear and I can tap into the actual experience of life. And that is something extraordinary – both in its shadow and light. 

Image: Yzak/istockphoto

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