SHADOW WORK: ABOUT THE DANCE OF THE DARK WITH THE LIGHT AND SPIRITUAL COMPLACENCY
The following interview was conducted by Wolf Schneider for Munich’s Connection Spirit Magazine:
There can only be spiritual progress if we confront our shadow, that part of the soul that our ego does not want to see and acknowledge. This applies to nations as well as individuals. Iranian-born Abdi Assadi is a ruthless “exposer” of the shadow. The British musician Sting called his book, Shadows on the Path, “a word-bomb placed underneath the altar of the church of spiritual complacency”. Assadi grew up in Pakistan and Nigeria; today he lives as a healer in New York. Wolf Schneider met him in Munich in April, and after that, conducted the following interview with him via email:
WS: You live in New York. In April this year you came to Germany (was it for the first time?) and met some people from the "Growth Movement" (be they spiritually or therapeutically-oriented). What difference do you see between people in the USA and Europe (or specifically Germany) in how they relate to the issues of human growth?
ABDI: I had visited Germany before, having been there to check out Ramesh Balsekar and Mother Meera in the 90s. This time, I did get to visit many different cities in the North and South, and talk to different people in the "Growth Movement", as you put it. There is a large difference between Germany and the US, especially the receptivity of people to the actual machinations of the human shadow, which is what I was talking about. I remember my first night giving a talk in Hamburg, being blocks away from a bombed-out church that was left that way as a reminder of the horrors of WWII. Same when I was in Berlin and the Holocaust memorial as well as a train station that was used to transfer people to the concentration camps. The collective unconscious of Germany is fresh with what happens when the unconscious is repressed. Also, Germany is an old country; it has been around in different forms for many years. There is a realism there that does not really exist in the US, or at best exists only on the fringe.
The US is a new country, only several hundred years old. And a place where the pilgrim settlers were puritans, and that fact still informs the culture. The shadow is hugely suppressed here, and there is a Mickey Mouse aspect to how a lot of the culture runs. We still have not truly come to terms with the fact that this country was built on the backs of slaves, that our foreign policy has led and continues to lead to the murder of millions of people worldwide. We still run on the idea that we are number one, even though we have two million people in prison, that 40 million of our fellow citizens are so poor as to need food stamps, that we are in debt to our eyeballs. The corporate media in the US has the population by the balls, and there is not a lot of variation to allow people to get off the main topics dictated by these powers. The spiritual movement is also affected by that. The “feel-good, everything is fine, get yours” narcissistic ideology permeates a lot of the movement here. Of course there are elements that have kept away from that, but they are not as prevalent as the “positive thinking” aspect of it. Spirituality and human growth has become a commodity to be purchased and consumed, just as all other products.
WS: Spirituality as a commodity that can be purchased and consumed, that aspect of it can be felt in Germany as well, hardly any less than in the States. Our globalized economy seems to prefer, if not dictate, forms of spirituality, religion, worship which fit well into it and thus create a way of spiritual being which is very shallow.
ABDI: I am sure you are right in that the globalization process that is making corporations salivate is making such things uniform. At the same time, I do feel there is a difference. When I was in Germany, your defense minister Schneider got crucified and had to resign over plagiarism of his doctorate work. In the US, the crooks that brought us into this financial meltdown all have their jobs and no one held accountable. In Germany, people were up in arms over nuclear reactors due to what happened in Japan. In the US, there was barely a whimper. In Germany, there has been some recognition of what your past has been. In the US, we still scream we are number one as our economy crumbles. These are symptoms of a culture whose shadow is profoundly repressed.
WS: Thank you for acknowledging that! I think you are right in that observation, that we Germans are less arrogant concerning the value of our nation and our national character. We have confronted the horrible aspects of our past and our national character more than other nations. Your book is about shadow work: individuals have to do it, but also nations have to do it. The US has to do it, Japan has to do it, for sure also China. Still even in Germany, I am not too optimistic about the depth of our shadow work. I remember well how many decades it took for my parents to confront their Nazi past, how long it took for me, and I see the young generation rather nonchalant about it. I think we now have to do our shadow work as a planetary civilization. That means for instance - to pick out only two points among many others: confronting what we have done with our biotope, which did support us so far but is not likely to do that so easily in the future; and our susceptibility to religious (or political) fundamentalism.
ABDI: That is an important point you bring up: absolutely, nations have to look at their shadow, and then globally. But then it comes right back to the individual. All nations have had, and continue to have, huge shadows. In the US, the shadow has been projected on a rotating level from the Native Indians we wiped out to get this land, to the Africans we enslaved to cultivate the land and build it, then the Chinese, Irish, and Italian immigrants, on to the Germans and Japanese during WWII, and now the Arabs. And by no means is this a uniquely American trait; just that we have had so many migrants here that it has spread across all races. One can look at the frighteningly racist cartoons printed over the last several hundred years to get a clear picture of the phenomenon of shadow projection: of projecting unresolved aspects of oneself onto others. To your point, this is a global phenomenon, but it can only be healed on an individual basis. Bottom up really, not the other way. And yes, one only needs to look at the nature of our planet to realize that we still have lots of work to do. We are at the point where we can not drink the water, or eat the food, or breathe the air, and yet most of us are merrily moving along with our lives. Nature is starting to shake us out of our slumber though.
WS: Okay, let’s now go to the individual: the spiritual seeker, as he or she quite often is called, wants to transform their ego by confronting the inner demons, doing the mandatory shadow work, going through the dark night of the soul, but... quite often is trapped by a narcissistic guru or therapist, lands in a circle of the "chosen few", or with a mantra or any other method miraculously surpassing all that has hitherto been practiced by humans. How then to get out of that trap?
ABDI: Let me preface by saying that there are some living enlightened teachers that correctly point out that as long as the ego is present, one is pretty much screwed when it comes to spiritual work. What they mean is that the ego is not and can not be interested in anything besides its own propagation, its own interests. This however, can be misunderstood as meaning that we are helpless and there is nothing to do unless awakening hits us in the head. And nothing could be further from the truth. There is striving involved in awakening, even though striving has to be given up at some point since it is the “I” that is striving. But, we can be deadly “I’s" or more benign “I's", and the planet needs more of the latter. All things that fortify the deadly “I” are things that culture tends to glorify: organized religion, nationalism, and pretty much all other “isms” since they strengthen instead of weaken the sense of “I”.
To your point, those steps along the way that you correctly describe is the ego playing hide and seek, but the ego does get its wall whacked open, here and there. Even the narcissistic guru or therapist has its place in pointing up towards our Self. The wool can only be pulled over our eyes for so long. In my experience, all steps have served a purpose and have mirrored back a place that needed healing within myself. And grace is a real thing; there is an intelligence in this plane that takes no prisoners when a part of us says, “I want to wake up”. It answers immediately, much to the surprise of the ego that was just bluffing.
The only way to get out of the trap that you describe is to first get our ass kicked so bad that we get humble enough to realize there is a problem. When we throw our hands up is when the real dying starts. There is a phenomenon that is taking place right now where some of us are having glimpses of the whole without having to go through the process that others of us had to go through before. It seems that Gaia in her wisdom is pushing us to the next level of evolution by awakening us. So that trap might not even be an issue real soon, as the collective starts awakening.
WS: I have felt drawn this way and that, between believing that “All is getting better every day; we are experiencing a shift in consciousness of historical dimensions”, and “Oh shit, look at Fukushima, the wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere, the widening gap between rich and poor, the destruction of nature”. Which in a way leads to the decision: do I want to be an optimist or pessimist? And each time I have decided to remain optimistic, “for reasons of mental health” - my health - and because as an optimist, I am more inclined to work for the good outcome.
As to how much spiritual awakening is happening or how much spiritual self-deceit: I see there is an explosion of interest in spiritual matters, also some increase in the dedication put to it and the depth of self-inquiry, but there is also a huge increase in pretense as to what is spiritual. There is spiritual jargon flooding the various spiritual subcultures that has taken in a number of celebrities and is diffusing down the social strata and infecting the masses. On one hand that is opening doors to true understanding, occasionally. On the other hand, it deceives because it is only “as if”. It may still the hunger for truth for a while, but without really nourishing.
ABDI: I know what you mean, the dance between, “There finally seems to some light at the end of the tunnel”, and “Oh boy, we are screwed”. Of course, from the viewpoint of the ego, we are always screwed. It will never turn out well for the ego, even in the best-case scenario (which is rare) where we escape serious suffering. We, the ego, will lose all that is dear in the end. In the realm of the ego, only a fool would be optimistic. And in the awakened realm, there is no attachment so there is neither pessimism nor optimism, as the dream nature of this realm is forcefully apparent. All just is. I certainly vote for a sweet dream instead of a nightmare, but that is a collective decision that will take some softening of our collective egos yet. The Nisargadatta line comes to mind here: “When you realize you are everything, that is love; when you realize you are nothing, that is wisdom”.
But I feel you are talking about the bigger “you” when you say, “Do I want to be pessimistic or optimistic?” Certainly freaking out about the world doesn’t help the situation. Personally, I keep informed about the world around me, but as soon as my heart starts shutting down and division takes over in terms of fear or anger, I pull back into connecting with center. We have been through plagues and disasters that wiped out a major portion of humanity. Somehow, we forget that we are impermanent. That alone is a powerful teacher. This teetering feeling of all these disasters is a bitter but healing medicine for the ego that feels it is solid. And of course, as Westerners, we have been more fortunate than half of the world that has been living on a couple of dollars a day, is starving, dying of thirst, demolished by war, etc.
The light and dark always dance together in this realm, that is its nature. As much awakening that is happening, there will be an equal amount of the pseudo ego-infused energy with it. That is how it always is. I do see that people are getting a bit more wise, but as a healer for a quarter century, I have learned to never underestimate people’s attachment to their ego and all the suffering that entails. And hence our communal suffering. Our egos will do their best to the very end to, as you beautifully put it, “hunger for truth without nourishing”. There is a manic sense to that kind of seeking though, a falseness that is more apparent than before. That is what I am seeing, anyway. The external calamities are fully in effect internally in people, as well. They are one and the same on one level. There is a desperation that is palpable, in New York anyway. Ultimately, it goes back to the fact that all we can do is do our own work. Honestly, humbly, and thoroughly.
One last thing I did want to say, room permitting. What I see as a big problem in our seeking spiritual knowledge is our confusion between the phenomenal and the absolute. The big gurus like Maharshi and Nisargadatta really were not concerned with phenomenal issues like relationships, how to make a right living, wars, etc. They always pointed to the absolute, our true nature. Once in a while they would say something like “You idiots, all your problems are because of your selfishness, which is your ego-centric desires”. That is also true of some of the modern gurus. Then there are other teachers that are focusing on the phenomenal, but are not really aware of the absolute, or are so only in theory and not direct experience. You can tell by the way they peddle experiences, phenomena, getting high, etc. Of course, both are valid - it is essential to know your true nature, and also wonderful to not betray oneself in love or work. However, they are completely separate issues. I loved your idea of esoteric cabaret, how it attempts to bring the joy of both together. I believe it to be a noble endeavor to have a fulfilling life while one works towards awakening. This is what us Westerners can bring to the table, but it needs to be done consciously, otherwise it will be another big mess. This is where one has to be aware of what the guru is offering. Unless one is totally fed up with life and has burned all desire (rare and unlikely), then one needs to be clear why one is following a specific guru. Our projection of the need for parental perfection on any teacher is where the shadow hides and bites us in the ass. The more clear we are about our own intent, the less likely for us to fall into that trap. Anyway, falling into that trap is also part and parcel of waking up. I have learned as much from the betrayals of my own teachers as I have from their clarity. Alas, all are pointers back to our Self.