In the last two blogs I defined the shadow, described how the shadow develops, talked about the importance of shadow work in the journey to wholeness and then described a way to consciously integrate the shadow. As important as shadow work is it is not the end of the journey. Working at the personal / psychological level is crucial but it is not enough to awaken us to True Nature; awakening also requires work at the transpersonal / spiritual levels. Vipassana (Insight Meditation) is an example of a practice that works at transpersonal levels.
Shadow work reclaims parts of oneself that have been disowned and forgotten. Shadow work requires us to identify with parts of the self that don’t seem to be “me”– but really are. Vipassana does just the opposite--it examines a self that seems very much like “me”--but really isn’t.
It may be helpful to think of spiritual growth as similar to climbing a ladder. To climb a ladder you must grasp hold of the rung above you to pull yourself up; but in order to continue climbing the ladder you must release the rung which you previously held on to. Progress is a series of grasping and then letting go.
We may think of each rung on this ladder as a self-identity. We grasp one self (rung) now only to let go of it later. Shadow work is about fully grasping the existing “rung’ of self-identity; vipassana practice is about letting go of that same rung.
If we try to let go of a rung before we have fully grasped it then we will slip and fall. If we grasp a rung and never let it go then we will make no progress.
Vipassana clearly and precisely examines the existing sense of self. Every experience that seems to be self (me) is eventually seen to be impermanent and insubstantial--empty of any essential quality.
That which sees a phenomenon is independent of it. The subject is independent of the object. Awareness is independent of the object of awareness.
The subject at one rung of the ladder becomes the object at the next rung. That which seems like “me” (subject) at one rung is the object of investigation at the next rung.
To engage vipassana (or any transpersonal practice) it’s best to have also engaged shadow work. We need not be finished (if we ever are) but it is very important that we have at least begun that work.
Vipassana, as well as any other spiritual practice, may be used to avoid facing the shadow. This is referred to as “spiritual-bypassing”, which is defined as engaging spiritual beliefs or practices as a way to avoid honestly looking at ourselves. This can keep us stuck. Effectual spiritual practices will include (or recommend) psychological practices as well.
Healings of every variety can occur from spiritual practice but it is prudent to address each issue at its own level before trying to resolve it at a “higher” level. Physical issues should be addressed at the physical level before working toward a healing at the psychological or spiritual level. Psychological issues should be addressed at that level before using spiritual practices to try to resolve these issues.
Meditation and psychotherapy are by no means antagonistic but it’s important to see that they generally have different intentions. Psychotherapy seeks to integrate the self; meditation seeks to transcend it. This understanding must be present for both teachers and students otherwise much confusion and frustration can ensue.