Not only do we live in a living universe, but the living universe lives within us.
— Duane Elgin
As we say in Trillium Awakening: the good news is that perfection is not required in order to have a spiritual awakening. And, we are quick to add: the bad news is that perfection is not bestowed upon spiritual awakening!
This is a humbling fact, to say the least. It means that after realizing our transcendent unity with all of life, we still have a lot of shadow work to do. We still need to integrate the wounds and conditioning that are hiding in our unconscious, curled into our cells and bones, and manipulating our imagination. [See my recent blog post and video, Hidden Agendas, on how to work with this]
Our shadow includes deep cultural influences containing beliefs and experiences that color our perception and limit our expression. What is not permitted or socially acceptable becomes taboo and goes underground. Racism, especially in liberal circles, has become taboo.
Two incidents this past week made vivid how our collective shadow around racism is very much alive and well. How horrifying to see those three white policemen bearing down on George Floyd, especially the one whose knee pressed on George's neck and suffocated him to death! How enraging to see Amy Cooper call 911 and accuse birdwatching Christian Cooper of assaulting her!
And...how easy it is to scapegoat the policemen and Amy Cooper.
We want to distance ourselves from that horror and from being incriminated by it because we are white. We want to feel good about ourselves. We don't want to be bad people, and people who "are racist" are definitely bad. We can't accept the fact that we, too, have the potential for such dehumanizing actions.
I want to widen the aperture here and name something really important: every single white "one of us" in Western society has a healthy, active racist dynamic in our unconscious! And of course we do -- it's how we've been conditioned: it's the water we swim in, the air that we breathe. It's in the stories we tell, the humor we share, the music we sing. It's in the way we walk and talk and shop and parent and imagine.
So, the question is NOT: "Am I a racist?"
The question is: "In what ways is racism alive in me in this moment?"
This is our ongoing inquiry as white people. To notice and bring into consciousness how racism colors our experience -- in our bodies, emotions, and thought. Notice the subtle, automatic constriction in our body when a black person walks into our shopping aisle. Notice the automatic assumptions we make while talking with a brown or black-skinned person (e.g. about their intelligence). Notice how it's heartbreakingly impossible, really, to simply speak "human to human" because that slippery, sneaky, subconscious dynamic of privilege and prejudice affects every single interaction we have with a person of color.
It must be our practice as white people to support one another in bearing the unbearable reckoning with the racism in our shadow, and to help name and illuminate the way in which the dynamics of oppression live inside each of us.
It must be our practice as white people not to scapegoat each other, but to make a welcoming, compassionate space where we can use these vivid examples of our collective, racist shadow to take pause and ask ourselves "How does this oppressive process live inside of me?"
Only when we're humble enough to claim our own participation in the dynamics of racism, and strong enough to encounter how the cultural shadow lives within our own psyche, and courageous enough to bear witness to the deep suffering it causes in ourselves and in people of color, can we begin to effectively dismantle the dehumanizing, systemic structures that stifle our true humanity.
I believe that awakening to the truth of our non-separate inter-being with all of life is certainly an important, game-changing transition. However, for our spiritual awakening to be most fully expressed, and our humanity most fully developed, we must also awaken to the social realities that we live and participate in.
Because social awakening can be so very uncomfortable, it will most likely require a conscious choice and commitment to learning about, and allowing ourselves to be deeply affected by, the deep, systemic dynamics of injustice in our culture, of which racism is but one example. It will also require loving, compassionate support and community.
In the Trillium Awakening path, we tend to talk about mutuality in terms of an exchange between two people - an exchange of deep authenticity. "Being in mutuality" generally implies a willingness to encounter each other vulnerably, with presence and respect, even when things get rough (or perhaps especially then).
We can, however, widen the aperture of mutuality and recognize the way in which being in deep inter-relatedness is actually a condition of awakened life. In other words, we awaken to mutuality.
In the short video and guided meditation below, I invite us into an embodied experience of being in mutuality with our self, with others, with the Earth, and with the Universe.
What happens when we're this deeply, consciously, and sensorily embedded within the fabric of life? What does this fundamental connection to the Ecology of Mutuality ask of us, and how might it inform our choices and actions?
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I thought I'd share with you my morning's journal entry since seems related to this topic. Enjoy!
Note 1: I use a depth-writing process called Create! developed by my friend and fellow Trillium teacher, Joanne Lee.
Note 2: The first sentence of this entry is inspired by my friend and poet, Don Freas' poem, Raise the Sun.
What if your love polished water's dance to a sparkle, and what if the horse running freely across the broad, wild prairie sang your heart awake?
Photo by Margit Bantowsky - trail at The Evergreen State College
In my journal entry below I offer an invocation for a new kind of activism, one that is not ego-driven but is sourced in reverent, embodied, inter-beingness with all of life.
Essential to moving towards this new possibility is a commitment to engaging and integrating our shadow.
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WHAT IS THE SHADOW?
Shadow is a term psychologist Carl Jung used to describe the unconscious dimension of our psyche which our conscious self - our ego - denies or is unable to access.
Hidden in our shadow are aspects of ourselves that were unacceptable as a child, and which we dissociated from in order to survive and navigate our early relationships. Our shadow can include specific emotions (e.g. sadness), personality traits (e.g. boisterous), and capacities (e.g. creativity). It can also include feelings/beliefs about ourselves (e.g. "I'm essentially bad"), and of the world (e.g. "Bad things will happen at any moment").
Also found in our personal shadow are cultural influences. For example, in a society that overtly values strength and independence, the unacceptable qualities of vulnerability and dependence tend to be hidden away within us.
WHAT DOES SHADOW DO?
Because the shadow allows us to survive and function within our family and culture, it's really important not to demonize or pathologize it! It is healthy, intelligent, and functional to split off from things that are overwhelming and painful when we're young. And, everyone has a shadow, it's human!
However, despite the benefits of dissociating from painful feelings and beliefs, shadow material tends to bypass our rational mind and play out in our lives in painful, symptomatic and often vivid ways.
We're generally not aware of our own shadow but other people can see elements of it, just as we can see elements of theirs!
For example, someone who keeps choosing abusive partners over and over, or a person who strives for ever higher achievement and success at the expense of others. In activism, we've all seen plenty of angry people bullying others "in the name of doing good." In these examples, we can sense how unconscious - shadow - motivations deeply drive their actions.
If we are to become more effective and responsive to the world, then shadow work is critical!
HOW CAN WE WORK WITH OUR SHADOW?
As we get older, repressing parts of ourselves stops working as protection and starts feeling more like a prison. Also, it can become increasingly impossible to deny the negative impact our shadow has on oneself and others, even when we have good intentions!
Luckily, there are many ways we can become conscious of the deeper motivations that color our actions.
Below, in my video Hidden Agendas: The Shadow Side of Activism, we
Sacred Seeds of Divine Will
Photo by Margit Bantowsky
My graduate dissertation topic was self-trust and was aimed to explore what inside ourselves is trustworthy given that our inner experience can be filled with many contradictory "voices." The self-negating impacts of trauma and conditioning can create a lot of inner chaos, and make it quite difficult to sense, know, and trust our experience, let alone use it to navigate life.
I'm currently in the process of letting go of some major structures in my life involving leadership and organizational roles I've had for nearly nine years, in order to make room for something new that's wanting to be birthed through me. The new work involves writing and art and a much deeper synthesis of my passions including ecology, psychology, spirituality, creativity, social justice, and collective transformation. What shape it will take is completely unknown to me right now.
This morning I awoke feeling terrified and lost. A very young part of me is deeply afraid of making a mistake, of being stupid. She believes everything she does is wrong and that her impulses and ideas are highly suspect. She's just waiting to be shamed and scolded and told she's an unbelievably selfish idiot. She doesn't know how to act or choose, and is utterly unable to trust herself.
Of course, I took her into my heart and let her show me how she's feeling. Let her show me how unbearable it was to be so little and so frozen in fear and confusion. Things softened, she shifted. The wave was integrated. Note: the process I use to integrate activated energies like this is called Inner Relationship Focusing, as created by Ann Weiser Cornell.
Below is my subsequent journal entry, Grace & Chaos, that emerged through a potent writing process called Create! developed by my dear friend and colleague, Joanne Lee.
May it serve us all in this time of global chaos. May we trust that chaos' necessity will be revealed in retrospect.
Grace is everywhere. Grace. Is. Everywhere. Can't you see it? Can't you smell it? Can't you taste it? Can't you feel it? Can't you hear it?
Photo by Margit Bantowsky
Bigleaf Maple inflorescence (Acer Macrophyllum)
A traditional metaphor used to describe transition is a flying trapeze artist suspended in mid-air between two trapeze bars - one that was just released, and another that will soon be grabbed. The idea is this: the transition space, while uncomfortable, is just temporary as the old recedes and the new starts to emerge...something solid you can grab onto again.
The transition I believe we are on the edge of is more like a flying trapeze artist that is launched from the old trapeze into a free-fall that becomes a completely new way of being. Instead of anchoring ourselves onto another lofty fixation, we fall... fully naked... into the River of Life, where we learn to participate in the flow without holding onto anything anymore.
As some of you may know, (I believe) I'm in the process of writing a book about Awakened Activism. After an invigorating flush of recent inspiration, I've begun to struggle with creating just the right structure to birth this book. Fears about not finishing it push me to work harder than my soft animal body is willing, resulting in a push-crash-push-resist dynamic.
I decided to dialog with The Goddess (my moniker for Universe, Source, Life, God, Higher Self, etc.) and see what She had to say about all this.
Curious? I've posted my entire journal entry for you, below....
Me: I don't know how to do this, this new way, this birthing. I keep trying to create structures, goals, discipline...and they just don't work anymore.
Photo by Margit Bantowsky
3" Venus of Willendorf figure; Skokomish River, WA
Us Westerners tend to pray at the altar of Reason and Control, believing in deliverance from the messiness and unfairness of life. We grasp desperately onto ideas of how things should and should not be, and try to force our will onto the world.
Unfortunately (or fortunately!), life refuses to confine itself to any should or shouldn't that we come up with, no matter how brilliant it may be. Life's complexity is an infinitely receding horizon that bends away from us at the same rate as we attempt to approach it.
One thing COVID-19 might be inviting us to take in on a deeper level is how vulnerable we really are to life's demands and unpredictability.
Now, I'm not suggesting we therefore give up in despair or disengage with a kind of cavalier surrender. I believe we're called to continue participating in life as fully, creatively, and responsibly as we can!
What I am suggesting, however, is it might be time to find a new orientation to life besides Reason and Control and the delusion of mastery. One rooted in encountering and loving Life on its own terms.
Below is one of my recent journal entries which seems to speak to this new orientation.
We could call this new frame something like "Dancing within Mystery." Perhaps some important lessons are happening through the COVID pandemic we wouldn't have learned otherwise. Perhaps it is stripping away old structures that no longer work, and illuminating new necessities and directions. Perhaps it is an invitation for creatively engaged, loving surrender instead of rigidity, fear, force, and coercion...
Note 1: "The Goddess" is my moniker for Universe, Source, Life, Life-Force, God, Higher Self, Mystery, etc.
Note 2: This writing emerged from a depth journaling process called Create!, developed by my friend and colleague, Joanne Lee.
The Goddess is a River
Essential to what I call awakened activism is the shift in one's identity from fundamental separateness to fundamental unity with all of life. In my spiritual path, Trillium Awakening, we call this shift whole-being realization.
[Note: The Strauss-Griggs iConscious Human Development Model, names this transition "Chapter 9, Embodied Unity"]
This pivotal and very real shift in identity can be viewed as part of the natural process of human maturation. Working with students, one of my primary tasks is supporting this developmental process by initially engaging the pre-realization phase, which I call sacred unraveling.
Or, in Trillium Awakening terms, it is called unraveling from seeking and fixing strategies where:
The will to try new formulas for perfection and avoidance of suffering are dissolving, leaving one in a free-fall or groundless condition that feels disorienting, perhaps even devastating, but prepares the ground for the quantum shift of Whole Being Realization.
This process of unraveling from our fixing and seeking strategies, while sacred and auspicious, can be quite challenging and disorienting. A conceptual understanding of what's happening plus some good tools and skilled guidance can help us avoid unnecessary pain and confusion in what many consider to be a truly heroic passage.
Over time, and with support, this journey of radical vulnerability brings us deep into the heart of the Core Paradox, which is that place where our free, unbounded, infinite nature coexists with our fleshy, tender, messy human self.
Gradually surrendering more and more deeply into this paradox - this fundamental essence of our conscious human embodiment - allows the whole-being realization to mature in our Being.
Are You Unraveling?
If you resonate with one or more of the above descriptions, then you might find value in this video Sacred Unraveling: Surrendering Into the Core Paradox, where I offer three keys to leveraging your sacred unraveling process!
With love and trust,
Fax Gilbert, long-term Trillium Awakening teacher and editor of the Trillium newsletter recently wrote this inspiring editorial, which I'm reprinting with his permission. Enjoy!
2018 has brought to the forefront more clearly than ever before the limitations of perceiving with just the mind, of interpreting reality primarily through a default system of belief and opinion.
As we are bombarded with data bolstering ideological positions from all sides, the need to transcend the digital world and integrate a more comprehensive truth has never been greater--to connect with a more foundational area of our being that can hold differences, is comfortable with not knowing, and that thrives on fully living the paradoxical nature of who we are.
Twenty-five years ago Saniel Bonder had a series of seminal insights into the nature of spiritual development that are the basis of our Trillium work. These insights are as fresh and valid and alive today as they were then. Over the years our work as Trillium teachers has been to create a delivery system that translates this knowledge into teaching formats that lead to awakenings.
These formats have taken the form of refinements in gazing transmission, personal sessions, teacher led sittings, mutuality circles, retreats, on-line courses, organizational and hierarchical structure, and community events. Trillium's group dynamics of awakening are all designed to safely bring forward the innate knowledge and intelligence of each person toward an expansion of identity in all directions: up, to an ownership of our conscious nature; down, into our personality, proclivities, and patterning; and out, from our heart into our relationships.
We begin to live from the wholeness of our being - not just the mind - and over time become fluent in the language of mutuality to foster respect, humility, empathy, and personal transcendence--necessary skills through which to navigate and thrive in these tumultuous times.
We are living through challenging times when problems that seem both monumental and intractable beset us on all sides. The center of our common life seems to not be holding because our traditional cultural, political, spiritual, educational and commercial institutions all appear to be insufficient to the task of renewal. When what once was an edifice of is no longer, it isn’t entirely gone, it’s just broken into pieces and still exists as rubble which has been scattered.
The great mythologist, Michael Meade has said that an old Irish myth tells us that when the center no longer holds, we each need to look to the periphery to find the source of our own renewal. We need to find that thing which, while seeming marginalized, both attracts us and scares us. As we explore it, we will find a thread which, if we pull on it, will lead us back to the center where we will find all those others who have followed their threads and together we can, once again, weave the tapestry of trust.
As the awakening life progresses, the world often feels more and more kindred and intimate and at the same time dissembling becomes less and less possible to pull off. Care for people, the earth, the creatures, this whole life deepens and devotion feels increasingly appropriate. If you are one who is predisposed to great sensitivity, you may find in your awakening life that encounters with beauty, awe and reverence become frequent companions on your journey.
In my experience, it is often the case that the shyest and tenderest part of who you are is also your deepest and most inherent gift to give to the world. You will never feel more exposed than when you reveal this part of who you are and at the same time you will never be more radiantly generous to the world and your life itself may feel like a prayer.
~~ Steve Boggs
What happens is this:
I’m at the party talking, listening, sighing, laughing, snacking, dancing, singing along and after a couple hours I step out on to the porch headed for my truck thinking I’ve been having fun before when suddenly a whole new sensibility opens up in me; my belly relaxes, my heart opens and my whole body comes much more alive as I feel the cool night air caress my face and the quiet of the darkness cloaks me in the tenderest embrace. The deep sky beckons and I notice the large tree across the fence, a silent sentinel to a hundred autumns like this one, a witness to how many lightning strikes, how many assaults, how many first kisses, how many last breaths? The half moon is emerging from a cloud and also silhouettes the telephone line running through the ancient tree carrying conversations everywhere from Sioux City to the Seychelles bearing words of hope, boredom, impatience, compassion, amorous longing, betrayal, dread and delight. The tree extends as far under the earth as it does above, its roots penetrating deeply into the moist, fecund soil which is filled with numberless tiny insects, bacteria and fungi all endlessly and rapaciously feeding on the dying detritus of the life above and tonight they are feasting on the life blood of the opossum run over by the Buick that just flashed by. All this and more is pouring through me and this life and this world seem so incredibly precious and poignant and overflowing with exquisite beauty and exquisite pain and the two are locked in each other’s arms and a ferocious love of the whole throbbing, glorious, ghastly reality that is this existence incinerates this Steve Boggs character and the limited and the limitless are a little difficult to distinguish.
~~ Steve Boggs
The direct experience of life carries its own meaning and requires no intellectual explanation."
For the past month I've been experiencing an unsettling kind of "unraveling" where life isn't making much sense to me. What the heck is really going on here? What is life anyway? We somehow arrive in these imperfect, needy, and vulnerable bodies, in this totally wild and wacky world, and then die in a few dozen years.
Time is a bizarre construct, the whole universe arises anew each and every moment, evolution seems to be happening, and the whole thing is so much bigger than I am. Nothing I do matters... and yet everything I do matters. There are no right answers, no guarantees, no ultimate rules, and no ultimate maps.
My neat and tidy worldview seems to be undergoing another round of necessary disillusionment. Veils of certainty are dissolving, boxes are crumbling, old motivations are becoming highly suspect, and lines are getting very wiggly.
In the Trillium Awakening world, we have a beautiful term for this post-awakening process: Sacred Reconfiguration.
Sacred Reconfiguration: A post whole-being realization passage that is characterized by a profound reconfiguration of our most deeply held conditioning and beliefs about ourselves and the world.
What I realized this morning is that it's not so much that I feel life is meaningless, but it's that my mind is so utterly incapable of grasping the meaning of life. My mind is utterly incapable of comprehending the utter enormity of the Mystery. Over and over it just keeps landing on "wtf?!"
Margit Bantowksy, MA, is an artist, coach, teacher and facilitator.