Just finished a three-day Zen sesshin. For those who don’t remember from my earlier posts and writings, these are intense meditation retreats where one is in sitting meditation (zazen) for about nine hours a day. These days involve rounds of multiple sittings, broken up between with walking meditation (kinhin).
For me, these have never been fun. They are hard and often involve unpleasant internal work; and usually, for me, are accompanied by a lot of discomfort and pain from the long hours of sitting. On this one for example, I had to make a run during one of our breaks to my chiropractor. My T7 vertebrae began screaming out almost from the start. I usually try to get into see him for an adjustment before a sesshin, but too many things were going on before, and I hadn’t made it this time. Having to get out like that is scattering when you come back and try to merge back into your sittings.
Again, many of you may ask, so why does he do these things again? I wrote a blog post on that just recently, but need to expand on it some, as it will be a section or chapter in one of my book projects. Basically, though, it is for the spiritual and personal growth they promote.
In my lifetime quest to cultivate peace-of-mind and personal growth, such intense experiences as these, along with vision quests, really make you stand and face your own shit! That deep inner stuff most of us would really prefer not to know about much less face. It’s called our Shadow, which I also need to write a separate post.
Shadow is those instinctual, suppressed parts of ourselves that reside down in our subconscious. Meaning, we are usually unaware of them and try to keep them stuffed down, or hide them when they do come up. They come up when we are stressed, inebriated, tired, and, of course, in our dreams. Shadow is those parts of ourselves we really don’t want to know about much less face. Well guess what, during sesshins, Shadow is out, unchained. Enters, my dragon, Chaos. She’s out, and I have to dance with her if I want to move forward in my life.
I write quite a bit about Shadow in my Guru book, so I refer you there for more detail reading, and will be posting later on this. BTW, I will be offering Zoom/video workshops on meeting your Shadow and other personal archetypes for those interested. Shadow and the issues it hides, or tries to repress, can create a lot of problems in our lives if left unaddressed.
This is one of the big reasons then that I do sesshins and did visions quest (per my Guru book,) and before that, long Harley rides (per my WindWalker book). It brings me up face-to-face with my Shadow issues. I either “dance” with them, that is work with them, or I’m stopped. I am that buffalo through the window that now finds himself in a deep arroyo, blocked, stymied.
As discussed in Guru, my Shadow has two components, Bandido and Chaos, his dragon. Bandido is dragon keeper. It is his job to keep Chaos asleep or at least calm. Jung would call them my Shadow complex in that they both have to do with my Shadow issues.
Chaos guards the cave wherein lies my Shadow issues: those deep issues that even after all the work I’ve done on myself over the years still elude or haunt me. Like hidden treasure, she guards them. In Guru, I envisioned her as ranting and raving, flying about spewing fire and destroying things when she was awakened. It is my fears, anger, and negative emotions that awaken her. One of my big insights from this most recent sesshin is that she also can be much subtler than that. Like a huge colossus, she blocks the entrance into my forbidden cave.
She does this by such things as fatigue, by using distracting thoughts when I’m trying to meditate, by a whole slew of negative thoughts, doubts, even increasing the pain in my back and legs. Pretty sneaky, no? I am reminded of the great hunter played, I believe, by Deter Stark, in the Jurassic Park movies. He went out hunting a Dilophosaurus, I think, and just before he was attack by her, he looked up and said, “Sneaky girl.” That’s kind of what Chaos can be like it turns out.
All of these, fatigue, distractions, negative thoughts, pain, are forms of resistance as we call it in the mental health professions. Resistance is the client or patient pushing back agains therapeutic change. The closer the therapist gets the client to his or her therapeutic issue, the more the client resists. In this case, as I get closer and closer to entering my Shadow cave, the harder Chaos pushes me back.
All these years of fighting myself, pushing myself, beating my head against a wall, it was really Chaos throwing resistance in my way. Why didn’t I see that? I cannot count how many times in therapy with clients I have seen it come up, rear its ugly head. It is always as we are getting closer to their core issues. Their own dragons guard their own cave and is trying to protect its “treasures.” Why didn’t I realize all this time this is what I am doing? Whatever is in that cave is exactly what I need to address, to move though, to get to where I want to go in my spiritual journey!
Like the horses we work with in equine-assisted psychotherapy, you don’t just pick up a 800-1000 lbs horse and move it out of the way. Chaos is much bigger than a horse, even a Clydesdale. Like a horse, I have to get her to move out of my way so I can get in. I have to “dance” with her.
At this point, I cringe to say it, but I am looking forward to my next sesshin so that the two of us can dance, so that she will let me in to work on those issues that are stopping me from moving forward. It is not with a happy heart that I approach this encounter. Rather, grimly, it is a job that’s got to be done.