Befriending Shadow

Under an empty autumn sky
Stretch endless wastes
Where no one goes.
Who is that horseman riding in from the west?

Wang Changling, eighth-century Buddhist poet

The unacknowledged sides of ourselves hold tremendous power – both destructive power and creative power, sometimes both at the same time. David Richo starts his book Shadow Dance: Liberating the Power & Creativity of Your Dark Side with this poem, returning to this image of the unknown, mysterious stranger throughout his investigation. The book is in some ways an answer to Wang Changling’s question, and some ways a guidebook for our own journey in getting to know ourselves, so we can answer the question on our own.

Our scared and arrogant ego has an enormous capacity not to know itself. This shadow side of our ego contains the disowned, disavowed, unlived, and excluded traits and powers of our personality. It is the dimension of our personality that is rejected by our conscious ego. It is both negative and positive. The negative shadow contains all that we despise and reject as unworthy in ourselves. It is not evil, only inferior. Only when it is denied does it gain an autonomous life of its own and become destructively evil. Our dark side is destructive when it is discredited or neglected. It is creative when it is acknowledged and attended to. The positive shadow contains all our untapped creative potential. We may have been taught to despise that side of ourselves too. (p. 12)

Richo asks us to welcome the rider in, to get to know her or him, to befriend these mysterious and unknown parts of ourselves. He has a very optimistic, kind, and friendly way of going about it, and asks good questions. For me the gateway into this book, what made me want to read it, was grief – the pain of wanting things to be different than they are, the pain of holding onto “I” too hard. I have a wise friend who says, I have a hard time letting go of things without leaving claw-marks. Richo encourages us with practices that open dialog with the parts of us that are holding tightly – What are you wanting? What does it feel like? Can we feel the dark despair, depression, the disturbing feelings and simply be with them, without changing them?

A result of befriending the shadow is that dark and light are recognized as interior realities. In befriending the shadow, a form of initiation, we recognize this and no longer need to flee, control, or destroy it. Both loss and grief initiate us into the realization that all is transitory and that we are not entitled to an exemption from that stern reality. A wound is the cost of opening. How have your personal wounds opened you? How have they closed you? (p. 292)

Part of what made the book helpful for me was the guidebook quality – the book wasn’t just someone telling a story or conveying facts, but invited me on my own inner journey. The questions and practices opened doors for me and helped me be curious about the grief, the difficulty, my inner landscape. Essentially Richo is asking throughout the book, how can I grow? How does my view of myself, its known and unknown parts, serve to keep me asleep? How can knowing my shadow, my unacknowledged parts, help me wake up and grow and heal?

Rebirth is a crossing of the threshold from the conditions of mortal existence to the world of the Self. List the milestone events of your life, the painful crises, the failures and successes, and your strongest relationships. Each of them was meant to make you a person of more love, wisdom, and healing, was meant to conduct you to your destiny. Without “yes, buts,” acknowledge that this has happened and look for ways to foster it even further. What did you lose and what did you gain in each of your milestone experiences? How have others benefited from your journey? How are you fighting the movement that wants to happen now? How are you allowing it? Who is helping or hindering you in this mysterious process? Whom do you have to thank for whatever in your journey has already been successful? (p. 292)

Who is that horseman riding in from the west?

Highly recommended. Available from Amazon.

On Retreat

I’ll be on meditation retreat in Colorado the last two weeks of July so won’t be posting here until August.

Transforming Grief

One my touchstone books that I read as a child and many times since is The Wizard of Earthsea. I am no wizard, and life rarely has its adventures and stories wrapped up and resolved so neatly as books do. But one can still learn from them. In the book, Duny, a goatherd, grows up to become the wizard Ged, and in the process, through ignorance and arrogance calls up something nameless from beyond the void that starts to hunt him. A Shadow.


This was Duny’s first step on the way he was to follow all his life, the way of magery, the way that led him at last to hunt a shadow over land and sea to the lightless coasts of death’s kingdom. But in those first steps along the way, it seemed a broad, bright road.

And I think as a young person I too started out along what I thought was a broad, bright road. And I too was (and probably still am) arrogant, stubborn and ignorant. And those led me too into darkness and eventually, grief. The grief I have been feeling lately has made me want to look deeper for transformation and healing. And in the story Ged does eventually turn round to hunt his shadow, and does find transformation and healing, though not without cost.

That transformation is something I aspire to also.

And he began to see the truth, that Ged had neither lost nor won but, naming the shadow of his death with his own name, had made himself whole: a man: who, knowing his whole true self, cannot be used or possessed by any power other than himself, and whose life therefore is lived for life’s sake and never in the service of ruin, or pain, or hatred, or the dark. In the Creation of Éa, which is the oldest song, it is said,

“Only in silence the word,
only in dark the light,
only in dying life:
bright the hawk’s flight on the empty sky.”

Ursula K. LeGuinA Wizard of Earthsea

For more on grief, see my Grief Resources page.

Just Below the Great Red Spot

A beautiful image of Jupiter taken by the Juno spacecraft‘s JunoCam, just below the Great Red Spot.

Juno will perform a controlled deorbit in February 2018, ensuring it does not contaminate any of Jupiter’s moons with Earth life forms.

(Via Hacker News)

Grief and Shadow

I’ve been reading a lot of David Richo lately. He is a meditator and a Jungian psychotherapist and his books have a wonderful optimistic clarity about being human and the loss, growth, and joy that comes with it. He’s like a wise, kind uncle I never had. Right now I’m reading Shadow Dance: Liberating the Power & Creativity of Your Dark Side. In this book he talks about the negative side of our shadow-selves, the self-destructive side of our personality that you hear a lot about. But he also talks about the creative side of shadow. While I usually don’t post reviews of a book before I’m done, this one is helping me a lot – in particular he has some really nice positive affirmations on grief that I aspire to embody, and so I want to quote them here:

I am human. Things like this happen to humans.
This can happen to me and has.
I also have it in me to live through it and get over it.
Grief and acceptance are precisely how.

  • I let myself fully feel this hurt without any defense against it.
  • I vow not to retaliate.
  • I declare directly to the person the impact of his or her behavior on me without blaming or shaming. I ask for amends if appropriate.
  • I accept the fact of occasional inconsiderateness or meanness as a given of human life.
  • I am determined not to be mean myself.
  • I embrace my aloneness and open myself to support.
  • I accept the changes that keep happening around and in me.
  • I grieve and let go what is passing away.
  • I embrace what is coming to pass and feel excited by it.
  • I live through pain and am transformed by it.
  • I keep finding creative responses to the unpredictable surprises of life.
  • I grieve about unfairness and act fairly in all my dealings.
  • I acknowledge some burdens are too hard for me and open myself to support from beyond myself.
  • I open myself to the graces that keep inviting me to let go of ego.

(from pages 56, 59, and 61)


Really nice thread about napping on Hacker News. I encourage napping on my teams too – results, not effort. If a nap (or a run or a sit in the sun, etc.) will make you more productive, then do it. Come back recharged and creative.

An excerpt:

I worked for a very small startup in London that embraced napping as part of their culture, some 8 years ago. It worked wonders (provided that you napped for 15-30 minutes at a time and didn’t pass out for an hour or two). We even had a dark storage room with a sofa that was the designated nap area.

Fast forward to the current day. That company no longer exists (it was acquired), but the co-founders went on to create another company that is doing very well. I made the decision to go freelance at the end of last year and as fate would have it I am currently working for the new company. Napping is still encouraged. They’re one of the most productive, driven teams that I’ve ever had the pleasure of working for.
Napping is good.

We Are Going To Mars

We are going to Mars because whatever is wrong with us will not get right with us so we journey forth, carrying the same baggage
But every now and then leaving one little bitty thing behind.
One day looking for prejudice to slip,
One day looking for hatred to tumble by the wayside,
Maybe one day the Jewish community will be at rest, the Christian community will be content, the Muslim community will be at peace
And all the rest of us will get great meals at holy days and learn new songs and sing in harmony.
We are going to Mars because it gives us a reason to change.

Nikki Giovanni, poet and University Distinguished Professor, Virginia Tech.
(via OnBeing; read the full poem here: We’re Going To Mars)

Grief and Humanism

I’ve been feeling a lot of grief lately, and I have been trying to be present with it instead of pushing it away or distracting myself, like I did in earlier times in my life. Two authors that have helped me lately, kept me company, are John Tarrant and Alain de Botton. Tarrant is a meditator and a psychotherapist and talks about loss and life with a blunt kindness that reminds me of wise meditators like Pema Chödrön. In The Light Inside the Dark Tarrant writes about what he calls the Second Descent into darkness:

Once the second descent is understood, we no longer try so hard to avoid the course of human suffering, the routines of daily life, the blindness of the moment when we truly do not know what we must do.

I have been trying to go slowly, trying not hold on so tightly, trying, sometimes successfully, sometimes unsuccessfully, to let go of planning or controlling. I am trying to trust the path will appear out of the dark. Tarrant writes, “Fragments of light are scattered around like clues.”

One of those clues came to me yesterday – my friend David Socha invited me over for some conversation and we sat on his deck in the beautiful light under the trees in his front yard. He mentioned a podcast called OnBeing by Krista Tippett, and later I listened to some of her interviews. She is a remarkable person. Tippett interviewed Alain de Botton recently, and I really enjoyed listening to them. He’s a philosopher and author and founder of the The School of Life. I have been reading de Botton lately– he has a very kind and uplifting way of looking at life and human relationships. There are so many good things about this interview – what I really liked was the way Tippett brought out de Botton’s warmth and bluntness and compassion for how hard human relationships really are, his view that we are flawed beings and that we will make mistakes, suffer, grow, heal. He says,

love is something we have to learn, and we can make progress with, and that it’s not just an enthusiasm; it’s a skill.

And it requires forbearance, generosity, imagination, and a million things besides. And we must fiercely resist the idea that true love must mean conflict-free love, that the course of true love is smooth. It’s not. The course of true love is rocky and bumpy at the best of times. That’s the best we can manage as the creatures we are, that flawed humanity, the better chance we’ll have of doing the true hard work of love.

Somehow that connected with the grief, the light inside the dark.

On Being – The True Hard Work of Love and Relationships

The School of Life

I’ve been really enjoying the School of Life YouTube channel – it’s filled with short, bite-sized (3-6 minute) inspiring videos on the things you never learned in school or as a child about how to be emotionally healthy, like How To Be A Friend To Yourself:

The videos are soothing and optimistic and full of positive psychological wisdom and humanistic philosophy. Often they offer insight into a topic and then open questions, inviting further self-inquiry and learning, rather than sewing it all up into a neat package. They present a view of emotional health that at the same time is calming and makes me want to grow, a rare combination. I find it hard to stop watching – it’s a rare to have a learning experience that just feels purely good. Highly recommended.

I want to link to so many videos, especially the ones on relationships, but you can check them out yourself. A couple more that I really liked were How To Be A Man and The Importance Of Affectionate Teasing.

(via BoingBoing)

Master Mind Protocol

Tuning into abundance is important. Abundance means growing is easier – you can tap into the strengths available in the Universe, in your Higher Self, and in the people around you rather than having to do it alone.

In our society, there aren’t many places where you can specifically work on strengthening your ability to tune into abundance. So I want to talk about one way to do that. I’ve found it useful.

These last few years, I’ve been in a Master Mind group.

Master Mind groups were popularized by Napoleon Hill starting in the 1930s. There are many ways to do this practice, and I’m going to share the way I learned it from the Wellness Institute.

A Master Mind group is a small group of people (2-5, but ideally 3 or 4) who agree to meet on a regular basis to help each other grow or achieve goals. My Master Mind meets once every 2 weeks, but once a month is also common. You can pick a frequency that works for you. The key thing is to meet regularly. Having a particular place to meet helps too (a cafe, restaurant; or rotating between members houses also works).

Here is what we do when we meet up:

  1. Each person shares what’s going on in their lives. We try to touch on some main important areas:
    • work and livelihood
    • health
    • intimate relationships and friendships
    • spirituality
    • vision for our lives
  2. Sharing should be concise, but say enough to get across the successes and challenges you are facing.
  3. There is no cross-talk – the other group members just listen, without giving advice or commenting.
  4. Then we read Master Mind Principles 1-6, taking turns.
  5. Then each person in the group says a few (1-3) things that they are working on or want over the next period of time before the next meeting. (For instance, “I have a big presentation at work and I want to prepare for it well.” Or: “I have some conflict with my partner, and want to show up in a strong and kind way.”) The other members then each give an affirmation to the asking member directly related to what they asked for. (For instance: “[Name of person], I see you making the time and preparing well for the presentation, and I see it being very successful.” Or: “[Name of person], I see you showing up in a strong, kind way for your partner as you work through your differences, and I see you both finding a good way to solve the problem.”) Sometimes we also ask for specific help from the other group members at this time. Then the next person takes their turn.
  6. Once each person has made their requests, and received affirmations, then we take turns reading Master Mind Principles 7-10.
  7. That’s it! We’re done until next time. We often hang out and talk for a bit afterward.

We find the regular meeting time and place really helps create a sacred space.

So what does this practice actually do? It gives you a regular place to meet with people to talk about your growth. There’s no money involved, and the Master Mind partners usually don’t want anything from you other than your fellowship and help with their own growth. Since you meet regularly, your Master Mind partners will come to know you and what you’re working on, and that provides some kind of accountability. Accountability in this context is simply being responsible for what you say you want.

It sounds simple. So how does it help me connect with abundance? For me, it’s magical to hear other people who really know me tell me I’m going to achieve my goals or receive the strengths that I want. That just doesn’t happen very often in any other area of my life.

Those affirmations are really healing. It’s healing because I am putting myself in the state of mind of asking for help for my growth and healing, and then getting that help from friends who believe in me.

When my friends use their positive outlook and knowledge of what I need to intuit affirmations, and say them to me out loud, I find this super-charges my intention. Doing it regularly has brought me amazing positive change and healing.



Thanks to the Wellness Institute and their Personal Transformation Intensive (PTI) trainings – highly recommended personal growth work! Master Mind groups are an integral part of PTI. Thanks also to Jennifer Kogut for help with the Master Mind principles document.