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  • Sacred journey to peru, mystic travel agency peru, mystic travel
  • Sacred journey to peru, mystic travel agency peru, mystic travel
  • Sacred journey to peru, mystic travel agency peru, mystic travel

THE MOST GRIEVOUS FAILURE of spirituality occurs in the face of evil. Idealistic and loving people who would never harm another person find themselves drawn into the maelstrom of war. Faiths that preach the existence of one God mount campaigns to kill infidels. Religions of love devolve into partisan hatred of heretics and those who threaten the faith. Even if you think you hold the ultimate truth in your hands, there is no guarantee that you will escape from evil. More violence has occurred in the name of religion than for any other reason. Hence the bitter aphorism:God handed down the truth, and the Devil said, “Let me organize it.”
There is also the more subtle failure of passivity—standing by and letting evil have its way. Perhaps this reflects a secret belief that evil is ultimately more powerful than good. One of the most spiritual figures in the twentieth century was asked how England should handle the threat of Nazism. He replied:
I want you to fight Nazism without arms. I would like you to lay down the arms you have as being useless for saving you or humanity. You will invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take what they want of the countries you call your possessions. Let them take possession of your beautiful island, with your many beautiful buildings. You will give all these but neither your souls, nor your minds.
The author of this passage was Mahatma Gandhi, and needless to say his “open letter” to the British was greeted with shock and outrage. Yet Gandhi was being true to the principle ofAhimsa, or nonviolence.
He successfully used passive nonviolence to persuade the British to grant freedom to India, so by refusing to go to war against Hitler—a stand he took throughout World War II—Gandhi was consistent in his spiritual beliefs. Would Ahimsa really have worked to persuade Hitler, a man who declared that “war is the father of all things”? We will never know. Certainly passivity itself has a dark aspect. The Catholic Church marks as one of its darkest eras the years when it permitted millions of Jews to be killed under Nazism, to the extent that Italian Jews were rounded up within sight of the Vatican windows.
So let’s acknowledge that spirituality has already failed on countless occasions to deal with evil. Turning way, because if there is only one reality, evil has no special power and no separate existence. There is no cosmic Satan to rival God, and even the war between good and evil is only an illusion born of duality.
Ultimately, both good and evil are forms that consciousness can choose to take. In that sense, evil is no different from good. Their similarity goes back to the source. Two babies born on the same day may grow up to commit evil on the one hand and good on the other, but as babies it cannot be true that one was created evil. The potential for right and wrong exists in their consciousness, and as the babies grow up, their consciousness will be shaped by many forces.
These forces are so complex that labeling someone as purely evil makes no sense. Let me list the forces that shape every newborn child:

  • Parental guidance or the lack of it
  • The presence of love or its absence
  • The context of the whole family
  • Peer pressure at school and social pressure throughout life
  • Personal tendencies and reactions
  • Indoctrinated beliefs and religious teaching
  • Karma
  • The tide of history
  • Role models
  • Collective consciousness
  • The appeal of myths, heroes, and ideals

Every force listed above is influencing your choices and invisibly pushing you into action. Because reality is tangled up in all these influences, so is evil. It takes all these forces for evil and good to emerge. If your childhood hero was Stalin, you won’t perceive the world as you would if your hero was Joan of Arc. If you are a Protestant, your life would not have been the same under the persecution of the Huguenots as it is in an American suburb today. Think of a person as a building with hundreds of electrical lines feeding countless messages into it, powering a host of different projects. Looking at the building, you see it as one thing, a single object standing there. But its inner life depends on hundreds of signals coming into it.
So does yours.
In and of itself, none of the forces feeding into us is evil. But under this menu of influences, each person makes choices. I believe that any evil inclination comes down to a choice made in consciousness.And those choices seemed to be good when they were made. This is the central paradox behind evil actions, because with rare exceptions, people who perform evil can trace their motives back to decisions that were the best they could make given the situation. Children who suffer abuse, for example, frequently wind up as adults abusing their own children. You would think that they’d be the last ones to resort to family violence, having been its victim. But in their minds, other, nonviolent, options aren’t available. The context of abuse, acting on their minds since early childhood, is too powerful and overshadows freedom of choice.
People in different states of awareness won’t share the same definition of good and bad. A prime example is the social enslavement of women around the world, which seems totally wrong in the modern world but is fed in many countries by tradition, religious sanction, social value, and family practices, going back for centuries. Until very recently, even the victims of those forces would see the role of the helpless, obedient, childlike woman as “good.”

Evil depends completely on one’s level of consciousness.

You can bring this message home by considering seven different definitions of evil. Which one do you instinctively agree with?


Seven Perspectives

  • The worst evil is to hurt someone physically, or endanger their survival.
  • The worst evil is to enslave people economically, depriving them of any chance to succeed and prosper.
  • The worst evil is to destroy peace and bring about disorder.
  • The worst evil is to entrap people’s minds.
  • The worst evil is to destroy beauty, creativity, and the freedom to explore.
  • The worst evil is often difficult to tell from good, since all of creation is relative.
  • There is no evil, only the shifting patterns of consciousness in an eternal dance.

The vast majority of people would probably choose the first two definitions, because physical harm and deprivation are so threatening. At this level of consciousness, evil means not being able to survive or earn a living, and good means physical safety and economic security. In the next two levels, evil is no longer physical but mental. One’s greatest terror isn’t being deprived of food but rather being told what to think and forced to live with chaos and unrest. Good means inner peace and the free flow of insight and intuition. The next two levels are even more refined; they have to do with creativity and vision. One’s greatest fear is not being allowed to express oneself or being forced to label others as evil. A deeply spiritual person doesn’t view good and evil as rigid categories but has begun to accept that God had a purpose in creating both. Good is free expression, openness to all new things, reverence for both the dark and light aspects of life. Finally, the last level sees the entire play of good and evil, light and shadow, as an illusion. Every experience brings union with the creator; one lives as a co-creator immersed in God consciousness.
The one reality accepts all these definitions,as it must, because anything that consciousness can perceive is real to the perceiver. Evil is part of a hierarchy, a ladder of growth in which everything changes depending on the rung you happen to be standing on. Nor does the growing process ever end. It is at work in you at this very minute.
If you wake up one day to suddenly discover that you hate someone else, that there is no way out of a situation except violence, that love isn’t an option, consider how subtly you arrived at your position. It took a whole world to throw you or anyone else into the arms of what is labeled as good or evil. Having internalized these forces, you reflect the world just as the world reflects you. This is what it means in practical terms to have the world in you.
Yet evil cannot be your enemy if the world is in you; it can only be another aspect of yourself. Every aspect of the self is worthy of love and compassion. Every aspect is necessary to life, and none is excluded or banished into darkness. This view may seem even more naive at first than Gandhi’s passivity, for it appears that we are being asked to love and understand a murderer the same as a saint. Jesus taught exactly that doctrine. But translating love and compassion into difficult situations has been the crux of spirituality’s huge failure: Violence causes love to break down, turning it into fear and hatred.But evil doesn’t actually do this. The shaping forces on consciousness do. Here is where good and evil become equal. I can give a striking example of what I mean.
In 1971, students at Stanford University were asked to volunteer for an unusual experiment in role playing. One group of students was to pretend that they were prison guards in charge of another group who pretended to be prisoners. Although it was understood that this was make-believe, a jail setting was provided, and the two groups lived together for the duration of the experiment. According to plan, everyone would play their roles for two weeks, but after only six days the prison experiment had to be terminated. The reason? The boys chosen for their mental health and moral values turned into sadistic, out-of-control guards on the one hand and depressed victims of exorbitant stress on the other.
The professors conducting the experiment were shocked but couldn’t deny what had occurred. The lead researcher, Philip Zimbardo, wrote: “My guards repeatedly stripped their prisoners naked, hooded them, chained them, denied them food or bedding privileges, put them into solitary confinement, and made them clean toilet bowls with their bare hands.” Those who didn’t descend to such atrocious behavior did nothing to stop the ones who did. (The parallel with infamous acts by American prison guards in Iraq in 2004 prompted Zimbardo to bring the Stanford experiment back to light after more than thirty years.) There was no extreme to which the student guards would not resort short of outright physical torture.
Zimbardo mournfully recalls, “As the boredom of their job increased, they began using the prisoners as their playthings, devising ever more humiliating and degrading games for them to play. Over time, these amusements took a sexual turn, such as having the prisoners simulate sodomy on each other. Once aware of such deviant behavior, I closed down the Stanford prison.”
Where did this runaway abuse come from? For comfort’s sake, we usually say that it exists in a few “bad apples,” but the Stanford experiment suggests something more disturbing: Evil exists in everyone as a shadow, for the very reason that the world is in everyone. Being raised as a good person is a counter to the shadow of evil, of course, and if we return to our list of shaping forces on consciousness, each person would exhibit a different map of influences. But if you are fortunate enough to have made choices on the good side of the equation, you must still acknowledge that the shadow exists in you somewhere.

The shadow was formed by the same everyday situations that shape our consciousness, and it is released by new situations that parallel them. If you were abused as a child, being around children can bring up those memories. The Stanford experimenters devised a list of conditions that cause people to do things we’d call evil, or at the very least alien to our true selves. I’ve expanded on it in light of what we know about dualism and separation.


  • Conditions That Release Shadow Energies
  • Removing a sense of responsibility
  • Anonymity
  • Dehumanizing environments
  • Peer examples of bad behavior
  • Passive bystanders
  • Rigid levels of power
  • Prevailing chaos and disorder
  • Lack of meaning
  • Implicit permission to do harm
  • “Us-versus-them” mentality
  • Isolation
  • Lack of accountability

Again, are any of these conditions intrinsically evil? This list, as compared to the first, feels as if some evil component has entered. Leaving aside prisons, where one might expect the worst in human nature to emerge, as a physician I’ve seen similar abuse in hospital settings. Certainly, hospitals are not evil; they were established to do good in the first place. But the shadow isn’t about who is good or bad. It’s about sealed-up energies looking for an outlet, and a hospital is rife with the very conditions listed above:
Patients are helpless under the authority of doctors and nurses; they are dehumanized by the cold mechanistic routine, isolated from everyday society, made more or less anonymous as one “case” among thousands, and so forth.

Given the right circumstances, everyone’s shadow energy will emerge.

Let’s focus, then, on the shadow as the area where consciousness has become distorted to the point that evil choices might be made. (Keep in mind the word “might,” since even under the most dehumanized conditions, there are good people who remain good, which is to say that they are able to resist or control the release of their shadow energies.) The famed Swiss psychologist C. G. Jung was the first to use “the shadow” as a clinical term, but here I want to speak in general of the hidden places where we all repress things we feel guilty about or ashamed of. I will call this place the shadow, and I believe there are certain true things to be said about it:

  • The shadow is personal and universal at the same time.
  • Anything can be stored there.
  • Whatever is stored in darkness becomes distorted.
  • The intensity of shadow energies is a way of getting noticed.
  • Bringing consciousness to any energy defuses it.
  • The shadow itself is not evil and therefore not your enemy.

By examining each statement, we get closer to removing the fearful demon we label—almost always in other people—as evil incarnate.

The shadow is personal and universal at the same time: Everyone harbors a unique pattern of shame and guilt. Simple things like nudity, sexual intercourse, anger, and anxiety give rise to enormously complex feelings. In one society, seeing your mother naked could be trivial, while in another it could be such a traumatic experience that it can only be dealt with by shoving it down into the shadow. There is no sharp distinction between personal feelings, family feelings, and social feelings. They blend and weave together. But even if you feel ashamed that you hit a bully on the playground when you were seven, and another person thinks doing the same thing was a valuable moment in developing personal courage, to have a shadow is universal as well as personal. The human psyche was set up with a hiding place, and for most people that place is totally necessary, given the enormous difficulty of facing one’s darkest impulses and deepest humiliations.

Anything can be stored there: A bank vault where you keep your most precious possessions is a hiding place as much as a prison dungeon. The same is true for the shadow. Although the term is used most of the time to describe a hiding place for negative energies, you have the power to turn positive to negative and vice versa. I once knew two sisters who were close as children but grew up as very different adults, the one a successful college professor, the other a twice-divorced worker at a temporary agency. The successful sister describes her childhood as wonderful; the other sister describes hers as traumatic. “Remember when Daddy locked you in the bathroom for six hours after you did something wrong?” I heard the unhappy sister say to her sibling. “That was a turning point for me. I could only imagine how angry and hopeless you felt.”
The happy sister looked very surprised. “Why didn’t you ask me about that? I liked being alone, so I just went inside and told myself imaginary stories. The incident was nothing.” And so our stories go their separate, highly idiosyncratic ways. The same incident had no emotional charge for one sister, whereas it was a source of anger and shame for the other. Great art can be made out of scenes of violence (witness Picasso’sGuernica ) and horrors can be concocted from holy virtue (witness the crucifixion of Jesus). In the unconscious, there is a full population of unexamined impulses. The same Stanford student who might debase himself as a sadistic prison guard could also be harboring artistic talent that will never emerge unless the right situation allows the unconscious mind to release what it is holding.

Whatever is stored in darkness becomes distorted: Awareness, like fresh water, is meant to flow, and when it can’t, it turns stagnant. In your inner world, there are countless memories and repressed impulses. You do not allow these to flow, which is to say to be released; therefore, they have no choice but to stagnate. Good impulses die for lack of being acted on. Love grows timid and afraid when not expressed. Hatred and anxiety loom larger than life. It is the primary property of consciousness that it can organize itself into new patterns and designs. If you don’t allow consciousness to go where it needs to, however, disorganized energy is the result. For example, if you ask people to describe how they feel about their parents, a subject that most adults set aside as a thing of the past, you find that their memories from childhood are a confusing jumble. Trivial events stand out as huge traumas; other family members are simplified into cartoons; true feelings are hard or impossible to excavate. Thus, when a disturbed patient comes to a psychiatrist to be healed of a painful childhood wound, it often takes months if not years to separate fact from fantasy.

The intensity of shadow energies is a way of getting noticed:
Hiding something is not the same as killing it. Shadow energies remain alive. Even though you refuse to look at them, they aren’t extinguished—in fact, their desire for life becomes all the more desperate. To catch your attention as a parent, a child who is overlooked will become more and more extreme in its behavior: first a call for attention, then a cry, then a tantrum. Shadow energies follow much the same pattern. It seems only reasonable to see panic attacks, for example, as a hidden fear throwing a tantrum. That same fear first called out to be noticed in a normal way, but when the person refused to notice it, a call turned into a cry and finally ended up as a full-blown attack. Fear and anger are especially adept at increasing the voltage to the point where we feel that they are alien, evil, demonic forces acting without our will. They are actually just aspects of consciousness forced into inhuman intensity by repression. Repression says, “If I don’t look at you, you will leave me alone.” To which the shadow answers, “I can do things that will make you look at me.”

Bringing consciousness to any energy defuses it: This follows naturally from the last statement. If an energy demands your attention, then paying attention will begin to satisfy it. An overlooked child isn’t placated by one glance. It takes time to change any behavior for good or ill and, like children, our shadow energies get stuck in patterns and habits. But this doesn’t alter the general truth that if you bring light into the shadow, its distortions start to lessen and eventually are healed. Is there time enough and patience to do the whole job thoroughly? There’s no fixed answer to that. Depression, for example, is a complex response that can be healed by insight, compassion, patience, caring attention from others, willingness, and professional therapy. Or you can take a pill and not bother. The choice is personal and varies from person to person. Conditions as apparently hopeless as childhood autism have been cured by parents who spent enormous amounts of time and attention to bring a child back from darkness. The darkness was a distortion in consciousness that needed light to be cured. The shadow in all its forms requires consciousness in the form of light and love, and the only limit to healing is how much of ourselves we are willing to give to the project.

The shadow itself is not evil and therefore not your enemy: If the preceding statements are true, then this one must be also. I realize that for many people there is a huge barrier in the form of “the other,” someone outside themselves whose evil is unquestioned. Sixty years ago “the other” lived in Germany and Japan; thirty years ago it lived in the Soviet Union; today it lives in the Middle East. Such people find evil easier to explain by never losing sight of “the other”—without an enemy, they would have to face the presence of evil inside themselves. How much more convenient it is to know in advance that you are on the side of the angels!

Seeing the shadow in yourself defuses the whole notion of “the other” and brings closer the statement of the Roman poet Terence: Nothing human is foreign to me. Can absolute evil be banished so quickly, however? Polls show that a majority of people believe in the existence of Satan, and many religious sects firmly believe that the devil is loose in the world, secretly changing history through his malignant doings. It doesn’t seem that good has a chance to conquer evil—perhaps their combat is eternal, never to be finally absolute evil, since by definition absolute evil would win every time, finding no obstacle in the frailty of human choice. Most people don’t accept this conclusion, however. They watch the drama of good and evil as if it and not they have the power, sitting mesmerized by pictures of the latest epidemic of crime, war, and disaster.
You and I as individuals can’t solve the problem of evil on a mass scale, and this sense of being powerless magnifies the belief that good in the end really isn’t going to win. But to grapple with evil, you have to look at it, not in horror or as spectacle but with the same attention that you’d give to any problem you are seriously interested in. Many people find it taboo to look at evil; the theme of most horror movies is that if you come too close, you get what you deserve. But the facts about personal evil are more mundane than horrifying. In all of us, there are impulses fueled by a sense of injustice. Or we feel that someone has done us unforgivable harm from which we harbor grudges and grievances.
When you have been treated unjustly or personally harmed, the natural emotion is anger. If this anger can’t get out, it festers and grows in the shadow. Lashing out when holding it back no longer works; this anger leads to a cycle of violence. Guilt can make you feel like a bad person simply for having an impulse or entertaining a thought. This is a kind of double bind: If you lash out and return the harm done to you, you have done something evil, but if you keep the anger inside and harbor it, you can feel just as evil.
Yet violence can be tamed by breaking it down into manageable bits. Negative emotions feed off certain aspects of the shadow that are very manageable:

  • The shadow isdark. Everyone has a shadow because of the natural contrast between darkness and the light.
  • The shadow issecret. We store impulses and feelings there that we wish to keep private.
  • The shadow isdangerous. Repressed feelings have the power to convince us that they can kill us or make us go insane.
  • The shadow isshrouded in myth. For generations, people have seen it as the lair of dragons and monsters.
  • The shadow isirrational. Its impulses fight against reason; they are explosive and totally willful.
  • The shadow isprimitive. It’s beneath the dignity of a civilized person to explore this domain, which reeks of the smell of the charnel house, the prison, the lunatic asylum, and a public lavatory.

Negativity assumes its overwhelming power from the fact that it feeds off all these qualities at once: A secret, dark, primitive, irrational, dangerous, mythical evil is much less convincing if you break it down into one quality at a time. But this process of bringing evil down to scale won’t be convincing until you apply it to yourself.

So let’s do that. Take a volatile issue at this moment: terrorism. By any measure, to inflict terror on innocent people is an act of cowardly, despicable evil. Now pull closer. Imagine yourself so inflamed by intolerance and religious hatred that you’d be willing to kill. (If you find that terrorism isn’t charged enough for you personally, examine instead a feeling you might have based on racism, vengeance, or domestic abuse—any issue that creates a murderous impulse in you.)
No matter how evil your impulse is, it can be broken down into steps to resolve it:

Darkness: Ask yourself if it’s really you having this impulse, the you whom you see in the mirror every morning.
Darkness is dealt with by bringing in the light. Freud called this replacing Id with Ego, meaning that “It” (the unnamed thing inside us) needs to be gathered back into the realm of “I” (the person you know yourself to be). In simpler terms, awareness needs to go into the place where it has been shut out.

Secrecy: Confide your evil impulse to someone you trust.
Secrecy is dealt with by honestly facing things that seem shameful or guilty. You face any and every feeling head on, without denial.

Danger: Release your anger out loud, staying with it as it decreases. Have the intention that this release is not merely venting, but truly letting go of your rage.
Danger is dealt with by defusing the bomb; that is, you find the explosive anger that lurks inside and you dispel it. Anger is the primal drive of evil impulses. Like all impulses, it comes in varying degrees, and even a towering rage can be deflated until it defuses into controlled rage, then justified anger, and on down to righteous indignation, and finally personal offense. Personal offense is not difficult to dispel, once you manage to release the built-up intensity that turns into uncontrollable rage.

Myth: Name a hero who would deal with your feelings in a different way and still remain heroic.
Violence is part of heroism but so are many other positive qualities.
Myth is imaginative and creative. Therefore you can take any myth and mold it along different lines—Satan himself becomes a comic figure in medieval miracle plays, a ploy that leads directly to the comic villains in James Bond films. Myth is nothing but metamorphosis; therefore, this level gives us a powerful way to turn demons into helpers of the gods, or defeated enemies of the angels.

Irrationality: Come up with the best argument for not acting on your rage. Don’t do this emotionally:
See yourself as an adult counselor of a wayward teenager about to ruin his life. What would you say to make him see reason?
Irrationality is dealt with by persuasion and logic. Emotions are much more gripping and powerful than reason, but they will not be able to escape their world, where only feelings prevail, until the thinking process gives them a reason to feel differently. On their own, without mind, feelings remain the same and grow more intense over time. (A common example: Imagine yourself enraged because a kid in a red baseball cap keyed your car. He runs away and escapes. The next day you see him and run up, but when he turns around, it’s a different kid. Rage turns into apology because the mind was able to introduce a simple idea: wrong person.)

Primitiveness: Without excuses or rationalizations, express your rage like a beast on a rampage—growling, howling, writhing, letting your body go. Let what’s primitive be primitive, within safe bounds.
Primitive feelings are dealt with at their own level, as holdovers of the lower brain. You remove the disguise of being civilized. This level of awareness runs even deeper than emotion—the very most primitive area, known as the reptilian brain, interprets all stress as a life or death struggle for survival. At this level, your “reasonable” sense of injustice is experienced as blind panic and blind ferocity.

Even though your impulses may never cross the line into violence, ordinary impulses intensify in the shadow, where you can’t see them. Whenever you hear yourself sounding resentful or angry without provocation, whenever you find yourself on the verge of tears for no reason, whenever you cannot explain why you suddenly made a rash decision, you are actually feeling the effects of energy covertly building up in the shadow.
The shadow has grown used to being repressed; therefore, to access this region of the mind doesn’t happen easily. Nor is direct assault effective. The shadow knows how to resist; it can slam the door and hide its dark energy even deeper. If you recall the concept of catharsis from Greek tragedy, it was thought that only by deeply frightening the audience could they open up and feel pity. Catharsis is a form of purification. In this case it was arrived at second-hand, by having the audience see fearful actions in the life of a character on stage. But this form of trickery doesn’t always work. You can go to a horror film today and come out of the theater completely unmoved, the higher brain muttering, “I’ve seen those special effects before.” (In the same way, televised news, after fifty years of displaying gruesome images of war and violence, has done little more than inure its viewers to such images, or worse, turned them into entertainment.) Discharge is natural to the body, however, and simply by observing these shadow energies, we give them access to the conscious level of the mind.
People assume that the dark side of human nature has unstoppable power; Satan has been elevated into the equivalent of a negative God. But when it’s broken down, evil turns out to be a distorted response to everyday situations. Imagine yourself sitting alone at night in an empty house. Somewhere else in the house, there’s a noise. Instantly you recognize the sound of a door creaking open. Every sense goes on full alert; your body freezes. With difficulty, you resist the urge to call out, and yet a tremendous anxiety has leapt out of hiding.A robber! A murderer! Everyone has suffered through these agonizing seconds before the creaking door turns out to be a loose floorboard or the entry of someone coming home unexpectedly. But what really happened in that moment of dread?
Your mind took an insignificant bit of data from your environment and caused it to take on meaning. In itself, the sound of a creaking door is trivial, but if you unconsciously harbor fears of being attacked in the dark—and no one can help harboring such fears—the leap from a bit of sensory data to full-blown anxiety seems automatic. But in the gap between the noise and your reaction, an interpretation crept in, and it was the intensity of the interpretation (“Someone’s breaking in! I’m going to be killed!”) that created the danger.
What I’m suggesting is that evil is born in the gap between body and mind. There is no powerful ruler of the kingdom of evil. Satan started out as a moment of sensory input that got wildly out of hand. Take the fear of flying, one of the most common phobias. People who suffer from it usually have a vivid memory of when it began. They were on a flight and suddenly, just as with the creaking door, some noise of the plane or a sudden jolt made their awareness grow supersensitive. Insignificant sensations like cabin
vibration and the rise and fall in the pitch of engine noise suddenly felt ominous.
Between these sensations and the reaction of fear there was a gap that lasted a fraction of a second.
Tiny as it was, this gap allowed an interpretation (“We’re going to crash! I’m going to die!”) to attach itself to what the body was feeling. An instant later, the typical signs of anxiety—sweaty hands, dry mouth, racing pulse, dizziness, and nausea—added to the persuasiveness of the threat.
Phobics remember their first moment of uncontrollable panic without being able to take it apart in steps.
Therefore, they don’t see their reaction as self-induced. That fear was a by-product of the following ingredients:

Situation: A normal situation is infused with something unusual or slightly stressful.

Bodily response: We experience a physical reaction that is associated with the stress.

Interpretation: These physical signals are labeled as signs of danger, and unconsciously the mind jumps to the conclusion that the danger has to be real (the unconscious mind is very concrete, which is why nightmares seem as threatening as actual events).

Decision: The person chooses to think “I am afraid right now.”

Because these ingredients fuse so quickly, they seem to be a single response, when in fact there is a chain of tiny events. Every link of the chain involves a choice. The reason we can’t let raw sensation go without interpreting it is that for reasons of survival the human mind was built to find meaning everywhere.
Phobias can be treated by slowly taking the phobic person back through the formative chain of events,allowing him or her to make new interpretations. By slowing the response down and giving the person time to look at it, the knot of fear can be undone. Gradually, the noises associated with flying return to their neutral, nonthreatening place.
The fleeting gap between sensation and interpretation is the birthplace of the shadow. When you go into the gap and see how intangible everything is, the ghosts begin to disperse.
Because terrorism now weighs so heavily on people’s minds, the issue of mass evil cannot be avoided.
The two most troubling questions are “How did ordinary people agree to participate in such evil?” and “How could innocent people become the victims of atrocities?”
The Stanford Prison Experiment and our discussion of the shadow come close to answering these questions, but I can’t give one answer to satisfy all comers—any time evil is brought up, we find ourselves visited by our own shadow.What could I have done about Auschwitz? a voice inside us says, usually in guilty, accusing tones. No answer will ever reverse the past, but it’s important to realize that no answer should be expected to.
The best approach to mass evil is not to keep remembering it but to renounce it so completely in yourself that the past is purified through you. My best answer to “How did ordinary people agree to participate in such evil?” lies in the pages you’ve just read. Evil is born in the gap. The gap isn’t anyone’s private possession. The gap contains collective responses and collective themes. When an entire society accepts the theme of “the outsiders” who cause all the trouble, then evil has everyone for a father and mother.
Yet in every case of mass evil, there were thousands of people who didn’t identify with the collective impulse—they resisted, escaped, hid, and tried to save others. It’s individual choice that determines whether you latch on to the collective theme and agree to play it out.
The second question, “How could innocent people become the victims of atrocities?” is more difficult, because almost everyone’s mind is already closed. The questioner doesn’t want a new answer. There is too much righteous anger, too much certainty that God turned his back, that no one wanted to risk their own lives to stop the enormous evil being done to others. Are you certain of these things? Being certain is the opposite of being open. When I ask myself why six million Jews perished or why equally innocent masses perished in Rwanda, Cambodia, or Stalinist Russia, my motive is first to release my own sense of anguish.

As long as I am overcome by anguish or righteous anger or horror, my ability to choose has been shut down. What I should be free to choose is purification, a return to innocence made possible by the shock of what happens when innocence isn’t nurtured. You and I are responsible for our participation in the elements of evil even though we don’t act out those elements on a mass scale. Believing in them keeps our participation going. So it’s our duty to stop believing in “harmless” anger, jealousy, and judgment of others.
Is there some mystical reason why an innocent person becomes the target of evil? Of course not. People who talk about the karma of victims as if some hidden fate is bringing down a rain of destruction are speaking from ignorance. When an entire society engages in mass evil, outer chaos reflects inner turmoil.
The shadow has erupted on a mass scale. When this happens, innocent victims are caught in the storm, not because they have some hidden karma but because the storm is so overwhelming that it engulfs everyone.

I don’t view the relation of good and evil as a struggle of absolutes; the mechanism that I’ve been describing, in which shadow energies build up hidden power by depriving a person of free choice, is too convincing to me. I can see in myself that dark energies are at work, and being aware is the first step to illuminating the darkness. Awareness can remake any impulse. Therefore, I don’t accept that evil people exist, only people who have not faced their shadows. There is always time to do that, and our souls are constantly opening new ways to bring in the light. As long as that’s true, evil will never be fundamental to human nature.


The eighth secret is about the mind’s “dark energy,” to borrow a phrase from physics. The shadow exists out of sight. To find it, you have to be dedicated to a journey of descent. Think of this journey as going back to retrieve parts of your life that have been abandoned because you felt so ashamed or guilty about them. The anger that erupts from the shadow is attached to past events that were never resolved.
Now those events are over and gone, but their emotional residue isn’t.
Shame, guilt, and fear cannot be accessed by thinking. The shadow isn’t a region of thoughts and words.
Even when you have a flash of memory and recall such emotions, you are using a part of the higher brain—the cortex—that cannot touch the shadow. The journey of descent begins only when you find the doorway to the lower brain, where experience is sorted out not according to reason but according to intense feelings.
There is an ongoing drama inside your lower brain (identified with the limbic system, which processes emotions, and the reptilian brain, which reacts in terms of raw threat and survival). In this drama, many issues that would be interpreted reasonably by the higher brain—getting stuck in traffic, losing out on a business deal, being passed over at work, having a girl turn you down for a date—trigger irrational responses. Without realizing it, everyday events are causing your lower brain to draw the following conclusions:

  • I am in danger. I might be killed.
  • I must go on the attack.
  • I am so hurt, I will never recover.
  • These people deserve to die.
  • They put me in agony.
  • I don’t deserve to exist.
  • Everything is hopeless—I’m lost in the dark forever.
  • I’m cursed.
  • Nobody loves me.

To communicate these feelings on the page, I’ve had to verbalize them, but in reality, the most appropriate way to view them is as energy—strong, impulsive forces that have an impetus all their own.
Rest assured, no matter how free you feel from these shadow energies, they exist inside you. If they didn’t, you would be in a state of total freedom, joy, and unboundedness. You would be in unity, the state of innocence regained when the hidden energy of the shadow has been purified.
Today you can begin to learn how to feel your way into the shadow. Shadow energies make themselves known whenever

  • You can’t talk about your feelings.
  • You feel out of control.
  • You feel a flash of panic or dread.
  • You want to feel strongly, but your mind goes blank.
  • You find yourself breaking down in tears for no reason.
  • You have an irrational dislike for someone.
  • A reasonable argument turns into warfare.
  • You attack someone without provocation.

There are countless other ways that the shadow gets entangled in everyday situations, but these are among the most common. What they have in common is that a boundary is crossed—a controlled situation turns unexpectedly anxious or causes unexpected anger or dread. The next time you experience this, watch and see if you feel guilty or ashamed of yourself afterward; if so, then you have touched, however briefly, on the shadow.
An eruption of irrational feelings isn’t the same as releasing them. Venting is not purification. So don’t mistake an outburst for catharsis. Shadow energy is purified through the following steps:

  • The negative feeling comes up (anger, grief, anxiety, hostility, resentment, self-pity, hopelessness).
  • You ask to release it.
  • You experience the feeling and follow where it wants to go.
  • The feeling leaves through breath, sound, or bodily sensations.
  • You have a sense of release afterward, coupled with an understanding of what the feeling meant.

It’s the last step that tells the tale: When a shadow energy truly leaves, there is no resistance anymore, and you see something you didn’t see before. Insight and release go together. The journey of descent consists of encountering your shadow many, many times. Emotions as intense as shame and guilt give themselves up only a bit at a time—and you wouldn’t want more. Be patient with yourself, and no matter how little you think you’ve released, say to yourself, “That’s all the energy that was willing to be let go right now.”
You don’t have to wait for full-blown eruptions from the shadow. Set aside a little time for a “shadow meditation,” in which you give yourself permission to feel whatever wants to come up. Then you can begin the process of asking it to release.

Exercise #2: Writing as a Trigger

Another useful trigger for getting at shadow energies is automatic writing: Take a piece of paper, and
start writing the sentence “I am really feeling right now.” Fill in the blank with any feeling that comes up—preferably a negative feeling that you had to keep to yourself that day—and keep writing. Don’t stop—write as fast as you can, putting down any words that want to stream out of you.
Other sentences that you can use to begin this exercise might be:

“What I should have said was .”
“I can’t wait to tell someone that I .”
“Nobody can stop me from saying the truth about .”
“Nobody wants to hear me say this, but .”

Through these triggers, you are giving yourself permission to express yourself, but the more important aim is to get at a forbidden feeling. That’s why the words don’t matter. Once you access the feeling, the real work of release can begin. You need to go on and feel it completely, ask for release, and keep going until you get a new bit of self-understanding. It may take practice before any real deep release comes to you, but step by step the walls of resistance will come down. The shadow is subtly involved in everyday life. It is never so hidden that you cannot bring it to light.


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