THE WATER OF LIFE

An Uncommon Guide to Spirituality & Shadow

THE WATER OF LIFE

An Uncommon Guide to Spirituality & Shadow

There was something formless yet complete,

That existed before heaven and earth;

Without sound, without substance,

Dependent on nothing, unchanging,

All pervading, unfailing,

One may think of it as the mother of all things under heaven.

– Lao Tzu

by Zeke DeGraw

author image

by Zeke DeGraw

author image

There was something formless yet complete,

That existed before heaven and earth;

Without sound, without substance,

Dependent on nothing, unchanging,

All pervading, unfailing,

One may think of it as the mother of all things under heaven.

– Lao Tzu

THE STORY OF WATER

The water of life, wishing to make itself known on the face of the earth, bubbled up in an artesian well and flowed without effort or limit. People came to drink of the magic water and were nourished because it was so clean and pure. Before long humankind gradually began to fence off, charge admission, and claim ownership of the well. Soon it was the property of the powerful and the elite. The water was angry and offended; it stopped flowing and began to bubble up in another place. The people who owned the property around the first well continued selling the impotent water, and few people noticed that its true power was gone. Some dissatisfied people searched and found the new artesian well, but soon it was under the control of the property owners, and the same fate overtook it. The spring took itself to yet another place—and so it has been going on throughout recorded history.

FINDING THE BEAUTY

This is a very sad story, but underneath the surface, there is something deeply beautiful and moving.

Water has often been used as a symbol for the deepest spiritual nourishment of humanity. It has been called by many names. Tao, Logos, Spirit, Dharma, the Word Of God, the Way, but its ultimate nature remains shrouded in mystery. It is an intuitive knowing of life which cannot be described. It is the source of every higher aspiration, every spontaneous creation, and every form of inspiration. It is the mysterious mother, the very source of heaven and earth, which defies every boundary we attempt to set.

Despite the fact that here in the west we are experiencing an unprecedented standard of living, for many, this connection to the source of life has dried up and disappeared. Beneath our current life of ease and comfort lies its counterpart in stagnation and loneliness. So, we flock to churches, gurus, and mystics, anyone who may or may not hold the answers we seek. For centuries our religious institutions acted as mediator between the earthly and spiritual realms. Religious fervor has been the driving force behind some of our greatest technological innovations. From the Parthenon in Greece, to the breathtaking Italian cathedral’s, religious buildings were designed to offer a feeling of connection with the divine. They were a gathering place where all could participate in the celebration of life.

WHERE TO LOOK

Yet as our story illustrates, the gatekeepers eventually began to fence off, and claim ownership of that enigmatic source of life which exists within each of us. The water gets offended and moves on.  

But the water is always flowing somewhere and it has turned up in some surprising locations. Perhaps the reason it is missing for so many of us, is that we search too high, while water seeks the lowest places. In the swamps, marshes, and valleys of our psyche, precisely where we do not want to look, there lies the key. One unlikely place the water can be found is within what Carl Jung famously termed “the shadow”. Each of us has a persona. This is like a mask we put on for the world. It encompasses all those traits we deem worthy and socially acceptable. Then we have the shadow. The part of ourselves we hide from the world. The basement of our psyche which stores every repressed memory and every skeleton of our past.

In the development of psychic life, it is common for core patterns of emotions, perceptions, and wishes to organize themselves around something known as a complex, or, living units of the unconscious mind. You may be familiar with the well-known complexes of Napoleon or Oedipus. Each complex creates a living personality within the psyche. In neurotic cases this can lead to mental illness, but it is something we all experience to some degree.

The Ego, our central complex, forms the theater of events as we move through life. It is the center of being which mediates between the desires of our unconscious biological instincts and the demands of the external world. The ego attempts to increase its self-image by relegating anything which does not fit into the realm of the shadow.

Perhaps I dislike my neighbor so I convince myself that they dislike me. In this case the ego is relegating the feeling of disliking the neighbor, something which may cause guilt, into the unconscious, and replacing it with something that reinforces its own self-image. But it is not just the negative parts of ourselves that form this dumping ground of the mind. Often what is harder for us to embrace in our shadow are the noble aspects. Pulling out the skeletons is easy, but to own up to our power is terrifying.

WORKING WITH THE SHADOW

We can imagine the shadow making process as sorting out our personality onto a scale. The traits which fit with our, narrow, cultural persona get placed onto the right, while the remainders are placed on the left. Too often we neglect the fact that the two sides must remained balanced. We like to think of priestly, or saint-like people, as those who live entirely on the right-hand path, but this way of life is completely unsustainable. Life will tip the scales back one way or another.

It was fitting that the ancient Greeks and Romans often represented gods as emotions. Venus the god of love, Mars the god of war and aggression. The Greeks felt the god you ignored would be the one to destroy you. How many people have spent their lives suppressing anger only to explode in an uncontrollable burst of rage? Often in my own life I have avoided feeling sadness at all costs only to find, once I allowed myself to sink into those feelings, an incredible happiness was waiting for me there. The other side of life has something to teach us and we ignore it at our own peril.

Hinduism balances Brahma, the god of creation, with Shiva, the god of destruction, with Vishnu at the center holding the opposites together. Our job is to sit at the focal point and mediate between the two extremes.

It sounds like an incredibly time consuming and tedious practice, but in reality, shadow work is often incredibly simple. Marie Louis Von Franz, a successful writer and academic, once lived in a house with a few of her colleagues. As a house rule, each time one of them had a massive success, that person would have to take out the trash for a week. Simple, elegant, and effective. That is the essence of understanding the shadow. It is like taking out the trash. Nobody is overwhelmed by it but it must be done every day. It only becomes overwhelming when we stop paying attention to it.

The beauty of this kind of ritual is that it is something each of us can do. Any time you find yourself engaging in negative or destructive behavior find some way to acknowledge and move through those feelings. There are many ways to do this. Write about where you believe these feelings came from and the sensation they create in your body. Give them an embodied form through a drawing or painting. One practice, that may seem strange at first, is to engage in a dialogue with your shadow self. Ask where it came from, what it wants, and don’t be frightened if you actually get a response.

In many cases, all it really wanted was some attention.

Shadow work is not a difficult practice, but it is a balancing act that requires constant awareness. We focus so much on reinforcing the ego, but the shadow, with all its dangerous qualities, is closer to the source of life. It is the birthplace of both our greatest challenge and our greatest potential. It is precisely this contradictory nature that frightens and confuses us. Avoid the urge to resolve this paradox. To allow paradox is to admit the limits of the ego. It is an invitation to something greater than oneself. To allow this tension to exist, without rushing to resolve it, is allowing space for the water of life to flow freely

CONNECT WITH DEVATA

Zeke DeGraw runs a YouTube channel called ThinkBigAnimation where he has been creating videos on topics ranging from motivation, psychology, philosophy, mythology , and symbolism. After reaching over a million views and 13,000 subscribers, Zeke still feels like he has barely scratched the surface of topics he wants to share about. Check out Zeke’s channel and reach out to let him know what you think!

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