Filled with darkness

Last night nine human beings were killed by one young man who was filled with darkness.

“The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside as fate. That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner opposite, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposing halves.”

-Carl Jung

I have known of Jung’s concept of the Shadow since 2010. The Shadow is the Self that one doesn’t want to acknowledge, as it contains all that we find fearful and dark about our own selves, our own lives. If a person can acknowledge that it exists, then there is the possibility that it won’t manifest itself out into the real world. If they can’t, then it most likely will. What I see on the news almost every day is the the Shadow unleashed. The Shadow is a real part of our mind and should be acknowledged as such. Only by looking at it without fear can we stop it from running the show, our lives.

I struggle to believe that as a society we could possibly acknowledge our cultural Shadow and work on it for the greater good. I know on a personal level it is possible, but even so just because it is possible doesn’t mean it is at all easy. It is extremely difficult, because as a human being our natural tendencies are to refrain from going into that dark closet to confront the bogeyman. We would rather move toward comfort and be surrounded by light and warmth.

Facing the Shadow means facing your fears. On the news we find people who are filled with Shadow – they kill the Other over and over again in some desperate attempt to escape themselves. Only by acknowledging that there is no Other, that all we fear is ourselves and the nothingness that we think might lay behind the curtain, can we even begin to move forward. We need to summon the courage to face our fears and let them pass through us, and then get to work.

The Shadow self would like to tear everything apart. When we don’t acknowledge it, we let it have free reign inside us, and it wreaks havoc in our outer lives. As a person who studies and practices Zen Buddhism, I see similarities in Jung’s concept of the Shadow and the Zen concept of the Small Self. Essentially, Zen says all of our concepts of who we are are just that, concepts: our Small Self. Only in being present from moment to moment can we really truly be our Big Self; enlightened, completely real, in the flow. Constantly examining the mind to find these concepts that provide the framework for our Small Self and letting them all go is the simple practice of meditation. The Shadow is all of that Small Self stuff; all the experiences and concepts that we have ever had and have not processed, grown into a dense heavy jungle of our past. Only by facing our fears and realizing that our fears are not who we are, that we can actually process them and let them go, can we lighten our hearts and minds. A good article about the Small Self is here: Zen Bite: You!

If we are chained to the past or putting all of our hopes in the future, then we don’t have a fucking chance. All I can do at this moment is to sit at the table with birds chirping outside and turkey babies peeping inside, thinking my thoughts, and trying to write them down with the least amount bullshit.

There is a lot of living to do today, so I have to go live one moment at a time.

Out of the nest

Lets talk about farming.

“Once you decide on your occupation you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably.”

-Jiro Ono

I am a farmer. To be honest I hadn’t really said that, to myself or to others, and really felt it in my bones until recently. I had been living my life without examining it too closely, in a whirlwind of action and reaction that almost led to a nervous breakdown. I hadn’t really known why I always felt so frustrated, overworked, stressed out, and worn down to the bone. Living this way damaged my relationships with everything and everyone, including myself and my body. I could go on about causes and effects, reasoning my way free of personal responsibility, but the fact is that I hadn’t ever dedicated myself to anything 110%, and it showed. All around me projects laid unfinished and ideas were left unpursued; I could start anything, but following through all the way to the end seemed impossible somehow. I was losing passion for life even. It just seemed like there was an endless array of problems without easy solutions. I couldn’t feel the beauty of the grass waving in the sweet smelling wind anymore. Finally, pushing myself to get the cabin done in a sort of haze of self-loathing and dehydration, I fell off some scaffolding and bashed up my ribs and arm, sending me to bedrest for a month. Everything seemed fucked up in some way; my body, my mind, my heart, my relationships, my work, my home. I let that assumption control my mood and actions, believing I was a perceptive pragmatist, when in fact I was bucking responsibility for my life and actions. All my problems are out there, right? No way are they all within me.

Winter didn’t improve my outlook. Only as spring brought forth life and my troubles began to overwhelm me was I pushed out of the nest into the reality of what taking responsibility for myself meant.

I think a lot of us in our 30s are still hanging on to some of those dreams we had in our 20s. Either that or we try to leave our options open, so that we can feel like we are free from being stuck in one thing forever. I have come to the conclusion that real freedom resides in dedicating yourself to something outside of your self. When we live inside our heads we’re stuck in a dark prison of our own making. When we live inside our heads we can’t take care of business very well – whether that be baby turkeys that need bedding and water, or a restaurant that needs freshly baked breads, or even just sweeping our home. Inside our heads, we’re stuck in a feedback loop that never lets us act without fear.

For me, it came to the point where I had to consciously stop the inner dialogue as that feedback loop was going to drive me totally nuts. I stopped and looked around and just saw and felt where I was. Who am I, I asked? Who do I want to be, where do I want to go, what do I want to do every day, and how do I want to make my living? At that point I may have felt in my heart that I would rather be traveling the world, or even be employed and get a paycheck so I could homestead comfortably, or that I wanted to be a yoga instructor, chef, cartoonist, social worker. When I listened to my heart, it thrummed back at me with the warm tones of love for farming. I looked at my beaten up hands lined with dirt and felt the goodness that comes from being a craftsperson, someone who uses their body, mind, and heart every day to increase the quality of their discipline. Stepping outside of my mind allowed me to actually see everything around me, including myself, and to imagine a vision for the future that wasn’t all tied up in my immediate fears. At that point I said out loud,”I am a farmer.” And it was true.

I breathed a sigh of relief, standing by an old barbed wire fence that was always tripping me up because I never took the time to do anything about it. I went and got a wire cutter and cleared those sharp obstacles from my path.

Each farmer must farm something every day. My wide intellectual focus is on the relationship between livestock and perennial crops. My narrow practical focus is on actually raising pastured pigs . Each day I have this big picture understanding, and each day I strive to further my understanding and skill at farming.  I let my own self get in the way of my work for quite a while, but even so, there is no point in looking back with regret. As my old landlady said to me as I drove away from my old apartment to start farming, “Onward and upward!”