The evil that is within
What is the nature of the very thing that pushes us, human beings, into the most destructive patterns, unpredictable behaviour no one would think possible?
And how does this dark side manifest itself in each one of us? Is any one spared from this? Or do we all carry this darkness within us, waiting to be triggered, in more or less unfortunate circumstances?
I participated recently in a meditation session, and during a somewhat philosophical talk before the session itself, one person touched upon a subject which struck me especially truthful of the human nature.
He illustrated it by providing a simple “What if” situation. What if the meditating participants, all of them highly cultivated people, emotionally stable, with highly evolved compassionate values, were to suddenly be locked in the same room for four consecutive days. And what if the only source of nourishment was one tiny apple, and no apparent hope of getting out. Ever.
How would their behaviour change? Would they manage to keep their civility and empathy towards each other? Or would we see something else? Something ugly which lurks beneath our skin. Would all the masks fall away, and push us into doing things no one would think possible?
This thought experiment struck me as especially truthful because it was in such stark contrast to the whole session, and its Spiritual nature. A meeting which had its focus aimed at the Divine, at the non-dual nature of man which exists in all of us.
Upon hearing this, a few participants objected and shied away from the very thought. Surely no practicing Gnostic could be pushed into acts which resembled animals, wholly driven by instinct. Cultivated people would easily discern the difference between right and wrong. Wouldn’t they?
But then some others were less optimistic as to the outcome of this experiment. Or maybe they were just being realistic? Maybe because they had no illusions about human nature, that if push came to shove, if driven to the edge, and well beyond it, then most of us would be in shock of what we were capable of doing.
How can this be? What is revealed beneath? And can we do anything to prevent this?
The shadow that wrenches itself beneath our skin. (Image: Taysa Jorge)
Lord of the flies revisited
No other book signifies what lurks inside us more than William Golding’s “Lord of the flies”. Young boys marooned on an island after a plane crash, attempt to establish an orderly society but instead descend into chaos, and eventually bestiality.
Kudos to William Golding for making such a setup for the book. The choice of kids rather than grown men, the place, and the circumstances illustrate with powerful force what everyone one of is capable of.
For me personally, the choice of kids as the protagonists of his novel, drives home another crushing point. It would be hopeful to think that environment and upbringing has a major role in shaping a young child’s moral values. But if these kids, at such a young age, are able to lose themselves to such uncontrolled acts, then how much does conditioning really matter? In my view, William Golding drives his point home, and shows us, that norms, rights and wrongs, all of this matter little in the end. That the Shadow itself, it follows us from the very moment we take our first breaths when we enter this world.
“Maybe there is a beast. What I mean is . . . maybe it’s only us.” – Lord of the flies
The term Shadow originated from Jung and signifies all the dark impulses that are latent within us. Aggression, hate, selfishness, you name it.
This duality which is present in all of us, is also the very thing which every one of us seeks to repress. Obviously it is socially not accepted, and therefore the beast is pushed deep down into our subconscious, imprisoned and held in check with metal chains, if need be. Yet, these chains often have the opposite effect, instead of lessening the power our darker traits have over us, they often get out of control, and in the worst possible moments. Given the right circumstances, given enough pressure, they snap away easily, and release uncontrolled.
The importance of making the shadow conscious. The crucial work everyone of us has to do is to acknowledge we are no exception. We are only humans. And the more we are conscious about our dark side, the less these impulses hold power over us.
“The shadow compounds all the dark impulses—hatred, aggression, sadism, selfshness, jealousy, resentment, sexual transgression—that are hidden out of sight. The name originated with Carl Jung, but its basic origin came from Freud’s insight that our psyches are dualistic, sharply divided between the conscious and unconscious. The rise of civilization is a tribute to how well we obey our conscious mind and suppress our unconscious side. But what hides in the shadows will out.” – Deepak Chopra
Pain body and Trump
The highly illuminating spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle has his own name for the shadow. He calls it the pain body. Tolle adds several other interesting ideas to the the mix. He is of the mind that the shadow not only exists on the level of the single individual, but also on the level of the collective consciousness. And when the collective Pain Body gets out of hand, takes root in way too many individuals’ mental images, we are manifested with the likes of Hitler, Stalin, and the recent Trump.
But Tolle also sees this as a natural process. When our repressed negative emotions, our demons, take hold of us in such a degree that they poison our system, they have to be spewed up from our collective subconscious, so we can pass through a purification process. However painful, and destructive this may manifest to the outside, it is the only way to deal with the shadow. A direct confrontation.
Ever since Trump took reins of the American government, the collective Pain Body has shifted into an overdrive. A global unease has spread, one which Trump himself is doing very little to alleviate.
The Pain Body is like any other form of life, in the sense that it has to feed on something in order to survive. And the only emotions which can help it grow, are our negative emotions. Our anger, our fears, our resentment.
Unfortunately fighting the pain body, and extreme manifestations of it similar to Trump, has mostly the opposite effect. They don’t lessen the shadow, but have the tendency to increase it. I see people get angry, upset, fearful of what this man brings to the world. And it’s a natural emotional reaction confronted with such absurdity.
But if this fight is done at the same emotional level as many people who chose Trump in the first place, then they are pouring even more emotional gasoline onto the bonfire.
What can we do about it? Staying as neutral as possible, is the only way. However difficult that may sound, it doesn’t supply the pain body with even more fuel. I am not advocating that we should become indifferent to what’s happening with the world, far from it. But we can engage in our actions with as little emotionality as we possibly can.
Inner frenzy, feeding away at our mental body, rotting away our soul. (Image: Taysa Jorge)
The Gnostics and the problem of evil
In my opinion, few philosophies explain the problem of evil better than Gnosticism.
Where most religions state that our material world is good, and created by God, the Gnostics maintain that we are trapped in matter which was created by a false God, the Demiurge. And thus everything created by this God is also evil, the matter, including us. Gnosticism sees us as trapped in an endless reincarnation wheel of suffering and self-delusions. We are born hundreds, maybe thousands times over. We return here, time and time again, to pay our dues, and to even out our past deeds from our past lives.
It would be faulty to say Gnostics view the world as purely evil. And more correct would be that they view it as dual, meaning that the laws that govern this world always have a plus and a minus. In their view, love will always turn to hate, life will always turn to death, what begins must always come to an end.
It is then no wonder that the good always finds its counterpart in this world, that for all the acts of courage, compassion, and kindness, we have just as many wars, killings, bestiality and everything the dark side of the human nature can offer.
If one looks at our material world through the lens of duality, one begins to grasp, that no matter how hard one wants to try, this world can not be made wholly good. And on a micro-scale, seen through the Gnostic lens, if we were born into this world, then everyone of us has a shadow to work through in order to reach what is divine in us. It may take a lifetime, or many more. But ultimately, that is the human’s task.
“There is also a collective human pain-body containing the paid suffered by countless human beings through history. Every now and then it becomes activated, and when it does it seeks more suffering to feed on.” – Eckhart Tolle
The shaping choice – moment to moment
Observing myself, people around me, no matter how much compassion, and love we spread, there is always that other side in us, the shadow. And this darker side, pushes us, however subtly, to put ourselves before others, to tempt us into wanting more, of everything, to be judgemental of others, and so many other things. All of them associated with the ego. Proper upbringing and cultivation of our good traits won’t erase our shadow, but they are essential in the process of taking away the focus from our darker potential.
If we are aware of this, and accept these as facts in a neutral manner, then we are halfway there. Our nature, with whatever potential it has, will always be there. But we are the ones who ultimately make our own choices. And it’s often not one grand life changing choice, although those do tend to happen sometimes. These choices are all the tiny, minuscule decisions we affirm every day.
We are the ones who choose to stretch out that helping hand, or instead to use our time to hurt others. We are all malleable by our own actions, our mind unimaginably shapable, a neuroplastic wonder. Be it constructive or destructive.
So being conscious of ourselves, observing what goes on under our own hood, especially mindful of our shadow, that is a huge step towards more joy, inward and outward positivity.
Simply freedom. And divine grace.
So what will we make of ourselves? Who will we become? What path will lead us to be filled with Light?
Piotr RyczkoStory's author & editor
As long as I can remember, a part of me has always been a keen, albeit very quiet, observer of the world around me. And another part has been a wide-eyed wonder boy who, from the get go, wanted to escape into another dimension, some yet undiscovered version of the land of Oz.
This combination of character has, on more than one occasion, shown itself to be a tad aggravating, and maybe even quite unfortunate to the outside world. And since my verbal skills are still locked away in some deep recess of my being, a talent still awaiting discovery, I had no other choice than to become a visual storyteller dressed up as filmmaker. During that process I also fell in love with words, quite many of them, actually. Since then, there was no turning back, and I became a scribe of the written word.
Through this blog, and through my stories, be they written or told in moving images, I would like to share with you what I feel, think and dream of. And if anything on this blog connects with you, mail me, I would love to hear about it.
I’m a Spanish photographer born in the Canary Islands, photography is my way to understand better myself and the world. I believe that a photo has the capacity to wake up immense feelings in people. I always felt very connected to my emotions, nature, and art so that’s what I try to share with my work.
What I really like to share is something that I wrote recently: An emotion is timeless, it goes into the deepest of ourselves, and when we digest it, when the time goes, its residues are still here; overlapping to our entrails, forming and keeping us erect, deforming and reinverting us. And suddenly, there it is, that song, image or smell, like a switch that teleports us to the deepest of what we have already lived.