That thou art.
The practice of seated meditation in Zen, where we place ourselves fully in the here and now as we follow our breathing, enables us to become more and more transparent to ourselves and thus cut through our ego-centered consciousness to listen to the deeper realms of our being. There, as our practice ripens and becomes more and more transparent to ourselves in both our bright as well as dark side, we may be surprised by a voice-gentle, but clear in a way that leaves no room for doubt-telling us: That thou art.
It is the hearing of that voice and our full acceptance of all that it implies that can liberate us from the ego-centered consciousness that wants to be identified only with one side, the ‘good side of ourselves, and thereby causes the rift in our being.
The hearing of that voice enables us to see in a new light not only the good and the beautiful that our ego-consciousness would have us identify with in a one-sided way, but also the evil, the ugly, the chaotic, the destructive, as an inevitable aspect and inseparable part of our very own selves-and enables us to take responsibility for it. Owning our shadow and taking responsibility for it paves the way for us to integrate it with the rest of us, and thus enables us to come to wholeness in our lives.
As we deepen in our Zen practice, we are enabled to reach down to the depths of our true self, touching that point where it is interconnected with everything in the universe. It is at this point where our bright side and dark side meet. It is also the point where we meet our shadow squarely, without having to oppose it or resist it, and simply recognize it, own it, take responsibility for it, and face its consequence with equanimity. This is the point where there is no more fear, for we have reached the realm beyond light and dark, beyond life and death, and find ourselves in the fullness of freedom, having overcome all opposites.
In the Christian creed, the doctrine of Christ’s descent into hell, often glossed over or played down in treatment, can be pursued in this context as indicating an encounter and reconciliation with the shadow aspect of our cosmic existence. Zen practice can give us a key toward an experiential appreciation of this doctrine as we are invited to follow Christ in this descent to the netherworld of our being. Such a descent into hell is seen as a condition for the Risen Christ to be truly integrative power reconciling the principalities and powers, all the warring opposites in the universe, uniting all things, “things in heaven and things on Earth.” (Eph. 1:11).
The healing message of the Gospel can also be expressed in the phrase, “The glory of God is the whole human being fully alive.” The whole human being fully alive is to be understood as one who has integrated the light and the shadow sides of one’s being and thus come to salvation, to wholeness, and to holiness.
Excerpted from Healing Breath (Orbis Books). Published as Recovery of our Shadow on the Maria Kannon Zen Center website.