An Exploration of Sacred Parenting and Education

What’s in the invisible bag we carry behind us?

In parenting, Spirit, heart & soul on January 31, 2012 at 7:53 pm

Some readers may ask what’s spiritual about parenting? I think today’s topic serves as an interesting look into child tantrums and adult ones too. We will look at what creates drama in families, especially dysfunctional ones, and how our state of consciousness has a role to play here.

In “a little book on the human shadow’ Robert Bly suggestions that when we were young we were a whole ball of energy “until our parents didn’t like certain parts of that ball”. To be love and accepted the child then begins to put parts of itself into an invisible bag that is carried behind us (in the unconscious). “we are told not be angry and so anger goes into the bag. If certain feelings are not allowed to be expressed in the family, even feelings of love and tenderness, they find their way into this invisible bag, which slowly grows full of one’s own energy, energy that has no place in the external world.”

This in essence is the formation of the shadow as I understand it. Llewllyn Vaughan-Lee, a Sufi teacher in the Naqshbandi Mujaddidi tradition, an order that works directly with the shadow, suggests in his book Catching the Thread, we not only have personal shadows but family shadows which can be inherited: “Every family has its skeleton, which are kept carefully locked away from consciousness, and they are often powerful bonding agents holding the family together with shared guilt or co-dependance. … In this shared darkness individual members of the family may also carry the shadow of others. In particular children carry the shadow of their parents, which is one of the reasons that the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren lacks the conflict that dominate many parent-child relationships”.

It is often the most sensitive person in he family who is most receptive to the family shadow, as though they hold the responsibility or potential of transforming it by bringing those patterns into the light of consciousness. The shadow needn’t be purely negative, it can contain huge potentials for unrealized creativity. Some artists and even thinkers owe a lot of their creative and profound work to the years they suffered depression.  Nietzsche cherished the days he was most filled with sorrow. Needless to say, this is a huge topic and I’m only touching it lightly here.

Another spiritual teacher who explains this quite well, in my experience, is Eckhart Tolle. He describes it as the pain body:

This accumulated pain is a negative energy field that occupies your body and mind. If you look on it as an invisible entity in its own right, you are getting quite close to the truth. It’s the emotional pain body. It has two modes of being: dormant and active.

The pain body wants to survive, just like every other entity in existence, and it can only survive if it gets you to unconsciously identify with it. It can then rise up, take you over, “become you,” and live through you. It needs to get its “food” through you. It will feed on any experience that resonates with its own kind of energy, anything that creates further pain in whatever form: anger, destructiveness, hatred, grief, emotional drama, violence, and even illness.

So the pain body, when it has taken you over, will create a situation in your life that reflects back its own energy frequency for it to feed on. Pain can only feed on pain. Pain cannot feed on joy. It finds it quite indigestible.

Once the pain body has taken you over, you want more pain. You become a victim or a perpetrator. You want to inflict pain, or you want to suffer pain, or both. There isn’t really much difference between the two. You are not conscious of this, of course, and will vehemently claim that you do not want pain. But look closely and you will that your thinking and behavior are designed to keep the pain going, for yourself and others.

Once the pain body has fed, it then becomes dormant again. In some cases it sleeps with one eye open, as Tolle explains, to look for potential opportunities to feed again. He also explains how nations have collective pain bodies that can often be felt when you land in the country. What interests me is how the pain body gives rise to a child’s tantrum or even when we as parents are plagued by negative thoughts and play them out through some drama.In the clip below, the adult serves as a good reminder to remain calm during a tantrum. I would be careful to play in front of children. I showed it to my daughter and she couldn’t stop laughing and watched it a few times. Later when she went to the park, she imitated! Another example of how we need to be careful what enters the minds of children from tv and computer screen. Thank God the imitation was in humor – had I got annoyed that humor could potentially have turned into drama.

The tantrum needn’t be very dramatic as the one in the clip above, it may even be subtle. I found it in my daughter once when she cried and said ‘I’m not a good girl’. One of the reasons I’m weary of relatives calling her ‘good’ is because the conditions under which you label the child as ‘good’ make that statement unconsciously or subtly conditional and carry inherent within it (for me at least) the implication ‘you are bad if you don’t confirm as you have done in this situation’. What I love about children is that they hold nothing back and express what needs to be expressed and cry when they need to cry. In the clip imbedded below, Tolle explains how as parents we as parents may want to avoid getting involved or taking too seriously the drama a child may invite us in when they are having a tantrum and that we should simply be very present. He himself has written a bout how great transformation in people seems to have taken place when he simply remained present while they acted out their pain body and how many spiritual masters were people who carried dense pain bodies themselves.

In the Islamic tradition there a number of recitations we can use in such situations and allow the powerful and beautiful majesty of the Qur’anic Arabic to affect the lower vibrations of negative thoughts and heal us from it. My own teachers have recommend Surah Nas. Ayat ul Kursi is another. There’s also the 33 Qur’anic verses used in some Sufi orders as they open themselves to the unseen when they meditate.  Personally, i find listening to Surah Rahman or the Mevlevi Wird to be very refreshing, especially in the early hours of the morning. In essence this rejected part of ourselves has to be accepted with compassion and open arms for us to be whole and integrated. Could this be implied in the hadith which suggests we all have a devil and angel with us:  “There is no one among you but he has with him a constant companion (qareen) from among the jinn and a constant companion from among the angels.” They said, “You too, O Messenger of Allaah?” He said, “Me too, but Allaah has helped me against him (the devil-companion) and he has become Muslim.”  Notice how the Prophet pbuh didn’t say ‘my qareen (shaytan) left me’ or ‘I don’t have one’ but rather became Muslim i.e. surrendered to the Divine will.

How is the shadow transformed? Well, my view is to avoid the bag on our shoulders being filled with clutter in the first place by giving space for expression, have table talks, learn the art of listening with presence without judgement and catch ourselves when we may show a hint of conditional love. While some spiritual orders work with the shadow directly (not a process for the faint hearted) the Mevlevi surrender to love as the essential ingredient which transforms the soul.

“A shadow cannot ignore
the sun that all day creates and moves
it.”Rumi

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  1. To my invisible bag I’ve carried behind me:

    Its been long enough

    I didn’t even know what weighed me down

    Who are you? a mirror or me?

    I can’t continue like this

    It’s time like the Berlin wall

    This duality between you & me

    East and West must

    Come crushing down

    Into the ocean of One-ness

    I shall honor you and build

    my home in your space

    Saqib, when you take out your resentments

    Burn your fingers a little and kiss them one by one

    For the charcoal is most luminous

    As it approaches its end

  2. This is a great piece. Just enjoyed reading it again.

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