Monday, May 7, 2018

The Inverted Shadow and the Power of Tapas

Lying is like “cultural appropriation”: everyone does it, everyone needs to do it because borrowing, stealing, and imitating is as old as humanity and has led to all sorts of valuable things. When we know what we are doing when we are lying we can make necessary amends ---like give credit where it is due or share the wealth or just be honest about lying.

The irony of truth telling should not be lost on us. We need the truth as badly as we need to lie because things aren’t always true to be good and not every bad is just bad. When we tell the truth we use the light to understand the darkness. When we lie we create darkness that may help but always hurts--- or at the very least admits the greater vulnerability that always accompanies light and shadow.

What we need to contend with light and dark the great playwright Kalidasa calls “the measure of truth in matters in which there is doubt.” At stake is how we measure and at least as much awareness about the differences we need to notice and acknowledge. To wit, we are always judging the value of things, ideas, and actions, which is why being “non-judgmental” at best means “acknowledging one’s bias” because never for a moment are we actually not-judging. Even “it makes no difference to me” is a judgment. When you come to actual non-judgment you’re going to need help tying your shoes and all sorts of other stuff.

The inverse of lying is not just truth: reality is more complex, less binary. The inverse of lying is sometimes more correctly trust. When we trust we make ourselves vulnerable to others’ choices, we accept their intentions; we may applaud or be compelled to forgive their actions as a consequence. Our trusts can be compromised and betrayed. We can use trust as a self-delusion or to satisfy an emotional need; we can simply be mistaken and acknowledge that a trust broken was a rational error of judgment. We can be conned because we trust. In fact, without trust we can’t be conned because we’ve relinquished all confidence in others.  That, I submit, is a sad state of affairs that no one should have to suffer.

So it is not merely a matter of truth or lying, it is a matter of who and how we trust--- in ourselves, in others, in the process of trust-making and the consequences of trust-failure. It’s important to be vulnerable to what happens because we trust, because we need to trust. That kind of vulnerability I call the “inverted shadow.”

For definition’s sake let’s call the shadow everything hidden from us and everything we hide. It is filled with unknowns and regrets, uncontrolled consequences, faults and things for which we are not the least bit culpable. The shadow holds what we don’t know and all that is uncomfortable, often painful, difficult to admit, sometimes impossible to recognize without help and the complex emotional and critical means of self-inquiry. But the inverted shadow is the recognition that we not only must come to a deeper appreciation of our “hiddens” but that we must put ourselves in further peril for the unwanted consequences that come with the pursuit of light. When we trust we "pursue" the light, with all of its consequences.

When we trust we nurture the light, we burn more brightly, and we can be burned. But we can neither illumine nor burn brightly if we do not risk being burned. It’s more than just being willing to accept the consequences of disappointments and losses. The inverted shadow is actually putting one’s self in peril because there is no trust that cannot fail. With that trust we take the measure of the shadow that gives us a far better appreciation of the value that comes with illumination.

In Rajanaka I was taught to live in the fire that both illuminates and burns. The truth may illumine but it always burns. Sometimes being "burnt" is the price of living in the fire. Burn brightly, Appa would say, and know that when you do, you will sometimes suffer for what the light creates as shadows. This is what Appa meant when he used the Sanskrit word “tapas.” And so the more brightly we burn, the more shadow we will cast. The choice to live with value is a choice that burns with truth and illumines the lies we tell.