During the current Presidential campaign Donald Trump accused Jeb Bush of being “low energy” and the description seems to have stuck, and to have hurt his rival.
As one looks around social media, it also seems that everywhere the notion of high energy is reinforced; many posts memorialize activity and movement, and many times there are photos of experiences that are challenging, dangerous, or adventurous. The implication seems to be that if you aren’t always doing amazing things you aren’t really living.
This can take its toll on people leading a “normal” life where they have many responsibilities and little or no opportunity to do amazing stuff. Holding a job, raising a family, or just getting through the day seem like significant achievements.
The mass media is also instrumental in promoting a predisposition for high energy. Pharmaceuticals and drinks promise a boost; perfect people populate many TV shows and most advertisements suggesting that we measure up; and even older people, when they make their way into a movie, video, or on TV are generally shown as upbeat, active, and youthfully feisty.
But is this realistic?
Eastern philosophy and Zen remind us that every state carries within it its opposite. There is no light without contrast to dark, love without boredom or negativity, day without night, and so on.
Eckhart Tolle, in A New Earth and the Power of Now, makes it a point to assert that inevitably life brings with it periods of low energy which can last minutes, hours, days or even years. His counsel is to be present during these periods and avoid mental labels and interpretations that brand the experience as negative. It simply is what it is.
I addressed many of these issues in an article about my own anxiety and insomnia which discussed accepting lower energy states.
One of the things I discovered in dealing with my own issues is that trying to maintain a façade as a high energy extrovert is exhausting — especially if it is your nature to be more quiet and contemplative. And the consequences of seeing oneself as a failure in maintaining such a persona can be devastating.
It is truly important that we acknowledge and scrutinize all aspects of personality and character deeply.
In fact it precisely within the cult of the positive that some dark aspects reveal themselves.
“In the Shadow of New Age Spirituality” by Carolyn Baker, PhD is an article in Huffington Post that truly illuminates the darker side of New Age thought – its ability to cloak truly malevolent actions.
In the piece she highlights the case of Marc Gafni, a “spiritual teacher” who, like many others, used his power to manipulate women; he is referred to now as a New Age Bill Cosby.
Gafni was a colleague of Ken Wilber, co-founder of the Center for Integral Wisdom, and well respected when numerous women came forward and accused him of being a sexual predator.
The truth of these accusations is not at issue here; rather it is the necessity for truth over fantasy and the confrontation of the stark reality within human nature, in all of its many aspects, including the “shadow.”
“The shadow, said celebrated Swiss psychiatrist C.G. Jung, is the unknown ’dark side’ of our personality–-dark both because it tends to consist predominantly of the primitive, negative, socially or religiously depreciated human emotions and impulses like sexual lust, power strivings, selfishness, greed, envy, anger or rage, and due to its unenlightened nature, completely obscured from consciousness.” (Source: Psychology Today)
The reality is that extended anxiety or depression is often the result of failure to confront the shadow. Pretending it does not exist (because you’re [supposed to be] “spiritual”) is sometimes called “spiritual bypass”…
Confronting all aspects of humanity is the only way forward.
Quoting theologian Barbara Brown Taylor:
The problem is this: when, despite all my best efforts, the lights have gone off in my life (literally or figuratively, take your pick), plunging me into the kind of darkness that turns my knees to water, nonetheless I have not died. The monsters have not dragged me out of bed and taken me back to their lair. The witches have not turned me into a bat. Instead, I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.
This is also a cornerstone of the philosophy of nonduality — the recognition that duality (wholeness) requires both sides, yin and yang, masculine and feminine, light and dark.
“ ‘Bringing the shadow to consciousness,” writes another of Jung’s students, Liliane Frey-Rohn (1967), ”is a psychological problem of the highest moral significance. It demands that the individual hold himself accountable not only for what happens to him, but also for what he projects. . . . Without the conscious inclusion of the shadow in daily life there cannot be a positive relationship to other people, or to the creative sources in the soul; there cannot be an individual relationship to the Divine.’ ”
Does this mean we should accept destructive or criminal activity and look the other way?
On the contrary — embracing the shadow means taking full responsibility for the full spectrum of human emotions but making conscious choices that enhance life. The state of presence described by Eckhart Tolle is not passive nor apathetic — it is authentically human and open.
It is the antithesis of New Age Polyanna “niceness” and positivity, and in many ways like leaving childhood behind and being an adult — becoming a complete being who understands all aspects of life but puts her energy into seeking the truth, even when it may be uncomfortable.
Remember that seeking “self improvement,” higher energy, or enlightenment is an assumption that as a human you are wanting, incomplete, or not enough. Openness and wholeness embrace all aspects of the human condition and proceeding from that assumption enables us to truly live a life of fulfillment.
You may not always be blissful, energized, or upbeat but you will always be present to reality. That’s a great start.
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