In early April of this year, Thomas Hübl came to visit Vancouver. For the third time, I had the privilege of sitting down to interview him. Our first conversation was about the four foundations to his teaching, our second conversation concerned his perspective on the creative future, and in this interview we examined the place of shadow work in evolutionary forms of spirituality.
You can listen to our most recent interview and read the transcript here.
The starting off point for our own interview came from a conversation that Hübl had on Beams with Olen Gunnlaugson and Bruce Sanguin. In it Hübl discusses the idea of shadow work in an evolutionary spiritual context. It is a very short part of the longer discussion but it was one that I found quite fascinating.
Here is the central quote from that conversation for our purposes:
Every shadow contraction or disassociated energy that is in in our energy field is actually a circular, unintegrated evolutionary drive that wants to fulfill its movement and by this we see how shadow work is [as] equally important to what we normally understand or what Andrew Cohen describes as evolutionary work, which means looking towards the evolutionary impulse. By looking into the parts of the shadow that are looking for integration, this is equally evolutionary work.
As I see it, there are contemporary spiritual teachings that wisely integrate transcendental awakening with shadow work but lack an evolutionary component and there are teachings that are strong on the transcendental and evolutionary but lack shadow practices. What intrigued me was Hübl's articulation of a way to include both an evolutionary and shadow work in a spiritual teaching.
I asked Hübl if we might select out this element of his teaching and deepen the thread.
Hübl began by giving an overall evolutionary (even cosmic) context. He said that there is a deep silent stillness from which everything arises and to which everything returns. Anything that comes into being, Hübl said, is in movement. So there is stillness and there is movement. For Hübl these two primordial elements constitute two distinct spiritual competencies. There is a spirituality of stillness and a spirituality of movement and we need both according to Hübl. He often says: "there is stillness in the movement and movement in the stillness."
A spirituality of stillness is one humans access through meditation, calming the mind and emotions, entering into wordless union with The Source. St. Paul called it "the peace that surpasses all understanding." In the stillness, there is a stripping away of illusions and a sense of returning home--to the primordial womb of all. There is a sense of completeness in the stillness. There is a sense of Eternity, of Pure Oneness, and all things being whole.
As a way of resonating with this teaching, I invite the reader to enter into silence for a few minutes--to taste this peace, this stillness underlying all reality. Notice the current of stillness that is already present in this moment--if we simply relax and open. Once you have noticed this already there current of stillness, sink into it. Let yourself be carried away by it, like an undertow. Everything else just drops away and loses interest as we become more and more attracted to this current of peace and simple joy.
That is a brief taste of the spirituality of stillness.
A spirituality of movement is what we are going to flesh out in this article. So I want to leave it undefined for now, so that in may emerge in due course.
What I can say is that the movement is not other than the stillness and the stillness is not other than the movement--ultimately they are not two (nondual). There is stillness in the movement and movement in the stillness.
Hübl delved into this arena of movement. Everything that comes into being is in movement. Everyone and everything is guided by an underlying wisdom, what he called a 'core intelligence.' He believes that every movement knows how to fulfill itself if it is left free to do so. Every movement will come into being, fulfill itself, and then return into the emptiness.
For example, consider the movement of an individual's life. Each person is born with a purpose--they hold a unique gift to give to this world. If given the chance to flourish, that underlying wisdom knows how to fulfill its purpose and will do so.
But often these movements are stopped from fulfilling themselves. These unfulfilled movements of life are the shadow for Hübl.
Take the emotional development of a child. To use some cultural stereotypes for a moment, imagine a boy who is taught that he is not allowed to show that he feels sad or vulnerable. Sadness and vulnerability are movements of life, guided by an inner wisdom--they know how to fulfill their movement and purpose. They serve an important function in life. Sadness is the proper response to the sorrows of existence and vulnerability is the proper response to the fragility of all life.
The boy's family, peers, and/or culture however teach him that real men don't feel sadness or vulnerability. Real men have to be tough. They can't cry in public and so on. Or a girl who is taught that she is not supposed to express anger. Anger, like sadness, is a movement of life, guided by a deep wisdom. It is the appropriate response to having one's boundaries violated. At the moment when this girl should (rightly) be angry, anger arises within her (the movement of life comes forth), but she is taught that anger is not an appropriate emotion for "proper young ladies". Of course I'm using stereotypes in this example--some boys are taught not be angry and some girls are taught not to be sad.
The main point is, however it occurs, many movements of life are prevented from fulfilling themselves. Once the movement is blocked, there is now a contraction surrounding the movement inhibiting the expression of its wisdom. This life movement or energy will keep wanting to come forward--it wants to reach its fulfillment or destination--and every time it does this counteraction of contraction prevents it from doing so. This is why Hübl in that excerpt I quoted called shadow energy circular. The energy comes forward and wants to express outwardly, is stopped, and sent back down. Later it will come forward again and yet again be sent back down. Unless some change occurs this circle can continue indefinitely.
Preventing the movements of life from fulfilling themselves causes stress: bodily, emotional, mental, even spiritual stress. This stress causes dis-ease on any or all of these levels of our being.
So there's a contraction, the stress, and the symptoms that may show up around the shadow. The symptom might be that a person becomes afraid when they see someone who reminds them of a person who hurt them, even though this other person is no threat to them. They can't help but feel this rush of anxiety. And for Hübl it is the symptoms that so often grab our attention and energy, but working on the symptoms is only somewhat helpful and can become a distraction.
The key, for Hübl, is to get to the core. And here he said something really profound I thought. Because the shadow is ultimately an unfulfilled movement of life, every shadow has within it what he called a spark or a light (also a pearl). The key is to see to the light in every shadow so that it might be released from its entrapment. This teaching shows the influence of the Kabbalistic or Jewish mystical tradition. In Kabbalah this teaching of releasing the trapped light is known as tikkun olam--"the healing or restoration of the universe."
Since every such shadow is a creative impulse of life that is unfulfilled, releasing that light will bring forth healing, wisdom, and evolution. The shadow, for Hübl, is not only personal (though it does include that), but is ultimately a transpersonal movement of Life, Creation, or Evolution. This teaching works as a critique of evolutionary spiritual teachings that only locate evolutionary practice on the cutting edge, eschewing shadow work as somehow lower. Hübl's work does include attention to the creative call of the future--in fact there is an entire interview on precisely that subject here--but also promotes shadow work as central.
Hübl said that in his view, a spirituality without shadow work, is a house built on "shaky foundations." He used a metaphor drawn from Ken Wilber--as an amplification of the earlier metaphors of the light or pearl hidden in the unfulfilled movements of life. Wilber talks about this light as 'gold coins lost in the basement of the building.' The practice of shadow work is to "redeem" these gold coins--when we locate them they will offer us more wealth, i.e. more free energy and consciousness. Shadow work is going into the basement and collecting these gold coins. We should be prepared that in going into the basement, we may find some creepy crawly things within us as some parts of ourselves have learned to live in the shadows. When we shine a light into these areas, we need to have courage and compassion because we may find some things that are deeply painful, shameful, or frightening.
It is at these moments that trust is so crucial--trust that however dark it may appear, there is a light hidden somewhere that will be released. As Luke and Leia said of Vader, "there is still some good in him, I sense it." It was Luke's abiding faith in the remnant of remaining goodness in his father that helped called that light forth and bring balance to the Force. This is a good metaphor for how we can be of aid to one another in this journey--a point we are about to touch upon.
But first, before moving on, let's recap a bit.
There is stillness and movement. All movement comes from the stillness, seeks to fulfill itself, and then, if successful, will return to the stillness. Afterwards a new creative movement will arise from the stillness and then, after having completed its journey, will return to the stillness, only to give rise to yet another movement. On and on this process will go.
Spiritually we must then learn to abide in the stillness and to flow with the movement, until we begin to realize that paradoxically, though stillness and movement seem opposites, they are in fact one process.
If a movement is prevented from fulfilling itself, however, it will get sent into the shadow. Shadow work then is about retrieving the lost light hidden in the shadow--it is about freeing that movement of life to fulfill its potential and then return to the emptiness.
How then do we retrieve this hidden spark or pearl trapped in the shadow? How do we unleash these movements of light, so that their inner knowing can guide them to their completion of their movement and they can return to the still, silent Source?
Hübl's response was that we aid this process of releasing the Light through transparent communication, a core element of his teaching. This is a gift we can give each other, he said. The simplest definition of transparent communication is empathic communication in a transpersonal context. Empahtic communication is the kind one might expect to receive from a therapist or counselor--one in which the person is listening without judgment, allowing the other to have their own process. while creating a safe emotional container for the client. In transparent communication this takes place however within a specifically transpersonal context. By transpersonal I mean a context of spiritual awakening.
To illustrate this teaching, Hübl said, in a transpersonal context two people come to see each other as both arising within one space (The Womb, the stillness). This one space envelopes them, i.e. transcends and includes them. The one space is both greater than the two persons and yet they are completely held within that space.
To be in the one space together requires dropping our preconceived thoughts and perceptions of one another. Hübl calls this, "seeing the person fresh moment to moment." It is entering into a space of unknowing. It's more gazing rather than looking at the other person. In "looking at" the other person, we seem to ignite our conditioned mental structures that are always categorizing everyone and everything. "I like this person," "I don't like this one." "This person is weird." "He's dumb, she's annoying..." "I wish this person liked me", blah, blah whatever. Meanwhile interiorly we are at the same time trying to put on our best face to the public--deeply conditioned by what society tells us is the best way to be and to act. And some part of us knows deep down we are frauds, so we're all the time worried that others will see through our facades.
This craziness is basically the nature of human relationship. We talk over each other. We spend our time acting like we are listening to each other but inside we are really spending most of our energy thinking about what we are going to say next once the other person shuts up for half a second. Things are pretty much always the same in this world. Life is pretty boring and frustrating. It's never really creative.
Seeing a person fresh in each moment is dropping all those filters. Once we ground in the space and the silence, we are offered a kind of spiritual cleansing scrub, which wipes away all these preconceptions and opens space to allow for what Is to emerge.
So the two persons place their attention on the silent space within which they arise. They are still two persons but they are now two persons within one space. In the one space the two persons come to see themselves as two movements within the one still space. "There's movement in the stillness."
As two movements within one space, the two persons can begin to resonate or attune to each other. The two persons are like two songs--they can begin to listen for each other's melody and start to sing in harmony with each other. In this practice, individuals learn to trust that their bodyminds are powerfully effective tools for tuning into the other person. Individuals may receive communication about the other through images, colors, emotions, bodily sensations, and simply felt intuitions. There is a process of learning to speak to these arising intuitions and for the other to give feedback as to what resonated and what did not.
For Hübl, this transparent form of relationship is the next stage of human evolution--what he calls the New We and, as we will see in a bit, when this transparency is applied to our shadows it opens up the possibility of helping one another to release our trapped light.
Hübl called this ability to resonate or to attune to another, the science of feeling. The concept of the science of feeling is very deep. I want to spend some time unpacking it. In order to do so we need to go into some spiritual geography--the landscape of awakening. It is by getting a grasp of the science of feeling that we can finally come back to the practical question of how we might wisely and compassionately work with our shadows and release their light.
Hübl, following Ken Wilber, borrows terminology from the Vedanta and Vajrayana (Tibetan Buddhist) traditions. In those traditions, there is a teaching of the gross, subtle, and causal realms. The causal is the silent emptiness. It is The Womb, The Eternal. It is also however The Source (or Cause) of everything that is. Out of the causal comes forth a creative impulse moment to moment. So the causal is somehow both empty and fecund. The causal correlates (it is said) with deep dreamless sleep: formless, no sense of time, space, or separation.
When the creative impulse comes forth from the causal stillness, it enters into the subtle realm. The subtle is the dreamy world. The subtle is in-between the pure formlessness of the causal and the dense form of the gross world. The subtle is a domain of feeling, intuition, and inspiration. When Mozart "saw" entire symphonies written at once in his mind, he saw them in the subtle domain. He then had to furiously write them down onto paper in the gross realm. When a poet or musician or artist has a flash of inspiration, that inspiration comes from the subtle world. The Muses live in the subtle world. There is no form in the causal. In the subtle there is visionary form but it is not yet fully manifest.
So flowing out of the subtle things come into concrete form and that is the gross realm. The gross is the world of waking experience. The strength of the gross world is that it has concrete form but it's negative side is that it is deeply conditioned and by itself not capable of radically creative expressions. It tends to stay stuck in its habits.
The path from causal to subtle to gross is known as involution. The path back from gross into the subtle and causal is known as evolution.
According to Hübl, the subtle world is one of information. He talked of a subtle anatomy to all reality. He also called it an 'informational grid.' He often refers to it as the cosmic internet. Each person, he says, is a website on the cosmic internet. When you reach the homepage of an individual, there is a menu bar across the top. On the menu are category tabs like: emotional development, sexual development, interpersonal development, spiritual development, etc. If we click on each tab then pages open up that give the life history of that person in this line of their development.
The ability to log on to the cosmic internet, to locate the proper web address, and to read the information there is the science of feeling (aka the science of inner feeling). The word feeling in 'science of feeling' is really shorthand for 'feeling-awareness.' The kind of feeling Hübl is speaking about here is not emoting. It's not about working ourselves into various emotional states. The feeling he is talking about is a subtle one. It's a kind of awareness that resides in the heart.
As we did before, I invite the reader to stop for a moment and see if they can connect to this experience of feeling-awareness. It comes from the heart. There's a warmth about it but also a strong clarity. It is a very awake form of consciousness permeated by a deep sense of compassion. It flows through one's energy--there's a sense that the body is much wider much than simply it's physical form.
This subtle form of our being is energetic or in Hübl's words informational. This is the world where subtle patterns come into being (Plato called them the forms).
From Hübl's perspective, all of us, in every moment, are radiating all of our information. We are radiating out, from anyone who has the ears to hear and the eyes to see, the entirety of our being: our emotional, cognitive, spiritual, interpersonal development as well as our shadows and our creative potential. This notion that we are all the time radiating--like a radio wave--all of our being to everyone else is the basis for the teaching of transparency and transparent communication.
From the causal we have our formless being and the creative impulse which then flows into our subtle architecture, eventually manifesting in our physical flesh.
In transparent communication two persons recognize that they are both arising within one space and that they are two movements within the one space. The one space is the causal and the two movements are the subtle.
The other metaphor Hübl used to describe this teaching was a book. Each person is a book, where each of the chapters represent one of the lines of our development. Every individuals's book (or story) comes into relation with all other books of all other beings and together this creates what The Bible calls The Book of Life (or perhaps a never-ending story).
For Hübl we are then both the characters in the story and the ones reading the story. We are both the words on the page and the empty white paper on which the words are written. The empty white paper/reader is the spirituality of stillness and the words on the page/characters, the spirituality of movement. Eventually we are to learn that both are two sides of one reality: there is stillness in the movement and movement in the stillness.
As a Cosmic Internet or Library or radio station, all the information (in subtle form) is present--we just need to know where to look to find the information we need and how to read and interpret the information once we find it. In other words, we need to learn the language of the subtle world. The world we live in currently--that is the language we currently speak--comes from the gross realm. The rational mind with its categories, its slicing and dicing of things into discrete units, always comparing and contrasting them is the mind of the gross realm. While it has its place, the conditions of existence are calling us to this higher language of the subtle world--the inner knowing or inner science.
So while the scope of this vision is enormous, all of it is based on the simple ability to tune into ourselves or to another being and to feel what arises.
One thing I learned through sitting with this interview is that hearing the call of the future and shadow work both come from the science of feeling. The future and shadow work would superficially seem to be opposites: one is oriented to the future (creative potential) and one to the past (shadow). But both are products of the science of feeling. In that sense, my second interview with Hübl on the future and this third one on the shadow are two manifestations of one underlying reality. That is how I understand Hübl's initial comment that shadow work is a form of evolutionary practice.
The tragedy is this science of feeling is nowhere taught. We do not learn it in schools, in families, in business, even I would say in spiritual and personal growth communities. Life is the great teacher, Hübl said. And without having learnt the science of feeling, we have no way to understand Life's lessons. So horrifically, we seem to keep playing them out as Life is trying to get us to learn her secrets, one way or another. The cost of not heeding those lessons is untold suffering.
So we have taken something of the Cosmic Country road to get here, but we can now come back then to shadow work--keeping in mind all of these deep contexts.
It begins when individuals come together and practice transparent communication. A person has a shadow--some movement of life that is seeking to finds its fulfillment and return to the Source but something prevents it from doing so. The light, as we said, is trapped now in this contracted energy. As previously mentioned, Hübl called the contracted shadow a 'circling energy'--like a plane that is circling and circling the runway, caught in a holding pattern, waiting for the green light that it's safe to land the plane. Yet it never is able to land.
So we have this circling, un-integrated, shadow energy. There's stress involved with it, there are symptoms likely associated with it.
The key is to locate its precise location--its kosmic address. Once it is located, then we can address it.
So imagine one person in the group is struggling with a shadow around anger and someone(s) else in the group is clear in this area. The clear person can attune to the contraction and can see through the symptoms to the light trapped within. This person then seeks to hold deep presence and compassion for the person with the shadow and in this way it, as Hübl says, facilitates a process for that movement to be released and fulfill itself. As the topics shift to different dimensions of life, the roles may reverse. We all have shadows in certain areas and all have gifts/clear awareness in others. [Please Note: I've written a separate afterword that looks at the question of people with traumas or mental illness.]
Hübl said it was like a radio station--the station comes through on a very specific frequency. In order to get the signal of the radio station to come through clearly we need to adjust our tuners to the exact frequency of the station. A person with a shadow is giving off a signal they are unaware of--recall that everyone is radiating all of their information all the time. If another person in a group is clear in this area and can tune their dial to precisely the right frequency they can pick up the signal and will hear what's playing on that person's station. If a person clearly and compassionately tunes into that frequency, even if the person with the shadow is struggling to connect this aspect of themselves, the attentive presence of the other will start to allow their shadow to come forward into consciousness. According to Hübl, we learn in this way to rewrite the programming of our shadows. The presence of the other gives feedback to the shadow--the shadow learns that it can relate to the world in an appropriate manner. In the example of anger, a person can learn that they can express anger, they can set clear boundaries and others will not be afraid of them or cease caring for them.
I then asked Hübl if the same process might apply to social and collective shadows. I was thinking in particularly of his work around healing the Holocaust. While that is perhaps an extreme example, there are patterns to corporations, countries, provinces, cities, political structures, on and on. Similar to an individual, there are collective lines of development. There is a collective creative impulse for any collective. There are too, collective shadows, the effects (the echoes) of which still have impact years, sometimes centuries, or even millenia, later. He said there was and it was the same basic process--opening into stillness, attuning to the source of the pain and allowing it come forward in a space of deep healing.
He believes that if and when such a healing occurs there will be collective learning. He believes that if one such place of trauma were to learn to heal its energy, there would be major collective learning about how to achieve such healing in other locations. (For a film exploring this subject see Scared Sacred by Velcrow Ripper.)
Hübl called this work 'inner ecology.' Outer ecology is the ecology we need to build in order to have a sustainable planet--economically, politically, technologically. Inner ecology is the restoration and healing of the inner wounds in our environments. It is shamanic work--retrieving souls, ferrying those lost between the worlds to the light, healing, blessing, and empowering.
This inner ecology merged with the work of outer ecology is, I believe, the great task of this century.
My thanks to Thomas Hübl for sharing his wisdom on this subject as well as his embodiment of his own teaching. Having seen Hübl work with people in a 1 on 1 format (with permission, in the presence of others), I can say that he is able himself to do precisely what he is here describing. He is able to feel the subtlest points of a person, compassionately sit in their location, and call those elements of life directly to the fore. He creates a kind of vortex of space wherein these parts of ourselves are gravitationally pulled upwards into the light. So while this teaching may seem far out--and in many ways is--there is already, I'm convinced, his example as a living, breathing actual instantiation of what he is teaching. In his words, he is speaking from the teaching not about it. Even as he does so, I appreciate that he does not give off a guru sensibility. He is still a regular dude. I sense that he really is interested in a collective process not the adulation of his own ego. I don't want to turn him into some plaster mould saint and yet I want to honor his presence and his person.
Addendum: On Mental Illness and Traumas
In this interview Thomas Hübl definitely advocated for the view that the ability to work with shadow should become a cultural adaptation. He did however say--seemingly as a throwaway line--that for now this is still the work of professionals. I took that to mean that while he thinks its important that groups get together and begin to experiment in this collective way, we are very much at the beginning stages of all this. And for such groups I think it's really important that people who need professional help get it. This was a concern raised in a comment by Durwin to my previous piece on the creative future. I think it's a valid one. Perhaps too simplistically put, I think there is a difference not just of degree but order between what I might call the regular slings and arrows and wounding everyone experiences and those who have specific clinical issues (e.g. post-traumatic stress and so on). Obviously groups shouldn't be going into areas in which they have no professional expertise to deal with such difficulties.