IWB Sangha Call: Working with Shadow in Development


Integral Without Borders Sangha Call: Working with Shadow in Development

Our first Integral Without Borders Community Call begins this month! Our intention with these IWB sangha calls is to co-create the kind of 'integral community' we want, one that is deep and wise in its content, supportive in its interpersonal connections, and world-centric (even kosmo-centric!) in it's moral embrace. Each call will focus on an aspect of integral practice in development, often touching on the subjects that are difficult or edgy and yet are exceedingly important in the field. We are also asking certain practitioners to share on their own topics and high/low points of their integral projects.

We've had to make a change in the date for this first call. It will now be held on Saturday, Sept 28th, 9-10:30am Pacific Daylight Time. (Find your time zone here).

Register: If you intend to attend, please be sure to drop us an email.

How: The conference call line is a North American number, but it can be accessed by calling the number via skype.
Conference Dial-in Number: (605) 475-4810
Participant Access Code: 988715#

Price: For now, while we fine-tune these sangha calls, they will be by donation. (We are currently raising funds for IWB's participation in the integral sustainable supply chain work taking place in partnership with One Sky in Peru and Bolivia.)

Topic: The topic of the first part of the call will be, "Working with Shadow in International Development." Read below for more context about this topic, as a way to seed the discussion.

Working with Shadow in International Development – Discussion paper [043]

By, Anna Cowen  – member of IWB, integralMENTORS Fellow and Director of Meshfield

Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. At all counts, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions.”    C. G. Jung*

“Yet there is a mystery here, and it is not one that I understand: Without this sting of otherness, of – even – the vicious, without the terrible energies of the underside of health, sanity, sense, then nothing works or can work. I tell you that goodness – what we in our ordinary daylight selves call goodness: the ordinary, the decent – these are nothing without the hidden powers that pour forth continually from their shadow sides.”    Doris Lessing*

The world of international development is particularly rich in potential around shadow work – one of the key dimensions of the Integral model. In many instances the practitioner is working in a foreign context, in a culture they know either nothing or only a little about, and where they are not first language speakers of the local language. The global South is littered with the unintended casualties of well-intentioned development workers. The desire to “do good, to help” is no guarantee that “good” will be done. Indeed, often the opposite emerges, clothed in fine sounding words.  There is an interesting chapter in Nassim Taleb’s recent book “Anti Fragile” where he talks to this, titled “Naïve Intervention”. As he notes, there is even a name for “damage from treatment in excess of the benefits” – iatrogenics, meaning “caused by the healer”.

Foregrounding this awareness, and working both compassionately and fearlessly with one’s “self-as-instrument”, has the potential to be a powerful spiritual practice. And the same goes for consciously working with cultural shadow in the collective, as well as when opening a dialogue with the shadow dimensions of the physical contexts of international development. This is the first of three linked short papers on this topic exploring this idea in self, culture and nature.

The underpinning premise to shadow work as presented in these short papers is two interconnected concepts - that “what is without, is within”, and that at some level, all phenomena interpenetrate. Or put in another way, if we, either as individuals or as a group, find ourselves reacting strongly to something – a person, a situation, a place – in either a negative or a positive way, then that reactivity is the sign-post or indicator that there is a dimension of our being (either individual, collective or both) that is not yet known to our conscious selves, that is in “shadow”, and following this, at some level, “your shadow is my shadow is our shadow is your shadow is ..”. The “We” in this story about international development can take so many forms – Integral practitioners, international development practitioners, field workers, donors, recipients, people from the Global North, English first language speakers, North Americans, South Africans of European descent, women farmers in rural Mozambique, AIDS orphans in Zimbabwe, people living on less than a dollar a day.. and so on - our multiple human identities - context dependent. And embedded in these expressions of “We” are holonic fractals, each ripe with cultural shadow. 

The metaphor of Indra’s Net, from the Avatamsaka Sutra, which is used to illustrate the Buddhist concept of the interpenetration of all phenomena, can be a useful metaphor for thinking about this.

"Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net which has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out infinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each "eye" of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering like stars in the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring." 
-- Francis Harold Cook, Hua-Yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra

So of what use are these perspectives and constructs to the practice of international development?  Starting with “self”, in the UL quadrant, application may go something like this.  In any situation you find yourself working in, are drawn to, ask yourself the following:

  • As someone working in [economic development/sustainable development/health work/ …] (by way of a few examples), where in my own life is there [economic pathology/unsustainable practices/lack of self care…]?
  • What is drawing me to develop others, to help others?  What are my deepest intentions, in doing this work? If I am utterly truthful, what are my 'covert intentions'? Where in my own life am I not supporting/developing/helping myself?
  • What is drawing me to work “out there”, in communities that are not mine? What is outside that is not met inside?

One way to work with these questions (and other similar ones that may be more appropriate to your personal situation) is to use the Diamond Heart technique of working with a partner, and taking turns to ask each question repeatedly (perhaps 5-10 times) and to witness one another as you drop into the layers and creases and wrinkles that these inquiries unfold. If faced honestly, and returned to again and again, these questions yield shadow gold. They go a long way to supporting both personal authenticity, and the allied lightness, agility and flexibility that is such an asset when you find yourself continuously working on the edges of your comfort zones, as is so often the case in the arena of international development. Sound dojo work for developing “self-as-instrument”.