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7 Fears, 7 Treasures, 7 Shadows, 7 Others

The 7 Shadows

All of this having been said, I think it is important to also explore possible shadow expressions of courage, or what happens when we are “recklessly courageous”.  Shadows are created when we ignore the intelligence of our fears, throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.  This can be hazardous.  Even though being ruled by our fears causes many problems, disregarding them altogether also causes problems.  There is intelligence to our fears, a reason they exist.  They alert us to proceed with caution, to maintain our awareness and develop our strength and skillfulness.  The following shadows might even be the result of a “fearlessness” that is not an overcoming of fears, but an inability or unwillingness to feel and heed them in the first place.  This is something not always mentioned by those who promote the glories of a courageous life.  The following 7 Shadows, like the 7 Treasures, are directly related to the 7 Fears of Wellness.

  1. Thrill Seeking (Experience)
  2. Isolation (Solitude)
  3. Co-Dependence (Intimacy)
  4. Solipsism (Responsibility)
  5. Lack of Integrity (Identity)
  6. Arrogance (Excellence)
  7. Nihilism (Impermanence)

1.  Thrill Seeking (Experience)
“Take calculated risks.  That is quite different from being rash.” –George S. Patton

The shadow side of being fearless about experience is to be something like a thrill seeker.  It is an indiscriminate openness to whatever opportunity for variety and intensity of experience is available.  It does not consider potential consequences.  It is compulsive risk-taking merely for the sake of experience, with no other meaningful purpose.  Rather than enriching us, it exhausts and destroys us, often causing great turmoil for everyone in our wake.  It can even turn into addictions, for instance to sex or gambling.

If one wants the rush of experience that comes from cliff diving at Acapulco, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, long ski jumping in the winter Olympics, or surfing at Waikiki, it is wise to build up one’s skills gradually.  There are countless opportunities for intensity of experience, but they require preparation and training.  For those with social phobias, going to a large dinner party with strangers might be too overwhelming and be best prepared for by having a meal with a small gathering of close friends first.

2.  Isolation (Solitude)

To be recklessly courageous in terms of solitude is to be a recluse or a hermit, i.e. to be socially isolated.  This by itself, for temporary periods of time, is not necessarily a reckless thing to do.  But without some kind of contemplative or spiritual practice, an intention to be of benefit to others, and a teacher to provide guidance, such solitude can lead not to greater self-understanding, but to madness, or at least severe forms of neurosis.  Also, when we are suffering with extreme states of mind, whether grief, anxiety, or psychosis, it is reckless to try to go it alone.  There are times when we do need other people to provide comfort, reassurance, and some kind stable reference point.  The shadow side of our courage to enter solitude arises when we remain in loneliness and forsake engagement with others.

If we fear being alone we might start by spending an hour or two by ourselves.  We might simply meditate for twenty minutes in our own room and see how it goes.  Eventually we might build up to being able to do a 3-year solitary retreat, but first we should make friends with ourselves.  Our relationship to our own mind can be a little like dating.  It is usually better to get to know someone before moving in together.

3.  Dependence/Co-Dependence (Intimacy)
Shadow courage in matters of intimacy produces a number of rather well known problems.  In essence it is when we share too much of ourselves and form bonds with people before bothering to discover if they are trustworthy, or even if they are interested.  It is an indiscriminate disregard for boundaries.  When we form attachments willy nilly, and remain emotionally vulnerable no matter how we are treated, we leave ourselves open for abuse.  Some would call this co-dependence, and it almost never turns out well.  When our courage to enter intimate relationships is not also balanced by our willingness to enter solitude, we can rely on others to provide everything from money to the meaning of our lives.  The shadow expression of intimacy eclipses our sense of autonomy and responsibility.

In integral language it is our neglect of the “I” dimension of our experience and an exclusive regard for the “We” dimension.  The courage to enter intimate relationships allows us to move forward with others at a rate that is workable for both them and ourselves.  It is heedful of signs of danger and able to slow down so that more trust can be established, or end a relationship if necessary.  Shadow intimacy disregards all consideration of boundaries or signs that the other person has harmful intentions or doesn’t want a relationship with us, and plows ahead no matter what.

4.  Solipsism (Responsibility)
Shadow courage in relation to responsibility involves a variety of hazards.  One is that we could take a solipsistic approach to our lives, believing we can, or should, control everything.  This might entail the belief that we completely “create our own reality”.  The fact is that things do happen to us that we did not cause.  When we take responsibility for hurricanes and earthquakes we wind up with a misplaced sense of guilt.   Another hazard is a lack of spontaneity due to not being willing to surrender to outside forces.  This can shut down the possibility of living in a creative and improvisational way.  In general the shadow side of responsibility is an overly earnest approach to life, where we diligently cross all if our T’s and dot all of our I’s, and miss the poetry of paragraphs. 

It might also make us unreceptive to care and compassion from others, believing that we should do everything for ourselves.  When we are attempting to care for a person in the shadow side of responsibility, it may feel like we are trying to penetrate an iron shield.  Also, as a caregiver we might take too much responsibility for the fate of others, believing that it is up to us to save people from themselves and single-handedly transform their lives.

5.  Lack of Integrity (Identity)
Shadow courage around self-definition is the refusal to identify and rest in any stable aspects of our character or rely upon them to guide us in our actions.  It can be the unwillingness to take a personal stand and declare oneself out of fierce resistance to being “pinned down” or “pigeon-holed”.  The hazard is that we can become wishy-washy and indecisive.  If we are philosophically or spiritually oriented toward the notion of “egolessness” we might neglect developmental tasks that would move our lives forward.  Choosing a career or livelihood, taking on various social roles, discovering and developing one’s inherent gifts, being reliable in relationship to others- all of these challenges can be rationalized as unnecessary if one simply claims that “I don’t exist- ego is a sham!”  This can indeed be a long, dark shadow.

6.  Arrogance (Excellence)
Reckless courage in pursuit of excellence leads to the shadow of arrogance.  We can get so caught up in the greatness of our aspirations, and whatever success we have achieved, that we begin to think we are better than others.  We can constantly compare ourselves with others, get caught in envy and competition, and turn our lives into a game of one-upmanship.

The other hazard is that we can become so attached to our relative expressions of excellence that we forget the unconditional and intrinsic nature of our goodness and worth.  This can lead to being compulsively driven, to workaholism, and the desperate need to constantly prove ourselves.  The shadow of the pursuit of excellence prevents us from taking satisfaction in things as they are, leaving us in a chronic state of feeling incomplete and wanting to be someone else.

7.  Nihilism (Impermanence)
The shadow side of being courageous in the face of impermanence, loss, change, and death, expresses itself as a failure to protect what needs to be protected.  It fails to value life and all that is necessary for its survival and flourishing.  It is to neglect what needs our care, including ourselves.  It is glib about tragedy, taking a nihilistic view on everything.  Such a view sees clearly the impermanent nature of all things, and concludes that therefore nothing matters.  Everything that can be made will eventually come to ruin, so why even bother?  The shadow of nihilism allows us to disengage from the tasks of living, from other people, and from our own development.  It may seem existentially courageous, but it is instead an extreme form of cynicism.  It undercuts vitality and inspiration and leads to depression, to a smothering philosophy of despair.

It is important to recognize shadow courage because it often tries to pass itself off as authentic courage.  It is often a form of naïve idealism or cynicism and can bolster itself with seemingly lofty philosophy.  To those still caught in fear it can be both terrifying to be around, as well as provoke awe and admiration.  Unfortunately, people engaged in shadow courage often become role models for those aspiring to overcome their fears.  The worst part is that when its results are tallied, one might be persuaded to once again retreat into fear and symptoms.



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