On Shadow Work & Healing Karmic Relationships
Updated: Oct 5, 2021
Sanskaras are the specific memories that we carry from life to life according to the karma we have taken on in this lifetime. Sanskaras are not just simple memories, but are charges of kinetic energy stored in the sheaths of our consciousness and over time, actually determine the shape of our life and our destiny
In this way, sanskaras give rise to our human desires, which then creates more sanskaras – thus, we are caught in a wheel of forgetting, unable to awaken to our true nature, because of the memories that we keep creating.
As I began my spiritual journey, the journey into my ancestral past also began. Memories from current and even past lives haunted me – they seeped into my meditations, my dreams.
For example, a re-occurring memory (from past life) that would arise during meditation was watching in horor, as my home, family, village, burned to ashes. In this memory, I held a deep feeling of guilt and despair as my actions had contributed to the destruction of my village. Another re-occurring dream I had (from this lifetime) was being in my grandparents’ home, my mom’s childhood home. In the dream, my grandfather had killed some members of the family. As this was happening – we panicked, not just because of what he had done, but because we had dinner guests coming over. My role in this dream was to collect the dead bodies and give them to my grandmother who would then quickly cook them up before our dinner guests arrived. Aside from a chilling sense of darkness, the predominant feeling exposed in this dream was that of shock, shame, and secrecy.
To provide context – the story of my grandparents’ union was steeped in violence. My grandfather kidnapped my grandmother at gunpoint at her high school– he was 27 and she was 16. He held her hostage in his home, her family tried to rescue her, but out of fear of his military rank, over the years, they eventually backed down, gave up – and my grandparents married and eventually had 8 children together. Throughout the years, my grandmother was only allowed to leave the house chaperoned, even on trips to the grocery. The abuse my grandmother and her kids endured: being held at gun point, being raped, being held hostage at home. I understood that the abuse was so traumatizing, that my mom and her 7 siblings rarely spoke about their childhood, and also, they rarely spoke about my grandfather. Later on in life, my grandfather was ostracized by the family, and also, by his fear of death (hell) and his shame. For the last twenty years of his life, he hid himself in the attic, and eventually drank himself to death. When I was a child, we weren’t allowed up in his room, and the few times that I was allowed in, the room reeked of despair and loneliness. My mom rarely spoke about her father– except when he died, before attending the funeral she said she was relieved to finally see him go. On occasion, my grandmother fought back. For example, when she discovered one of his infidelities, she chased my grandfather around the house with a machete, and when he ran out of the house – she chased him down the street until he found a place to hide. Because there was a lot of infidelity (my grandfather fathered the children of several other women) in their marriage – as an act of revenge, after he had taken the bar exam and received his license to practice Law – my grandmother went to the legal board and told them about his indiscretions – because the Philippines is a very religious catholic country – having children out of wedlock is illegal – and my grandfather was stripped of his license and ability to practice law in the Philippines.
It was clearly evident that whatever my grandfather and my grandmother carried – was passed on to their children, and intuitively, I also knew that it was passed on to me. At some point in my healing journey, I understood that my task was that of healing the shadow embedded within our ancestral trauma. The dreams I had throughout my childhood gave me an insight into these deep wounds. Later in life – the wounds manifested themselves in my romantic relationships. My first long-term relationship was with an abusive alcoholic. The one directly after was psychologically abusive. Only I was equally a perpetrator in this relationship – an abuser – which in many ways, was worse than being a ‘victim.’
Ironically, it was during my experience in these deeply challenging karmic relationships that I began to Remember – fortunately, I was already on a spiritual path during the course of these relationships and was able to remain Mindful, aware, and introspective (through the practices of 12 step, self-inquiry, mindfulness, and vipassana meditation, as well as plant-based ceremony) as I experienced the depths of darkness within my psyche. I believe this willingness to delve into the shadow, while remaining present, and shining the light of compassionate witnessing, helped me to shed many layers of toxic conditioning, fear, and shame. I recognized each trigger as being a mirror into my own subconscious (where ancestral memories are also stored) – each act of transgression led to deeper and deeper introspection, understanding, forgiveness, redemption, and ultimately freedom – as they provided the blades needed to cut the chords that anchored my consciousness in the realm of illusion.
"Each act of transgression led to deeper and deeper introspection, understanding, forgiveness, redemption, and ultimately freedom – as they provided the blades needed to cut the chords that anchored my consciousness in the realm of illusion."
In speaking about sanskaras and karmic relationships, Richard Rudd writes: "Your relationships offer you the greatest opportunities to unwind the wound. The very word, wound, indicates how we are bound by something that is literally wound around our genetic code. The deepest of memories, or sanskaras, are what give rise to our most challenging relationships. It is these difficult relationships in our life that eventually drives us to Remember - by questioning ourselves, our love, and the underlying reason for our life… Such karmic relationships are always intense and can be very challenging. When you enter deeply into such relationships and stay committed to its process, you are courting the presence of Grace. To accept the trial is to transform the co-dependent pattern into a higher frequency and this takes great love and surrender.”
In having delved into the shadow (whilst remaining present and committed to the healing journey) embedded within these karmic relationships, I was able to surrender and heal the many layers of pain, judgment, and shame, that had been passed on, from generation to generation within my family line.
Now, as I delve into the study of my gene keys, I am beginning to understand that my grandparents’ as well as my own story, are part of a larger collective story of deep-seated fear, survival, violence, trauma, shame and secrecy. I am also deeply grateful that the desire to awaken from this collective dream flowered within me – which paved the way for this journey of recovery. I consider myself very fortunate in that I was given the necessary conditions in this lifetime, to begin to process these shadow traits that have kept my ancestors trapped in this dark loop of sanskara, forgetting/suffering.
In the book, Richard Rudd goes on to write: “The shadow of forgetting governs all the endless cycles of existence and incarnation on this planet. It keeps us deeply asleep by concealing the past…If you were to remember that you have lived this same old story in different nuances a billion times over and that it still causes you the same suffering, you would immediately snap out of your age-old human patterns and transcend the suffering.”
Hence, the flip side of 'Forgetting' is the gift of Remembering – and in order to remember, we must first surrender to the teachings of our Shadow with courage, grace, and compassion.
In relation to Awakening, the healing of our personal and collective shadow frequencies are not just necessary, but also an integral part of the process:
“As your frequency becomes higher and higher, you have to process deeper and deeper shadow patterns that come from our collective ancestral past. Known in the Indian yogic tradition as sanskaras, these ancient shadow frequencies are literally wound around all human DNA. The only thing that can unwind them is light itself. Research into DNA has demonstrated that one of its more unusual electromagnetic properties is its ability to attract photons, causing them to spiral along the double helix. It’s the ability of DNA to weave light around itself that reveals its true hidden role within your body - to act as a superconductor whose sole purpose is to exponentially increase the frequency passing in and out of your body - this, in turn, leads to a complete transmutation of the fabric of your being.”
As we unravel the memories and the shadow stored within our DNA, we are able to literally absorb more light, which in turn propels us into higher frequencies and states of consciousness, which leads to a deeper and deeper recognition of our true nature. Without unraveling these sanskaras, these karmic imprints, we wouldn't evolve.
The human journey is a deeply experiential one – the purpose of our existence is to experience all of the different facets of an individuated consciousness. In essence, the sanskaras enable us to do this, by creating stories that we then live out, over and over and over again – enabling us to experience every perspective, every stroke and color of the human condition – which ultimately triggers within us, the desire to break out of this loop and evolve to higher realms.
In ending, I would like to share my favorite passage from Herman Hesse’s novel ‘Siddhartha,’ which I feel beautifully encapsulates this aspect of the awakening process:
“He no longer saw the face of his friend Siddhartha, instead he saw other faces, many, a long sequence, a flowing river of faces, of hundreds, of thousands, which all came and disappeared, and yet all seemed to be there simultaneously, which all constantly changed and renewed themselves, and which were still all Siddhartha. He saw the face of a fish, a carp, with an infinitely painfully opened mouth, the face of a dying fish, with fading eyes—he saw the face of a new-born child, red and full of wrinkles, distorted from crying—he saw the face of a murderer, he saw him plunging a knife into the body of another person—he saw, in the same second, this criminal in bondage, kneeling and his head being chopped off by the executioner with one blow of his sword—he saw the bodies of men and women, naked in positions and cramps of frenzied love—he saw corpses stretched out, motionless, cold, void— he saw the heads of animals, of boars, of crocodiles, of elephants, of bulls, of birds—he saw gods, saw Krishna, saw Agni—he saw all of these figures and faces in a thousand relationships with one another, each one helping the other, loving it, hating it, destroying it, giving re-birth to it, each one was a will to die, a passionately painful confession of transitoriness, and yet none of them died, each one only transformed, was always re-born, received evermore a new face, without any time having passed between the one and the other face—and all of these figures and faces rested, flowed, generated themselves, floated along and merged with each other, and they were all constantly covered by something thin, without individuality of its own, but yet existing, like a thin glass or ice, like a transparent skin, a shell or mold or mask of water, and this mask was smiling, and this mask was Siddhartha's smiling face, which he, Govinda, in this very same moment touched with his lips. And, Govinda saw it like this, this smile of the mask, this smile of oneness above the flowing forms, this smile of simultaneousness above the thousand births and deaths, this smile of Siddhartha was precisely the same, was precisely of the same kind as the quiet, delicate, impenetrable, perhaps benevolent, perhaps mocking, wise, thousand-fold smile of Gotama, the Buddha, as he had seen it himself with great respect a hundred times. Like this, Govinda knew, the perfected ones are smiling.”