This post was updated on January 16, 2017
Are you suffering and yet seemingly powerless to change your circumstances? Do your problems return to you again and again? Does misfortune seem to haunt you? Are you chronically ill, impoverished, or the victim of circumstances or malicious intent? These situations illustrate the shadows of karma, the consequences of thoughts and deeds done in the past, even in past lifetimes, that return to influence our lives and challenge us in so many ways.
Each of us carries within our energy field, within our cellular memory, our DNA, one or more of the many karmic shadows. These shadows comprise impressions written in the histories of our lives and the histories of our families. They are our karma. They comprise major challenges that we face in our lives. We suffer their effects until we clear their energy and gain a higher level of awareness.
Karmic shadows write the story of our life and set the stage of circumstances upon which our life plays out, including the antagonists and the challenges we face. They define our character and specify our handicaps and our limitations. They light the set and play the score, creating moods that give our lives a certain tone or underlying feeling, such as melancholy, dread, uneasiness or hostility. They define our character and our circumstances, place us on the stage and compel us to play our part until, at the climax, we either master the lesson they seek to teach, or we succumb.
Shadows often pass through many generations and many lifetimes. They may show up as certain types of challenge, e.g., failed relationships or financial troubles. Sometimes, their effects last for only a period in our lives. Sometimes, they occur again and again within a lifetime. Sometimes they last an entire lifetime.
Subconsciously or even consciously, our karmic shadows exert powerful influences on our lives, limiting our perceptions and our choices. The limiting energy of these shadows causes a lack of WellBEING. They make us feel powerless, vulnerable, confused, uncertain and isolated. These shadows produce failure, pain, bitterness and sometimes the desire for revenge. They can even produce chronic mental or physical illness.
The pain of our suffering results in persistent behavioral changes (a stress reaction, often with PTSD behaviors) and hence constitutes a lasting shadow on our happiness. It makes us complain, cry and sulk. The pain of chronic suffering can produce innumerable physical symptoms, so-called functional disorders such as digestive or sleep disturbances, as well as all manner of physical diseases.
Bitterness and the desire for revenge can result in aggressive behavior. We may become very egotistical and obsessed with demonstrating our superiority, or we may belittle, abuse or assault others. Though some people may act flamboyantly and appear genuinely interested in others, they still have difficulty connecting with and loving others, and thus they remain isolated and bitter.
Powerlessness, vulnerability, confusion, uncertainty and isolation cause us to contract, cower and hide, to slink through life, avoiding connection with others, unable to love and usually unable to accept love, though we desperately need love.
The Karmic Shadows:
Traditionally, a list of karmic shadows comprises the first seven described below. I have added many more shadows to the traditional list by drawing on the Hexagrams of the I Ching and on Caroline Myss’s work with archetypes. The list keeps expanding, making it a more complete but by all means not an all-inclusive presentation. Let’s examine each shadow, one by one.
Abandonment — neglect or loss through death or separation. Perhaps the most common shadow, feelings of abandonment arise either when one feels that they aren’t getting the attention they need from parents and other family members, from teachers and mentors, from supervisors in a work environment, or, more obviously, when a loved one departs from our life. Chronic feelings of abandonment result in pervasive feelings of isolation, insecurity and unworthiness. One loses the capacity to trust people, authorities and God, making intimacy impossible. One perceives life as a struggle against forces stacked against oneself, a struggle one must face alone.
Abuse — ongoing physical, mental and/or sexual aggression producing emotional trauma. Abuse can occur within the family or community, in schools, in military service and in places of employment. Abuse causes one to believe that the world is a dangerous place. This results in chronic anxiety, suspiciousness and distrust. One may seek relationships with people who become abusive. This seems paradoxical until one realizes that abuse within the family causes one to associate that behavior with being loved. People in this situation often defend the perpetrators and blame themselves for the abuse they experience, believing that they deserve it.
Note: I put sexual abuse in this category and rape in the category of violence because sexual abuse is often seductive (manipulative) and in a perverted sense, consensual, while not necessarily physically harmful. I put rape with violence because it implies physical and, usually, painful assault without consent and despite rejection and resistance.
Betrayal — harm inflicted intentionally by a trusted individual resulting in intense pain, bitterness and lack of trust. Whether from this lifetime or a past life, betrayal leaves an intense energetic impression that can manifest as a mental problem such as trait anxiety or paranoia, or as a physical problem such as back pain or fibromyalgia. I have seen it manifest as an autoimmune disorder, though such disorders, for example, inflammatory bowel diseases, are more commonly due of self-loathing.
Violence — assault or rape directed at us personally or from living in an environment of gang or ethnic violence, riot or war resulting in stress and/or physical harm. The experience of violence towards oneself results in a sense of violation of one’s integrity. This can lead to a profound sense of vulnerability and intense distrust of others, making it very difficult to enjoy and grow in relationships. Violence in our environment results in stress and post-traumatic stress behaviors such as nightmares, emotional instability and drug abuse.
Poverty — lack of money, food, shelter, community, knowledge/information and opportunity. Living in poverty is itself a shadow because it produces chronic frustration, a sense of impotence resulting from one’s inability to improve one’s living situation, and hopelessness. One likely feels that the deck is stacked against them and there is nothing one can do to change the situation. Chronic poverty is a “risk factor” for crime, violent behavior, drug abuse and poor school and job performance.
Illness — chronic, debilitating or acute, severely painful or life-threatening physical or mental illness. Simply being ill takes a toll on anyone. Being ill brings pain and keeps one from doing the things one expects or desires to do. Illness represents the paying of a karmic debt or it can be a life challenge to stimulate growth as a person. Being seriously or chronically ill makes us question who we are, why we are here, what we want in life, what we value in life, and what we might become. In this sense, illness may provide an opportunity to learn and grow.
Addiction — drugs, gambling, food, sex, money. Addiction arises from attachment and may represent a form of self-medication. Addictive behaviors bring gratification but limit our freedom and ability to handle challenging situations appropriately. Addictions block progress in life. Even the addiction to making a lot of money, though it can provide material gratification, interferes with our living a full life because it grips our attention (consuming enormous amounts of time and energy) and reduces our capacity to relate honestly with others because we are always “on the take.”