Refined by Shadow

I want to be a better person; a better friend, worker, partner, environmental steward, child, sister and better to myself and all my relations in my world. By referring to “better”, I do not use it as a standard of comparison made up through ego or society’s cultural norms. Better is not something consumable, nor something I accomplish so I may sleep more soundly at night. I do not use better to refer to some model which I want to live up to. Rather, I use better to refer to how much I participate in all of my relations. To me, better refers to my level of presence as I am being present in my life. I visualize this as the brightness of my true self shining and illuminating my relations through my light of living.
I describe presence as a mindfulness, or focused awareness. It is to look at life with an open and nonjudgmental attention and see our darkness in order to develop insight. He suggests it is the basis of all Buddhist practice and is the key to liberation. As I show up for my jobs, school or other relationships, I am being present. In showing up, I see my presence as attentiveness to life’s expression. Further, I see it as a simple and important gift which I can give. Giving my presence is what “betters” me.
Living my intention of being present, mind and body, in all my relations, I have become increasingly aware of myself and my surroundings. Moments when I “slip” into an less-present state now appear to me more obvious, like cutting myself badly while day-dreaming during the use of a sharp knife. I see these “slip” events as indictors of my presence and also as subtle (or not so subtle!) reminders to be more present in what I am doing. With more attention, I would be less likely to cut myself and could also practice using my knife with more precision. 
While this simple example is true, I use it as a metaphor to suggest the path of presence can provide an opportunity for deeper personal work. As I am alive, I have an opportunity to participate within many complex relations. Just as I have a relation working with my knife, I have relations with myself, my family, larger communities, organizations and systems, like cities or ecosystems. I see that through my participation in these relations, each provides feedback to inform how I may become better present within them. My relations are like a mirror, providing reflection so I may see myself more clearly. 
As I begin to see myself more clearly, I notice my “slip” events taking specific form through inner conflicts, burdens of my emotional baggage affecting my relationships and the challenge of facing parts of myself which are unfocused “rough edges”. I call these parts of myself by many names, because they have many faces; greed, self-absorption, guilt, shame, fear, gluttony, aversion, hate, laziness, apathy, and on and on. Collectively, I refer to these parts of myself as darkness, because they seem so opposite from my light. Though, I believe this perceived duality is only an illusion, because I recognize these parts of myself as extensions of a basic lack of presence. Furthermore, when I react to the challenges of darkness from a place which is not centered, they become even more sticky, crunchy or challenging, and often spiral into intense stress in my life. This stress manifests itself through physical or mental sickness and conflict with others.

My darkness is not only a source for conflict, because I also acknowledge that with the intention of being present within them, facing these dark parts of myself are true opportunities for transformation. As I do so, I become better informed of how I can participate in my life with greater awareness. It is not my intention to cast away darkness and promote only my light-self, for this is likely impossible. I acknowledge in myself both sides of these perceived dualities, and each provides significant information to re-form myself, to unfold myself, and to explore the mysteries of my true self. By experiencing this polarity of  presence within myself, I further refine my presence and walk my red-road and spiritual path. Better. 

image by Joel Schmid 

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