Monday, October 08, 2007

Big Mind/Big Heart as Shadow Work

Genpo Roshi's Big Mind process is a very useful tool for gaining access to a vaster awareness. I wouldn't call it enlightenment, but it definitely can open the mind and heart.

As useful as it is, I think it falls short in some ways. It can never replace devoted meditation. It can only offer a glimpse of what might be possible for us in following a meditation practice over a long period of time.

Big Mind is popular in the integral community. And as an integral practice, it can certainly be useful. But I am a big fan of Voice Dialogue (the source of Big Mind) and shadow work with subpersonalities. As part of an integral psychology practice, I think Big Mind can be expanded to be much more useful.

What I am proposing is shadow work with "parts" within the open compassion of Big Mind.

First, here is the Big Mind process in a series of videos.

Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:

Part Four:

Part Five:

Part Six:

Part Seven:

Part Eight:

Part Nine:

Part Ten:

Part Eleven:

So now you have seen the basic model and how to enter Big Mind/Big Heart. Personally, I don't believe this is what enlightenment might feel like (but then, I am not enlightened). However, I think this open, compassionate space is an incredibly valuable space for doing shadow work. It provides the safety of detachment from the parts themselves, while also offering an open loving space for them to be present.

Here is where I want to add something different.

Shadow Work in the Big Heart Space

Once one can access and enter Big Mind/Big Heart fairly easily -- and it might take a few times through the above model to pick that up -- we are in the perfect space for doing shadow work. What follows is a combination of Big Mind, Internal Family Systems Therapy, and Integral Psychology.

In the early stages of the process, Genpo Roshi walks us through several of the most universal parts that all of us can access. I don't like his use of the "damaged self," preferring instead the "wounded self," but other than that the parts are all fairly common. As you work through them a second or third time, try to notice the one(s) that feel most challenging for you -- the ones that interfere with your life in any way that feels unhealthy. They may carry a bigger "charge" than the others, or feel more familiar. These are probably your parts that carry heavy burdens and thus feel the need to exert control in your life.

At one time, these parts served a valuable purpose -- and sometimes they still do. All parts only want what is best for us, but because they often arise in response to challenges that the Self was unprepared to handle when we were children, they are now inappropriate to our current lives.

But we can unburden them and negotiate new roles for them. This is serious work -- and we should never undertake this process lightly. The reason I am advocating doing this work from the space of Big Mind is that when we are there, we are less likely to merge with these parts because we have already called them and released them at least once.

The Process

So, to do this process, get into Big Mind/Big Heart, however long it takes you to do that. Rather than going through all the parts Genpo Roshi uses, you can probably abbreviate it to four or five parts before entering Seeking Mind and working toward Big Mind. Rather than speaking from the place of the part you choose to work with, which is known in IFS as Direct Access, we are going to invite the part into the inner space, what IFS refers to as In-Sight work.

Once in Big Mind/Big Heart, call up the part that you want to work with. Invite it into the open, compassionate space you have created. Allow yourself to see it, or feel it, or hear it, or smell it -- however it presents itself. It may be an object, a person, an animal, or you might not see it at all and only feel its presence.

Welcome it and thank it for allowing you to visit with it. Allow it to tell you what it believes and how it feels. Notice what its perspective on the world is. Allow it to tell you anything it wants about why it is how it is. Feel free to ask it questions.

Notice if other parts are activated by its presence. If so, ask them to wait quietly and promise that you will come back to work with them, too. Some parts might be uncomfortable or threatened by the part you are working with -- acknowledge this, reassure them and return to the original part.

The part you are working with most likely has been carrying some kind of burden for many years -- ask it about this, how it feels about that, if it would like to release the burden. Promise that you will not banish it if it gives up its burden and its role in your life. Promise that it can become whatever it wants to become.

You may have to negotiate with it -- if it is a protector, you may have to promise to watch out for the part it protects. If it's the wounded child, you might need to work with it over a long period of time to get it to release whatever shadow material it has been holding (which could be a secret other parts do not think you can handle). If it is a wounded child (an exile), you might also need to negotiate with the firefighter that protects it.

If you need to, call in other parts, all the while maintaining the open, compassionate space of Big Mind/Big Heart, and negotiate with them as well. Many times, firefighters will feel threatened and not want to allow you to work with an exile.

Do as much work with the part as you can, but be prepared to allow it to take care of itself -- it might take several sessions to heal a part. If it releases its burden, negotiate a new role for it, which may have nothing to do with what its original role might have been. Be sure to thank it for working with you and assure it that you will return to see how it is doing.

If it won't release the burden, thank it for working with you and promise that you will return to work with it some more.

Thank all the parts you have accessed for being willing to show up.


When you have returned to normal awareness, check in with yourself and make sure you haven't merged with the part(s) in any way. Take a few minutes to get grounded. Make any notes you can about the experience and what you learned.

This is deep shadow work, so be aware that there may be an aftermath. Your protector parts and managers might act up in the following hours or days. If you got close to an exile -- or worked directly with an exile -- a firefighter might step forward to bury your awareness of the exile. You'll know this is happening if you feel compelled to engage in any kind of addictive or escapist behavior that is out of the ordinary or more extreme than normal.

Integral Psychology/Spirituality

Working with the awareness gained from this exercise is the important part.

It's useful to know, using Ken Wilber's developmental scheme presented in Integral Spirituality, where the various parts might fall in our developmental history. Exiles tend to be from early childhood, so they are often at the Infrared or Magenta stage of our development, or sometimes Red. Firefighter are almost always from the Red level. Managers are generally from Amber or sometimes Orange.

Knowing where the various parts fall in the integral spectrum allows us to work with them through reviewing our biography -- we can identify where and when they may have developed in response to events in our lives. This knowledge gives us a context for understanding that our various parts, no matter how much we may want to reject them, are actually only concerned with our well-being.

As we work with each individual part -- a process that may take years -- we can unburden them and allow them to adopt new roles in our lives. If we have already been doing parts work, we may have named these parts when we first discovered them and got to know them. But as they transform, we might have to rename them with a title more in line with their new role in our lives.

Some parts might want to grow up and be more integrated into our lives (usually firefighters and managers), while some (usually exiles) might want to remain children, but now healthy children freed of their pain. We should try to honor them and their wishes as much as possible.

This might sound a little too easy, but it actually does work this way. Our parts do not want to carry burdens and disrupt our lives -- they'd much rather be healthy and whole.

If we continue work with our parts over time, we can become more whole and compassionate people, carrying less shadow weight and with a more spacious inner life. It takes time, but it's worth the work.


Anonymous said...


Very interesting to find someone who is into Internal Family Systems parts work within such a broad context as you are. I think it is one of the most important fields there is. Always looking to talk with people who are interested in it. Feel free to get in touch.

Steph Nile said...

Thanks for introducing us to this ...
This is new way to look at the self; so simple and yet so obvious! That is the acid test of brilliance!

P.S. It got past the SKEPTIC ... so that's really pretty good going ;)

Steph @ StructuralHomeopathy.blogspot

Steph Nile said...

... Wow! and then Genpo introduces Prajanparamita! Wow! Tara, Wow! Aveloketishvara!

Om Mani Padme Hum (x100)

Steph Nile said...

... and of course, another way to cultivate Big Mind is to grapple with and ponder upon Nagarjuna's logical approach, in his Mulamadhyamakakarika (The Fundamental Widsom of the Middle Way - Trans, Jay L. Garfield).