What we can do with what I call the Big Mind process is learn how easy it is to shift perspectives. Each one of us has an infinite number of views. I like to say we have 10,000 states of mind. Now if a state of mind is out there in the world—like that of Christ or Buddha or Mother Teresa or Hitler or bin Laden—it is also in me. Every emotion that’s out there is also within me. As I first learned from Drs. Hal and Sidra Stone and their Voice Dialogue work back in 1983-84, each of these aspects has its own voice, and, in fact, can be viewed as a separate voice which has its own distinctive perspective and function, a voice that wants to be heard, can speak up, and can grow and mature to align itself with wisdom and compassion. However, some of these aspects of ourselves have been fired. We call those disowned voices. Now, sometimes they’ve been fired for very good reasons. None of us wants to take food out of a starving baby’s mouth, so we disown the possibility that we’re even capable of being driven to such desperation. We disown the possibility that we would step on infants to get that last breath of air in a gas chamber. But I remember hearing the Swiss psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross say that survivors of the Nazi concentration camps told her they had witnessed such acts by good, loving people, and she realized that she herself had that same potential.
Knowing that we have the potential for the best and the worst is absolutely essential for doing this work because we are going to run into aspects of ourselves that are disowned. There is nothing wrong with you if you’ve disowned aspects of yourself. You’re just not functioning fully. Often, when we discover a disowned aspect, we’ll say, “I don’t have that that quality. I never get angry.” Or, “I never get jealous, I just never get jealous.” Or, better, “I have no ego, I’m egoless. I’ve been meditating for a long time, I’ve had great enlightenment, and I’m now egoless.” Yeah, right. Those aspects are just disowned or in denial.
When a voice is disowned it also becomes a shadow. When it’s a shadow, we don’t see it in our self; however, we do see it in others. We see that aspect in others and we dislike it. It actually makes us irritated or, even worse, enraged. When we see somebody acting ignorantly or with prejudice and that voice is disowned in us, we will be outraged. In fact we can hate those people that hate other people so much we will want to kill them. This happens because that aspect of prejudice is disowned in us.
When a voice is disowned, it goes covert. It goes underground, and the only person that doesn’t get it when I say that I don’t get angry is me. Everybody else is aware of how angry I am all the time, but I don’t see it. That’s a disowned voice. Or everybody else sees that I’m instantly jealous, but I don’t see it. “I never get jealous. I’m never envious. I wish everybody the best.” Right. The same goes for narcissism. “I’m not a narcissist, but there sure are a lot of them out there. And wherever I look I seem to see these narcissistic people, and it’s all about them. They get into these spiritual practices, like Zen, where they contemplate their navels and they are so narcissistic, and I’m not narcissistic because I’m out in the world and I’m working and I’m doing great things.”
However, when we begin to give a voice to a disowned aspect of ourselves we bring it back into the system. It’s like it’s been laid off and it’s out there picketing, out working against the company. We bring it back in; we give it a job description, and now he’s a happy fellow. He wants to do his job really well, wants to function at an optimal level. When he’s out there unemployed he’s pissed off and working against the system. And we wonder why we suffer, why our life is not full of happiness and joy?
You might think that uncovering these disowned voices would be unpleasant, embarrassing, or worse. On the contrary, the process of owning them is actually really exciting. In fact it’s one of the most exciting things you can possibly do. I’d guess it’s even better than jumping out of a plane, though I haven’t done that myself. Now, it doesn’t happen immediately, but once we begin to speak from a disowned voice, we begin the process of reintegrating it, and that process can take time. It’s like planting a seed that has to be watered and nurtured until it germinates. Still, the reason it’s so exciting is that we begin to experience ourselves more completely, and there’s no greater joy than experiencing yourself as a fully-functioning human being.
by Zen Master D. Genpo Merzel