In Praise of Shadows


As we move more deeply into the yin side of the year, I remembered a book I read years ago entitled “In Praise of Shadows” by Junichiro Tanizaki. In the book, he explores how in the past life in Japan was governed by shadows – the architecture, clothing, art, lighting, tea ceremony,, landscaping, and eating  utensils.

It reminded me that in the northern hemisphere, we have entered the shadowy, yin part of the year and will be moving deeper and deeper into darkness until the Winter Solstice when Light will once again be reborn. In the East, yin means the shadow of the mountain, while yang means the sunny side of the mountain. Yin is dark, internal, receptive, hidden, soft, heavy, cool, wet and in shadow. Yang is bright, external, active, exposed, lit-up, hard, light-weight, warm, and dry.

In most cultures around the world, these flows of energy from yin to yang and yang to yin are depicted by directions. During the fall and winter, light(from the south) descends into darkness and rotates from the SW through the NW, until we get to the North where the darkest day of the year (the winter solstice} is experienced and then the energy flows to the NE where Light once again begins to appear. This is why the NE is called the doorway of spirit because it is the transition direction between darkness and light. The SW, which is the transition point between light and darkness is called the doorway of humanity.


The diagram above from India’s Feng Shui tradition, Vastu Shastra, pictures Purusha, the “cosmic man.” We can see the spiritual energy entering his head in the northeast.

Typically, I find homes and temples aligned along the NE to SW axis, or with doors in these directions to be very yin. Not surprising, the islands of Japan and their mountain ranges align in a NE to SW direction, so the thrust of a yin magnetic energy flow underlies and conditions the whole culture.

This may be why in the past, ritual was interwoven into every aspect of daily and religious life in Japan. Religion in Japan was a wonderful mix of ideas from Shintoism and Buddhism. Unlike in the West, religion in Japan was rarely preached. Instead it was a moral code, a way of living, almost indistinguishable from Japanese social and cultural values.

Lawrence Blair in his insightful book, Rhythms of Vision, wrote that only three languages in existence create a perfect mandala when spoken into an oscilloscope – Japanese, High Hebrew and High Javanese! So, even the Japanese language is integrated into the very fabric of their life.

Today, of course this has all changed as globalism has spread Western ideas so widely that almost all modern cultures are, influenced by aspects of Western culture. People have become ungrounded and programmable worldwide by wearing plastic and rubber soled shoes and synthetic clothing. Most are disconnected and unconscious of both Earthly and Cosmic energies.

In his masterpiece, Tanizak remembers how in the past, “We found beauty not in the thing itself, but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates… Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty.” and he further states that “ In the past. rather than fetishizing the new and shiny, the Japanese sensibility embraced the living legacy embedded in objects that have been used and loved for generations, seeing the process of aging as something that amplifies rather than muting the material’s inherent splendor. Luster became not an attractive quality, but a symbol of shallowness, a vacant lack of history.”

I find the insights in this book, written years ago, still relevant. He reminds us how insensitive we have become to light pollution. He reflects that, “So benumbed are we nowadays by electric lights that we have become utterly
insensitive to the evils of excessive illumination.” He further states that,  “The progressive Westerner is determined to always better his lot. From candle to oil lamp. oil lamp to gaslight, gaslight to electric light – his quest for brighter light never ceases, he spares no pain to eradicate even the minutest shadow.”



Walking Through Doors Makes You Forget

Since we have just passed through a major yearly portal, the fall equinox, I decided to revisit a really interesting newsletter article I wrote in 2014, with some new updates. In both Feng Shui and Vastu, and many other cultures, the vital importance of doorways as transitional or transformational points was always part of the wisdom teachings. The masters taught that “to enter through a doorway, you must become the doorway,” or “to enter the room, you must know how to open the door.” These are cryptic ways of saying that you must be in in resonance the threshold you are crossing in order to gain access to another dimension or reality. This concept holds true for all planes from physical to spiritual.

I was excited to find a scientific study done by researchers at the University of Notre Dane that explored the “doorway effect.” It was entitled, “why walking through a doorway makes you forget.” The researchers found when testing participants that their responses to questions were both slower and less accurate when they walked through a doorway into a new room than when they walked the same distance within the same room. They were two to three times as likely to forget what they were supposed to do after walking through a doorway and walking through multiple doorways increased the error rate even more! “Entering or exiting through a doorway serves as an ‘event boundary’ in the mind, which separates episodes of activity and files them away, “ said coauthor Gabriel Radvansky.

One of the their most amazing discoveries was that the phenomena held true whether the participants were navigating virtual worlds or real world settings! The implications of this are mind boggling to say the least. It brings to mind all of the scientific discussions currently about simulation. This knowledge has been with us from time out of mind and like so much ancient wisdom, we have just forgotten it! (more…)