Saturday, May 21: the zombie apocalypse is coming – or so the rumor on Facebook goes. Maybe it’s the rapture. Anyway, something really big and major (and presumably catastrophic) is supposed to be happening Saturday, but I’m not changing my plans. Call me irresponsible.
All this talk about zombies has me thinking about what’s really behind our fascination with them. Carl Jung might say that zombies really represent the shadow, the parts of ourselves which we’ve rejected and are still largely unconscious. That is to say, we’re not consciously aware that we have certain characteristics and we tend to see – and judge - these characteristics in other people. Think of an apparently upright politician who campaigns against equal rights for gays while carrying on an affair with someone of the same sex. To Jung, our task in life is to get to know these disowned parts of ourselves, to bring them into our awareness and accept them. Only then do they stop having so much control of us. Of course this is a difficult and sometimes disturbing process, but Jung noted that what is in our shadow is a lot more powerful when it’s in the dark. A well-known example of this is being chased by a monster – or let’s say a zombie – in a dream. The dreamer runs frantically away from the zombie until s/he gets to some sort of dead end and has to face it. When the dreamer turns around to face the zombie, it turns into a kitten. Or something equally nonthreatening. Facing the shadow is like that – it’s scariest when it’s still unknown and chasing you. When you face it, you accept it, and it loses a lot of its power over you.
According to Wikipedia (that scholarly source for all zombie knowledge), zombies are “bereft of consciousness and awareness, yet ambulant and able to respond to surrounding stimuli”. Often zombies are portrayed as undead – they just won’t die. These are the parts of ourselves that we try and try and try to kill, but just keep coming back. You know the ones. Sometimes they are even hungry for human flesh or brains – they going beyond being annoying and become destructive, or even fatal. Think of an addiction. It’s only when the bright light of full awareness is shined on these parts of ourselves that we realize how serious the problem is and get help.
Zombies are also scary (if only in movies) because they highlight our basic vulnerability. As humans, we can’t predict the future, and we don’t really know for sure what’s ‘out there’, so who’s to say what might descend upon us? Zombies can represent our fear of death, our inability to accept the impermanence of life, and the unknown. Scary stuff!! I believe it’s our basic human vulnerability – or rather, our inability to accept it – that’s behind most of our suffering, our neuroses, and our problematic behavior. But that’s another blog post.
So what in the world does any of this have to do with yoga, anyway?
Yoga is all about increasing our awareness. We start by getting to know ourselves better ‘on the mat,’ and soon find that we get to know ourselves better as people too. And because we’re encouraged to shine that light of awareness on ourselves with kindness and acceptance, yoga helps us learn to accept those disowned things about ourselves, and to accept life on life’s terms. It helps us learn to relax, and coexist with the fundamental anxieties and uncertainties of life, even if it doesn’t take them away. Ultimately, the only way to deal with the zombies is to get to know them and accept them. And bring them to yoga!
Or if you prefer the psychedelic kind: Zombies