Spirituality and the Shadow – Keith Kurlander & Dr. Will Van Derveer – HPP 111

Keith Kurlander, MA, LPC

Dr. Will Van Derveer

The pursuit of spiritual development can take many twists and turns, sometimes showing us where we are growing and sometimes showing us where our shadow continues to operate unabated. In spiritual communities, unexamined unconscious material can get amplified causing significant suffering.

In today’s episode, Will and Keith share what they learned from experiences with gurus and in being members of spiritual communities in the past. They share openly about the ways they saw their own and others’ shadow material emerge in their deep dives in very different spiritual traditions.

Show Notes:

Keith’s spiritual awakening – 01:49
My inclination, I think started, where it really kicked off was, which I’ve talked about, in many places, this psilocybin journey when I was 19. And I started thinking differently. And then, fast forward to around 21-22, I was actively in my head, thinking, I’m a spiritual person.

Meeting Yogi Amrit Desai’s lawyer – 05:36
This man’s name is Frank. So thank you, Frank, because he was my first mentor, spiritual teacher in a certain way. He tells me after about two months, he warmed up to me more and Frank was the lawyer of Yogi Amrit Desai.

Will’s first meditation retreat – 10:06
And it was led by Reggie Ray, who had his own community. And I might as well just say that, for me, I wasn’t actually aware that there was such a huge spiritual injury in me that was driving this hunger for something real, and spirituality.

Keith’s personal shadow – 13:35
Yeah, so my shadow that drove me into the spiritual traditions, the shadow was wanting to be special. And when I was in the yoga traditions in my 20s, I thought I was. So one part of me, which I think is true, I was just seeking truth, right? But the shadow was that I was seeking something special and to be special in some way.

Will’s personal shadow – 15:58
I had a big injury with authority. Because my experience of authority growing up was pretty spotty, if you will. I don’t remember seeing a healthy leader archetype in my environment as a child. And so I wasn’t aware that I didn’t have that, of course.

Shadows in the spiritual communities – 20:58
I think another piece is just exploring within community, well, let’s actually explore the shadow and the teacher for a moment, which I find kind of very interesting, which is, you know, I talk about, I think about spirituality, there’s so many different traditions, and so many different practices and teachings and amazing stuff out there.

The divine and animal nature – 36:10
Is the shadow the expression of denying divine nature? And then animal nature shows up in the denial of the divine? Or is it both, or is shadow also the denial of your animal instincts inside of you? And then you’re kind of playing them out unconsciously?

Full Episode Transcript


Keith Kurlander, Dr. Will Van Derveer


Dr. Will Van Derveer  00:07

Thank you for joining us for the Higher Practice podcast. I’m Dr. Will Van Derveer, with Keith Kurlander. And this is the Podcast where we explore what it takes to achieve optimal mental health. Well, here we are, Keith. I’m excited about our topic today, we decided to speak about spirituality and the shadow. And this is something that, I think is a really juicy topic in and of itself.


Keith Kurlander  00:41

It’s definitely juicy if we talk about my spiritual shadow, but we might not.


Dr. Will Van Derveer  00:47

Yeah, yeah, I was gonna speak about other people’s shadows.


Keith Kurlander  00:52

I’d rather speak about others. We need to we could get into our own.


Dr. Will Van Derveer  00:56

Yeah. We’ve both had some really interesting experiences in communities and spiritual communities are interesting places for the shadow to be amplified and shown, you know, like, I think about like a Bugs Bunny cartoon with it, like the shadow of the monster in the wall. That’s like, 50 times bigger than the monster itself. And that’s how I think


Keith Kurlander  01:22

what happens is running around with a shotgun, like everywhere, just randomly, and stuff up and the community. Yeah, that’s, that’s my experience of spiritual communities for sure. Yeah. Well, where should we start? Well, I know we’re going to tell some stories to kind of have fun with and then talk about those stories. And do you want to tell a story, do you want me to start us off, Will?


Dr. Will Van Derveer  01:49

I think what I would be curious to hear from you about is like, what, what actually led you into spirituality, like looking for spiritual communities or being open to a spiritual community in the first place?


Keith Kurlander  02:03

That’s a good question. This is the story, I think, that I was just thinking about to talk about is meaning my first guru, whose shadow got played out in his community that I ended up becoming a part of. So I’ll start there, I won’t tell too long ago, condense it down. And then we can kind of play with that. Right. So my Inkling inclination, I think, started, where it really kicked off was, which I’ve talked about, in many places, this psilocybin journey when I was 19. And I started thinking differently. And then, fast forward to around 2122. I was actively in my head, thinking, I’m a spiritual person. And that I was special, which I obviously wasn’t more special than anyone else. But I thought it was because I thought I was a spiritual person. And I was thinking that way. And I was like, longing for spiritual practice. Because I grew up Jewish and those practices weren’t calling me at that time, as a spiritual practice for myself, and I was wanting something else. And I knew it was like, Eastern. And I was just intuitively going, I need to learn yoga. Now, what’s a little hard for some listeners right now, depending on age is that 20. What was this 20, almost five years, 25 years ago, where I was in the country, and in most parts of the country, like nobody was talking about yoga, 25 years ago, like in little pockets, they were. But in most of the country, nobody even could define yoga 25 years ago. So I was in Vermont, there was very little yoga anywhere around me. I mean, there was no yoke around me. And so I was just intuitively asking for yoga. I was like, I need to meet my teacher. I need practice and I need community. So the long story short here is and you’ve heard the story, I am living in this magical house that I kind of manifested up on the largest southern peak in Vermont, overlooking three states. And I had to leave this house and it was a totally, very sad time for me that I had to leave this house like, this house was so spiritual to me. And it was like that was my meaning in the moment of spirituality was nature. And I had to leave. And I’m pulling out of the driveway on the day that I’m leaving, I was renting it. And up comes this guy, and he’s probably 65 years old. He’s bald. He looks unique to me. And he walks over to me and says, “How are you doing? And I tell him a lot about the house and he says to me, Oh, this land is so spiritual. I was like, Thanks for saying that. Like I. It’s nice to hear someone say that. And he says to me, why don’t you come back here? Are you interested in learning meditation with me? I like to teach people meditation. I was like, Yeah, I would love that. So I start going back. I had to move about an hour away. I drive back like four days a week.


Dr. Will Van Derveer  05:03

This is one hour each direction for days. Yeah,


Keith Kurlander  05:06

yeah. Wow. I was super psyched about this commuting to my, my meditation mentor, essentially and he’s teaching me yogic philosophy. And then as he kind of warmed up to me after maybe two months, I don’t know what it was. He starts telling me that he was Yogi Omer Desai, Yama, Desai now is one of the people that brought yoga to the West in 1967. Well, that’s when he started teaching.


Dr. Will Van Derveer  05:36

This is you and Omer Desai. This is gonna house


Keith Kurlander  05:40

not Omer Desai yet, so he tells me, This man’s name is Frank. So thank you, Frank, because he was my first mentor and spiritual teacher in a certain way. He tells me after about two months, he warms up to me more and that Frank was the lawyer of Yogi ombre designer Yogi Amrit Desai. We’re gonna talk about shadow here. Yama, Desai was the founder of Kripalu, even though they won’t say that if you go there because of what they decided because of their shadow. I think we’ll talk about this. So he tells me he was his lawyer for the process when Yogi Amrit Desai in 1994 This was 97 got kicked out of Kripalu for some sexual issues that happened with some of the disciples who was an ashram, oh, celibate ashram. So he tells me this, and he’s like, you know, the ohyama design is going to start coming here. And he wants to hold for, you know, whoever small, you know, community Satsang and teach yoga and lead satsang. And so I was like, Oh, my God, like, I’ve been waiting for my teacher. I don’t know who this guy is at all. I knew nothing about him. I knew nothing about yoga. I was like, great. So then he starts coming there. And it’s me, Frank. Sometimes I have a friend or two. And that’s it. And we’re all sitting around. He’s got his harmonium, if you ever, anyone who knows yoga or decide he’s got his harmonium and he’s doing these, you know, the Kundalini chanting and all this different stuff, but then he’s also teaching me like deep philosophy of yoga, and movement postures and, like the real heart of what movement does somatically in our body and our nervous system and our ego. So that’s how I met my teacher. And that’s, you know, how it came to me. And I got brought in to the spiritual world. And then I went and looked at Kabbalah on and off for a year. He was obviously not there at that time and got brought into this world and I obviously got exposed to someone whose shadow material as a guru, you know, hurt a lot of people I Kripalu and then got to be at the community in 98, I think is when I was first at the community. 99 and, you know, I got to talk to a lot of people that he’s teaching me and these people hated him, they hated him. They, they were like, you know, whatever. I said, like, I’m I’m I’m siding with this guy. They’re like, Oh, my God, like, he was Voldemort. Like, you don’t say his name, like that sort of world and more so so there’s a lot we can unpack about spiritual shadow here. Yeah, he was Voldemort, for sure. And it was definitely you know, Kripalu back then 25 years ago was definitely Hogwarts. I mean, it was an interesting place. So alright, so I’ll pause there.


Dr. Will Van Derveer  08:36

Okay, so, so many questions. What I’m struck with is, is how many parallels there are in what you were experiencing, and what I experienced in the late 90s. You’re younger than me. So my, I guess, arguably, my spiritual journey didn’t start until later in my life, like five years after your age. But it was a similar phenomenon of getting involved in a community that had already been impacted by the kind of breakdown of the guru. I’m talking about getting involved in Tibetan Buddhism in the late 90s, when the guru who started in ropa, drugim, Trungpa, died in 87, from basically alcoholic liver failure. And there were all kinds of problems in that community that followed that from his Dharma heir and what happened with him and details that are not really relevant here that, you know, predated my involvement. But the thing that I’m really struck with is the polarity in the community, right, that you were stepping into Kripalu at a time when there must have been a big injury in that community from what Omer Desai was exposed about with sexual behavior with students


Keith Kurlander  09:58

and stuff. Yeah, Yeah, which community are you? Did you start with Shambala? You started with Dharma ocean? Dharma ocean was a little later, right?


Dr. Will Van Derveer  10:06

Yeah, I went to my first meditation retreat. And I think it was the year 2000 which was late at the end of the year 2000. So it was 22 years ago, at Shambhala Mountain Center. And it was led by Reggie Ray, who had his own community. And I might as well just say that, for me, I wasn’t actually aware that there was such a huge spiritual injury in me that was driving this hunger for something real, and spirituality. You mentioned your experience with Judaism and not feeling connected to the teachings I you know, I was brought up Methodist, and the experience of church and all that that whole scene felt very dry and kind of unsatisfying, and didn’t capture my attention at all, really, as a kid and I was a seeker looking around and trying out different things and ended up on this meditation cushion in Shamala. Mountain Center. And in the year 2000, and I heard Reggie Ray speaking the Dharma, Tibetan Buddhism, and I just had tears running down my face, it was like, I finally felt like I heard someone with spiritual authority speaking, something that made sense to me. It felt like coming home. And so later on, when my relationship with Reggie deteriorated, it was just, it was very devastating, because it was sort of the first time that I spiritually felt like I had a place and a home and a community. And, and that was, that was a brutal kind of devolvement later. But it was interesting to notice myself, I would say, making excuses or making it, okay, some of the things that were not okay, about the way my teacher treated other people and treated me, like using spiritual teachings to justify or explain or erase somehow, what, when I looked back on it was clearly abusive behavior, and abusive speech and paranoia, and, you know, just distortions of anger, basically.


Keith Kurlander  12:21

Yeah, well, let’s start there. So obviously, we’re talking today about spirituality and shadow, right? Yeah. Let’s start with you and I in terms of the shadow that led us to even seek out spirituality, and then let’s talk about the shadows we found in our spiritual communities. And I think that’s an interesting conversation. I, I recently was thinking that if you don’t have mental illness, and you quote unquote, have mental health, well, then you have basic insanity. You’re not saying, by any means. I mean, you’re flipping out 20 times a day in your head, and you got all these crazy thoughts. And, gosh, if anyone knew what you were thinking all day long, they’d be like, you’re insane. Thoughts that pass through every human being’s heads all day, right. So, to me, I was thinking recently, like, the spiritual path is really, where, you know, mental health begins, which is basic insanity. And, you know, obviously, the spiritual path was developed so long ago for the fact that everyone is suffering inside themselves. And that there needs to be an answer to that.


Dr. Will Van Derveer  13:35

Yeah. Yeah, there’s a, there’s a basic suffering, that is a part of the apparatus that we’re, it’s part of the, the ego, right, the way the way we perceive reality. There’s a basic sense of dissatisfaction that’s always there. Yeah, so my


Keith Kurlander  13:52

shadow that drove me into the spiritual traditions, the shadow was wanting to be special. And I didn’t, you know, when I was in the, in the yoga traditions in my 20s, I thought I was, so one part of me, which I think is true, I was just seeking truth, right? But the shadow was that I was seeking something special and to be special in some way. And the Enlightenment path would have given me that if I achieve something along that path, I would have become very special and had a very special experience. Because the shadow is that I was obviously feeling very not special, and in a lot of pain, and they wanted, you know, part of the shadow too was I wanted to be special and also I didn’t want to be to have to feel pain. That’s a shadow. I didn’t want to actually have to experience pain in the human body. Right? That’s a shadow right? It’s when we don’t want to have to experience pain in the human body, that leads to a lot of problems in the world. So I’ll just say for myself that I think there were a few different elements. One is like I open to realities, you know, that in terms of peak experiences, mystical states, where I’m like, there’s so much more going on here. There’s such a deeper process happening, I want to know the truth. And then it was also some shadow material of like, I’m in deep pain, I don’t believe in myself, I want to be known, I want to be seen, I want to be special I want to be I have a special experience, my experience is already more special than anyone else’s. And so I might as well go be with myself on a cushion, or on a yoga mat, because I already have the coolest experience. So that was my shadow that got played out, I think to my applause there. I don’t know, if you have any insights yourself, was there any shadow that drove you into that path?


Dr. Will Van Derveer  15:58

No, there was no shadow for me. You keep,


Keith Kurlander  16:01

you keep telling me that.


Dr. Will Van Derveer  16:04

I’m special. I I think I think I had, among other things, I mean, one thing that comes to mind is I had a big injury with authority. Because my experience of authority growing up was pretty spotty, if you will, I don’t remember seeing a healthy leader archetype in my environment as a child. And so I wasn’t aware that I didn’t have that, of course. And so when the spiritual teacher I gravitated toward started displaying shadow, there was a lot of cognitive dissonance, there was a lot of like, I don’t want to see the shadow of this person. Because I would have to look, I would have to see my own shadow. So I think a big part of the shadow for me that that drew me into sort of a more domineering, kind of, like, controlling kind of spiritual teacher was not having a healthy experience of leadership, in my, in my earlier experiences, and I mean, it’s, it’s kind of a cliche that, you know, people throw around of, you know, spiritual communities are full of people with authority issues, or daddy issues or whatever, mommy, if it’s a maybe female spiritual teacher, but I was definitely one of those people who had all kinds of injuries with my parents that I absolutely projected on to, to the teacher, full on. And and, you know, when I think when things when the power is held in a, in a skillful way, then that reflection can be made back to the student, and the person can grow up, right? I do hold out that that is a possibility that that can happen well, and, and I did grow up to some degree, but it was it was a distorted mirror for sure, that I called in.


Keith Kurlander  17:56

You’re actually I’m so glad you brought this awareness out, because this was definitely one of my shadows, too, which is that so many people are drawn to spiritual teachers in a fantasy of a perfected mother or father figure, yeah. And that they’re going to be perfect. And that, whatever that means, in your own fantasy, right, that there’s, they’re going to be perfect in your fantasy of what they will do and won’t do ever.


Dr. Will Van Derveer  18:23

Right? And they’re gonna be time if they’re 100 students, there’s 100 Different fantasies that teachers


Keith Kurlander  18:29

Well, and what tends to happen is many spiritual teachers actually cross social norms in a huge way in inappropriateness and really crush those fantasies. In hurtful ways, but so, but I’m glad you brought this up. Because I came into a situation with a teacher, where I brought that shadow of I’m this teacher perfect, even though I had already known that she had already, you know, went through a devastating process with a community just a few years before. And I was still playing that out with him of like, Oh, look at him and how he talks and like he never has, he never gets emotional and like he’d never gets upset and like, you know, I was pulling all that out of like, he’s always so loving. And now granted this this human being, even though he wishes he could get into the ego shadow. He actually is one of the more loving human beings I’ve ever met. But that’s just a personality thing, I think. So, there’s this piece of we come just to talk like I think as a baseline, a lot of people do come into wanting a teacher in spirituality, especially I think when we’re younger, often playing out wanting a perfected mother or father figure for sure in their life,


Dr. Will Van Derveer  19:49

for sure, for sure. And then there was a whole nother funny episode. Apropos of what you’re talking about where I in my 20s I I went in for I found this kind of father figure who idealized in this way that we’re talking about. And then when that broke down in my 30s, I went and found a very feminine teacher. Almost like, as a reaction, still an unconscious thing, I think in my system and my shadow, it’s like, oh, I don’t want this kind of hyper masculine, like, rigid, you know, controlling, domineering angry person. And then I went and found this other guru who also ended up getting canceled for transgressions with students, but it was a much more feminine presentation. Interesting energy.


Keith Kurlander  20:36

So you went to, you went to both mom and went to dad


Dr. Will Van Derveer  20:39

first and then mom.


Keith Kurlander  20:44

That’s not, it doesn’t sell. That’s quite what happened to your childhood. You go into mom first. But I don’t know for sure. You as a mom first, for sure. But that wasn’t even by choice.


Dr. Will Van Derveer  20:54

Yeah. Now there were more fathers than mothers, that’s for sure.


Keith Kurlander  20:58

Yeah, well, so. I mean, think another next piece is just exploring within community as well, let’s actually split the shadow into teacher for a moment, which I find kind of very interesting, which is, you know, I talked about, I think about spirituality, a lot of, there’s so many different traditions, and so many different practices and teachings and amazing stuff out there. I mean, I’ve learned so much, and a lot of the spiritual communities I’ve been in. But I also often think about these are, they’re not necessarily psychological growth oriented paths, where you’re actually facilitating a path of relational healing and interpersonal communication, healing and sort of finessing the ego and nervous system to relate better to each other. That’s not doesn’t tend to be the spiritual community scene, although they’re out there, especially in more of the Eastern traditions, it tends to be more about working with self to transcend aspects of self that are, you know, get in the way or whatever it’s talked about in so many ways, right? So I’ve met a lot of gurus, as you have, and many of the gurus I’ve met have sort of had a fall from grace in their communities. I actually, when I was working with Palmer decided a time I met Andrew Cohen, you know, that is what is enlightenment. Remember this guy?


Dr. Will Van Derveer  22:26

I don’t, I don’t know his work. Now he fell for his name before, but


Keith Kurlander  22:30

he had a big fall from grace to calm. I didn’t study much with him. But so you know, I kept seeing these gurus go through these problems in my 20s. And I started really wondering what’s going on? Why is it that you can do something where you transcend a lot of this emotional fluctuation and disturbance, and I believe a lot of the people I met did that, that they transcended a ton of the disturbing, emotional gripping things that most people go through. Yet, they played out, ego driven, seemed like ego driven, shadow material that really impacted a lot of people. And we didn’t have the capacity from many people I saw to do healthy repair. So I’m curious, we talk about the shadow just in a lot of spiritual communities and spiritual teachers. If we start with teachers of like, what’s going on there? You know, why is it if you can sort of move through the ego structure and transcend it to a degree? Is it still there to cause havoc on the world? What’s well?


Dr. Will Van Derveer  23:39

Yeah, I mean, what I’m wondering as I’m listening to you talk about transcending the ego, like, is it actually transcended? Is it integrated? Or is it bypassed? You know, and I’ll just speak from my own experience there because I, you know, I got so deep into Tibetan Buddhism, I was, I was practicing at least an hour a day, for eight years, I spent a year in retreat, some of it, solitary, some of it group retreat, but over the period of an eight year period, while I had a career and a daughter at home, I was doing a ton of meditating. And what I got really good at was deeply knowing myself on the cushion, and I got really good at compartmentalizing my emotions, but whenever I got triggered in the right way, you know, it was a huge flare of my egoic of my injuries, you know, my trauma. And so it leaves me wondering with these kind of cancellations and kind of me to situations that happen with girls are they are they just like 10 times more able to compartmentalize emotions than I got to in my you know, stent, in you know, committing really deeply for eight years, because, if the interpersonal dimensions of how the ego functions is so Oh, impaired still? Is that really how wakeful is that person


Keith Kurlander  25:06

is a very important and fascinating topic of what’s actually happening in deep meditative cultivation over time. So what I was a cheat in my 20s in yoga and meditation was I got to pretty, I would say, significant states of thoughts cessation, and, you know, like early early Samadhi states, nothing like, you know, what gurus got to but, but that I would achieve those regularly. Right. And so, I think for me, it’s an interesting question of, was I bypassing ego, I think that I was bypassing ego. And those, the cultivation of the more limitless spaces and non dual spaces also are very important and relevant in terms of living a well life for myself that I don’t actually practice returning to right now, at all. But I do think I was bypassing ego because by my late 20s, my ego was right there still. And I actually had a little window where I was getting, I think, more relative emotional stability for a little while there. When I was practicing really hardcore, more the fluctuations were kind of slowing down. But yeah, my ego was right there ready to cause me to go screw something up? Or someone else? Yeah, at every moment. And we see that right was guru. So I think there’s, I think a bypassing happens, I think some integration happens, too. When you practice a lot, I think it’s both. But the problem is, it’s like unless you’re gonna sit in a cave, and have no relationship to another human being or object for the rest of your life. Just bypassing the ego to get to non dual states and stay there doesn’t necessarily make you a highly functioning human being in relationship to another human being. Right, just to do that only.


Dr. Will Van Derveer  27:20

Yeah, exactly. And that’s, that’s exactly what happened to me is making that realization that you just said is like, my practice is not translating into me being more patient more kind, more generous, less reactive. In my intimate relationships, you know, where you, you’re more likely to get triggered more easily in your intimate relationships than people you’re not as intimately connected with. So that’s where I realized for me that sitting meditation was going to be a part of my journey, but it wasn’t going to take. I wasn’t going to get home. Only with that, right. And that’s Yeah, I know. That’s when I lost it  and came to the scene. The interesting thing was my first exposure to psychedelics in my life. Oh, you hadn’t done psychedelics before I lost? No, not at all. No, that was late, late on the scene.


Keith Kurlander  28:19

You’re a late bloomer. Yeah. But you’re not an old


Dr. Will Van Derveer  28:23

soul. I was nearly 40 When I took psychedelics for the first time. Wow.


Keith Kurlander  28:27

Okay. I didn’t know. Yeah. Good for you. It’s probably a good thing. There are more support systems around you. They had some knowledge under your belt to deal with that.


Dr. Will Van Derveer  28:41

Yeah, it was, it was definitely in a deeply ceremonial and you know, ritualized, traditional, indigenous setting that. And it was some years after I studied with Peter Levine and got more familiar with somatic trauma work. And it was very much for me a journey of healing trauma is what that was all about. To try to complement what I was the gains that I felt like I was making on the cushion. Yeah, the interpersonal, it’s really interesting how, for my experience, meditation never impacted my interpersonal experience. Not very much, I


Keith Kurlander  29:19

I think that you know, no matter how much you can merge with the light, and shine the light, you cannot remove the shadow that you’re casting, right. You can’t get that much light. Exactly. We’ve seen it with every single guru. So yeah, don’t follow it. I mean, sure. You know, people might be listening right now going, well, I’ve got a teacher that’s perfect, but it doesn’t seem like it works that way that you can actually get to that much light that you have no shadow.


Dr. Will Van Derveer  29:46

I’m reminded of you talking about Hogwarts a minute ago and I am reminded of this scene often because one of my spiritual teachers loved Lord of the Rings. And especially this scene where Dumbledore not Dumbledore. Gandalf is standing on this ledge edge, and he’s fighting a dragon. And he puts his stamp down, he says None shall pass to the dragon. And the dragon gets really mad and he stands his ground. But what my guru loved was the fact that Gandalf turned around, and he started to walk away, and the dragon’s tail grabbed him and took him down. And I didn’t read the books or watch the movies. But he comes back from Gandalf the Gray to Gandalf the White. And he hangs out down there with the dragon in hell for who knows how long before he comes back renewed. But the point being that, like, he gets actually taken down by the arrogance of his shadow, right, of turning around before the job was done, of staring down this aspect of himself, if you will,


Keith Kurlander  30:46

right. So I mean, that’s, I love that. And, you know, I love fantasy and sci fi. I’m like, visualizing the scene right now. Yeah, exactly. tell you how many scales are on a dragon? Because I have that weird way of knowing about these. But so yeah, I I think that there’s some great spiritual communities out there and scenes we’ve been a part of, are some really great stuff that are incorporating all kinds of, you know, psychologies coming more and more spiritual communities. And, and with that said, I think that what’s hard is that, you know, I think a lot of people turn toward the spiritual path. Because of the pain in their shadow, of course, a lot of I mean, why else? Would you need it? Yeah, it’s painful. It’s painful. And it’s like, why else would you go looking for something that’s different. Unless you’ve got some pain somewhere inside of you, or some disconnection that really causes a deep longing. And the traditions are new, that relatively in terms of civilization, where we’re really getting to talk about socialization, nervous systems, and right interpersonal development. And developmental psychology is fairly new, when you think about the timeline of things. And, sure, so the spiritual traditions that are still here, and many of the teachings, they’re getting slowly incorporated into some new understanding and philosophies. But a lot of them are still right, like, very simple. And the sciences work to some degree, where it’s like, here’s how you practice meditation, can be practiced the same way, this teaching for so long. And it does something inside of you, if you do it enough. Sure.


Dr. Will Van Derveer  32:28

There’s some amazing resources out there, right for freezing


Keith Kurlander  32:32

Causes something, right? It causes this process to happen in you if you do these things. And you know, now we’re having these conversations of there might be even more integrative paths where, well, if you’re gonna cause that process to happen, which we could somewhat call the vertical path. Can you also be on this horizontal path causing something else to happen if you’re going to be in the world, and relate to people? Like what’s the what? How do you actually deal with the egos? The function of the ego and the nervous system that forms the ego essentially, like how do you? How do you deal with that in a way that you’re working in the shadows to maybe create a more harmonious self and society? And also, maybe you’re choosing the work on the vertical path? In some way? Right? Where you’re doing both?


Dr. Will Van Derveer  33:25

Yeah, I mean, I think that, under ideal circumstances, they complement each other. Right? So for example, I have the blessing of a partner, a wife, who actually wants to grow relationally and cares a lot about growing relationally. You know, and, and so, the way they, for me one example of how they complement each other, as I get better at interpersonal relationship, when I use mindfulness to slow myself down, inside of a painful moment, painful moments happen, you know, in relationships that you care about. And so I can actually on a good day, I can actually use my mindfulness practice to pause and breathe and reconnect with the introspection, the witness, witnessing and go, what’s going on here? Oh, I’m curious. Again. You know, I found my way back to curiosity. Something I’ve learned a lot from Krista is like, where’s your curiosity? Mister? I’m not feeling your curiosity is something she says when I’m not there. You know? Because it’s not there. The self defense fighter flight system doesn’t have curiosity, not that kind


Keith Kurlander  34:34

of a self defense fight or flight system is not curious.


Dr. Will Van Derveer  34:39

I mean, I don’t want to learn anything new.


Keith Kurlander  34:42

I don’t want to learn anything. It’s like I know exactly what I’m going to do. Don’t tell me anything different. Exactly. Which is, which is I mean, in a certain way. Just this whole conversation of spirituality and shadow work. It’s like some people call this animal mind instead. and traditions and divine mind animal mind, you know, there’s different terms for this right? But so, you know, animal minds freeze when you’re in this fight flight freeze. Now that it has collapsed we can keep going. There’s a lot of work. Yes, this thing? Yeah, there’s no in that system and there’s no want or desire to learn anything. It’s usually just about preservation at that moment. Yeah, yeah, preserving an old identity is what it’s about. Well, right,


Dr. Will Van Derveer  35:33

not only old on a personal level, which I think is what you’re saying, but also on an ancient developmental level, you know, because there is this anatomy of the brain, there’s this thing called the tentorium. And there’s what happens above the tent. And what happens below the 10. And below the 10, is kind of what you’re talking about is like that. Amygdala, you know, brainstem, the whole situation that takes over and blood flow to the top part of the brain, the human part of the brain isn’t really happening as effectively as it does in these more dynamic, human creative, curious states.


Keith Kurlander  36:10

Right. And a lot of people and when we seek spiritual paths are wanting, you know, I think there’s a there’s different spectrums, some people wanting to tame that, to tame that beast, and, you know, we’ll live with that work with it, use it for the better and themselves to create a strength out of it out of the animal mind, other people are going to the spiritual paths, because they want out of that they want the system entirely. And can I erase this, and I, is there a way to hit delete, and restore, and it doesn’t reappear? Right, which, again, certain spiritual teachers will teach that that’s true, you can do that, that you can completely eradicate the fluctuations of the ego state entirely. Some teachers teach that that’s a possibility. And many of those teachers, I’ve seen them do things where I’m like, I don’t think I think that was the ego fluctuation. Yeah. So it’s interesting when we think a shadow of shadow also lives in this state, right? In this lower brain state of or lower parts of the brain, a lot of shadow material comes from not relating to ourselves.


Dr. Will Van Derveer  37:27

Absolutely, absolutely. That’s what we’re talking about. And, you know, in the shadows is denial of essential parts of our animal nature. Right? kinds of motivations that are unsavory for us to allow other people, or even ourselves to know about ourselves.


Keith Kurlander  37:49

Yeah, right. It’s interesting, the shadow, the denial of animal nature, Shadow, the denial of divine nature. Yeah, interesting question like, is the shadow the expression of denying divine nature? And then animal nature shows up in the denial of the Divine? Or is it both or shadow, also the denial of your animal instincts inside of you? And then you’re kind of playing them out? unconsciously? I mean, I know there’s that language, right. Like, maybe we should also define what we’re talking about here in terms of what this term means to us.


Dr. Will Van Derveer  38:26

It’s a good idea. I thought about that about an hour ago, and then we went into our conversation


Keith Kurlander  38:32

To do that I have to keep people from having to keep up with us.


Dr. Will Van Derveer  38:38

To me, the most helpful kind of understanding of what is sacred is all of it, that nothing is excluded from what’s sacred, but our ego wants to have opinions about what’s profane, and what’s sacred. And so we, we separate things. And so we might say, the animal minds over here, and here’s the, you know, spiritual mind, but to me, the animal mind is a part of what is sacred about us as human beings about everything there is right, everything’s included. So, it is a denial. It’s sort of both, it’s a denial of, to me, I’m just sharing my opinion about it. denying our animal nature is a denial of our spiritual nature also, because the animal is also spiritual. It’s just a different manifestation of spirit or or sacredness, that has a kind of a grosser kind of more coarser flavor to it, you know, hitting each other when the head with clubs is a coarser version of what we’re capable of. Yeah, so I don’t know. I mean, I, it’s sort of a both and response to your question of like, what is it? Are we denying the spirit, are we denying the animal you know?


Keith Kurlander  39:59

Well, maybe Shadow fur. I mean, how we’re talking about it today, obviously, there’s like Shadow Work and depending on the tradition, as you know, Youngin. And there’s other things, but like, sometimes we’re talking about retrieving parts of self that have been denied and disowned and dismembered from ourselves. Other people, you know, talk about it just as unconscious, conscious, preconscious things and there’s shadow language there. But in some ways, like when I think of shadow, I’m a little simpler in my kind of language, I just think of shadow as any material about ourselves that we are denying, becoming aware of, into full, conscious awareness. And that shadow is the result of that denial. We’re casting a shadow through that denial about ourselves. And we’re saying that that shadow over there is not ours. We’re not that shadow. We’re this, we’re not that. And then that shadow gets to actually live and play out things that we claim we didn’t know or have control over.


Dr. Will Van Derveer  41:12

Yeah, you’re talking just for clarification, you’re talking about denial. That’s an unconscious process, not a conscious denial of something.


Keith Kurlander  41:21

Yeah. I mean, conscious denial is a very, that’s a rabbit hole in and of itself. Can you actually consciously deny anything?


Dr. Will Van Derveer  41:30

Don’t think, I think elephant. Yeah, exactly.


Keith Kurlander  41:35

I don’t know if you actually consciously deny anything. But you’re right. Like, I know, from like a more psychoanalytic perspective, we would talk about it in that way.


Dr. Will Van Derveer  41:42

Yeah, I think just to make the point even more clear, I think we’re talking about one place where this comes up is power dynamics, right? Where someone is playing out something inside of their psychology that they don’t know about. They’re not consciously aware of it, but the other person is feeling the impact of a misuse of power, whether it’s overused or underused, or distortions of power, different ways. Yeah, let’s


Keith Kurlander  42:09

bring this back to the spiritual community scene to make this very practical now. So I think a part of what’s going on where a lot of gurus do things that have a very negative impact on people, a lot of inappropriate boundary violations, these kinds of things, right? In terms of, are they actually consciously thinking about this thing. Now, they’re not like, probably, I don’t know who the person is, but like in terms of conscious versus unconscious shadow, like, they’re, they’re probably not like, actively some of these more developers thinking like, the I noticed part of myself, I’m gonna go play it out and do this, XY and Z, in terms of in their discursive thinking. But the shadow is that in the sort of more non discursive thinking, core belief system, even lower implicit systems of identity, there are these things that exist there and people that we have denial systems built around to not allow us to confront them, right. And so they stay down there, they stay suppressed and repressed; they might be intergenerational. I mean, there’s all kinds of ways these shadow materials develop into our nervous systems and our identity. And so I think in the spiritual systems, the thing is, is that I don’t believe that, necessarily a lot of the meditation systems that were developed, necessarily take you through that whole journey of getting into that material, it definitely will take you through the releasing aversions to pain, attachments to pleasure in your, in your psyche, right? Those systems do that, right? Like they’re good at that, where you can actually release the grips on what you’re attached to in your psyche, and release the aversions of what you don’t want in your psyche. But it doesn’t, it’s not necessarily going to take you down into some of the more nuanced things in the implicit systems where it’s not explicit, and discursive, where we’re like, disowning parts of self and wherever they came from, and those things get played out over time. And that’s where I think we see a lot of shadow in spiritual communities is when we don’t have other systems in place, and there are always going to be shadow than any human being. That’s the other piece. Right?


Dr. Will Van Derveer  44:35

Exactly. I was going to add to that exactly that what we’re talking about, I mean, when shadow gets gnarly is when people can take responsibility for when it comes out. And the point here is that shadow is a natural and unavoidable aspect of human nature, right? It’s just part of human nature. But I think what happens for people including myself on the spiritual path is that you get an idea that a more evolved person maybe has less shadow, or maybe has less afflicted thinking or less attachment. And then you start thinking, Well, if your ego starts thinking, Okay, I need to deny this is where the ego pretends to be enlightened, right, and we get into these false states, or we think that we’re further along than we actually are. Or we actually think we have a wrong view that the shadow goes away if you get more enlightened, right. And so then anytime we have like a negative or a down thought, we’re even less likely to be able to, if we have a spiritual ego that we’ve developed, right, we’re less likely to be able to take responsibility and say, Oh, I just had a, I just wanted to kill that person over there. Who coughed in the middle of my meditation and screwed up my meditation? Yeah, because if I have that thought, it’s evidence that I’m less enlightened than I thought I was. Right. So it drives all these things down. You start comparing yourself.


Keith Kurlander  46:04

Do you gotta start comparing yourself to an idealized version? Exactly. Not being human. Exactly. Right, of not having any human experience any more likely, right? That’s the you create a fantasy of a nonhuman experience that you project onto gurus. This is, I think, a part of the work, though. I mean, this is a part of the spiritual path to work with that projection. And to notice it like that, you keep doing that. But then you end up right back where you are. Yeah, at the end of the day, when you get off your cushion, you walk, you go down, and I was in a going have a partial retreat in Massachusetts, a 10 day. Retreat? No, I didn’t. But you’ve done I know what they are. They’re like 10 day silent. Yeah. And, you know, I was like, in a really good space toward the end.


Dr. Will Van Derveer  46:58

And let me ask you something, just just for the audience, because I want to clarify this, because my understanding is, in the traditional going to retreats, you are very much in like solitary confinement for 10 days, right? Are you like,


Keith Kurlander  47:11

There are different ones. This one, this one was, you know, you’re outside in a tent where you slept the night with one other person, and there was a meditation hall with people, but you’re not allowed to look at other people that practice you don’t want to ever make eye contact or look at another person’s body was the practice. So you’re trying to be with somebody. But anyway, so I’m at the end of this thing. And I had a very hard two thirds of it was grueling, of course, for me. And then the last third, I’m like, starting to get into those states that I told you about. I’m like, Oh, my God, like I achieved something. And I walk out. We’re breaking silence after 10 days, and we go into the food hall. And I got to grab a bowl, I think it was cereal, grab a bowl, and this guy next to me grabs the bowl from me. And he’s like, that was mine. was like, I felt this whole surge of you know, after you were taking my cereal. I walked away, and I’m like, did I achieve anything? Did anything change whatsoever?


Dr. Will Van Derveer  48:33

That’s great. I love that.


Keith Kurlander  48:35

So, yeah, it’s interesting, right? Like it doesn’t the work of being human doesn’t go away. Yeah. And I think that the work for me is like, right now, the way I work with this material, and I think about it is leaning in to wanting to see what’s in the shadow, as well as you know, whatever spiritual practices are there, but also just like, I want to know what’s in that shadow, even though you know, I’ll still claim every day when I get feedback from Emma that I don’t. I do. Ultimately, when she points out the shadow, she does very well. And of course, I still go into that system where I’m like, No, it’s not. It’s not that. Yeah, but there’s a lot of truth in it. And it is that. And so, you know, I think that my current understanding here is like and it’s really about using the Light of Consciousness to actually shine it into the spaces that we don’t want to look at. And that’s a part of the path is like actually developing a light so that you can actually have some light to go look at what’s in their stead of just being consumed by walking around the darkness bumping into walls and going I don’t know why that hurt. I don’t even know why I just bumped like I don’t even know why I just hurt my face, where that wall come from


Dr. Will Van Derveer  50:00

And yeah, yeah, I think one of the most powerful teachings that happened for me early on that kind of burst the bubble that, you know, more enlightened people experience less pain came from Adi Ashanti. He’s an amazing, you know, spiritual teacher and someone who hasn’t been canceled, which is pretty cool. So good for him. But he said in a retreat I was at pretty early on that the difference between and I think this is a, an allegory in Buddhism, I don’t think this was his words, actually. But he said that the difference between an ordinary person feeling suffering, and an enlightened person feeling suffering is it is the difference between feeling, the sensation of pulling a hair, a human hair, across the palm of your hand, is an ordinary person, versus pulling a human hair across your eyeball is an enlightened person. And so he said that basically, enlightened people actually feel pain a lot more acutely, because the denial and dissociation isn’t there as much for them, or maybe not at all. And so they actually feel the opposite of what my framework was in seeking spirituality in the first place was to get away from my suffering.


Keith Kurlander  51:20

That’s awesome. I was really helpful. Someone told me recently, this is different, but related, someone told me recently that as we evolve, we have more opportunity, through our day, to be authentic, we have more opportunity, because we notice the challenges, historically, where we would not be authentic and not recognize it, we would just go to sleep. Yeah, actually notice the moments more as we get more and more evolved to enter into a state of authenticity, as we have more awareness, because we can notice throughout the day more when we’re having the seduction to not be authentic.


Dr. Will Van Derveer  52:10

Yeah, the anesthesia is not as much in charge of your experience. You feel the pain more acutely of being inauthentic. Yeah.


Keith Kurlander  52:19

Well, let’s start to wrap up here on spirituality and shadow. There’s no simple answer to this thing we call human experience. And it’s a big play about love, things that we’re all learning about and growing through and a lot of shadow, a lot of shadow that we witnessed on this planet that we can bring light to in communities all over the planet, a lot of shadow going on.


Dr. Will Van Derveer  52:47

Yeah, and I guess for me, I just want to leave on the note that humor has always been an ally for me, in welcoming my shadow, if I can actually literally laugh at myself, not in a sarcastic or mean or shaming way toward myself, but actually, wow, there I am, again, and I’m just so human in this moment. And it’s just like, incredibly embarrassing, like, you know, like, very,


Keith Kurlander  53:15

it helps. It helps all laugh at you all. You’re a good company. Yeah. I know, humor is so key, because it’s so key to take it to take ourselves a little less seriously. Right, exactly. And just sort of play with that. And especially when we’re confronted, right confronts the egos confronted when we see so much pain and violence in the world. Like we’re just confronted by so many ways to just go into deep, deep, deep pain and constriction about reality. And, but I liked the humor piece, and also just getting back into spreading the light into the shadow. I mean, that’s where I think we can really do some damage and bring light to the shadow and not about eradicating. Yeah, and destroying, you know, I think that’s, that’s exactly. That’s a big hiccup. It’s about bringing light and transforming, and transmuting and I think that’s where we can leave off shadows here to stay.


Dr. Will Van Derveer  54:23

Yeah, and we don’t have I mean, we are but we don’t have to be afraid of it. We don’t have to be afraid of our own shadow. We can embrace it, we can learn from it. We can honor its sacred place in the right constellation of what we are. Yeah, light and shadow shadow


Keith Kurlander  54:43

and, you know, go watch and play their shadow material place for a reason, right? Yes, there is a sacred place for shadow and if we’re not afraid, the more we’re not afraid of our own. And the more we actually relate to our own the less afraid we’ll be of The shadows we see around us. Yeah, that’s playing out every day and it gives us more opportunity to confront those things in the world. Exactly. Yeah. All right, one there.


Dr. Will Van Derveer  55:15

All right, bye. Bye. We look forward to connecting with you again on the next episode of the Higher Practice podcast, where we explore what it takes to achieve optimal mental health.

Keith Kurlander, MA, LPC

Keith Kurlander, MA, LPC is the Co-Founder of the Integrative Psychiatry Institute (IPI) and Integrative Psychiatry Centers (IPC), and the co-host of the Higher Practice Podcast. He graduated Naropa University in 2005 with a master’s degree in Transpersonal Counseling Psychology, and he has practiced integrative psychotherapy and coaching with individuals, couples and groups for over 15 years. After years of treating highly complex patients, as well as a personal journey of overcoming complex trauma and mental illness, he turned toward integrative psychiatric practices as a key component to achieving mental health and understanding the healing process. He brings a professional and personal passion toward innovating the field of mental healthcare.

Dr. Will Van Derveer

Will Van Derveer, MD is co-founder of Integrative Psychiatry Institute, co-founder of the Integrative Psychiatry Centers, and co-host of the Higher Practice Podcast.

Dr. Van Derveer is a leader in the integrative revolution in psychiatry and is passionate about weaving together the art and science of medicine. He has published in the field of psychedelic medicine, and he has provided MDMA – psychotherapy for chronic treatment resistant PTSD in clinical trials with MAPS, the multidisciplinary association for psychedelic studies.

As medical director of the Integrative Psychiatry Centers, he oversees a busy ketamine assisted psychotherapy practice.

Dr. Van Derveer is a diplomate of the American Board of Integrative Medicine (ABOIM). He studied medicine at Vanderbilt University and earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania.