One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.
We can readily see that Jung’s definition of how to acquire a healthy human identity is in perfect alignment with the Simple Reality worldview.
Why are we here? Our purpose in life is the creation of consciousness. Understanding the role of the shadow, both the personal and the collective shadow, will help us in reaching our highest expression, our true identity, as human beings. We find that same realization in the New Testament.
For there is nothing hid except to be made manifest, nor is anything secret except to come to light.
C. G. Jung was the originator of the concept of the shadow. We can define our shadow as all of our attitudes, beliefs, and values which our culture does not accept. In other words, the false-self role assigned to us by our immediate environment and the people in it will demand that we repress any behaviors that do not fit that narrowly defined identity. We must conform or face severe sanctions. The shadow then comes to resemble a hidden story with an alternative “self” that longs to be acknowledged. However, most of us are spending enormous amounts of energy trying to prevent that from happening.
The story of “the Fall” in Genesis is a metaphor for the shattering of Oneness and one of the “fragments” is the shadow. “We are all born whole but somehow the culture demands that we live out only part of our nature and refuse other parts of our inheritance. We divide the self into an ego and a shadow because our culture insists that we behave in a particular manner. This is our legacy from having eaten of the fruit of the tree of knowledge [of good and evil] in the Garden of Eden. Culture takes away the simple human in us, but gives us more complex and sophisticated power.” We have yet to learn how to use that power.
We create our shadow by acts of repression. The dictionary defines repression as “The unconscious exclusion of painful impulses, desires, or fears from the conscious mind.” This energy and its contents end up in the shadow. “The ego and the persona judged it to be out of sync with their goals and intentions.” The energy and content in question did not, in other words, fit the identity of the false self.
There is a direct relationship among the shadow and reaction and response, that is to say, between choosing unconsciousness or consciousness. “Repression appears to be less painful than discipline. But unfortunately it is also more dangerous, for it makes us act without consciousness of our motives, hence irresponsibly. Even though we are not responsible for the way we are and feel, we have to take responsibility for the way we act. Therefore we have to learn to discipline ourselves. And discipline rests on the ability to act in a manner that is contrary to our feelings [emotions] when necessary. Repression, on the other hand, simply looks the other way. When persisted in, repression always leads to psychopathology, but it is also indispensable to the first ego formation.” In this statement we see the origin of the pervasive human behavior called denial.
Therefore, an easy way to tell whether we are projecting our shadow on another is to be aware of the all-important distinction between reaction and response. If we are feeling afflictive emotion, a reaction, in relationship with another person or happening in our environment, then we are probably engaging in shadow projection. When we are calm and in response to the occasion, we are not engaged in shadow projection.
Denying our shadow and “pushing” those traits out of our consciousness and then projecting them onto the other leads to horrific personal suffering for many people. Ken Wilber makes it clear that denial and repression are no way to escape the shadow. “This, of course, is a futile gesture, for these negative ideas nevertheless remain our own, and we can only pretend to get rid of them by seeing them in other people. The witch-hunt is on. Communists under every bed; the Devil waiting on every corner; Us, the Good Guys, versus Them, the Bad Guys. Our impassioned fight with the devils of this world is nothing but elaborate shadow boxing.”
Repression is central to constructing the shadow which is a part of the overall false-self survival strategy and all of us instinctually do this. Once we learn how to get our basic needs met, our society (P-B) encourages us to elaborate on that strategy, i.e., the pursuit of plenty, pleasure and power, beyond all reason and certainly beyond what is healthy. We are also expected to deny the existence of the personal and collective shadow. A paradigm shift and the resultant identity shift is the only chance we have to escape a life of quiet or not so quiet desperation.
According to Jung, “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. At all counts, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions.” Clearly, there is a relationship between the shadow and human suffering. It is a relationship that anyone seeking the freedom of the present moment would do well to understand.
If you bring forth what is within you,
what you bring forth will save you.
If you do not bring forth what is within you,
what you do not bring forth will destroy you.
Jesus, Gospel of Thomas
The following description of the shadow by Zweig and Abrams in their book Meeting the Shadow, helps flesh-out this hidden self that we all possess but have virtually no awareness of. “Each of us contains both a Dr. Jekyll and a Mr. Hyde, a more pleasant persona for everyday wear and a hiding, nighttime self that remains hushed up much of the time. Negative emotions and behaviors—rage, jealousy, shame, lying, resentment, lust, greed, suicidal and murderous tendencies—lie concealed just beneath the surface, masked by our more proper selves. Known together in psychology as the personal shadow, it remains untamed, unexplored territory to most of us.”
“Mr. Hyde is a negative shadow figure, and Superman a positive shadow figure. Both are generally hidden from the people who rub elbows with them. The development of the shadow runs parallel to that of the ego. Whatever the ego does not wish to express for whatever inner- or outer-based reason is repressed into the personal unconscious. This repressed material may be of the nature of antisocial urges or even talents that we are too lazy or undisciplined to cultivate.”
In the mid 1950’s my paternal grandparents bought their first TV. My grandmother, the sweetest, most gentle and affectionate grandmother a child could ask for underwent a change that was both disturbing and puzzling to me. When she was watching her favorite television show she was transformed into a dynamo of anger, violent gestures and sometimes profane language. I had no explanation for this change until years later when I became familiar with the shadow. Her favorite program was professional wrestling and aspects of her shadow came to the surface in a dynamic and a shocking display as she projected the contents of her repressed shadow onto the “villains” on the screen.
The shadow will have its say and often in a time and place when we would prefer that it didn’t express itself. Alzheimer’s is a disease that can remove conscious constraints against expressing shadow material. David Touff was a retailer in Denver and the first to hire African American clerks. In the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s while riding public transportation with his caregiver he made a derogatory remark about an interracial couple. “… something he never would have done in his rational days.” Unfortunately, the shadow doesn’t often concern itself with exhibiting rational behavior.
On the ancient Greek temple of Apollo at Delphi built into the side of Mt. Parnassus are two inscriptions: Know Thyself and Nothing to Excess. “For many people, the unacceptable qualities of excess go directly into the unconscious shadow, or they get expressed in shadowy behavior. In many of our lives these extremes take the form of symptoms: intensely negative feelings and actions, neurotic suffering, psychosomatic illnesses, depression, and substance abuse.” The shadow and the false self are two sides of a self-destructive identity that we can no longer afford to ignore or deny.
Connecting the dynamic of the shadow to the three energy centers of the false self creates an alarming picture of human unconsciousness and self destruction. When the energy that we expend in seeking security, sensation and power is repressed we still feel the energy but we think that it is originating “out there.” “The drive would now appear to arise externally to us, in the environment, and we would therefore no longer feel a drive towards the environment but the environment driving us! Instead of pushing to action we would feel driven; instead of interest, we would experience pressure; in place of desire, obligation … and so instead of possessing this energy we feel hammered by it, buffeted and slammed around by what now appears to be “external” forces, so that we are driven mercilessly like a helpless puppet, with the environment apparently pulling the strings.” Ken Wilber’s description of what it feels like to be a human being lacking the awareness of having a shadow and with no Point of Power Practice to defend oneself does indeed result in helpless puppet-like or zombie-like behavior.
It is no wonder that when the subject of transforming human behavior comes up, we don’t know where to begin let alone understand the distinction between the negative and the positive shadow. “Moreover, we can project not only our positive emotions of interest, drive, and desire, but also our negative feelings of anger, resentment, hatred, rejection, etc. The same thing results, however, instead of being angry at someone, we will feel the world is angry at us; instead of temporarily hating a person, we will sense that the person hates us; instead of rejecting a situation, we will feel rejected. Becoming unaware of our little bit of negative tendencies, we project them onto the environment and thus populate our world with imaginary but quite frightening boogey men, devils, ghosts: we are frightened by our own shadows.”
“Referring to the medieval idea of the “daemonic,” Jung writes that ‘demons are nothing other than intruders from the unconscious, spontaneous eruptions of the unconscious complexes into the continuity of the conscious process. Complexes are comparable to demons which fitfully harass our thought and actions; hence in antiquity and the Middle Ages acute neurotic disturbances were conceived as possession.’ Descartes’ approach, which separated mind and body, subject and object, deemed “real” only that aspect of human experience which is objectively measurable or quantifiable. This advance led, notoriously, to the abject neglect of “irrational,” subjective phenomena.”
Cartesian rationality and the advent of the enlightenment gradually put reason, science and the intellect at the helm of western civilization. If we still believe that this was a good thing, we had better think again. “His [Descartes] breakthrough was a dubious development in human thought: It enabled late Renaissance people to rid the world of superstition, witchcraft, magic, and the gamut of mythical creatures—both evil and good—in one clean, scientific sweep. But as [Rollo] May laments, ‘what we did in getting rid of fairies and the elves and their ilk was to impoverish our lives; and impoverishment is not the lasting way to clear men’s minds of superstition. Our world became disenchanted; and it leaves us not only out of tune with nature, but with ourselves as well.”
Fortunately the challenges facing humanity begin to come into focus as we pursue the profound implications of Simple Reality. We know the behavior is associated with three energy centers of the false-self survival strategy pursuing plenty, pleasure and power which we have very little awareness of and which is creating for all of humanity an unsustainable future. Now we must add the personal shadow creating more self-destructive behaviors in a manner, at a time and in a place over which we have little or no control because we are not even aware of its existence. We are continually “blindsided.” Perhaps Jung understated the challenge facing all of us: “We have in all naiveté forgotten that beneath our world of reason another lies buried. I do not know what humanity will still have to undergo before it dares to admit this.” Students of Simple Reality do dare to admit this and furthermore we know what to do about it. More about this in a moment.
The Golden Shadow
According to Ken Wilber, we also have a golden shadow. “Thus the Shadow can contain not only our “bad,” aggressive, perverse, wicked, “evil,” and demonic aspects that we have tried to disown, but also some “good,” energetic, god-like, angelic, and noble aspects that we have forgotten belong to us.”
“We need to list these qualities we admire in other people. Then when we hear ourselves saying, ‘Oh but I could never be like that,’ we would do well to investigate those traits, for they are undoubtedly a part of our Golden Shadow … the person who is romantically in love is really in love with the projected aspects of his own self, and he believes that the only way he can re-own these projected goodies is to own and possess his beloved.”
“The same mechanism is operating in cases of wild admiration and envy, for again we have given our potentials away, consequently feeling that we ourselves lack them, and seeing them instead as belonging to others. We become “worthless,” and the world appears to be populated with people who are capable, important, awesome in our eyes.”
It is almost as if our false self needs the other as a partner in a macabre dance, an ugly partner or a beautiful partner each in turn repelling and attracting us. “These denied emotional states may be projected outward upon others—an enemy in a war, a neighbor. Even if you find yourself hating the symbolic enemy, you will also be aware of a deep attraction.” Speaking of attraction, what part does the shadow play in romantic love, that most bewildering of all attractions?
The Shadow, Projection and Romantic Love
Taking a Chance on Love
Composer: Vernon Duke
Here we go again,
I hear the trumpets blow again.
All aglow again,
Takin’ a chance on love.
About to take that ride again.
Takin’ a chance on love.
I know the game is a frame-up,
And the ace of hearts is high
I see the rainbow bending now,
We’ll have a happy ending now.
Well, probably not …
We may perceive positive qualities in people without empirical evidence to support such perceptions. This often happens in romantic encounters. Lovers caught up in their desire for the other person, often project their own unconscious positive attributes, their “golden shadow,” onto that person. Beauty is, of course, in the eye of the beholder. When one is “hooked” by a positive quality in another person, one may project all sorts of other positive qualities onto that other person.
Now we bring religion into the dynamic of projection and the shadow and combine it with romantic love. As you might suspect, this gets complicated and controversial. “Though no one notices at the time, in-love-ness obliterates the humanity of the beloved. One does a curious kind of insult to another by falling in love with him, for we are really looking at our own projection of God, not at the other person.”
Of course, the other person is an expression of the Divine, but we must learn to respond to their true identity rather than react. Romantic love begins, unfortunately as a reaction. “To fall in love is to project that particularly golden part of one’s shadow, the image of God—whether masculine or feminine—onto another person. Instantly, that person is the carrier of everything sublime and holy. One waxes eloquent in praise of the beloved and uses the language of divinity. But this experience is from the extreme right-hand side of the seesaw and invariably constellates its opposite. When in-love-ness turns into its opposite, there is nothing more bitter in human experience.”
“When we project our God image on our mates, that is just as dangerous as projecting our darkness, fear, and anxiety. We say to the beloved, ‘I expect you to give me divine inspiration, to be the sole source of my creativity. I give you the power to transform my life.’ In this way, we ask the beloved to do what our spiritual disciplines have done in the past: make us new, redeem us, save our souls.” Self-transformation is a task that only we can do and the gradual realization of this reality can cause resentment but we won’t understand how this is all happening.
As in all areas of human suffering, transformation is possible when growth in consciousness and compassion are allowed to redefine human relationships. “When the projection of in-love-ness is exhausted, the other side of reality—and the very dark possibilities in human exchange—take over. If we can survive this, then we have human love [compassion]—far less exciting than divine love, but far more stable … We forget that in falling in love, we must also come to terms with what we find annoying and distasteful—even downright intolerable—in the other and also in ourselves. Yet it is precisely this confrontation that leads to our greatest growth.”
When we can look at others, including our “significant others,” and experience them without our projections, as expressions of a perfect Creation, we come to realize that “I am That.” “Most marriages in the West begin with a projection, go through a period of disillusionment, and God willing, become more human. That is to say, they come to be based on the profound reality that is the other person. To make this examination all the more difficult, we have to say that the divinity we see in others is truly there, but we don’t have the right to see it until we have taken away our own projections. How difficult! How can one say that the projection is not true but that the divinity of one’s beloved is? Making this fine differentiation is the most delicate and difficult task in life.” Indeed, the narrative of Simple Reality is replete with such challenging but critical distinctions.
Not all religions or cultures mix the ingredients of the shadow, religion and projection “stew” in the same way but all such recipes do have a bitter taste. “Something extraordinary happened in the twelfth century when the age of romanticism sprang up out of the Western collective unconscious and we discovered the art of seeing the godhead in another human being. This was known much earlier in the Eastern world, but confined to the relationship between a guru and his student. Aware of the great power of this experience, the Eastern world kept it in the narrow confines of the religious life and forbade it in ordinary relationships. It is wise to put such a force in a container large enough to bear it. Ordinary human relations where we play out this divine drama are not of this magnitude. The faculty of in-love-ness, romantic love, is relatively recent in our history. With it, Western humanity has loosed the most sublime feeling we are capable of and set ourselves up for the greatest suffering we will ever know.”
The Collective Shadow
There are also collective implications of the shadow problem. They are staggering, for here lay the roots of social, racial, and national bias and discrimination and every kind of violence including war. “Every minority and every dissenting group carries the shadow projection of the majority, be it Negro, white, Gentile, Jew, Italian, Irish, Chinese or French. Moreover, since the shadow is the archetype of the enemy, its projection is likely to involve us in the bloodiest of wars precisely in times of the greatest complacency about peace and our own righteousness. The enemy and the conflict with the enemy are archetypal factors, projections of our own inner split, and cannot be legislated or wished away. They can be dealt with—if at all—only in terms of shadow confrontation and in the healing of our individual split. The most dangerous times, both collectively and individually, are those in which we assume that we have eliminated it.”
“The collective shadow can take form as mass phenomena in which entire nations can become possessed by the archetypal force of evil. This can be explained by the unconscious process known as participation mystique, whereby individuals and groups make a feeling-toned identification with an object, person, or idea, failing to make moral distinction within themselves or in their perception of the object. In the case of collective shadow, this can mean that people identify with an ideology or leader that gives expression to the fears and inferiorities of the entire society. Often this takes form collectively as fanatical fascinations such as religious persecution, racial bigotry, caste systems, scapegoating, witch-hunting, or genocidal hatred. When a minority carries the projection of that which a society rejects, the potential for great evil is activated. Examples of this mass phenomenon in our time include the Czarist pogroms in Russia at the turn of the century, Nazi persecution of Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals in the World War II holocaust, U.S. anti-communism and McCarthyism in the 1950’s, and South Africa’s constitutional apartheid system. Our century bears witness to these mass psychoses, acted out in cruelties that have reached previously unimagined proportions.”
When the false self is caught denying the existence of shadow behavior we can expect to see the behaviors of denial and lying. “The degree to which each side denies and lies about its complicity and the actual reasons for its actions represents prima facie evidence of its feeling that the action taken is inconsistent with its ideological self-image. Perhaps the archetypal example of this phenomenon in contemporary terms was the 1986-1987 Iran-Contra affair, wherein the United States covertly sold arms to Iran in exchange for the release of American hostages and illegally used the funds obtained to support the Contras in Nicaragua—all of this in the face of a vociferous official policy of opposing negotiations with terrorists and terrorist nations as well as the shipment of any arms to Iran. Not only did government officials lie to the American public—even after the basic facts were known—but the president himself apparently lied on several occasions.”
Lying, denial and keeping secrets are behaviors designed to keep the personal or collective shadow out of sight and out of mind. “It is important to recognize that, psychodynamically, shadow projection has more to do with domestic self-image than it does with the nature of the perceived enemy, although there may be many truths in the content of the projection … The lie is told to protect the domestic self-image in the Unites States.”
The American intuitive and healer Edgar Cayce suggested many years ago that our collective shadow side was self-righteousness, otherwise called hypocrisy.
“It is archetypal evil that both shocks and fascinates us and draws us with horrified absorption to the daily reading of our newspaper.” Our reaction is not always one of horror however. The Germans have a term that defines an altogether different reaction. “Schadenfreude is the embarrassing (ashamed) reaction of relief we feel when something bad happens to someone else instead of us.” In the dictionary, Schadenfreude, is a noun and is defined as the pleasure felt at someone else’s misfortune. It is from the German, schaden (harm) + freude (joy). Our challenge in dealing with the shadow is to reduce our reactions such as Schadenfreude and increase our ability to respond by expressing compassion for those around us who are suffering and especially compassion for ourselves as we find the courage to acknowledge our personal shadow.
“So the personal shadow contains undeveloped, unexpressed potentials of all kinds. It is part of the unconscious that is complementary to the ego and represents those characteristics that the conscious personality does not wish to acknowledge and therefore neglects, forgets, and buries, only to discover them in uncomfortable confrontations with others.”
The term shadow refers to a part of the personality that has been repressed for the sake of our “imagined” identity, our ego “image.” Since everything unconscious is projected, we encounter our shadow in our projections mirrored back to us by other people. “To the extent that I have to be right and good, he, she, or they become the carriers of all the evil which I fail to acknowledge within myself.”
“Mother Teresa was once asked why she does what she does, that is, how she is able to take the dying poor from the streets of Calcutta, nurse them and love them. Her response reflected her deep self-knowledge: ‘I realized a long time ago that I had a Hitler within me.’”
Elizabeth Lesser says, “We see the shadow most indirectly in distasteful traits and actions of other people, out there where it is safer to observe it. We project by attributing this quality to the other person in an unconscious effort to banish it from ourselves, to keep ourselves from seeing it within. When we react intensely to a quality in an individual or group—such as laziness or stupidity, sensuality, or spirituality—and our reaction overtakes us with great loathing or admiration, this may be our own shadow showing.” Scapegoating or projection is a failure to take responsibility for one’s own shadow.
Projecting the Collective Shadow
The need for our nation to project onto the other requires that we find a “target” enemy. For example, when “the Reagan administration came into office, it immediately selected Libya as a punching bag. And there were very good reasons for that: Libya’s defenseless, the Reagan administration needed to create fear; it had to mobilize the population to do things they didn’t want to do, like support a massive increase in military spending.” This observation by Noam Chomsky is his false self speaking in a P-B context and as such is mistaking a symptom for a cause. He fails to see deeply enough into the behavior of the government to identify the fundamental cause of America’s bellicose attitude toward its neighbors in the world. The causes are not economic nor is there a conscious conspiracy among the oligarchs, the “power elite” as he calls them. The driving force behind our nation’s behavior is seated in the dual motivations flowing from the collective shadow and the energy centers of the collective false self, the drive for security and power.
“In 1484 Pope Innocent VIII published the Bull Summa Desiderantes, which marked the beginning of the great witch craze that raged sporadically throughout Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, afflicting Protestant and Catholic communities equally. It revealed the dark underside of the Western spirit. During this hideous persecution, thousands of men and women were cruelly tortured until they confessed to astonishing crimes. The fantasy was linked with anti-Semitism and a deep sexual fear. Satan had emerged as the shadow of an impossibly good and powerful God. As Norman Cohn has suggested in his book Europe’s Inner Demons, this portrait of Satan was not only a projection of buried fear and anxiety. The witch craze also represented an unconscious but compulsive revolt against a repressive religion and an apparently inexorable God.”
The collective false self suffers shame, guilt and regret related to shadow projections and will try to repress, deny, keep secret and lie about what happened related to those behaviors it would like to forget. In modern times the German people and the people in eastern Europe occupied by Germany during WWII have had a marked lapse of memory. We can only sympathize with them but at the same time it is better that we all face the truth of what happened during one of the darkest chapters in modern history.
It’s 2013 at the writing of this essay and you would think that most of the details of the holocaust have been collected—the Germans after all were fastidious record keepers—right? Be prepared to be shocked. Over the last thirteen years the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has been documenting data related to the ghettos, slave labor sites, concentration camps, killing factories and brothels where women were coerced into having sex with German soldiers. By 2025, the year of final publication, the facts will fill five volumes.
When the research began in 2000, the number of such sites were believed to total 7000; looking at the map of the known sites today it looks as if eastern Europe has the measles with 42,500 pustules. In Berlin alone researchers found 3,000 camps and so-called “Jew houses” and Hamburg had 1,300 such sites.
It is not surprising that people in Fascist controlled areas of Europe did not want to remember or talk about the modern day witch hunt although most of them had to have known about it just as the people of Salem did. “You literally could not go anywhere in Germany without running into forced labor camps, P.O.W. camps, concentration camps,” co-researcher Dr. Dean said, “They were everywhere.” Indeed, the shadow is everywhere, everywhere that people are found.
The Shadow and the Body
The existence of the shadow may help explain both mental and physical suffering. “Back pain is a command decision by the mind to produce a physical reaction rather than experience a painful emotion.” Furthermore, the shadow has an influence on human behavior in the context of religion. For example, western religions demand that the body and its needs be repressed in favor of the “higher” aspects of human life, the spirit, the mind, and the denial of the temptations of the flesh. The mind/body split became an unconscious and powerful aspect of human behavior. The disowned body shows up in our lives as guilt and shame related to bodily functions, a lack of spontaneity and joy in our movements and sensations and as a source of many of our psychosomatic diseases. We see the shadow of the disowned body lurking behind the tragedies of substance abuse, eating disorders, addiction to sex, and the sexual abuse of both children and adults.
The Shadow and Dreams
“When the shadow appears in our dreams it appears as a figure of the same sex as ourselves. In the dream we react to it in fear, dislike, or disgust, or as we would react to someone inferior to ourselves—a lesser kind of being. In the dream we often want to avoid it, frequently sensing that it is in pursuit of us, when it may or may not be. Shadow may also appear as an indistinguishable form we intuitively fear and want to escape. Since the figure is our own shadow, or some representative part of our shadow, we need to face it and discover what it is and what it is about. We need to observe its actions, attitudes, and words (if any). Since it personifies dimensions of ourselves that could be unconscious, it is a helpful resource to knowing ourselves. The usual tendency in the dream, however, is to avoid the shadow, just as it is for many of us in conscious life.”
Jung had a dream that illustrates the shadow’s yearning to be acknowledged. “It was night in some unknown place, and I was making slow and painful headway against a mighty wind. Dense fog was flying along everywhere. I had my hands cupped around a tiny light which threatened to go out at any moment. Everything depended on my keeping this little light alive.
“Suddenly I had the feeling that something was coming up behind me. I looked back and saw a gigantic black figure following me. But at the same moment I was conscious in spite of my terror that I must keep my little light going through night and wind, regardless of all dangers.
“When I awoke I realized at once that the figure was my own shadow on the swirling mists, brought into being by the little light I was carrying. I knew too that this little light was my consciousness, the only light I have. Though infinitely small and fragile in comparison with the power of darkness, it is still a light, my only light.” The “light” of our consciousness, our connection to the source of all light is more than powerful enough to illuminate the entire human community but we must stop fleeing the darkness.
Healing the Shadow (Shadow Work)
Both repression of the knowledge of the shadow, and identification with the shadow, are attempts to escape the tension of the opposites within ourselves, attempts to “loose the bonds” that hold together within us a light and dark side, one of the egregious “splits” that we have experienced. The motive, of course is to escape the pain of the problem, but since escaping the pain leads to psychological and existential disaster, then we might consider acknowledging and dealing with our shadow.
Shadow work can be defined as the “continuing effort to develop a creative relationship with the shadow.” We must find the courage to engage in “the conscious and intentional process of admitting to that which we have chosen to ignore or repress.”
“The shadow differs from an unruly complex in that it was not a trauma that pushed it into the unconscious, as is the case with a complex. Somehow or other we came to understand that the shadow element was categorically not worthy of love, and hence not worthy of expression either. Complexes are recurring human patterns of behavior characterized by an exaggerated or obsessive concern or fear.
If we continue to deny the existence of the shadow, we may find ourselves entering a new “Dark Ages.” In approximately 500 A.D. the barbarians were involved in the process of the invasion and destruction of a corrupt and decaying Roman Empire. Society had to reorganize itself in smaller units in a feudal society. The impending Dark Ages of the 21st century is different in that it involves an “enemy within.”
Today civilization is threatened by its own “dark side”—that part of us that we are unconscious of and that is expressing itself in the destruction of the old way of being with as yet no new way of being. That new way of being is one that we will have to create for ourselves. That is what the “shift” is about. Simple Reality is a map of the new territory. Humanity is reaching a crossroads, either “breakdown” or “breakthrough.” It’s our choice and as Jung said, “dealing with the shadow and evil is ultimately an ‘individual secret,’ equal to that of experiencing God, and so powerful an experience that it can transform the whole person.”
We are terrified of bringing shadow behavior into consciousness. We should be terrified of not bringing the shadow into consciousness. “Consciousness of the shadow is decisive for the stability not only of the individual life but also in large measure of the collective life. To be conscious of evil means to be painstakingly aware of what one does and of what happens to one. ‘If indeed thou knowest what thou doest, thou art blessed; but if thou knowest not, thou art cursed, and a transgressor of the law.’ This is one of Jesus’ apocryphal sayings. He said it to a Jew whom he saw working on the Sabbath.” In other words, it matters less what we do, than in what context or with what identity we do it. Do we live our lives unconsciously by rote and ritual or with awareness and conscious intention? It matters. It matters a lot.
Using the term “biosphere” for nature and as a synonym for the shadow, Ken Wilber emphasizes the importance of integrating the shadow and psyche. The psyche, Wilber’s noosphere, is the mind functioning as the center of thought, emotions and behavior and it consciously or unconsciously adjusts and relates the body to its social and physical environment. “Neurotic symptoms disappear, or are healed, only as consciousness relaxes its repression, recontacts and befriends the biosphere that exists in its own being, and then integrates that biosphere with the newly emergent noosphere in its own case. This is called ‘uncovering the shadow,’ and the shadow is the biosphere.
“This crisis I repeat, is in no way going to ‘destroy the biosphere’—the biosphere will survive, in some form or another (even if just viral and bacterial), no matter what we do to it. What we are doing, rather, is altering the biosphere in a way that will not support higher life forms and especially will not support the noosphere. That “alteration” is in fact a repression, an alienation, a denial of our common ancestry, a denial of our relational existence with all of life. It is not a destruction of the biosphere but a denial of the biosphere, and that is the precise definition of psychoneurosis.” One of the fundamental splits of the “Fall” into unconsciousness was that between the human and nature. Wilber does not exaggerate in labeling human behavior today as “madness.”
Confronting the shadow is at the heart of the hero’s journey and the process of awakening as Jung came to realize. “For most people the dark or negative side of the personality remains unconscious. The hero, on the contrary, must realize that the shadow exists and that he can draw strength from it. He must come to terms with its destructive powers if he is to become sufficiently terrible to overcome the dragon—i.e. before the ego can triumph, it must master and assimilate the shadow.” Facing the metaphorical dragon is terrifying but armed with the Point of Power Practice (See Appendix), our “Excalibur,” we are up to the task.
What is the payoff for a diligent discipline choosing response instead of reaction when afflictive emotions present themselves whether they are the spontaneous emergence of repressed shadow material or the conditioned reactions of the false self? “Contrary to the general opinion that consciousness of the shadow constellates and strengthens evil, one finds repeatedly that just the opposite is true: knowledge of one’s own personal shadow is the necessary requirement for any responsible action, and consequently for any lessening of moral darkness in the world. This holds good to an even greater extent in relation to the collective shadow, to the archetypal figure of the adversary, who compensates the collective consensus of the time.”
“Consciousness of the archetypal shadow is essential not only for individual self-realization, but also for that transformation of creative impulses within the collective upon which depends the preservation of both individual and collective life. The individual cannot detach himself from his connection with society; responsibility toward oneself always includes responsibility toward the whole. One can perhaps even risk the statement: Whatever consciousness the individual struggles for and is able to transmit benefits the collective. By coming to terms with the archetypal adversary he is able to sense collective moral problems and anticipate emerging values.”
Self-awareness, a natural outcome of gaining greater self-control, will naturally foment changes in both our worldview and our identity. “Once this pilgrim can see how angry and vindictive he is, he can trace his story and bring it to the light, instead of being doomed to relive it without awareness. Nothing about ourselves can be changed until it is first accepted. Jung points out that ‘the sick man has to learn how not to get rid of his neurosis but how to bear it. For the illness is not a superfluous and senseless burden, it is himself, he himself is the ‘other’ which we were always trying to shut out.’”
“The goal of shadow-work—to integrate the dark side—cannot be accomplished with a simple method or trick of the mind. Rather, it is a complex ongoing struggle that calls for great commitment, vigilance, and the loving support of others who are traveling a similar road.”
The natural outgrowth of shadow work is increased compassion, especially for ourselves. “The cure of the shadow is a problem of love. How far can our love extend to the broken and ruined parts of ourselves, the disgusting and perverse? How much charity and compassion have we for our own weakness and sickness?”
The First Noble Truth is an integral part of shadow work. Life is suffering and all progress begins with that acknowledgment. “Despair is the only cure for our illusion. Without despair we cannot transfer our allegiance to reality—it is a kind of mourning period for our fantasies. Some people do not survive this despair, but no major change within a person can occur without it. Shadow-work is predicated on a confessional (and sometimes cathartic) act. For Jung this is the quintessential activity. ‘Modern man,’ he maintained, ‘must rediscover a deeper source of his own spiritual life. To do this, he is obliged to struggle with evil, to confront his shadow, to integrate the devil. There is no other choice.’”
Shakespeare understood the necessity to meet the shadow, and he frequently describes in his plays the tragic consequences of ignoring the call to this work. To the villainous character Macbeth he gave poignant words, describing the emptiness and misery wreaked by unprecedented darkness:
Life’s but a walking shadow … it is a tale told by an idiot,
full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
“Whether the shadow becomes our friend or enemy depends largely upon ourselves. In fact, he is exactly like any human being with whom one has to get along, sometimes by giving in, sometimes by resisting, sometimes by giving love—whatever the situation requires. The shadow becomes hostile only when he is ignored or misunderstood.”
As with any spiritual growth practice, shadow work requires a life-long commitment but the rewards are beyond counting. “Pilgrimages to Jerusalem or long meditation retreats might provide a shot of inspiration, but shadow-work creates long-lasting change.”
The components of our worldview are beliefs, attitudes and values. We must be willing to engage in modifying these, including whatever resistance we might encounter in considering the existence of our personal shadow. “A troubled mind is one that is at odds with itself. It does not love itself in a healthy way because it deems that certain shadow aspects of itself cause it to be unlovable and hated. The cause is not the shadow per se but the attitude we harbor toward it. This negative attitude only antagonizes the shadow sub-personalities, which react to this loathing and lack of love in like manner. The ego then declares: ‘You see, I was right. These aspects of myself only act in hateful, unloving ways and deserve to be hated and unloved in return!’ A vicious circle is thus created with this kind of false, self-defeating, absurd ‘logic.’”
One immediate reward for our willingness to acknowledge the shadow is that it begins to shrink and lose power and energy. “While growing up, the ego is actually strengthened by resisting certain undesirable alter egos or morally ugly shadow forces. This is a necessary endeavor, as the young ego needs firming up, but later in life we find that the shadow merely turns into a cut-off quantity of psychic energy that can be and wants to be tapped, integrated and used. As life goes on, more and more shadow material collects, and a serious tension is created between the repressing ego and the autonomous shadow now battling more fiercely for recognition by the very thing repressing it.”
As we have learned earlier in this article, an awareness of archetypes is critical to creating a healthy identity and there is no more important archetype than the shadow. “It takes nerve not to flinch from or be crushed by the sight of one’s shadow, and it takes courage. C. G. Jung once wrote that we become what we do. The deliberate decision to do evil leads to our becoming evil. This attests to the archetypal nature of evil, for it is one of the qualities of the archetypes that they can possess the ego, which is like being devoured by or made identical with the archetype.”
Just as Mother Teresa was aware that she had a “Hitler” within so must we all meet and begin to get to know our own personal “Hitlers” within. The story of Jekyll and Hyde warns us of the consequences of shrinking from the task of embracing the shadow. “Henry Jekyll’s fundamental mistake was his desire to escape the tension of the opposites within him. As we have seen, he was gifted with a modicum of psychological consciousness, more than most men, for he knew that he had a dual nature; he was aware that there was another one in him whose desires were counter to his more usual desires for the approbation of mankind. Had he enlarged this consciousness and carried the tension of the opposites within him, it would have led to the development of his personality; in the language we have been using, he would have individuated [integrated the shadow].”
Shadow work is not intellectual;
it’s a journey from the head to the heart.
John Ruskan, like Debbie Ford, recognizes the importance of relying on intuition rather than the intellect in integrating shadow and psyche. “Simply surrender to your flow, stay with your experience as it is, be patient and trust in the guidance you are receiving. These insights will come spontaneously as a result of the integration that direct experience will bring. For now, just fully experience the feelings of the event. If you persist in trying to analyze, integration is inhibited.” The grapes of wrath are stored in the shadow. If we can find the courage to look at our shadow, we will find the end of winter and the advent of spring.
Students of Simple Reality will recognize Ruskan’s description of how shadow work is done. “It is crucial to recognize that feelings must be experienced and not addressed by any ‘rational’ or ‘cognitive’ approach, in which the attempt is made to change, avoid, or reprogram the feeling by changing your thinking, or through mental ‘anchoring.’ Feelings [emotions in Simple Reality] are processed by keeping them in consciousness without resistance [reaction], experiencing them fully, witnessing them, without acting on them. The natural flow of the energy of the feelings is permitted to occur. If feelings are avoided or resisted, they are suppressed. By simply staying in the moment with feelings, allowing them to be for as long as necessary, the emotional charge is dissolved.”
The heart of the specific practice involved with integrating and healing shadow material is the Point of Power Practice which John Ruskan in his book Emotional Clearing describes in slightly different language than we use in Simple Reality. “Bringing suppressed feelings [afflictive emotions in Simple Reality] into consciousness, with complete acceptance, is all the expression that is required for their release.” By complete acceptance Ruskan means without “reaction.”
“Owning the shadow involves confronting it and assimilating its contents into an enlarged self-concept.” No guru or therapist can show us how to make an “end-run” around the fire-breathing dragon of the shadow. Any avoidance or denial only feeds the dragon. “Thus, the problem is not to get rid of any symptom, but rather to deliberately and consciously try to increase that symptom, to deliberately and consciously experience it fully! If you are depressed, try to be more depressed. If you are tense, make yourself even tenser. If you feel guilty, increase your feeling of guilt—and we mean that literally! For by so doing you are, for the very first time, acknowledging and even aligning yourself with your Shadow, and hence are doing consciously what you have heretofore been doing unconsciously. When you, as a personal experiment, consciously throw every bit of yourself into actively and deliberately trying to produce your present symptoms, you have in effect thrown your persona and Shadow together. You have consciously contacted and aligned yourself with your opposites, and, in short, re-discovered your Shadow.”
Debbie Ford finds an inimitable way of saying what we must do with our shadow projections. “Every word, incident, and person that still has an emotional charge needs to be retraced, faced, replaced, and embraced.”
Once the negative side of your battle has
become conscious, it will lose power.
Living in the present moment we find the authentic power to encounter our shadow and thereby create consciousness, to engage in self-transformation or as Jung would say “individuation.” “One cannot avoid the shadow unless one remains neurotic, and as long as one is neurotic one has omitted the shadow. The shadow is the block which separates us most effectively from the divine voice.”
Familiarity with the shadow strengthens our ability to choose response over reaction, feeling over fear. The most important aspect of the shadow that we dare not forget is that it is part of the P-B illusion and an aspect of the problematic but delusional false self. Our goal then, is to stop feeding our illusory identity and watch it become a fading mirage. If one of our beliefs is that good and evil are real, we have fed the fire of our fear and as the flames illuminate the specter of Satan we will flee powerless before the screaming banshees of the night.
On Gallows Hill in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 twenty unrepentant witches were put to death, fifteen men and five women. Cotton Mather describing one of the witches revealed the content of the Puritan collective unconscious. He called Susannah Martin one of the most “impudent, scurrilous, wicked creatures in the world.”
The first step in healing the collective shadow is acknowledging its existence. One such acknowledgement occurred in November 2001. The acting governor of Massachusetts on Halloween of that year, three centuries after the fact, officially exonerated the five women—Bridget Bishop, Susannah Martin, Alice Parker, Wilmot Redd and Margaret Scott—only after a hard-fought campaign by descendants of the women and others. We had better speed up the process of dealing with our shadows or the shadow will indeed have its say and we are not going to like what we hear.
References and notes are available for this article.
Also find a much more in-depth discussion of Simple Reality
on this blog and in published books by Roy Charles Henry.