Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Me and My Shadow

[image source]

If you imagine someone who is brave enough to withdraw all his projections, then you get an individual who is conscious of a pretty thick shadow. Such a man has saddled himself with new problems and conflicts. He has become a serious problem to himself, as he is now unable to say that they do this or that, they are wrong, and they must be fought against. He lives in the "House of the Gathering." Such a man knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow he has done something real for the world. He has succeeded in shouldering at least an infinitesimal part of the gigantic, unsolved social problems of our day.

~ Carl Jung: "Psychology and Religion" (1938). In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.140
I've been doing shadow work for most of the last 15 years or more, ever since I first read Jung in an art history class. Despite all the writings that have come after his, he remains one of the clearest voices for those seeking to understand the function of the shadow.

The hardest part of shadow work is accepting that it will never be complete. As long as there is the light of consciousness, there will be shadows. For every shadow element we drag into the light of day, there are ten more hiding in the crevices of our awareness, just barely out of site, but often sneaking out into the world to color those we interact with.

The thing with shadows is that they find a way to make themselves known if we pay attention. The other thing about them is that they are not all bad parts of ourselves.

In fact, I believe that the shadow can be our best friend. Years ago, I wrote an article on how the shadow itself, if we befriend it, can be our guide toward a more whole self. By listening to our shadow elements -- reclaiming our projections -- we can become more integrated and individuated. That wasn't a very integrally informed paper, but it helped me formulate an idea about shadow work that I hadn't seen before.

The truth is that shadow work is crucial to growth. As Pema Chodron so often talks about the necessity of sitting with our feelings and our fears, the same is true with shadow work. We must be willing to engage the shadow to the learn the lessons it can teach us, and to reclaim the parts of ourselves that have been displaced as projections.

However, and I think this is a crucial point that Jung makes in the quote above, once we reclaim our shadow material, it is no longer permissible to act from that shadow place, even if we can claim full consciousness of our actions. Once we reclaim the shadow material, we must recognize that whatever we might dislike in others is within us. And, to quote the wise man from Bethlehem, let s/he who is without sin cast the first stone.

From an integral perspective, as people rise into second tier, any material form first tier development that was not transcended and included in a healthy way will emerge as shadow. And if we see evolution in consciousness as a continual increase in the luminosity of being, we might say that the brighter the light, the deeper the shadow. The more one separates from ego, the more possible it becomes for ego to act in troubling ways if all of its baggage has not been assimilated -- and how many of us can say that we have no ego baggage?

I think it's fair to say we have seen the dark side of this in the various religious and spiritual leaders who have become abusive in whatever way, from Adi Da to Jim Bakker, from Andrew Cohen to Mark Gafni. The list could certainly be much longer without much effort.

It seems to me that best way to shed light on the shadow is through a dedicated process of mindfulness, meditation, and work in reclaiming disowned selves (subpersonalities that are not integrated and therefore projected onto others). It is doubly important, I think, to engage in this work if one has already attained a high level of transcendence.

If one jumps into the upper reaches of consciousness, having causal or nondual experiences, it becomes very easy to believe that one is enlightened and that no further work is necessary. Ego digs thinking it is enlightened. Ken Wilber has been one who frequently mentions the risks in this kind of rapid transcendence, and the need to go back to clean up whatever is unresolved.

That is sage advice. Even those of us who are pushing the edge of first tier into second tier can become deeply invested in believing we are more [fill in the blank] than other people. Ego is tricky that way. And for many of us, ego acts in much the same way as the shadow. In fact, ego that is not in awareness is in shadow, which makes it doubly important to spend time working to see and identify the ego and it shadow.

For myself, I am definitely invested in being more [fill in the blank] than others. For me, it may be more integral, more aware, more dedicated, more eloquent, more educated, and on and on. I am capable of great inflation and great deflation. My shadow contains all those parts of myself that exist within me that are not present at any given moment.

We all have a primary self that functions as our interface with the world. When it is present, all the other selves we contain are relegated to shadow. The only time we have access to all the various selves consciously is when we can enter into the observer or witness. We have to become unattached to any specific self to see them all clearly.

My primary self, the me that walks around most days calling itself Bill, is someone who enjoys being knowledgable, who enjoys being seen as aware and sensitive. When that gets punctured in any way, as it has recently, my choice is to transcend the feelings or become more entrenched. Unfortunately, as often as I am able to transcend, I also am likely to get entrenched. I know this about myself, so I often let it play out once I see it happening because I know that the lesson will come in watching how my ego reacts.

I've learned a lot in the past week or so. I got to watch how I could fluctuate between awareness and nonattachment at one moment, and regression and entrenchment in the next. I apologize for anything I said or did that was hurtful or condescending. And I apologize to anyone I offended.

I didn't experience the transcendent moment of AHA! that some did through this past week, but I got to know my shadow and my ego a little better, so that maybe next time I can be fully aware when my buttons are getting pushed. Probably not, but I can try. That's all I can ask of myself or others.

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