Archive for the ‘shadow’ tag
As I lay beneath the rays of the sun on the beach in Puerto Morelos allowing my body to darken without tan lines, I listen to music on my mp3 player. While listening to the music with the waves rolling onto the shore, the time passes quickly making it easier to be still and at peace, my mind was caught by one song I had listened to many times, Bruce Springsteen singing Secret Garden. I knew immediately as I listened that the song had touched something much deeper than normal. I knew that the song would become today’s post. I wasn’t yet sure, nor am I now as I am writing, exactly what I would say. Before going further, I want to put the song here. The lyrics will be added at the end of the post for those who want to have them in text form.
I know that I typically write about the feminine on Wednesdays, but this deserves being brought here a day early. With the words that talk about being allowed “in her house” should one come during the night immediately brought to mind the she that is a man’s anima. This mystical woman of the Secret Garden is the Magical Other to whom we sewomb farch for in our wives, consorts, our significant others. Of course, no human female can hold all of this and stay sane. At some point we have to realise that this Magical Other is found within our own psyche, not projected out onto other humans. Think of the Garden of Eden, the womb of humankind where the essence of all that is masculine and all that is feminine unites in a holy marriage; a garden where Ego gets in the way, and effectively destroys the garden. This is the guiding principle of individuation in Jungian Psychology, and in Buddhism. We must learn to set the narrow limitations of ego aside and allow the fullness of our psyche to escape from the shadows.
Secret Garden – Bruce Springsteen
She’ll let you in her house
If you come knockin late at night
Shell let you in her mouth
If the words you say are right
If you pay the price
Shell let you deep inside
But there’s a secret garden she hides
Shell let you in her car
To go drivin round
Shell let you into the parts of herself
Thatll bring you down
Shell let you in her heart
If you got a hammer and a vise
But into her secret garden, don’t think twice
Youve gone a million miles
How fard you get
To that place where you can’t remember
And you can’t forget
Shell lead you down a path
Therell be tenderness in the air
Shell let you come just far enough
So you know she’s really there
Shell look at you and smile
And her eyes will say
Shes got a secret garden
Where everything you want
Where everything you need
Will always stay
A million miles away
The sun has been at the centre of the spiritual lives of humankind for as long as there have been humans. More often than not, the sun is a male deity while the moon is a female deity, usually the consort. In depth psychology, both sun and moon have formed a central core of the psyche, with the sun signifying consciousness, awareness, and the moon signifying the unconscious.
“A solar deity (also sun god/dess) is a sky deity who represents the Sun, or an aspect of it, usually by its perceived power and strength. Solar deities and sun worship can be found throughout most of recorded history in various forms.” [Wikipedia, Solar Deity]
When I think hard on this, I wondered why it is that, even though humankind was at best barely above the status of instinctual animal, humans turned to the sun. It didn’t take too much for a very simple reason to emerge – they were afraid of the dark. When the sun was present, when there was warmth, humans felt alive and thrived. When night fell, fear was natural as there were real forces abroad that threatened existence. In the darkness fear was magnified. And in the dark, bad things happened, especially to women and children. And in the dark, revenge was taken. It is with a sense of both fear and hope that humans waited out the night for the return of the sun.
And today, I find that I am no different as I lift my heart joyfully when the sun peeks out from behind clouds. Modern man, civilised or not, I am like my ancestors worshipping the power and heat of the sun.
I chose this picture today for another post on shadow for a few reasons, one of those reasons being the idea of the ego at the centre, ego being light. As one looks out at the world, the further one gets from the immediate centre surrounding the conscious self, the less clearly, the less conscious one is with regards to what is out there. Looking out from the conscious centre, one sees others, but doesn’t see that behind these others lay shadows that reach into the depths where there is nothing but darkness. One could turn that conscious gaze inwards and get to meet ephemeral images of what are best described as archetypes, presences in the collective unconscious, primordial images that arise from the energy that associated with humans and humanty. If this image tells it like it is, then even these archetypes lose their distinctness in the darkness of what is, perhaps the cosmic unconscious, the unconscious that so many religions and philosophies have called God, the chaos from which all that is both animate and inanimate have arisen.
While conscious, awake with eyes open to the light, it is next to impossible to see one’s shadow. It is only as we cast furtive glances out of the sides of the eyes that we sense that we see something there. We have only what we know exists. We know we exist – our ego tells us us this much. We craft and control disguises that we present to the world as we relate to others, disguises called persona. And, we know, but can’t quite seem to prove that there is a shadow lurking, stalking us seemingly waiting for us to let go of control before it overtakes us. Who is stalking whom?
“Let’s look at the overall picture. Ego, persona, shadow. In Jung’s model of the psyche, these are three major complexes among a whole lot of others. Each has a say in what we are, the way we function, the way we move through the world. The big question is, what do they have to do with psychological relationship? [Sharp, Getting To Know You, p. 43]
I think it is rather obvious to almost all of us how our ego [consciousness] has a huge role to play in how we relate to others. We choose who we relate to as well as how we will relate to them. In our various life roles [father, husband, colleague, boss, employee, etc.] we moderate the way we relate, we limit and control just how much of us we will allow others to see of our true, authentic selves. Not so obvious is the role of shadow. Somehow, beyond my control, and your control, without our even being aware of what is going on, the shadow puts in an appearance in our relationships. We do things and say things that we have no intention of doing or saying. Sometimes we don’t even realise that we have done and said these things after the fact, we deny them vigorously wondering why these people in our lives would tell us these lies.
“Why did you do that?” the wife asks her husband.
“Do what?” he responds confused about what she is talking about.
“You know very well what I am talking about. Why did you do it? You knew it would upset me.”
Even more confused and beginning to be a bit angry at being accused of some unknown crime, he answers, “I don’t have a damn clue what you’re talking about. Stop talking in riddles. What the hell am I being accused of doing now?”
The shadow had put in an appearance and both the husband and wife are left to sort through the litter left in its wake. They are confused and begin to doubt the quality and the strength of their relationship, and at the same time begin to self-doubt. Both Jung and Sharp have nailed it. We are very complexed beings and that complexity shows up in relationship with others who finally give us a chance to see an image of the shadow through the eyes of a person with whom we engage in relationship.
“Complexes interfere with the intentions of the will and disturb the conscious performance; they produce disturbances of memory and blockages in the flow of associations; they appear and disappear according to their own laws; they can temporarily obsess consciousness, or influence speech and action in an unconscious way. In a word, complexes behave like independent beings. [Jung, CW 8, par. 253]
So what has me thinking about complexes today? I guess the short answer is that for whatever reason, they found a way to make their presence felt here in a Mexican paradise. I catch myself having emotional reactions to the bits and pieces of life that normally don’t stir up any emotional response. I find myself feeling defensive without any cause. A simple dialogue that has no ulterior motive somehow becomes a very subtle assault on my identity, my worthiness as a person. Sometimes it doesn’t even need words; a glance can trigger the same result. And most confusing is the fact that these glances and scatterings of words are people specific. The same glance by a stranger would ruffle nothing. The same words uttered by a different person wouldn’t even register.
I have learned long ago that I am not unique in this regard. Pretty well everyone that is breathing and thinking is complexed. Being complexed isn’t all about negative affect, but since having overt positive emotional reactions feels good, there isn’t the same need to look more closely at the affect. As Daryl Sharp would say, “There’s no motivation to analyze it.” It is only when the emotional affect digs into your gut, makes you feel as if you are caught in a storm when we find the motivation to want to figure out “what the hell is going on.”
As I get older, I get wiser – at least that is what I tell myself. As I sense the presence of emotional affect that is negative, I pull back from participation as much as I can, in the drama around the activation of a complex. It hasn’t always been this way. It wasn’t so long ago that as soon as the complex would be activated I would throw my whole being in ranting and railing and battling. It was like a no-holds barred wrestling match that left myself and others around me shell shocked and battered when the energy of the complex stole away. I didn’t “really” understand that it was my complex and perhaps the complex of another wreaking disaster. For both of us, it was about you or I.
But sometimes now, enough times, I don’t bite and take the bait and so avoid escalation. Sensing the presence of the complex lurking, I back off and wait until the complex leaves. I know that it will be back, and perhaps next time I will again be able to resist falling into its vortex. And then, my rights itself and it’s not so topsy-turvy.
I have written earlier that patriarchy is destructive of both men and women. It is important to remember this. It is also important to understand that in spite of many modern men becoming sensitive and heart-based, patriarchy is still thriving. Men might be abdicating their authority to their wives, to their mothers, but this abdication does nothing to dismantle the negative power of patriarchy. All one has to do is to take a good hard look at our corporations, our assemblies, our religions – any of our social and economic enterprises – and see that men are still in charge.
So what is a man to do? Jung suggests:
“. . . if the connection between the personal problem and the larger contemporary events is discerned and understood, it brings release from the loneliness of the purely personal, and the subjective problem is magnified into a general question of our society. In this way, the personal problem acquires a dignity it lacked hitherto. [jung, CW 6, par. 119]
These are powerful words for modern men to hear. The work of becoming more conscious of oneself has done a lot to bring a sense of balance between the power of the mind and the power of the heart. Being stuck in one or the other leaves us disconnected from a larger life. If we are truly interested in acquiring balance then we must see that the society within which we live is a part of us. Patriarchy is a part of who we are. We have to own it rather than see it as an enemy somewhere out there, a collective shadow that needs to be attacked and destroyed.
We need clear eyes, head and heart if we are to find a way through the darkness that is patriarchy. Patriarchy is our shadow, our collective unconscious. We need to listen to the gods and goddesses of mythology, we need to listen to our dreams, we need to listen to our children and our women; we need t listen to their pain, their arguments, their logic and heart. We need to also listen to the spiritual voices without getting caught in their webs of timelessness, a web that would have us wait with calm and abiding patience. And, we need to listen to our bodies.
It seems a task almost beyond what I am capable of doing. But it is a task that I must do, that each of us must do. Joseph Campbell has helped show the way with his book, Hero of a Thousand faces. We are each heroes bent on crossing through the darkness of patriarchy; are collectively one larger hero. Our future as men and women depend on crossing through the darkness if we are to deconstruct patriarchy before patriarchy deconstructs our very home, the planet earth.
“Everything about yourself that you aren’t conscious of is shadow, which means that before unconscious contents have been differentiated, separated out, the shadow is in effect the whole of the unconscious. The less you know about yourself, the more unconscious you are, and therefore the more of you is shadow.” [Sharp, Getting To Know You, p. 34]
Daryl Sharp is a Canadian Jungian analyst whom I have come to respect over the years. We both lived in the same prairie town in western Canada though at different times, a good enough excuse for us to initiate a dialogue together about fifteen years ago. Sharp is a prolific writer on Jungian themes, an analyst that fits into the “classic” stream. Pick up any of his books and you will find so many things resonating, things you didn’t consciously realise that you were aware of in the first place. I find myself returning over and over again to his books always discovering new precious gems for my effort. Each little bit adds just another morsel of self-awareness and in the process making me realise just how little I truly know about myself.
And that is the key, getting to know oneself. If we are honest, when no one is looking or listening, each of us asks the agonizing question, “Who am I?” And it seems the more we discover the more we realise how very little we know. I am reminded of one of my first introductions to psychology more than forty years ago when the instructor presented a visual image of the unconscious. The model was based on Sigmund Freud’s understanding. Jung, as a colleague of Freud was strongly influenced by this idea of ego and shadow. Regardless of who was right, both Jung and Freud show clearly how large the unconscious [shadow] is in relation to the known self [ego]. No wonder we begin to agonize over this basic question at that moment in life when, if anything because of the years lived, we should be comfortably sure of who we are.
I do know adults who are sure of who they are, people who don’t suffer the torment of “Who the hell am I?” They are rare and I do wonder if they are just simply unaware of the depths of themselves because of their attitude and place in life. I am not such a fortunate man. I am always questioning, always alert for the shadow of my self, wondering.
“Not acknowledging your shadow makes you prudish and self-righteous. You are above it all, godlike. Your motives are pure, your conscience is perfectly clear. It’s everybody else who’s at fault.” [ibid, p. 35]
Yes, I have met these insufferable people at times. I can even hear the echo of some of my neighbours and relatives. And, to be honest, I do see that at times, this is one of my own self-portraits – “Guilty as charged!” And so I continue to ferret around the darkened corners of consciousness, in hopes of bringing to the edge of consciousness one or two more bits that I can acknowledge in my quest to “know myself.”
“The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real.“ ["The Shadow," CW 9ii, par. 14.]
These words of C.G. Jung resonate with me as I find myself questioning so much in this last quarter of my life. If I am to answer, at last, some critical questions for myself such as “Who in hell am I really” or “What the hell has been the point [purpose] of my life?” If I am to ever approach anything even remotely resembling answers, I need to look in the mirror, especially the mirror that is found in the eyes of others who see me where I am blind to myself. I also need to listen to the inner voices found in the corners and edges of consciousness, especially those places found in my dreams and where active imagination, usually activated by my photos, leads.
“. . . with insight and good will, the shadow can to some extent be assimilated into the conscious personality, experience shows that there are certain features which offer the most obstinate resistance to moral control and prove almost impossible to influence. These resistances are usually bound up with projections, which are not recognized as such, and their recognition is a moral achievement beyond the ordinary. While some traits peculiar to the shadow can be recognized without too much difficulty as one’s personal qualities, in this case both insight and good will are unavailing because the cause of the emotion appears to lie, beyond all possibility of doubt, in the other person.“ [Ibid., par. 16.]
Ah projections. I forgot to mention projections, the images, characteristics and attitudes that I note in others with a corresponding activation of heat energy within myself. This heat may be love-based, hate-based, anger-based, fear-based, or simply based on my resistances to hear and follow – as though I am somehow thrown out of the situation being unable to focus.
I realise that there is much to learn about my unconscious shadow in following these threads. Knowing this is one thing, doing this is something else entirely. It is easier to love the hidden aspects of oneself through loving others. It is easier to blame others and paint them with dark colours rather than to come to own the real darkness within, darkness that is evidenced by our blaming, our fear and our anger. Socially it isn’t any different. We are always searching for perpetrators, for the evil forces behind the scenes. We find conspiracies everywhere, blaming fundamentalists, atheists, New Agers, corporatists, etc. Our society is suffering and someone must be to blame, and that blame can’t rest on our shoulders – or can it?
“Confrontation with the shadow produces at first a dead balance, a standstill that hampers moral decisions and makes convictions ineffective or even impossible. Everything becomes doubtful.“ [Ibid., par. 708.]
This is often how I find myself responding: “When in doubt, do nothing and wait for something to change, wait for someone else to come up with an answer.” This is a normal response. And of course, the problems only get worse whether the problems are our personal neuroses or whether the problems are collective such as our degradation of our home, the planet Earth. Yes, it comes back to the first words I found and placed above: “The shadow is a moral problem . . . “
Heroes and villains, it seems that we are either one or the other. Of course I am referring to men here as I continue on with the problem of the masculine in today’s world. Of course, one man’s hero is another man’s villain which makes the problem even more difficult to resolve. On the collective level, men don’t really have a definition of what it is to be a hero or villain.
Women have their own ideas of what constitutes a hero or a villain, which are just as varied as it is for men. It depends for the most part on which side of an arbitrary line one stands behind in making these judgment calls.
I would like to approach the problem with the consideration that everyone is both hero and villain. At different times during one’s life, both take turns emerging from the depths of one’s being; and often, such appearances are beyond conscious decisions that are made.
And to bring this different approach forward, I want to follow the Hero as described by C.G. Jung and by Joseph Campbell. In reading and considering this description, almost all women will testify to this “masculine” quest, this “heroic” quest:
“The hero is the ideal masculine type: leaving the mother, the source of life, behind him, he is driven by an unconscious desire to find her again, to return to her womb. Every obstacle that rises in his path and hampers his ascent wears the shadowy features of the Terrible Mother, who saps his strength with the poison of secret doubt and retrospective longing.” (Jung, Symbols of Transformation CW 5, par. 611)
It kind of sounds pale in contrast to the latest media versions which feature men battling the forces of darkness to protect innocent women and children that form the plot of most “heroic” films. But when you slow down and take the time for reflection, you will find that all the heroes are engaged in conflict with both themselves and others and at the core of these conflicts is the feminine, the earth mother, the captured and/or enslaved woman, the evil witch – all faces of one’s personal complex relating to “mother.”
Of course there is battle needed with the shadow figures, the monsters that issue from black holes ready to exterminate the hero; authoritarian figures who would strip the hero of all his power and leave him naked and exposed to the ridicule of the world; and, all number of all around bad guys who make life a living hell for the hero. You will find all of these in any good heroic tale at the cinema. You will also find all of these lurking within each individual male, found in the stories of their dreams which trace the journey of conscious development.
Of course most of us can’t deal with being our own heroes and villains, so we banish them deeper into our psyche and project the left over energies onto others in the outer world, others who we then name heroes and villains.
In Carl G. Jung’s words, “the shadow is the “apprentice-piece” in the individual’s development.” An apprentice is someone who is engaged in learning to become a master. When one enters into the process of personal development, a process called individuation in Jungian psychology, the first task is to understand that an individual is more than his or her ego. There is a significant lack of awareness of self. We all know this as there are so many glitches in our lives that we can’t explain nor can blame on others. When we dare admit it, we realise that we are basically strangers to ourselves.
Who is this stranger in darkness? When I took this photo one day as part of my exploration of photography techniques in the 70′s I was surprised at the results. Rather than a clear reflected image of me, I saw a dark shadow in my place. It was unnerving. I did include the photo for evaluation and then forgot about it until two years ago when I was sorting through my old black and white film negatives. The negative was damaged beyond repair. Through the use of a scanner, I was able to capture this frayed version of the original. Now, as I look at the image, I begin to wonder if this is a better portrait of my shadow.
This person is a stranger. I remember taking the photo and where I lived and the photography class that I was taking during the spring session of 1974. I remember the facts of my life, but the person who I was then is not the person I am now. For the most part, I had blocked out so much of my early life being very selective of what I held onto and what I would disclose to my wife. Other than some trivial stories of my past, all was buried. To be honest, I had even buried them deep enough so that I couldn’t tell my stories if I had found the courage to tell them. They had been swallowed into a dark hole.
This is the stuff of shadow, stuff buried and denied beginning from our first glimmerings of consciousness. But, it isn’t the whole of the shadow. There is more, much more. I want to close this opening post on the shadow with some more words from Carl G. Jung:
“The naive reader may imagine that when the dark aspects disappear they are no longer there in reality. But that is not the case at all, as experience shows. What actually happens is that the conscious mid is then able to free itself from the fascination of evil and is no longer obliged to live it compulsively. The darkness and the evil have not gone up in smoke, they have merely withdrawn into the unconscious owing to loss of energy, where they remain unconscious so long as all is well with the conscious. But if the conscious should find itself in a critical or doubtful situation, then it soon becomes apparent that the shadow has not dissolved into nothing but is only waiting for a favourable opportunity to reappear as a projection . . . “ Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, CW 9i, par 477)
I have to admit that I am sad, heartbroken, angry and more – all at the same time. Again there has been murder with guns in another school in America, the land of guns, guns, guns. I have to admit that I am not really surprised. Owning a gun is considered a god-given right and is legal to carry to schools in certain states in America for reasons of personal safety.
Officially, more that 16% of American youth under the age of 25 are unemployed. That number doesn’t include those who have dropped out of the job search market or have yet to try looking for work in ways that would get them noticed. The myth that America remains the land of dreams where anyone can be a millionaire or become president of the country or the CEO of an organisation in spite of the fact that the “winners” of this American dream accounts for only one percent of the population. We teach our children to dream the dream then abandon them as we break up our homes through divorce or abandon our children to televisions or the latest media babysitters such as smart phones, and game consoles. When we do show up at home, we teach them that drugs and alcohol are our preferred means to numb our own fears and disappointments. We do our best to disguise, to cover up, to mask our feelings, our fears, our desperation. We do not teach our children well. To make matters worse, we disable our schools so that they can’t effectively parent in our stead. We become a nation of neurotics with the occasional psychotic episode erupting such as in Newton, Connecticut on December 14th, 2012.
In 1912, Carl Jung commented that America “will either master its mighty forces or be mastered by them.” Contemporary evidence suggests that we are being mastered by these forces. America has incarcerated more of its population than any other modern western-world country. Violent death by guns and other weapons continue to exceed that of most other countries in the world. And the violence isn’t decreasing. We seem hell bent on imprisoning as many as possible, especially those who are suffering mental illness. No wonder that Jung said that America was a neurotic nation, a nation that must learn to live with its shadow rather than trying to barricade that shadow behind bars or in mental institutions or behind a very lucrative pharmaceutical industry. What little real therapeutic help is available is, for the most part, priced out of the reach of our youth, our minorities and disadvantaged.
Access to mental health care is not a right. Whatever mental health care that is available comes at a very high cost, much higher than the purchase price of a gun. Mental health coverage, when available, is often limited to a small number of sessions with the bulk of help offered in the form of pharmaceuticals. Now, as a mental health professional, there isn’t much I or you can do about the issue of gun control outside of supporting local, Provincial/State or National initiatives, but there is something I/we can do with regards to the issue of access to mental health care. We hold the keys to our practices whether or not we are independent or in an organised practice. We have the skills and the wisdom to help with the underlying mental health factors which sometimes erupt in tragic events. The only question is do we have the will?