More on the Shadow Self (part 2 of 2)
In part 1 of this 2-part article, I discussed what the shadow is and why it's important for each of us to find the willingness and interest in moving toward our shadow material. In addition, I offered four 'avenues of exploration' for how we might find our way to those hidden places that contribute so much to the ways we live and the choices we make. I will add that when you are behaving in ways that feel uncontrollable yet somehow familiar, you are likely in the midst of your shadow. When we act in ways we wish we hadn't, that is also a clue to the shadow. To be alive, we act chaotically at times; we behave in ways that we aren't proud of. It's part of the human experience and to deny it is to deny our humanity and our aliveness. When we own the shadow, we can correct the behavior that arises from it because we are in more conscious relationship with it. We can integrate it and we come more into our wholeness. When we own and can name our shadow material, we say yes to not only our light but also to our shadow. This is the dance of life! It's important to come to love all of it; not just the self-assessments that leave us looking good. Jungian analyst, author and poet, Marion Woodman, who expanded Carl Jung's work on feminine psychology, says of the light and the darkness, "They belong to each other." One can not exist without the other and each influences the other.
What is most important in exploring the shadow material is that we be transparent about it to ourselves. (Whether or not we share with others what we know here is an individual matter that is more related to building and deepening relational intimacy. It is not as relevant to this discussion as is being real with oneself.) To use a common example of how we might use day to day life in noticing our shadow, let's get in the car, shall we? If I get activated around issues on the road when I get cut off in traffic, it might be an automatic response to yell and blame that person, maybe swear at them or threaten them somehow for behaving like they did. And while they may deserve this for their unconsciousness or willful and intended self-absorption while engaging in a collective activity, we can allow these kinds of moments to also open the door to ourselves. The interesting part is just beginning. The next step to eradicating this behavior that so angers me is to be sure that I don't amplify it myself by partaking in it as well. The questions in this example become: Do I act aggressively while I'm driving? When? How? How do I cut others off in traffic? What are the ways that I stop paying attention to the other drivers and only concern myself with what I am needing?
After asking these literal questions of myself I can keep that theme and ask, metaphorically, how this kind of behavior shows up in me in other contexts. Do I cut people off in conversation? Do I dismiss or minimize the experiences of others? How? Am I only concerned with my own needs and don't listen to others? Are there ways that I have checked out in my life (like the checked out driver who cut me off) and am not paying attention to how I'm living or behaving? So ask the literal questions and then the metaphoric ones. And answering honestly will bear fruit whereas lying to oneself will create fragmentation first and then projection onto others and will contribute to the chaos we see collectively. The unattended shadow really does wreak havoc.
To stay with the example, it's easier to project our rudeness or inattentiveness onto others when they cut us off in traffic. They become the bad guy. And we remain the innocent good guy. Ah, our self-image is preserved! It is a whole other movement to investigate ourselves in the ways I've suggested and then make changes accordingly. We can't long for some change in the collective behavior while we perpetuate that very behavior ourselves in some capacity; however egregiously or seemingly insignificantly; however literal or metaphoric. We are part of the collective. Only we have the power to change our part; no one else can make us change. In the same way, we only have the power to change our part and we can not make others change. As long we only look outwardly to the ways in which others should change, we contribute to the collective problems we face. When the shadow is illuminated, our eyes open and this self-knowledge (however difficult it is to accept) can direct how we live from that point forward because out of consciousness, we can correct ourselves.
As another quick example, let's say your pet peeve is having your boundaries disrespected or ignored. In addition to communicating this to the offender, it is imperative that you also look at the ways in which you one, ignore your own boundaries and two, disrespect those of others. In this way, you can truly contribute to less of this in the world. We watch our part so we can notice and be accountable and then behave in new ways. We can begin to live differently. We step out of being part of the problem and into being oriented toward change and toward true alignment with ourselves and our values. Just as projecting our shadow onto others has the effect of keeping the collective in the status quo, being accountable to and integrating the shadow have the effect of moving us forward.
Be aware--this kind of inquiry into the shadow is ongoing and forever and is often difficult. It's a way of life and requires determination and commitment. If we value our wholeness and integrity and if we want to contribute to healthy relationships in families, communities and ultimately, in the world, this process must accompany us more often than not. It is not an easy path because once we acknowledge these aspects of ourselves, the work of understanding, accepting and integrating what we're observing is only beginning. This explains why we fragment and project, right? It's certainly easier to save our reputations by upholding the illusions we prefer to project rather than to turn the investigation inward and pursue the arduous task of facing ourselves. It's more challenging to integrate the shadow and much easier to project onto others what we don't want to see in ourselves. Easier, perhaps, in the short-term but more damaging in the long run.
As you move along this path of discovering your shadow, allow yourself to feel the support from the natural processes that are happening now (in the northern hemisphere, that is) as winter is underway. Enhance your awareness toward using the four inroads named in part 1 of this article to help you in discovering the rich world of your shadow material. Though this is work we engage in year-round, we can use the metaphor of this darkening time, when plant life draws downward toward the roots and our time in darkness increases, as an invitation for making our own descent, to the hidden places within us. We can invite the (eventual) returning light to illuminate our vision and bring conscious attention to whatever within us is cast in this darkness. In this way, the offerings of this time are alive and engaged in our living and the shadow, instead of wreaking havoc, can become an integrated guide toward our wholeness.