"One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light,
but by making the darkness conscious." Carl Jung
As the long days of summer have faded into the past, and we find ourselves in the darkening days of fall with winter on the horizon, it is possible for us to piggyback on this darkening time of the year in order to undertake the task of illuminating our shadow or 'making the darkness conscious'. The dark season turns inward; we see it in nature and as a part of nature, we, too, can turn inward with open hearts and minds to see what we can see. I want to talk some about what this means and offer 4 inroads that can show us how we might open to the process of turning toward the parts of ourselves we would rather not look at. (Yes, I really know how to have a good time!) Because the shadow contains those parts of us we don't want to acknowledge or those that have been repressed as bad and unwanted, including joy and exuberance for some, this article's focus is on the understanding that when our shadow is unattended and ignored, we can cause suffering for ourselves or others through unconsciously projecting it outward.
Historically and in this time of social upheaval and tumult in the US and the world at large, regardless of which 'side' you are on, we are witnessing the unintegrated shadow; people splitting off from their own shadow material and projecting it onto the person or group of their choice. When the shadow is unintegrated, we have ignored its residence inside us because we can't tolerate seeing ourselves as other than righteous and decent human beings. Instead, we fragment ourselves and split off from the undesirable qualities within us and project them outward onto others; individuals, groups, countries, etc. I find myself vacillating between either black and white thinking that leaves me in the 'good guy' camp and others in the 'bad guy' camp OR recognition of how my shadow material is calling for integration. If there was not already within me a place for this sometimes-present aggression, external events would have no hook within me, right? So I look at the unsavory ideas I have and the desires that arise in my reactivity more as a reflection of myself rather than of the 'opposition' onto which I easily project them. What arises in me reflects forces already within me; the external simply hooks or 'triggers' these forces that I may prefer to ignore or pretend don't exist within me. Pretending does not make something so and those forces driven underground have a way of being expressed anyway. Being open to this as deserving of my attention is imperative if I value, as I do, self-knowledge, transparency and accountability. Our collective healing is dependent on as many of us as possible owning and integrating rather than repressing and then projecting the more unsavory aspects of our personalities that are triggered by the 'other'.
Currently, in the US for example, to point to the political left or right as exclusive holders of the blame is short-sighted and fragmented. We must ask how we got here. What are the ways in which each of us have allowed for this kind of unconsciousness to emerge? To find answers to these questions, we have to search ourselves for the ways in which we are unconscious or asleep in our living. Just as my healing is a healing for the collective, so, too, do I contribute to the collective ignorance in the ways in which I ignore my smallness and refuse to see my shadow material. We are a group. We affect one another. We are collectively responsible for the health of the group; whatever state the group is in.
While it might feel good to oppose- to be angry with- to name call- to wish death to- it only contributes to (and does nothing to heal) the collective chaos. Looking at our individual unrest and aggression is the only way to take from the contention 'out there' the opportunities it offers. If we don't do this, then we have only the suffering we are witnessing currently and none of the gems that could be ours if we look more deeply and purposefully. If we continue to point 'out there' at the perceived enemy without also looking inward we invariably perpetuate the sickness and ignorance that we just wish would go away.
How do we move toward our shadow when it hangs out in the realm of the unconscious processes? How do we find our way to it so we can look, explore, own and integrate while causing as little suffering to others as possible? How do we bring conscious attention to what is often unconscious? Below I offer four 'avenues of exploration' that will cast light on your shadow material and give you a starting point in your discovery.
1. Notice what you avoid sharing with others about yourself. Be honest with yourself about those thoughts and behaviors that you intentionally don't reveal to others. Shining the light of attention on your secrecy with a soft, honest focus will reveal to you some of your shadow material. What aspects of yourself do you hide from others? In what ways do you try to hide those things from yourself? How do you understand this impulse to hide this particular piece? Herein lies your shadow.
2. Notice your reactivity. What in your life gets the biggest reaction from you? What do you just hate about others? What are the issues and events that hook you most intensely and immediately? The shadow embodies the qualities it dislikes most in others. This makes it easy to find a starting point for your self-investigation. Think of one issue or activation point of yours that has emotional charge to it. You likely express some version of this behavior or attitude yourself. Again, soft, honest focus and self-observation will lead you on a path you can follow to the heart of the activated place.
3. Pay attention to your dreams. If you believe that dreaming life often expresses the unconscious processes then noticing what you dream about is a possible inroad. Recurring themes may help point the way to your shadow material.
4. Simply (or not so simply) observe your behavior. Bringing mindful attention with you as you move through your day will open your eyes in ways, perhaps, that reveal aspects of yourself that you may not particularly appreciate. You might even see yourself behave in smaller expressions of a bigger issue you abhor. So be it. Ignoring it does no good. Attending to it, exploring it more thoroughly and accepting that you might have impulses that aren't always as upstanding as you like to believe will lead to a less fractured self and a more integrated and whole experience of being. In our wholeness, we behave more respectfully toward ourselves and others.
The shadow, then, by nature, stays hidden and needs active and conscious attention if we are going to get to it. The material there doesn't typically reveal itself on its own, rather, we have to go looking for it by paying attention in certain ways. When we integrate the shadow, we collect the fragments of ourselves and we come more fully into our wholeness. It is from a place of greater wholeness that we can change and can contribute more effectively to our lives and the lives of those around us.