Recently I watched the excellent, very disturbing film “12 Years a Slave”. It is the story of Solomon Northrup. a free African-American who, during the pre-Civil War years, is kidnapped into slavery. His story of survival is quite inspiring but, during its telling, we are exposed to horrific brutality, much of it at the hands of Solomon’s owner Edwin Epps.
I and I suspect most viewers, as we watch this film, want to identify with Solomon or with Mr. Bass who helps restore him to his freedom. But I am reminded of a dream I had years ago wherein I confronted a Nazi SS officer and backed him off. I felt very self-righteous about the dream until I realized that I too had that SS officer within me. He resided in that part of my unconscious that Carl Jung referred to as the Shadow.
The Shadow is that within us that we refuse to face. It is that part of us that we deny. It is the part of us that is capable of all manner of sins. But it is also that part of us in need of redemption. In essence, it is the shit part of us waiting to be transformed into gold.
In the above dream, I was horrified to face a Nazi part of me. Yet I knew from Jungian psychology that I had to face that part, embrace it, and transform it. What he offered to me was a degree of self-discipline I sorely lacked. He helped me become a writer.
This confrontation with the Shadow is one of the most difficult miles along the spiritual pathway. How can one get in touch with it?
Make a list of how you like others to perceive you. Here is my list: compassionate, creative, laid back, intelligent. Now write down the opposite of each quality. In my case, I come up with cruel, rigid, controlling, and stupid. Shake hands with your Shadow!
What could I possibly have in common with Edwin Epps? A love of power? A desire to control others? Unbridled lust? These thoughts make me uneasy, which suggests there is some validity.
Keep in mind, though, that hidden with the Shadow is a gift, some potential within you waiting to be transformed. Approach your Shadow not so much from a position of judgement but from a position of humble acceptance.
Reflection: What did you learn with the list exercise above? How does it make you feel?
Further Reading: Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams Meeting the Shadow
Fritz Kunkel Creation Continues. Kunkel, along with John Sanford, articulates the point where Christianity can be approached from the perspective of Jungian psychology