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
Thank you for this excellent post on the shadow which Jung said is 80% pure gold. I’m still working on finding the gold in the rubbish of my shadow. I’m very grateful for what Jung taught us about the shadow because it is very humbling to understand that there is a Dick Cheney and a Koch Brothers inside each one of us. When I can realize that, I find myself having more genuine compassion for others and for myself. I stop judging and quickly understand the extent to which we are all in this together and the extent to which we have all participated in the devastation of our planet. What I know from working with my shadow for decades is that when I can deal with it honestly and without going into denial, something profoundly shifts in my psyche, and I experience a new level of aliveness and service in the world.
thanks for keeping me on the list — it has nothing to do with the subject of your reflection but happy springtime — tom
Thanks for keeping me on the list too. I think that unbridled lust could be okay if it is within the context of a loving and committed relationship. I suppose the loving and committed relationship is the “bridle”. But there is the rub. Someone has to teach a person how to have that sort of relationship in the first place. As for the dark side, anger has always been part of mine. It did cause me to be condemned by other angry people and then later redeemed by humble people. It has also caused me to be humbled (and humble) as I sit with so many others who are at different stages in dealing with their own anger. So my dark side is still angry but I still work on it in hopes of turning it into gold someday. I am also married to someone who has no dark side. Hard to believe but true. Maybe that is why he married me. I make him complete-with a dark side.
P.S. Where does the shadow side come from? Is it from Original Sin (i.e. human nature)? Father Cecor said that “All of us are infected by and affected by sin”. So if sin (dark side) is an infection, then we need to develop antibiotics and other anti-infective agents. We can also develop a natural immunity (antibodies) by having been infected. I think that the medical model (disease model) might work here with the dark side. Anyway, I am not sure that a love of power is necessarily part of the dark side although it could be (as could lust). The opposite of power is powerlessness which is not necessarily a good thing either. The key issue is what one does with the power and whether or not it is used selfishly (which is easy to do). Does my power make me arrogant or do I realize that all power comes from God and that I am channeling it. It would be good if I could channel it His way rather than our my own way. And it is good when I can realize that my power does not make me superior to those with less of it (“The least shall be first…..”). Some of us also need to not be seduced by the power of anger.
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