Every morning I have a spiritual affair with the Pond of Walden as Thoreau guides the better part of me into the importance of reawakening the soul. His morning baths in the pond were akin to a daily baptism and I feel a figment of this, although strong when I read his work before the sun is at full staff.
Although I am nestled in rural suburbia somewhere amongst the trees in the Pacific Northwest, my heart yearns for wilder pastures. I seek simplicity and fewer experiences that are man-made in material. The arts are less about wine and more about the vines growing out of the soil. It’s in the mornings that I am most aware of what I need to do, even though the unconscious mind would prefer complacency. More times than not, the things we don’t want to do, are the things that can harness the spirit the most.
Lately, I have been harboring a deep interest in Carl Jung, and in particular, his theory on the shadow. I will attempt to share my own insight, in hopes that it unlocks something beautiful in you. It surely has had a profound influence on me.
For starters, I’d like to pose a few questions:
Are you the chaos or the calm in your life?
Are you the individual that lives in between them?
Are you the phoenix from the ashes that emerge brightly out of the dark and sullied ash?
Are you the individual that represses his/her most hidden inhibitions, desires, and wants only to show the world what it wants to be seen, thereby denying yourself the gift of wholeness and freedom?
What is the shadow?
When we look at a shadow, we see a dark image of ourselves, void of the characteristics and qualities we hold dear. The shadow is a metaphor for the negative unconscious qualities that we have learned. These qualities include, but are certainly not limited to: selfishness, greed, jealousy, vanity, and rage.
The shadow is a part of us that few will ever know or even attempt to get better acquainted with. Contained in it are the qualities that we claim not to be ours. We hide them from society due to the fear of being judged, ridiculed, or thought less of. We all have these shadows. They show up inexplicably and many times unconsciously that is to say, without our awareness.
The shadow represents a primordial wheelbarrow that houses the darkness we choose to keep hidden and neglected. The characteristics of happiness and joy are easier to accept and show to the world, but taking a lesson from Carl Jung, we must acknowledge our shadow so as to make peace with ourselves and others. The negative traits we harbor are just as important as the positive, for they make us whole.
“There is no light without shadow and no psychic wholeness without imperfection.” – Carl Jung
This dualistic idea of light and darkness isn’t new, as the philosophy of the East is evocative of such concepts, but why is it important?
My personal experience with the shadow
If you know me intimately, which is to say you have been a family, friend, teacher, colleague, or acquaintance, then you might say I am a calm, good-natured person.
This is the outward impression, but the only reason I know how to be this way is because I am fully aware of my capacity for evil, lust, and everything else that is encapsulated in my shadow.
I have acted on my rage and hurt the feelings of loved ones in the past and I felt bad doing so, even if I was right and my frustration was justified. I became more and more empathetic and every encounter with my rage lessened.
Our families shape a good portion of who we are. Whether good or bad, many people have their lives shaped by the experiences of early adolescence.
My parents didn’t have the best marriage. They often argued, were dismissive, and unkind to each other, which is normal in any relationship. What was abnormal was neither party would apologize, or at the very least talk through their problems.
Every argument was magnified and thrown into a trash heap never to be thrown away. The stubbornness to talk through issues is an example of a shadow that my mother and father possessed because it was learned behavior from their parents. I was motivated to stop the cycle but I had to make peace with my own shadow of stubbornness, which I am still working on.
When I was in a relationship in my 20’s, I often lusted for other women and repressed these feelings. I even attempted to act upon the feeling once but couldn’t bring myself to do it on the account that I witnessed infidelity growing up. In this situation, the shadow represents lust, and the moral ground is knowing that it can hurt others feelings. We did eventually break up, and I lived a somewhat of a debauched life for the better half of my late twenties. This was an important chapter because it paved the way in part of how I view love today. I made peace with this portion of my shadow and now my lust is reserved for my wife.
Many will go through their entire life holding onto these types of shadows without even knowing they have them. It’s important to acknowledge our good and bad because that’s the only real way we can be complete. Sometimes you have to know you’re an asshole, so you can eventually not be such an asshole.
Projection and the shadow
Psychology refers to projections as the qualities that we deny in ourselves that show up in others.
Today, when/if someone attempts to make me angry, I will attempt to understand the anger and question the anger before letting it create a reactionary emotion.
Often times, those closest will project their feelings onto us and most of the time, they aren’t favorable feelings.
A projection is a hidden quality within you that presents itself unconsciously where another’s emotions hold you hostage. The more you acknowledge this, the less these projections present themselves.
For example, if someone is angry and they make you angry, they are conjuring up anger you already have within you. Taking a step back and calmly assessing the situation and even labeling what you are feeling makes you less likely to project the feelings of another onto yourself.
It’s important to learn and strengthen the mind in this capacity so as to unlearn the projections of others. You have absolutely no responsibility to carry an emotion from another that doesn’t uplift your spirit.
How to make peace with your shadow
Be honest with yourself — Do you have a hard time forgiving your past? Are you jealous? Accept your shadow and be honest with your feelings. This doesn’t need to be shared with the world, but it has to be shared with you. It’s easier to look at the negative aspects of others, but when’s the last time you looked at the negative qualities in you? Self-love is important but self-awareness is way more important.
Cultivate self-compassion — The more you can accept your flaws, the easier it will be to accept the flaws of others. My relationships have changed with close family and friends because of this. I can easily forgive others for their past mistakes because I have made them too. This has brought love into lots of my relationships. No one is perfect so stop creating a mental landscape where you think everyone should be.
Let go of expectation — Many can’t forgive or let go of the past simply because they don’t want to. They possess a need to keep their past intact because it gives them a sense of security even though it’s unhealthy. The past is a story that doesn’t exist. We only have so much time left in the world. Spend your moments on things you can control. The past is something we cannot.
Cultivate an inner dialogue — Have you ever said or done something you regretted? We all have. Have you talked to yourself and said, you shouldn’t have done that thing? If you have, keep doing that. Having an inner dialogue with myself has helped me acknowledge my faults.
Write — I will go as far as saying write down your thoughts and emotions on paper instead of typing it. Keep a journal handy. This may be an extreme way to get healthy, but how important is your mental health? Writing has helped me make sense of my emotions. It has also helped eradicate negative feelings that have bothered me and has been a gateway to foster a healthier mind.
We are human. We make mistakes. We will make more of them. Be kinder to yourself and know that there is no rush to cultivate a healthier mind. It takes time. It’s a process. There is no hurry. We are in fact kind of stuck on this planet, so might as well try everything we can do to become better and make sure our existence is a full-fledged one.