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Notes to Transformation

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Notes to Transformation - Chapter 10 - THE SHADOW

 

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The hidden contents in Bluebeard’s cellar live in every one of us. Who can say they don’t have skeletons in their cupboards? Ours are full of everything we have repressed, our unworthy desires and unwanted feelings. Some may be anti-social, such as anger and violence; others may be beautiful, such as self-love and creativity. All this suppressed material is called the shadow. It walks with us in life, whether we will it or not. If there were no others in the world there would be no shadow, for it is created by our needs of others.

The shadow begins in babyhood when our essence is not met. Basic energies that are part of our inheritance are gradually submerged and are overlaid by new imprints. This primal shadow forms the foundation for our personal unconscious. Onto it is laid whatever we shove out of sight in later years. It grows when we decide "Mummy does not like tantrums. I’d better not do that!" Then anger gets locked in the cellar. Curiosity about the kitchen cupboards, playfulness late at night, and a million natural actions get judged and pushed away. Over the years the shadow grows into the hugest, most mysterious and deeply hidden cellar of forgotten goods. Be they black, white or gray, they remain unacknowledged.

Miriam discovered she could get out of trouble with a laugh and a toss of her golden locks. To have to admit error or to learn from her mistakes was definitely not on this little girl’s agenda. So any curiosity she might have had about herself was lost in the shadow. Miriam seemed a joyful girl, but was totally unaware of the freedom she could have had.

There is another way we create shadow that is less well understood. When we become attached to something an equal and opposite quality is formed, and that too joins the shadow. Jane may have decided to be a hard worker so that everyone would see she was a useful person. This created its opposite in the shadow that had not been part of her original makeup, a lazy slob. The slob became stronger and stronger as she continued to support the workaholic and deny any relaxed being side. Not surprisingly, she strongly resented the people she called layabouts and bludgers.

If we want to find what has been hidden away, we only have to look at the sort of people we judge or disparage. If a pickpocket meets a saint, he sees only his pockets. Jane would find part of her shadow in the uncomfortable feelings she had for people lying in the sun. If we dislike our neighbour for swearing, where is our desire to curse too? If we hate immigrants, how deeply do we fear being outsiders ourselves?

Our shadow is not a neutral force. It is highly active and will inexorably draw towards us people who have not hidden that quality. A man who is trying not to be selfish will attract selfish people to him. This deepens the suppression of that shadow. As in arthritis, the body locks the joints against any movement that causes pain only to inflict more pain as it does so. The shadow deepens in a misguided attempt to avoid further suffering.

Another way of describing this process is that our shadow is projected onto others, so that what we cannot see in ourselves is inducted into those around us. We do not have to manipulate the other to carry our projection. It is an automatic process. Dorothy always had a good word to say for others. Those around her were bitchy about their friends, her boss was a malicious tease, and her husband spiteful. In a sense, she held them in thrall, giving these qualities in them a boost they may not have otherwise had. Her husband was trapped because, married to her, Dorothy’s shadow ensured he would be more spiteful than otherwise. When she asked what it was in her that was creating these dramas in others she discovered her shadow. When she owned her natural maliciousness an amazing transformation happened - the malice softened into a natural strength that could protect her in many situations. This is the great promise in shadow work: own the frog and watch the princess emerge.

We do not see the shadow directly. If we did it would no longer be shadow. Instead, we get symptoms of misery, guilt or anxiety. Seeing only the symptoms, we struggle against them instead of the shadow. For example: you have just met a bearded man. Beards unsettle you because you fear they may hide a sneer. You feel he must be untrustworthy. He feels your attack, needs more space (which is why he has a beard) and judges you as pushy which is his shadow projection. Now you feel pushed while he feels untrusted. Instead of friendship two shadows spar with one another.

As there is so much stuff in our cellar we relate mainly through projections. Shadow projections are most clearly seen when put onto the same sex. This does not mean that a man’s shadow cannot be projected onto a woman, but that the essence of his shadow will usually have a more masculine quality to it. In contrast, the essence of projections from the anima and the soul will be against people of the opposite sex. In bed or at work, we will be projecting simultaneously onto one another in endless reflections. The dance of relationship is structured and predictable: it may be exciting at first but readily becomes deadly after a while. Close relationships pose exquisite opportunities for working on the shadow, as does anyone who provokes you or is hard to get on with.

There is a compelling danger: the personal shadow hooks onto other disowned and instinctual material which adds their power onto the projection. Maliciousness may be in shadow. An occasion comes up when we cannot help a friend and, instead of simply stating the truth and showing care about his predicament, we burst into anger, blame him for even asking and throw the pot at him. Malice has climbed out of the shadow accompanied by a bodyguard of apocalyptic forces that turn a simple no into a firestorm.

Jung wrote, "a man may recognize the relative evil of his nature, but it is a rare and shattering experience to gaze into the face of absolute evil". It is very scary when a shadow dredges up instinctual absolutes. We will remember what we have done and said, but we are left guilty that we had no control over ourselves. Mob rule, pub brawls, fire bombing are all jungle energies let loose when the shadow opens the door.

"That we can destroy the world, shows how much divine power has come into man’s hands. The human being who is drawing his shadow off others is doing the most significant political work. The problem is not the hydrogen bomb, but the psyche of man that manifested it." Laurens van der Post

It is not comfortable to take personal responsibility for the actions of the military. You may have opposed the bomb for years, yet can there be something inside you that yearned for it? Do we share a tribal shadow from the Christian denial of evil, expressed in the porn industry, in films where Clint Eastwood comes as avenging messiah and so on? We all carry society’s shadows and, whether we like it or not, will induct its energies into others. The best we can each do is to bring our share out of the dark. Violence will not stop until a significant proportion of us have done so. As my grandfather wrote in our family bible, quoting William Shakespeare, "This above all - to thine own self be true; and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man".

There is no choice, neither personally nor for humanity as a whole: the shadow has to be faced. If we do not it will confront us outside as projection. It is a huge and terrifying monster, for what we hide creates the world around us - both personally and nationally. As Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote: "You can’t become Mother Theresa if you do not have the courage to look at your Hitler and get rid of him. After that, you can become the person that God created. You will then have anything you need, not what you want - thank God". When we are able to own all the good and all the bad in us in every moment we can be true and authentic.

 

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