Shadow Eruption at the Dark Time of Year

“There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed: and hid that shall not be known,” Jesus is reported as saying in the Gospel of St. Matthew. This can be a scary reality. We cherish our right to privacy and the ability to wear masks over hidden parts of our personality, over thoughts or feelings not ready to be shown in public.

The news of hackers breaking into Sony’s private e-mails exchanged among employees, revealing things never intended to be public, and the recent exposure of CIA files detailing torture methods used to interrogate prisoners after 9/11 may be reminding us of this potent principle. In private as well as public events I have been observing that what was in the dark seems to be coming to light, for worse and for better. Something is stirring collectively. It is interesting to me that this seems to be peaking now at this darkest time of year, the season when we have long celebrated the birth of Light.

C.G. Jung famously used the term “shadow” for the hidden parts of the self, those we are unaware of and unconsciously work to repress in order to think of ourselves as acceptable to family, culture and community. He developed methods for discovery of these repressed parts as they tend to show up as symptoms and neuroses unless they can be faced and integrated. It is difficult inner work, but healing work that leads to greater personal power, contentment and wholeness.

In the wake of recent events it appears that we are called to find ways to do the work of confronting and integrating shadow parts of our collective identity. We need to do this in order to recover and work together as a global community. Edward Snowden and others have shown us that our idea of privacy is a luxury that we simply don’t have. We are seen, tracked and known whether we like it or not — not just by government but also by a universal mind. I believe we have to get used to it as it is bound to dog us in some form or another.

As with all important work, it begins with individuals mustering courage to do their personal work, one by one. We cannot project the problem outward, thinking we can fix it “out there” before we address it internally, in our own psychic life. Facing parts of ourselves we have tried so hard to keep hidden, feeling the sting of revelations as stuff pops out of our mouth or light comes into shadow, taking responsibility rather than justifying or covering it over, this is the tough assignment of working with shadow.

I was reading last night a story about Vladimir Putin, saying that he may inhibit the economic health of his whole nation by being “utterly unable to admit mistakes.” It looks to me like the former head of the CIA as well as former Vice-President Dick Cheney demonstrate the same affliction as they deny and defend the torture revealed. But what does this mirror to us as individuals? That is the question. What is our own capacity for such admissions? There is the rub. It begins with us.

In my own reflections I begin to understand that the capability for self-honesty begins with the capacity for forgiveness, self-forgiveness and forgiveness of others. If we cannot forgive, we cannot bear the responsibility required for doing the work.

May the coming of Light this year be the birth of new wisdom and strengths, individually and collectively, as we face the challenges presented. Denial extends and compounds our problem. I see my own capacity to patch and deny, and my own unwillingness to forgive, and I see where to dig in and start helping.

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