Posts Tagged ‘shadow work’

Shadow Eruption at the Dark Time of Year

December 18, 2014

“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.

Elephants in Rooms

March 31, 2012

The process of enculturation –  by parents, through classroom education and in peer groups – trains a person in rules regarding what is acceptable to speak about, and what is not. The information we receive is sometimes imparted openly, but I believe most of what we learn comes tacitly. Vibrations of approval, discomfort or annoyance register in our subtle bodies. Thus we learn. Most families, groups and individuals have variants in the rules, so we adjust as we go. When we say something that hits the force field of a rule barrier, this can feel like crossing one of those invisible fences used for animals. Zap; ouch. Note to self: avoid that territory. A lot of this occurs unconsciously.

I used to teach a Dialogue method developed utilizing theories articulated by physicist David Bohm. One of the exercises we employed to help move a group into authentic voicing and deeper listening was to have people draw a line down the center of a page, dividing it into a Left-Hand Column and a Right-Hand Column. Think of a recent conversation that contained some level of significance. On the right side of the page write down to the best of your memory what was actually spoken during the conversation. On the left, write about what was in your mind but remained unspoken for whatever reason; and then write what you imagine might have been in the other persons mind that remained unspoken. This is not to be presumptuous, as if we could actually know what is in the other’s mind. It is an exercise to help broaden attention to include what is unspoken in any given conversation, and sometimes to realize that much of what is “said” is not said aloud.

In practicing dialogue in a group, we encourage participants to speak a little more from what would normally remain in their left hand column. Those gathered learn to hold the tension and to suspend assumptions, judgments and opinions related to one’s “training” and listen more deeply into self and other.

In Jungian psychology this Right-Hand, Left-Hand Column technique is not articulated in the same terms, but I think psychoanalysis might be described as a safe place to empty out the Left-Hand column, to think out loud about what in other circumstances remains unspoken, and then to work with it. Psychoanalysis and dream work also help identify that much of what remains unsaid due to long years of training falls into the unconscious. We lose awareness that these thoughts, feelings or impressions were ever there. A person learns to focus on what is “appropriate,” what can be said, and too often forgets about the rest.

Two images come to me to describe the material that has fallen into the unconscious in such ways. One is that it becomes like the ghostly coachman, the one who is driving your chariot but who cannot be seen or related to. People are afraid of psychoanalysis in the same way as they are afraid of ghosts. But, these ghosts are there. Not talking about them doesn’t make them go away. We deny them to our detriment.

The other image that recently occurred to me regarding this material is that it is like what we call “the elephant in the room.”  Musing on this idea, a deep respect came over me for what an elephant is, and what it represents. They are ancient beings, it seems to me. Sacred. They hold wisdom and intelligence of the pre-verbal and pre-rational mind, as well as knowledge of this world. They are relational creatures, loyal, family and community oriented.

To regard the elephant in the room is to turn attention to what is ancient, wise and sacred. We tend to use this term with judgment, meaning that avoiding the elephant is due to dishonesty and being in denial. But what if, instead, we turn to the elephant in the room with interest, trust, respect, hope, curiosity, love, and with an open heart inquire into it? Who is it, and what does it want to tell us? Humans often have an instinctive skittishness and distrust when faced with what is unknown among us – like what is not known mostly will hurt or overwhelm us. But what if that big body just wants to love us, help us, heal us, play with us?

The “elephant in the room” can be among people or even inside someone, an internal, individual phenomenon – whatever is there that we avoid bringing to consciousness. What if we turn our attention to the elephants in our rooms?

I want now to commit to regarding the elephants newly. I want my teacher to be the elephant, to learn to regard the metaphorical elephant the way incarnated elephants regard us. With stillness. Alertness. Power. Tenderness. With those big eyes and long eyelashes. With beauty and apparent sweetness.

The week coming up is Holy Week in the Christian calendar. It commemorates events around the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. He was (and is) certainly an elephant in the room of traditional powers; what if He were regarded differently? This may be a good week to begin the elephant meditation.

Day of the Dead and Shadow

October 31, 2011

October 31 – Festival of spirits, spooks, weirdness, a day for putting on masks, dressing as someone else, unsettling personas, getting into conversation with pumpkin heads (I did that at a Halloween party.)

And a day to honor the dead. Mom, I love you; Dad, you too; ancestors, I thank you; Coco, stay close in your spirit; John, I feel you; Kim, you are loved. This is the day that in some countries people sit on the graves of their ancestors and have a picnic. The earth is the grave of the ancestors, so I sit today in the spirit of communing.

And this is a time for seeing into the shadowy realms and acknowledging what is there – some of it ugly, scary and dangerous if not recognized. The Jungian concept of shadow, the disowned and denied aspects of self and life, the Mr. Hyde to our Dr. Jekyl, comes to mind as something to honor this day as well. If shadow is too split off it wreaks evil havoc in our lives. Shadow is best related to, accepted and owned rather than disassociated, or we have unconscious moments of Mr. Hyde craziness. You can’t split off the dark side of the moon and just keep the bright side. It doesn’t work that way. Same with our personal and collective shadows.

I’ve been seeing into those shadowy realms this past week rather acutely, not because of a conscious effort but rather it is happening organically. Today I realize this must be part of the power in this time. Unacknowledged aspects of human interaction suddenly seem to be in bas relief,  both inside me and outside me. They really shouldn’t be ignored.

What to do about them? See. Just see. Quantum physics is proving that we change a thing just by seeing it. It is often dangerous to come at shadow directly, there is a backlash of unintended consequences. Awareness in the heart, holding, waiting, witnessing is best. Be careful about projections.

I was having a quiet moment in a friend’s kitchen at a Halloween party Saturday evening and suddenly, as if a veil was rent internally, raw pieces of my own shadow just stood out to me. Without being activated at that moment, they just appeared, like ghosts. Hello! Ouch. Ooooohhh. Ok. So glad to see you. Would so very much rather see you than be in denial of you.

Integration is needed – a weaving of energy of the dead and the living, of conscious and unconscious, light and dark, intended and unintended consequences. This is a very powerful time.

Clusterf**k: me, you, the economy and the planet

July 31, 2011

I had a dream not too long ago in which I was witnessing a huge, gorgeous spiral galaxy, the stars twinkling like diamonds against a velvety dark sky. On one of the arms of the galaxy however I noticed a huge mass, like a glut of stars all tangled up together so that the energy could not flow. It was a galactic mess. When I woke up, the word “clusterfuck” occurred to me.  I do not know where that word comes from, but I know I’ve heard it before, probably in reference to traffic inLos Angeles.

Of course, with my Jungian training, I took the dream personally; it was to me a picture of my psyche – lovely, natural, part of the starry cosmos, but LOOK what I have going on over here – a tangled mass of psychic material that energy cannot flow through.

A week or so after having this dream, a similar one occurred. I was walking through a crowded town that seemed like the whole world, almost like an M.C. Escher drawing with layers and dimensions winding out of each other. My dream was not abstract like his drawings though, the scenes were more realistic. I wandered into an area that was literally covered with shit and diapers, too many babies had been born there, too many mothers starving and unable to handle the chaos. I was knee deep in it and could only try to slog my way out of the enormous area teeming with stink and sickness. I saw someone on the edge starting to clean up and struggled with a sense of hopelessness. Can this mess be resolved? This guy seems to think so.  The place reminded me of Kibera, the slum outside Nairobi in Kenya where I worked a year ago. But Kibera seems clean compared to this terrain.

Again looking at the dream as a personal message I saw it as an earthier way to view the galactic mess. Shadow work is daunting. I can see a cluster of internal things it begins to refer to, debilitating results of the tangle and  illness that results. A sense of hopelessness is a temptation. It takes effort to hang on to glimmers of hope.

Then last night I read an article in the recent More magazine about a toxic mess the size of a small continent floating in the Pacific ocean made completely of plastic and trash. A deep sea diver named Mary Crowley apparently discovered it. She relates the story of the beauty and wonders that made her fall in love with diving, then tells of the horror of what she found – plastic pieces, plastic bags, beach chairs, miles upon miles of junk clustered together. The description she tells will make you weep and feel sick. There seems to be a vortex in this location that draws the trash dumped into our oceans and water systems to itself. Hundreds of thousands of living creatures have eaten the bits of plastic and died from it. Many of the fish who eat it are eaten by larger fish, who are eaten by other fish, who end up on our dinner tables.

As I read I couldn’t help but think of the clusterfuck in my dreams.  I have taken the dream images personally, and they are personal, but they are also visions of bigger things going on. In the holographic model of the universe, each cell reflects everything that is in the whole. In this, everything that is in the universe is also in me, and everything in me is also in the universe.

The article tells of the controversy and antagonism that is coming Mary Crowley’s way because of what she discovered and because she is determined that there is something to do about it. It seems llike she now is a vortex for a lot of toxic psychological and political material. Yet she is driven by a sense of hope that the mess can be cleared.

An analogy comparing depth psychology to deep sea diving has occurred to me many times over the years for a variety of reasons. Now I see it again. I love to slip into the waters of psyche and see what resides there, beauties not visible on “land” or in daylight consciousness. But along with the investigation come encounters with deep shadowy material. There is horrifying stuff in there along with the wonders. Many people and religions want to rise above, transcend, move out of the vibration of shadow material. Such efforts easily turn into dangerous repression and phobic denial rather than mastery, which causes the mass to simply build in power and toxicity. Author Thomas Berry writes that what we need now is not transcendence, but “inscendence.” We need to know how to go in or we will never be familiar with the problems. But there are a lot of taboos around this.

Experience tells me that working with shadow will never be successful until we clear judgment from our hearts and minds. It is a terrible waste of time to judge and moralize about the problem in the ocean rather than simply get busy finding ways to resolve and prevent it. Similarly if I judge myself about the matter in my own mess, that will tend to dispirit and suck energy from what is required to simply deal with the issues. I need to be as clean and dispassionate as a surgeon as I go into the problem areas.  Judgment increases the mess, obfuscates, complicates and delays every effort.

The poet Rilke writes, “Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants our love.”  I believe this. I find when I think anything through to its core, there lies a reason for compassion. Nobody who bought a beach chair or a bottle of water meant to poison the planet; our collective ignorance and shortsightedness wasn’t apparent at first, then it rapidly got out of control and went beyond us. So it is with my own internal mess. One thing led to another. Compassion is a natural result of comprehension, of seeing clearly. But it takes getting through the revulsions, the taboos, instincts to condemn or to cast into otherness. Compassion is fierce and takes more courage than any other stance. Compassion is fearless.

You don’t have to look very far to see the massive  clusterfucks we have created collectively. The economy seems to be our number one reflection of it at the moment.

I know that awakening compassion will move us to a place of vision. Only from there will we be able to see, heal and resolve. No matter what problem we are facing, the demon  is, in the end, something helpless that wants our love.