Jungian analyst Judith Dowling visits us November 16, 2018 to facilitate a discussion and inquiry into the nature of the shadow. It promises to be a well-attended and enriching event; register now!
A critical part of Jungian analysis is getting to know our shadow. Most of us are afraid of doing this. It’s frightening and often painful to meet our shadow. Why is it so important to face our shadow?
First, thank you for these excellent questions. My answers will provide a little preview of some of what I will cover in my presentation. For the sake of simplicity, I will use the masculine personal pronoun when referencing or paraphrasing C.G. Jung, as was the practice for his time. However, these comments refer to all of us, men and women.
C.G. Jung considered it our moral duty to encounter, accept and integrate our shadow. Pretty strong words! Indeed, it is an act of heroic courage to take on this moral challenge. But Jung also beautifully suggested that if a person follows through with this intention, he will not only learn some important truths about himself, but will realize that he is worthy of serious attention and compassion.
The shadow exists just below the level of our awareness, in the personal unconscious. So — it is unconscious. It is unknown to us. But if we do not come into relationship with our shadow, whether we like it or not, it will act out against our will. It will be projected onto another person, or collectively into the world. When we project, we blindly point and proclaim: “it is not me (or us), but they who are aggressive, lazy, selfish, etc.” Or sometimes conversely: “it is not me, but her/him who is intelligent, great, talented, etc.” If we ignore the challenge to face our shadow, our personal and collective histories of destructive and sometimes disastrous relational patterns of behaviour will repeat themselves over and over again.
We are naturally fearful of what is dark and unknown to us, and for this reason the shadow is felt as evil. But if we look with compassionate eyes toward our neglected and disowned qualities,”that which we have no wish to be”, and come into relationship with our own rejected qualities, often they can be channeled for healing and new creative potential. For instance, repressed anger can be encountered and channeled into vital energy that propels us toward change. Even more, discerning and accepting our shadow is foundational to ascertaining the deeper realms of the unconscious, leading a man or woman to the possibility of life-expanding religious experience.
The individuation process urges us toward completeness, toward becoming an “in-divisible whole”. One thing is for sure, the shadow is part of being human. It has something important to teach us about ourselves. Without encountering our shadow we cannot become whole.
How do we know when we dream of a shadow aspect? How does it typically show up in dreams?
In dreams, the shadow most often shows up as a figure of the same gender as the dreamer. Often this figure, be it someone you know from real life or some unknown character, usually displays negative personality traits that you consider opposite of your own. For instance, if I consider myself to be an upstanding member of my community, this figure may present negatively as an outcast or sleazy character. Sometimes, though, the shadow can show positive personality traits. If a person has a very low opinion of her/his self-worth and efficacy, the shadow figure may present as highly capable, bold and decisive. If the shadow is deeply repressed and far away from a dreamer’s entrenched persona identification, it may show up as a terrifying beast or monster, chasing him/her. Often such dreams shock us, and end with the statement: “I wake up!”And that is what we are being asked to do — to wake up to the reality of our shadow and reconcile with it. This is difficult and painful work to be sure! But at a certain point of readiness, the dreamer may turn to the the monster that chases him or her and ask it what it wants. And then it often becomes a benign, non-threatening presence. It only wants to be recognized.
Is there such a thing as a bright shadow, or is it always dark?
In my opinion, the shadow is always dark, for the simple fact that it is unknown. It is unconscious. However, depending upon a person’s ego attitude, the shadow can be experienced as either negative or positive (some may attribute these positive qualities as the’ bright’ shadow), when showing us, for instance in dreams, some neglected quality about ourselves of which we never had been aware, nor wanted to be aware (see the examples in my answer to Question 2). When we suffer coming into conscious relationship with our shadow and begin to integrate it in the service of life — as we grow in self-knowledge — then the shadow has the possibility to become a ‘bringer of the light’.
What might we learn from the tumultuous political events of our time about a possible collective group shadow?
The tumultuous political times in which we live is central to my choice of this topic. The more a group rigidly believes in its moral righteousness or superiority, the darker its collective shadow will be. There hide all those qualities that the group has deemed as evil, based upon race, political and cultural ideologies and religious fundamentalism. The threat of evil is projected onto the other group or nation, as we are seeing in the U.S., for example, in the tribal cry to “Build the wall!” What can I, just one individual, do against such a tide of mass unconsciousness? I quote Jung: “If a man knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow he will have done something real for the world. He has succeeded in shouldering at least an infinitesimal part of the gigantic, unsolved social problems of our day.” (CW 11, §140)
How might we engage in creative acts to better understand our shadow?
Reflection: I think that first we need to muster up the courage to reflect upon, for instance, when we have a big reaction to what we perceive as an unacceptable quality in someone else. Certainly the person who so greatly irritates me may really display the quality I find to be unacceptable, there is a hook. But if my reaction is stronger than the circumstances merit, then I can reflect upon why I am so greatly irritated, and question where that unacceptable quality shows up in me.
Journaling: For many, journaling gives voice to how such an encounter feels and helps our search for understanding take a more concrete form. Taking quiet time with a journal to compassionately explore, letting the words form as they wish, can facilitate a deepening of our understanding.
Creative Artwork: For many, drawing, painting, collaging or participating in some other medium, helps to give form to, for instance, a shadow dream figure or motif. It helps us to express and come into deeper relationship with the emotional experience of meeting our shadow. Perhaps some new facet or realization will reveal itself on the canvas — it’s one way to dream the dream onward and better understand its meaning.
Active Imagination: For those who are given to this form, active imagination opens up a conscious communication with the unconscious, facilitating a dialogue with, for example, a shadow figure, or an emotional reaction – what does the shadow figure, or my fear, anxiety, irritation want to say to me?
Body Awareness: Since psyche and body are inextricably interwoven, the emotion of an encounter with the shadow is registered in the body. The body has its own language whose nature is experiential. Ask yourself, where do I feel the emotion of this encounter in my body? Where do I feel my breath, where do I feel tension? Expressive body movement, such as dance, can help free the body’s ‘voice’, releasing the potential for us to hear what it wants to say to us.
Encountering the Shadow – Bringer of the Light
Friday, November 16, 2018
7:30 PM – 9:30 PM
Parkdale United Church