Copyright (c) M K MacInnes 2020
ONE OF the most challenging foes the archetypal Hero will ever have to face in his/her journey is the Shadow, the ‘dark’ or hidden side of the personality. Stored in the subconscious, it is instinctive and irrational and it is this aspect of ourselves that is at play when we snap or pass judgement. What we reject about ourselves, we project, usually as a moral deficiency in others. The Shadow is not necessarily dark but a spectrum of negative and sometimes positive aspects. It is largely negative because we tend to reject the least socially desirable aspects of our personality. People with low self-exteerm/anxiety typically repress positive attributes, the most obvious being self-love; for a psychopath, the embodiment of their Shadow is what a non-psychopath would perceive as the Light. The Shadow begins to form when as children we try to ft in by repressing aspects of ourselves that either we don’t like or our peers/family don’t like. These can be behaviours, emotions, thoughts, differences, and even memories. As we progress through the educational system, the conscious ego develops beliefs about its place in the world in order to further protect it from rejection by others. Since standards are set from birth that are impossible to live by, it is inevitable that we all form a shadow. The unconscious mind (which includes the subconscious) communicates with our conscious mind through symbols in dreams and visions (among other channels), in a relentless attempt to bring the subconscious back into consciousness. The outward appearance of the symbols used is determined by cultural factors, so in a Christian culture, for instance, the Shadow may manifest as the Devil. Coming into contact with the Shadow may stir up feelings of shame, which is especially typical of sexual matters. Because full sexual expression is repressed by most societies, sexual repression is a more or less universal component of the Shadow. Each Shadow is unique and the more repressed it is, the more power it has over the individual. Compare a philanthropic gangster with a priest who secretly preys on children – the priest has the denser shadow. Conversely, accepting one’s dark side minimises its chances of expressing itself. Recognising one’s dark aspects is the first prerequisite to self-knowledge and a major component of psychosynthesis. It takes considerable mental and moral effort on the part of the ego. Acknowledgement and acceptance of the shadow is a lifelong process of descent, ascent and assimilation. If the process is interrupted, one may have to start over, though not at the very beginning, the subsequent attempt more accelerated than the last. A lifelong game of snakes and ladders! Integration requires vigilance to ensure that we do not over-identify with the ‘dark side’, as the shadow can integrate the conscious instead of the other way around. Susceptibility to such self-sabotage arises during times of stress, shock, confusion or over-thinking. Philosophical and religious traditions have told us for millennia to be ‘better’ human beings but not how to get there. The roadmap is steeped in mystery and jargon under the pretext that the average human being is incapable of such an undertaking. Which to an extent is true but largely because the information is so closely guarded in the first place, a shadow in itself. Personally I believe that even the most dysfunctional human being can be regarded as ready, as long as they have access to the right tools at the right time. Creativity and criminality are both indicators, the latter being a form of the former, and it is a well known fact that the bipolar nature of shadow work drives the creative process (the constant tension between opposites acts rather like a pump). Depression in one who may not even know of individuation is another clue that shadow work is at least in its early stages. Considering that depression and anxiety have reached epidemic proportions (I can only speak for the UK), it is a no brainer that a high percentage of the population has been on the cusp for some time. When the spiritual industry does articulate some form of methodology, most teach that the ego has to be overcome or transcended. This in itself is an act of dissociation, which only feeds the Shadow, so I agree with Carl Jung’s assertion that the conscious and unconscious must fuse for wholeness to occur. Indeed, I find the transcendental route to enlightenment, particularly through use of drugs, can do more harm than good. The Shadow has to be dealt with head on before enlightenment can truly begin. This is why it’s vitally important that we build on the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement. in order to achieve a more enlightened state of relationship with ourselves and our planet, exposing that which is hidden in our collective pasts is a painful but necessary milestone in the healing process.