A Dream of Shadows

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I stepped into the night–a lonely, frigid blackness with glowing lanterns here and there. I sighed and my breath rose into the sky and a part of me became one with the stars.

Animals came out of the inky dark to greet me–raccoon, rat, and owl.

They whispered some ancient wisdom, sharing from a place that only they could bear, dancing to a rhythm that only they could hear.

I pulled the night around my shoulders like a robe to comfort me against its emptiness.

Owl, rat, raccoon, and I walking through the night, walking toward the light of home.

The empire of the Shadow-self

 

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“I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you, which shall be the darkness of God.”

 –T.S Eliot

 

In the Game of Thrones the story line is about political intrigue and the shadow creatures in this fantasy melodrama are always extensions of the people portrayed. All the human emotions of lust, hate, anger, greed and betrayal are played out with only one goal, to survive and conquer. Of course this kind of human drama has no end (witness real life dramas of war and greed).

Just as the Game of Thrones is but a tale of the Shadow Empire of the ego-self so is the everyday day life of our selves. Why are we so fascinated by this darker side of humanity? Is it because we can see what is also in our self but do it in the safety of arms length?

I spend a lot of time talking about and working with the shadow aspects of myself. I do this because I’m fascinated by the shadow-self, its genesis and how it affects the everyday of my life.

I’ve learned that within me, as in all of us, resides both the light and the dark, aspects of what I approve of and identify with and those that I reject– the seemingly dark, hated, betrayed and unbearable characteristics of myself and my life.

The Shadow-self resides in the unconscious mind. I put them there so that they wouldn’t be, well, conscious.

Most of them I put there as a child– when I had limited resources and experiences to figure out what the traumas meant (a trauma can be as small as a hurt feeling) that were hurled at me or that surrounded me.

But these shadows don’t just reside peacefully within us they actually affect and inform our conscious actions.

They are why we have certain addictions, failures (both in relationships and careers), negative thoughts, judgments, and self-criticisms.

They are why we can’t seem to just “make it” or that we keep choosing the wrong mate or love interest, or continuously make the wrong choices. They represent all those dark impulses and desires, selfishness, hostility and greediness we sometimes experience within ourselves. They are what prevent us from loving and acknowledging ourselves. No matter how successful we become there is often a dark hooded figure that is quick to criticize and bring us down.

 

“Between the conception
 And the creation
 Between the emotion
 And the response
Falls the Shadow.”

—T. S. Elliott

 

None of us want to climb down into this cesspool of dread, sorrow, and childhood fears. It’s why we created the underground sump of the unwanted in the first place i.e. to stop the hurt!

Our ego-selves are designed to figure things out then decide that which will make things better, run smoother, and lessen the pain and hurt vs. that which makes things harder– one is accepted while the other is rejected and all of this is designed to enhance ones ability to survive.

It’s the ego-self that determines when something is real, but sometimes this “reality” is a negative decision about the self such as, “I’m no good” or “I have no talent”, or “I don’t deserve happiness” or “I’m weak and vulnerable, not pretty/handsome, not smart…” and so on and on.

Once the “reality” is locked in place anything that refutes it is then rejected as “not real”. It’s why it’s so hard to change ones self-concept or to accept another persons acknowledgment.

Essentially, the ego-self becomes attached to these so-called “realities of the self” and it is this attachment that leads the ego-self to go it alone and shun any real help because no one can ever know the ego-self and its reality and needs better than the ego-self.

In this way the ego-self cuts itself off from others and from the spirit and soul.

It’s interesting that Alcoholics anonymous refers to the word EGO as an acronym for “Easing God Out” because that’s exactly what the ego-self does, it divides us from our soul and our inner spirit and too often this is to our detriment.

One of my greatest longings, and I suspect yours as well, is to find the true essence of myself i.e. who am I really? It’s got to be better than this! When I fantasize I’m always the hero of my story, I’m always magnificent and awesome (though humbly so). But why can’t I see me that way in my everyday life? Why can’t I identify with a “me” beyond my negative beliefs of self, my self-judgments and criticisms, my hopes and experiences, my anger, desires, impulses, imagined needs and expectations (from self and others)? Why is it so hard to find and embrace this self?

I suggest that it is because we’ve buried it and barricaded it behind all the shadow material that we’ve stuffed into the unconscious sump and refuse to deal with. We’ve given the shadow-self and its lackey, the ego-self, power over how we feel and over what we do by over protecting ourselves.

Bottom line, our nature is both light and dark and the rejection of one over the other through denial or opposition (control or destruction of) only leads to self-destructive behaviors. The ego-self is designed to protect us from the world outside, but often it does this by sacrificing the inside, the very thing it is designed to protect.

Life can be lived without denying the shadow but by choosing the light, choosing to live your life in the light. You can only do that if you know what the dark is, where the absence of the light resides.

Meeting your shadow on the road

 

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Ever since I learned that I could see my shadow in the personality of others I’ve been overwhelmed with the number of personal faults I’ve had to confront. It’s so easy to see the faults of others and equally as easy to be clueless about my own. And to know this I’ve become acutely aware that others are seeing my faults in the everywhere and everyday of my life. It’s embarrassing! And if I’m reproached (as all too often happens for my comfort) I can spiral downward for days.

My dreams too show me those pesky little dark spots in my personality but it’s easier to see them and deal with them when they’re coming out of me. Dreams are part of the inner judge of my being. But as I do the “shadow work” with my darker dream images the number of issues begin to mount up and become overwhelming.

It’s like the myth of Hercules and the Augean Stables where one of his first tasks is to clean up in one day the cattle stables that have collected dung for decades. It can be downright discouraging.

I’ve also noticed that these shadow aspects show up most often when dealing with people of the same sex i.e. other men. For example, aggressive, domineering, pompous, and arrogant personalities will raise the short hairs on the back of my neck and I find myself rejecting these men before I’ve even gotten to know them. This same sex quality of the presence of the shadow is found within our dreams as well in that the shadows tend to be of the same sex as the dreamer.

Most recently the # me too movement has made me more sensitive to my own unconscious prejudices. All my life I’ve prided myself in my respectful treatment of women or all people really. Yet a man came up to me the other day as I was announcing the beginning of a lecture on the female aspect of religion and told me a sexual story about his adolescent years in high school that absolutely appalled me. His use of certain words and crude use of innuendo made me most uncomfortable. Not withstanding the inappropriateness of his communication I noticed that his comments mirrored some of my own hidden thoughts that I purposely keep to myself. His shadow was to some extent my own! Oh dear, another piece of dung to shovel.

The shadow also shows up in decisions I’ve made about my own qualities and talents. These come in the form of marveling over the talents and creativity I see in certain artists, poets, actors, writers, and entertainers of all kinds. It’s envy that I feel as in, “I wish I were that creative”. But if I can see their creativity and can appreciate it then at some level it exists within me. So why do I reject this and stuff it into my shadow world? More dung.

Because I judge that I have too much dung in the stables of my unconscious mind I have also decided that I don’t deserve pleasure and find that I deny myself even more and thus create more dung.

This constant confrontation with my shadow stuff is exhausting. And just because I’ve spotted where the crap lies doesn’t seem to help with the clean up. I mean, where do I shovel it to?

And that’s the point of shadow work. There’s no need to shovel it anywhere because if you do it’s still there i.e. shoveling is just rearranging the piles.

So how does one learn to accept their shadow let alone love it? Some of these shadows are grounded in beliefs that come from your childhood. They are constructions from decisions we’ve made about life and who we are. They are often the wounds suffered from childhood that can be healed if dealt with openly, compassionately, and lovingly. In short, what has been constructed can be deconstructed not through forceful shoveling or denial of the dung spread throughout but through loving action.

Mostly the shadow is an unrecognized inner dialog and belief system that’s negative in nature and the shifting of which to something more positive can help these aspects become more useful. Sometimes just writing a letter that will never be sent that includes your feelings about your darker aspects and negative feelings about yourself can help. Remember no feeling is ever wrong. Some of your beliefs and thoughts are just flat-out wrong but never your feelings.

Bringing these things out into the open through the process of identifying and writing them down can be a great first step in the cleaning up of the stink of your unconscious stables.

_______________________

For those of you who might want to do further shadow work these links may prove useful:

https://www.alwayswellwithin.com/blog/2014/07/06/embrace-your-shadow-side

http://suzanneheyn.com/shadow-work-embracing-the-dark-side/

Shadow Work on an old problem: A Jekyll and Hyde story

 

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I’ve been doing some Shadow Work this week based on a dream I had earlier. At first the dream seemed rather innocuous e.g. people from the past, a woman psychologist looking for my reports from yesteryear that I can’t find then tagging along as I try to find a parking space so that we can get a cup of coffee at a roadside café but take too long and by the time we get there its closing up. I plead for two cups but the man behind the counter will only give me an old coffee can filled with coffee that the psych and I are to share out on the curb. I drink from the can and it is bitter to the taste. I feel embarrassed and a screw-up. The man behind the counter grins sardonically and moves on with his clean up. I feel defeated once again.

As I get into the interpretation I note my “screw-ups” references and yet she stays with me. At first glance I wondered if this vignette represented my wife and I but as I looked closer and realized that references to the past might be symbolic of one of my shadow aspects i.e. frequently worrying about rejection and being hypersensitive to potential rejection I began to see a deeper meaning to this dream. It’s as though I spend a lot of time secretly trying to be rejected and when it doesn’t happen I take it as a sign of acceptance. There’s also this idea that the shadow aspects of myself are a reflection of my real self and not just an aspect of the total. It’s as though I’ve mistaken my Shadow-self for my real self and thus deserve rejection. I mean that’s what you’re supposed to do with your unwanted and negative aspects i.e. reject them, right? If the shadow self, the screw up, is who I really I am then it deserves rejection.

I am haunted by these continuous thoughts that I’m a screw-up and that they try to convince me that I am my shadow and have led me to believe this is true (though I lamely deny the fact). It’s like what happens in the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde after the good Doctor has taken the potion to make him Hyde so often that he becomes the evil Mr. Hyde. My constant “drinking” of the negative thoughts have led me to think that they are true and I become the Hyde part of myself. But a deeper part of me accessed through the dream suggests that I not believe everything that I think.

The dream seems to be telling me about a lifelong inner dialog that needs changing i.e. sometimes I screw up but am not a screw up. I also need to look closer at this narrative that pulls rejection into my life. Perhaps its time for a different narrative and time to ‘clean up’ (as the man in the café is doing) the story I’ve been telling myself. I need to acknowledge the shadow’s presence (that can be a bitter realization as with the coffee in the can) when it shows up but don’t take it on as though it were true or all that I am.

For those of you who might like to do some Shadow Work yourself these links may be of some help:

https://www.alwayswellwithin.com/blog/2014/07/06/embrace-your-shadow-side

http://suzanneheyn.com/shadow-work-embracing-the-dark-side/

 

Embracing the Individual Shadow

 

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“Yesterday, upon the stair,

I met a man who wasn’t there.

He wasn’t there again today,

I wish, I wish he’d go away…”

 

We all have a person who isn’t there. It’s a shadow that follows us everywhere we go even on the darkest night with no moon or streetlights’ glare. It hides behind a mask amongst the deepest caverns of our mind, lurking, stalking and waiting to strike. He or she are all the emotions and distasteful parts of ourselves that we just as soon not see during the daylight but often show up in our dreams at night.

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We shun them for they are not who we want to be. We lock them up in our cages so deep hoping that they will never escape. We hide them in the dark, dank and stinking tunnels of our unconscious trying to forget the smell of them and hoping that eventually they’ll die. But they never die for you see they feed on our fear and the energy we use to keep them hidden. Occasionally they’ll escape to the upper realm and play havoc with our relationships, our emotions, our goals and plans. Like little gremlins they toy with us.

 

“When I came home last night at three,

The man was waiting there for me

But when I looked around the hall,

I couldn’t see him there at all!

Go away, go away, don’t you come back any more!

Go away, go away, and please don’t slam the door…”

 

The shadow is a universal archetype whose presence is felt by us all from time to time. We deny its existence but that won’t do any good. Why won’t he go away? Because he can’t, he’s part of us and if you could cut him away we wouldn’t be us any more.

His power and persistence in our lives lies in our resistance to him. When pretending he’s not there he can wheedle his way into everything we do and try to be often with disastrous results.

 

“Last night I saw upon the stair,

A little man who wasn’t there,

He wasn’t there again today

Oh, how I wish he’d go away.”

         –Antagonish by William Hughes Mearns

 

 There’s a paradox here in that he won’t go away until you ask him to stay.

Accepting all parts of the self both light and shadow is to honor your wholeness. Treating all aspects of yourself as equal will allow you to use all your energies in a direction of your choosing rather than moving to the hidden ghost’s bidding or wasting your energy trying to keep half of you caged.

The title of this blog is “Embracing the Individual Shadow” that suggests that there may be a Collective Shadow that we live in as well. Where is it? I’ll go into that at another time. Until then see if you can find it. It shouldn’t be too hard. Let me know what you find.

 Shadow and Light Source Both

 

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“How does a part of the world leave the world?

How does wetness leave water? Don’t try to

put out fire by throwing on more fire! Don’t

wash a wound with blood. No matter how fast

 

you run, your shadow keeps up. Sometimes it’s

in front! Only full overhead sun diminishes

 

your shadow. But that shadow has been serving 

you. What hurts you, blesses you. Darkness is

 your candle. Your boundaries are your quest.

I could explain this, but it will break the

 

glass cover on your heart, and there’s no

fixing that. You must have shadow and light

 source both. Listen, and lay your head under

the tree of awe. When from that tree feathers

 

and wings sprout on you, be quieter than

a dove. Don’t even open your mouth for even a coo.”

From Soul of Rumi by Coleman Barks

 

Deep within the hidden reaches of your unconscious mind and in the place between your thoughts there lays a stillness that when embraced opens the door to your true nature.

Carl Jung believed that we all have aspects of both light and shadow within us and that the process, some would say goal, of life is to integrate the two into one whole thus reconciling both good and evil. The shadow or dark sides of ourselves cannot be merely hidden, shoved down into the caves of our unconscious mind for they don’t disappear just because they are no longer seen. They will have their say in everything that we do and if repressed long enough they will rise to the surface causing chaos in our dreams and in our waking lives. The energy of the shadow is always there and can be used for good or evil.

As Rumi said “But that shadow has been serving 

you. What hurts you, blesses you. Darkness is

your candle… You must have shadow and light

source both.

Dark Shadows: A mirror to my thoughts

I don’t often do this i.e. copy or “mirror” from another blog but the following post from the Book of Dreams Blog is perfect for the Dark Knight of the Soul as well. I hope you enjoy it and get something from it as much as I did in writing it (yes, I’m the author of both but they’re my blogs so I get to be a little narcissistic if I want, besides I couldn’t decide in which blog it belonged).

 

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Priscilla Hernández, ‘Nightmare’

A lesson from our dreams: From Plato’s Shadow World to our own

“I have often said that every person in a dream represents an aspect of the dreamer e.g. their emotional and behavioral characteristics are a mirror of your own. Though this is a truth in dreams it’s also a truth in our waking lives as well.

Each of us is mirrored* in the others that we meet. Hate a certain behavior in someone and you are seeing your own rejection of that behavior in yourself. Dismiss someone out of hand it’s probably because you don’t want to acknowledge their behavior that they reflect from yourself no matter how small it may be.

How are the people you reject just like you? How are the people you like just like you? Both reflect parts of you.

This fact leads me to compare the dream world with the waking world and helps me to see that maybe both worlds really are a dream, the sleeping dream and the waking dream. Interestingly learning to decipher each dream can help us understand ourselves better and where we fit in the overall scheme of things. Both dream worlds can act as a personal therapist and guide through the journey of our life.

Often when a dark and scary being shows up in a dream we want to run from it, hide, or verbally or physically defend ourselves vigorously. This type of dream being is known in psychology as a shadow aspect. When the shadow shows up in a dream either in the sleeping or waking world** take a break before reacting for there’s an opportunity being presented here for you to see a part of yourself that may need dealing with and perhaps modifying so that you can begin to manage the darker aspects that show up throughout life. In short, seeing others as a mirror for self-improvement and/or self-acceptance is a sign of a maturing and evolving psyche.”

_______________________

*An interesting resource that I’ve used as part of my blog comes from Justin Gammill through the following link: https://seventhrayblog.wordpress.com/author/violetflame2035/

**If you want to look deeper into this concept of the Waking Dream and how it is used therapeutically for greater self-awareness you might like to read “Life as a Waking Dream” by Diane Kennedy Pike, Riverhead Books, 1997.

Embracing the Shadow

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“Yesterday, upon the stair,

I met a man who wasn’t there.

He wasn’t there again today,

I wish, I wish he’d go away…”

 

We all have a person who isn’t there. It’s a shadow that follows us everywhere we go even on the darkest night with no moon or streetlights’ glare. It hides behind a mask amongst the deepest caverns of our mind, lurking, stalking and waiting to strike. He or she are all the emotions and distasteful parts of ourselves that we just as soon not see during the daylight but often show up in our dreams at night.

We shun them for they are not who we want to be. We lock them up in our cages so deep hoping that they will never escape. We hide them in the dark, dank and stinking tunnels of our unconscious trying to forget the smell of them and hoping that eventually they’ll die. But they never die for you see they feed on our fear and the energy we use to keep them hidden. Occasionally they’ll escape to the upper realm and play havoc with our relationships, our emotions, our goals and plans. Like little gremlins they toy with us.

“When I came home last night at three,

The man was waiting there for me

But when I looked around the hall,

I couldn’t see him there at all!

Go away, go away, don’t you come back any more!

Go away, go away, and please don’t slam the door…”

 The shadow is a universal archetype whose presence is felt by us all from time to time. We deny its existence but that won’t do any good. Why won’t he go away? Because he can’t, he’s part of us and if you could cut him away we wouldn’t be us any more.

His power and persistence in our lives lies in our resistance to him. When pretending he’s not there he can wheedle his way into everything we do and try to be often with disastrous results.

“Last night I saw upon the stair,

A little man who wasn’t there,

He wasn’t there again today

Oh, how I wish he’d go away.”

                        –Antagonish by

                                              William Hughes Mearns

There’s a paradox here in that he won’t go away until you ask him to stay.

Accepting all parts of the self both light and shadow is to honor your wholeness. Treating all aspects of yourself as equal will allow you to use all your energies in a direction of your choosing rather than moving to the hidden ghost’s bidding or wasting your energy trying to keep half of you caged.

Dueling Shadows

 

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The Dream:

In a dream some time ago I experienced trying to serve a customer where I had to follow strict Muslim ritual. Because I was unfamiliar with the ways, I was quite slow and humbly apologized to the customer. Another customer who was Muslim was watching me closely and I daresay was judging my performance.

When I walked away to get some materials for the sale I walked by a long table set for a Queen with all sorts of fancy dinnerware placed just so. I realized that both experiences were ritualistic in their own way.

Interpretation:

In this interpretation I am using meanings for symbols that are exclusive to me. The Muslim traditions, as they seem to be practiced, seem oppressive to me especially in how they appear to treat women. I am not however, suggesting that the religion itself is oppressive, quite the contrary. But I do have judgments about the manner in which it is practiced in some parts of the Muslim world or within the Christian world for that matter. Perhaps I should just use word “world” which should pretty much cover the bent toward misogyny I’ve seen all over the world regardless of religion.

There are oppressive aspects of myself that come out when I’m stressed or tired, or particularly self-critical and I’ve become more an more aware of them as of late, not really liking what I see and preferring to not think about them too deeply. I’d rather dwell on high fantasy and on what looks glittery and fun versus what looks dark and foreboding.

There are several oppositions in this dream e.g. lower status vs. higher status; ignoble vs. noble; and ignoring vs. facing the shadow (the tendency to ignore the shadow is characteristic of most of us). Actually, both events have their shadow side; the Muslim symbol I’ve explained, but the noble or queenly symbol also has its shadow in the way they treat and think about those whom they consider their inferiors.

The ritual aspect represented by both might suggest an addictive tendency on my part with respect to certain behaviors and I’m finding that I’m becoming increasingly uncomfortable with ignoring them. This is a good sign for me, and one that I have been looking for in my dreams for some time.

Give your Shadow a hug every once in awhile.

 

“Our job in this life is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.”

  Steven Pressfield The War of Art

 

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When I use the term “shadow” it’s not always referring to the dark side, or the negative aspects of an individual. Sometimes it’s referring to a person’s opposite aspects, that which are not the default ways of being.

Sometimes our shadows and nightmares are like candles bringing light to our darkness.

During the month of June 2010 I had a series of dreams that reflected some difficulty I was having processing some critical statements a close friend had made about me. Images of floods, drowning, and being attacked filled my dreams every night for five days.

The so-called critical statements alleged that I was pompous and arrogant and these evaluations didn’t reconcile with my self-image of being humble and self-effacing.

Then one night I dreamed of being overwhelmed by a flood and climbing the stairs to the second story in order to gain safety. And in that second floor experience I realized the answer to my emotional dilemma. In my dreams and my working with them I was being guided to realize that I was actually humble and arrogant, pompous and self-effacing! I was both my bright and shadow self.

I have known people who were basically kind, but who would “flash” anger onto others for what seemed the most insignificant of reasons. This continued for quite some time until they came to realize that this side of their personality had been rejected and shoved down into their subconscious for so long that it was beginning to leak out.

Basically, an unacknowledged shadow will dog you until you pay attention to it and acknowledge its presence as being a part of you. As humans we are sometimes happy, sometimes angry, sometimes humble and sometimes arrogant, sometimes brilliant and sometimes dull. This is the human condition, but if we spend too much energy trying to not be our opposite we can become out-of-balance and eventually this can cause mental, emotional, and/or physical sickness.

Every so often a sleeping nightmare will visit or a waking world nightmare will disturb your peace of mind. Don’t reject them out of hand because they both can be there in the service of your health and well-being. Every once and awhile you need to embrace your shadow self.

Some psychologists and therapists believe that to bring balance to our lives we need to strive to become whole, that is to accept what we are and to create ourselves endlessly.

We are more than our limited image of our self. We are greater than what we reject and than what we keep.

 

“We fear discovering that we are more than we think we are. More than our parents/children/teachers think we are. We fear that we actually possess the talent that our still, small voice tells us. That we actually have the guts, the perseverance, the capacity. We fear that we truly can steer our ship, plant our flag, reach our Promised Land. We fear this because, if it’s true, then we become estranged from all we know.”

–Steven Pressfield