Walking the Dark Night

 

sunlight-trees-landscape-contrast-forest-white-black-monochrome-portrait-dark-city-night-creepy-horror-water-nature-urban-sky-park-shadow-spooky-winter-photography-silhouette-branch-sunrise-surreal-cold-evening-morning-mist.jpg

Three nightmares across nine fretful nights sleep. In one a character is shot several times as he runs down the road, the last shot bringing him down, I falling with him and reaching out to comfort. Another has me wearing a CPAP mask at a restaurant dining table, feeling shocked, vulnerable, humiliated and virtually emasculated.

The last dream has me being threatened and abused by three twenty-foot giants.

What to make of it all?

In the first dream the character being shot is an expression of myself suffering what Bill Shakespeare called “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” i.e. attacks against the psyche in this case. The fear may be that there will be one too many that I may not be able to soothe and get up from. This dream may have been triggered by watching a friend take several psychic blows that would have left me emotionally bleeding. There’s also a theme running through the “world psyche” at the moment where many people are taking the blows, with the collective-ego becoming increasingly more self-critical.

The current immoral insanity sweeping the nation and the White House is suffering profound psychic blows as well as we each watch the country we love being torn apart by fear, bigotry, ignorance, and hatred. Our shadow aspect that we’ve been hiding to both the world and ourselves is showing itself in all its repressed ugliness.

The second dream seems to echo the first and indeed came on the night following the first. This dream seemed to suggest humiliation and a feeling of emasculation. It continued a theme of feeling vulnerable and not being able to protect myself adequately. The mask itself also may have symbolized a fear of being found out, of not being able to successfully hide what I am feeling in my everyday life right now.

Seven days later the third nightmare intruded and interrupted my sleep. In this dream three imposing and quite frightening ‘giants’ attacked me and stood threateningly astride me as I fell. It felt that I wouldn’t be able to save myself from what was about to happen and then I awoke. Are my feelings overwhelming me? Is my negative inner dialog going to injure me? Who are these three antagonists I wonder? Then it hits me that they might represent my three biggest concerns as I grow older– 1) Body deterioration (not only reflecting all the aches and pains but the loss of attractiveness to the opposite sex); 2) Deteriorating usefulness; and 3) Contracting future.

There’s a lot to be learned from one’s darker dreams i.e. there’s light in our nightmares, though in this case there are few if any answers, but knowing in deeper detail what’s going on with me emotionally may give me an opening through which I can find the light.

 

The empire of the Shadow-self

 

to-light-by-martin-fisch-web1.jpg

 

“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

 

hqdefault.jpg

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

 

dr-jekyll-y-mr-hyde.jpg

 

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/