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/

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.

Reading and questioning the symbols can open doors into the unconscious

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A shared dream about visiting over and over again a “Hippie” village, or commune where all the houses were fanciful conglomeration of cast off parts of other houses, brought up some interesting symbols related to excess and the rejection of shared values. In this dream the dreamer entered a darkened room and saw the shadowed silhouette of a hippie lying on a sofa, drunk, or stoned. The dreamer also climbed upon a wall on the hippie’s property to get a better view. All primary symbols suggest societal mores rejection and perhaps a form of addiction. Climbing upon the wall might suggest the need for a new perhaps even higher perspective on life or some specific issue.

One of the first questions I asked of the dreamer was, “What in your life are you obsessing about?”

I also asked, “Is there something missing, e.g. some void, in your life that you’re trying to fill and that might be an inappropriate way to do it?” And finally I questioned whether there was a shadow side to their life that they might not be confronting e.g. that they may be in denial of?”

This person may very well be suppressing the concept of addiction as it may be related to their particular behavior. For example, they may not be addicted to a substance, but an action (as in a habitual response pattern), or even a way of thinking (as in a habitual negative inner dialog, or a belief that persists despite evidence to the contrary, such as a prejudice). These can be subtle in nature, yet still be important enough for the unconscious mind to shine a light on them through the dream. There are, of course, less subtle addictions e.g. sexual, porn, food, smoking, risky behavior, and etcetera.

The morals rejection part of the dream is also interesting in that it begs the question, “What societal norms are you rejecting and why?” The village in this dream is put together by the cast offs from other people’s houses (persona’s) might suggest a depressing loss of personal identity and/or the person is creating a sense of self that further alienates them from the society they live in. But it also may reflect an attempt to cobble together an identity from what they admire in those around them.

Again, the dream can be very useful toward revealing inner material that may be affecting one’s mental health and even social health. Both learning to read the symbolism and asking questions can be equally important and can bring a light into the darkness.

 

A Dream of Shadows

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.

–RJ Cole (2014)

An answered prayer for change

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In response to a prayer not too long ago regarding an entreaty to help with turning around the negativity in the world especially as it relates to the current dark aspects of the American political climate I had a dream.

In the dream I was trying to change the attitude of a dark man who was being very skeptical. I was trying to get him to turn away from his criminality. Later I was told to clean up old washing machines lying helter-skelter in some field.

Basically the dream was presenting me with my own dark side, or shadow, and suggesting that I needed to deal with it as well, that the problem lay also with me and not just the outside world. What I needed to do was to clean up old and no longer useful machinery i.e. ways of being and thinking.

There were other parts of the dream where I was looking for ways to not take the blame for things, in other words ducking responsibility. This made me look to where I was not willing to be responsible for my less desirable and unhelpful traits.

Though I was praying for an answer to my feelings of helplessness, the dream turned that around by empowering me to deal with my own negative contributions to what was being manifest in the greater world.

This dream is an example of the mirror aspect of dreams in that a dream is like standing before a mirror and seeing yourself more directly and clearly. So too the world about us is a mirror to ourselves both in what we admire and what we reject, in what makes us proud and in what we fear.

Often the outside world reflects our own growth or need for growth. We tend to ignore our own flaws by projecting them onto others. By being outwardly critical we may also be passive aggressively self-critical.

 

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”

C.G. Jung

 

I believe that Jung’s statement is especially true in our dreams. Essentially I believe that we are not what happens to us but what we have chosen to become and that to some degree the outside world reflects that. To varying degrees the world we see and react to reflects some part of ourselves admired or rejected. In short, we can do little to change the outside if we aren’t willing or ready to change the inside.

As I wrote this and shared it with a friend they pointed out to me that this may also be the message from Mathew 7: 3-5:

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

 

Always good advice I thought but though they sound similar, the difference in the motivation behind each may give some insight into their usefulness in that the biblical entreaty uses a key word i.e. “hypocrite” that suggests a liar and deceiver, a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings implying a wrong doing that needs to be corrected in order to meet a religious expectation or to change the behavior of someone outside oneself. This is not the motivation behind Jung’s quote where he believes that we can use our prejudices and judgments of others to better understand ourselves and not as a means of changing something outside ourselves that you can’t do anyway.

The Gift of the Dark Dream

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The Dark Dream by.–jbrown67.deviantart.com

 

Dreams of being a child have come into my sleep along with being wrong and making mistakes, feeling shame and powerlessness and falling. When my waking dream becomes too stressful, when I find that I can’t stay in the here and now because I’m caught up in worries about the future, or guilt from the past, I find my dreams full of powerlessness and fear. Hurricanes, storms, titanic waves, and floods wash through my dreams and add even greater stress to a psyche overburdening itself. If the dreams shared with me on-line are any indication, I’d say this might be true for many of you.

Though I did not measure up to my personal expectations, to the image of myself that I thought I should be, I realized something much greater. The Black Dream where I found myself in the waking world had been giving way to something new.

When facing the darkness one can receive images much grander than their limited images of self. For me I saw that I never gave up, though the way looked impossible; that I always strove to become better than either my own judgments, or the judgments of others. Somehow I found the courage to stand up to the feelings of failure and rejection and to face what I judged to be humiliation with my head held high. I allowed myself to feel the fool and to grow from its presence, to go beyond the fears and become bigger than my estimate of myself.

The experience of recent events and the consciousness they brought in their wake have helped me to realize some of how big I really am. I may not be what I think I should be, an ego-self desire, but once again I’ve discovered that I’m really so much more.

Until I was willing to truly accept the darkness and honor its value, I couldn’t see the ever so small light flickering in the corner. I’ve been fighting the darkness ever so long, but the truth is that rejecting the darkness also rejects the light. This morning, I saw the barest glow and reached for it and it warmed and filled the space that dispelled the darkness before it. Hanging onto the light often seems harder than living in the darkness. But I think it’s a miracle that the light is there at all.

And that’s the gift of the Black Dream, the Shadow, the darkness; it highlights the flicker of light that is our true self. I can also see that to keep it burning I need to share it and it’s in that vein that I do so now. As I’ve said earlier, love is the cure for our nightmares; it’s the light within our darkness.

The netherworld

 

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Down in the cave of the human mind where reality stops being reality lays the world of the dream. It is here that the mind’s inner eye perceives a fantasy much richer in form and function than the theater of the waking world.

In order to enter this world one needs to suffer a kind of death, for here is a place where the body cannot go.

Unless you live in total darkness there’s always a shadow, a hidden reflection of yourself–it is by definition that place where light cannot reach because of some obstruction. And that obstruction is often your ego-self.

The ego is that part of us that forms the conscious world identity that we hide behind and the inner image of ourselves that we are both proud of and afraid of simultaneously.

It is the guardian at the gate of our consciousness. It is the judge and jury for what gets sent to the shadow lands of our unconscious mind. And like our waking world prisons our shadow lands are overcrowded with what we reject and fear to face.

This is the netherworld of the shaman, medium, and mystic. But is also the hidden world of you and I. Whether mystic or common man we are called by our dreams to explore an underworld that rules the world above. Given that most of our mind is hidden from consciousness we often act, feel, and behave out of some mysterious force. When compounded by all the individuals of a society that force can become overwhelming for good or bad and lead us to our destiny or destruction.

When we don’t acknowledge the real forces behind our actions or our pathology we often make up things to explain these behaviors. For example, we will point at our parents, our upbringing, our genetics and our experiences with each other as cause for our beliefs, ideas and behaviors. But more often than not it is our un-dealt with shadow that is the true source of much of what we do, or don’t do, and it’s often the motivating force behind our actions.

Some say that to live more authentically, to be truly free, and to be more alive, one needs to deal with their hidden aspects, their shadow nature.

 

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Black Dreams

 

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Dreams of being a child have come into my sleep along with being wrong and making mistakes, feeling shame and powerlessness and falling. When my waking dream becomes too stressful, when I find that I can’t stay in the here and now because I’m caught up in worries about the future, or guilt from the past, I find my dreams full of powerlessness and fear. Hurricanes, storms, titanic waves, and floods wash through my dreams and add even greater stress to a psyche overburdening itself. If the dreams shared with me on-line are any indication, I’d say this might be true for many of you.

Though I did not measure up to my personal expectations, to the image of myself that I thought I should be, I realized something much greater. The Black Dream where I found myself in the waking world had been giving way to something new.

When facing the darkness one can receive images much grander than those limited images one has of themselves. For me I saw that I never gave up, though the way looked impossible; that I always strove to become better than either my own judgments, or the judgments of others. Somehow I found the courage to stand up to the feelings of failure and rejection and to face what I judged to be humiliation with my head held high. I allowed myself to feel the fool and to grow from its presence, to go beyond the fears and become bigger than my estimate of self.

The experience of recent events and the consciousness they brought in their wake have helped me to realize some of how big I really am. I may not be what I think I should be, an ego-self desire, but once again I’ve discovered that I’m really so much more.

Until I was willing to truly accept the darkness and honor its value, I couldn’t see the ever so small light flickering in the corner. I’ve been fighting the darkness ever so long, but the truth is that rejecting the darkness also rejects the light. This morning, I saw the barest glow and reached for it and it warmed and filled the space that dispelled the darkness before it. Hanging onto the light often seems harder than living in the darkness. But I think it’s a miracle that the light is there at all.

And that’s the gift of the Black Dream, the Shadow, the darkness; it highlights the flicker of light that is our true self. I can also see that to keep it burning I need to share it and it’s in that vein that I do so now. As I’ve said earlier, love is the cure for our nightmares; it’s the light within our darkness.