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.

Nevermore!

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“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.”

–Edgar Allen Poe

 

Those lines from Poe’s The Raven really creeped me out when first I read them oh so many years ago. Since then I have stood on many an abyss peering into the darkness where my dreams were of those that “no mortal ever dared to dream before”.

In that epic poem the narrator expected to find someone on the other side of the door, but instead found nothing. Now he’s beginning to get really paranoid. The possibility of a supernatural presence creeps into his mind.

That sense of supernatural presence has often haunted me in my dreams, sometimes jumping out at me or crawling up my spine and engulfing my mouth so I couldn’t scream their name.

It took me years to learn who they were and what it was they wanted of me, but they’re there, hidden, squatting in the dark corners of the cellars of my mind waiting for me to pass their way again.

Poe wanted to handle his demons by not entertaining them, by not reinforcing their taunts:

“There are moments when, even to the sober eye of Reason, the world of our sad Humanity may assume the semblance of a Hell… Alas! The grim legion of sepulchral terrors cannot be regarded as altogether fanciful… they must sleep, or they will devour us–they must be suffered to slumber, or we perish.”

 –Poe in The Premature Burial

 But through countless confrontations I have learned that our own demons are nourished by the fears that cause us to “suffer their slumber” it is our very resistance to them that feeds them. With each year they grow ever bigger when we lock them away and will gain strength to break through the bonds and locked cages we’ve assigned them to. They pounce before us ready and wanting to be seen, or if not, to devour. Hiding from them is futile. Calling them by name and inviting them into the upper floors of our consciousness is the only way to deal with them effectively.

Alas Poe was not able to do this and ended his life haunted, hopelessly alcoholic, maddened, and in great distress having failed in business and losing everything that he had loved.

 “And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting

On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;

And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,

And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;

And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor

Shall be lifted – nevermore!”

 Poe gave into his demons by not negotiating with them. If he had only discerned the meaning of the raven sitting upon the bust of Pallas, the Greek goddess of wisdom, he might have opened to the deeper definition of his night shadows. Had he known that the nightmarish Raven was symbolic of his own self-betrayal, but also a symbol of death, of letting go of his self-haunting he might have been able to rid himself of its terror.

Like all dreams Nightmares come in the service of the health and well being of the dreamer. For me the Raven’s entreaty of “Nevermore” relates to never more ignoring the dark denizens of my repressed shadows.

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

 

 

A visit from death as a message to “let go”

 

death.jpgWARNING! Though what I’m about to say suggests that I’ve found the answer to something it’s more like an answer. I’m struggling with all these concepts as well, which is why I started this blog in the first place i.e. as a venue for discovery and sharing.

In trying to catch up to the backlog of submitted dreams, many of the last several dreams I’ve worked have included the visitation of someone close who has died, or have had more subtle visits from the dead show up such as in the dream below. There are an incredible number of ideas concerning death e.g. what is it, what happens, if anything, after death, etc. Most of this seems to follow a spiritual line of thought and pretty much leaves the reality of death for the dreamer to handle on their own.

But most often death is painful, messy, ugly, confusing, sad, and frightening and none of us seem to have the right tools for dealing with it. Most of us would rather not look too closely, or feel its reality too deeply, preferring not to “wallow,” but to “move on.” We are told that we should meet death nobly by being calm, accepting and embracing its inevitability stoically, or as a great adventure. Some think they will now live peacefully in heaven. I think that’s wonderful, if you can do it, but I fear that would just be another failure in my life so that even in death I lose. After all, if I do it wrong, there’s no do-over!

I, on the other hand, am pissed off with the reality of death, what a rip; I am not looking forward to it! Most of the palliatives offered for dealing with death seem to be some means of avoiding its reality. But the avoidance only keeps the emotions stuck, especially the fear and sadness, and in my case a measure of anger.

In the dreams shared with me there’s always something new that comes up, for example, and in the name of practicality, I share this dream that came from the mother of a child who seems to be having trouble dealing with a father’s death:

The dream:

 This dream is mostly verbatim though I have changed some identifying features in order to maintain this family’s autonomy.

 “hi am writing on behalf of my child who has been unwell for 7 months and since has really bad dreams about fire and about people, usually male, trying to chase them and capture and harm them. I know this is a feeling of insecurity because their dad passed when they were 9. could this be the cause. and what can i do to help them? thanks mom”

My answer: (for privacy, names and gender have been redacted)

“Death of a parent to any of us is always traumatic at some level, but to a child the reality of death both personally and the devastating loss of someone they always trusted to be there can be especially traumatic. Children can also wonder if they had anything to do with the death i.e. if they had just loved them more…

 _____ may very well be dealing with his death on many levels especially, in dealing with the insecurity that the death brings into their life.

 Fire itself can be a “cleansing” symbol, but it is also a symbol for destruction and can represent repressed anger (sometimes we can have anger at the person who has died as in “how dare they leave me!” But they can’t admit this to themselves let alone voice it out loud. There’s also the anger that is directed toward God, or just the world in general. It’s a very helpless feeling which is also present in her dream.

 All these feelings and thoughts may not even be at the level of consciousness for _____which is why they are showing up in a dream (all dreams come in the service of health and well-being).

 If you haven’t already, it would help _____ greatly to work with a nurturing counselor to help {your child] move through this.”

Disconnecting from the intimacy once shared when someone was living is a hugely difficult process, we are social beings designed to be connected. When this evaporates due to death or any ending (such as a relationship or a way of being), when the connection disappears, we have to deal with our own disappearance, our own lost sense of being apparent–of existing.

As humans our relatedness confirms and reinforces our existence, the loss of relatedness caused by the death of a loved one can render us ungrounded and unattached. Sometimes we need help to find our footing again.

In dreams, death frequently represents social, emotional, and spiritual transformation that is going on in our lives and in the growth of our personalities. We need to let certain parts of ourselves die in order for something new to develop.

This is true for children’s dreams as well wherein the parent dies because there is a need within the child’s psyche for certain relationships with the parent to die in order for the child to continue to develop. When we are fleeing something in our dreams often we are fleeing this need for change and psychic growth. It could be that the child in the above dream doesn’t want to move on from the relationship experienced with the father–wishing to remain connected and not letting go. The fixation at this level will make it difficult to move that part of themselves on and could possibly retard their overall emotional growth.

So, what do we do? Read more

Consequences of letting fear run your life

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In today’s news media we hear about all kinds of mayhem i.e. murder, war, oppression, financial meltdown, high unemployment, ethnic strife, and extreme political partisanship. I’ve also noticed that the more I read, the more anxious and fearful I become and I grow more defensive.

What, I wondered, was causing the seemingly escalating chaos? Could it be something as simple as unchecked fear and was this fear then feeding upon itself? As human beings attempt to deal with their fears, they show up as images in their dreams that sometimes morph into dark and frightening chimera–nightmares. In the Archipelago of Dreams Robert is constantly reacting to his fears and doesn’t know how to effectively deal with them as they come fast and furious and threaten to overwhelm him.

Alas, the typical human response for dealing with that which scares us is to shove it down into the hidden realms of our subconscious mind. In the short run this seems to work and allows us to get through yet another day, but over the long haul the fears become too large to hide and too difficult to manage and we begin to function through our fears as though they were real.

When people operate out of fear their ability to see reality becomes compromised–everything becomes a threat. For those who live in fear, defense–self-protection–becomes the overriding theme of their lives. This posture then fuels their response to their medical needs, leadership, virtually every aspect of public safety, and sometimes even dictates what foods are eaten.

Fear comes from thinking that you are vulnerable to your circumstances and to the events of your life. It is spawned from the animal part of us that reacts instinctively and without thought–the little archaic lizard brain that hides at the base of the skull. In humans it is incorporated into the ego-self, a construct that imagines itself to be small and isolated and thus vulnerable to the world. The reality is anything but–we are immensely bigger than our image of ourselves.

However, in a world where the inhabitants are blind to their reality, they build walls around themselves and “things” become important to their defense. How many things and of what kind becomes a preoccupation. As the inhabitants strive to gather more and more things so as to feel safe they become a thing as well and separate themselves even further from each other. And the separation results in each person exploiting the others for what they think will be their personal gain–what they think will quiet the fear.

When you are separated and alone you begin to feel vulnerable and helpless and the fear grows. It is out of that fear that dictators are born, that institutional and religious dogma is created to control the hoards of unpredictable “others,” and where people create points-of-view designed to protect their selves against what is not them. What was born powerful becomes fragile.

In The Archipelago of Dreams Robert leaves behind the fragile ego of his being world and discovers that he is something much more than he ever dreamed of. As he confronts the real cause of his fears, an awareness grows regarding the cost of self-protection–greed, pride, usury, hate, anger, lust, envy, and the ubiquitous self-righteous points-of-view and all of this resulting in overwhelming disruption in both the personal and collective order. The land is raped of its abundant resources and people become objects toward self-centered ends as the bankers, moneylenders, merchants and political leaders use them for their personal lust for safety.

Eventually the scale that is the world tips too far and everything slides off leaving bankrupt institutions and philosophies, wars, political gridlock, and oppression. And the people rail, and wail, and blame, and build their walls even higher. The walls become so high and fortified that the people lose sight of the soul of the world, what the great American Psychologist, James Hillman called the Anima Mundi, and their own soul as well.

It is from this dysfunctional world that Robert comes to the bigger world of the Spirit that we all come from and will all return to. It is in this world that Robert has been tasked to aide in the reconciliation that must take place within a human being in order for mankind to reunite with his soul and his bigger Self, his Spirit Self.

We were meant to be the light of the world and yet we embraced much too much of the shadow. Robert must find a way to reconnect his lost self, our lost selves. But as he learns all too quickly, this will not be easy and much evil conspires to maintain the status quo and to protect the separation. He will have to find something within him that he was sure didn’t exist, and he had to find it fast because time was not a friend here, and it didn’t flow in only one direction.

 

Beware the Black Magic Poison of the Negative Word

 

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A while ago in a posting that I labeled “A Book Of Laws” I wrote as one of my hidden beliefs regarding myself that, “Thou shalt never be good enough– intelligent enough, attractive enough, worthy enough.“

Though I know better, I’ve also let that little voice in my head that has made that belief so real throughout my life also convince me that I can’t let others know that this is one of my beliefs because beliefs like these show weakness. And a weakness if expressed would then make me vulnerable to all sorts of judgments and abuses by others. To keep this belief covered up I’ve painstakingly created a mask that shows the exact opposite. The problem is that the mask isn’t me, or at least the me I’ve convinced myself of, so regardless of the accolades and acknowledgments that the mask has gotten, I don’t get much satisfaction because you see I “know” it’s all fake–just a cover.

Now don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that the real me is the negative thoughts about myself that I’m hiding, au contraire–neither is the real me. I’m buried behind a covered lie–a mask behind a mask if you will.

Over the years I’ve let the words of others as well as my own words cast a spell of black magic upon me. The inner judge only allows the words that reinforce the “company line” to pass it’s filter. The judge is like the gatekeeper who only opens the gate to those who answer the questions in the right way. Negative judgments are allowed in whereas positive ones are turned away. For example, if the “secret word” for entering the gate is, “I’m ugly” then no matter how beautiful you are you’ll only hear “ugly” when at the gate of consciousness.

I also have this nasty little habit of condemning myself for not being perfect and this perfection varies by whatever standard I’m using at the moment in order to make the judgment. I feel trapped by this, both internally and externally, because the mask of perfection is there to keep me from being rejected by others but also keeps the reason for the mask itself in place e.g. the negative self-image–the idea that I’m not perfect and my inability to forgive myself for that. So I try to pretend that I am what I’m not. But what I think I am, that me I’m trying to hide, isn’t me either!

 

“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.”

Sir Walter Scott

 

And while in this web of deceit we can’t see what and who we are at all. These negative voices that claim to be us are like a virus that has taken over our bodies and minds and keep the real us imprisoned.

In part this process is called “domestication” and is practiced by our parents and the society within which we live. The process is designed to make us acceptable to others. This can be a survival skill, but has profound costs as well especially if you actually think that the “domesticated you” is the real you. Essentially, the process robs us of some of our vitality, our freedom, our authenticity, our creativity and our mental health. For example, those who exhibit a high degree of anxiety, stress and depression are often identified as being neurotic. The stress and anxiety come from being in a situation in which you feel constantly out of control and threatened while the depression is the result of thinking that you’ll never be in control.

When the psyche is trying to be what it is not it is stressful and anxiety producing because there’s no real safety behind the mask. There’s also no love there for love cannot live in judgment or in hiding. Love is an accepting process, not a rejecting process–it is open and inclusive not closed and exclusive. It cannot be expressed through fear because fear words are poisonous and the black magic of the non-loving mind. Fear words are the destroyer of the soul, of the spirit, and the holy. They trap you in a prison of the mind and keep you separate from the heart. They also rob you of the power and energy to control your own life and create your own destiny.

The words we use are like magic, they can uplift, they can free us, they can touch us in love, and unite us with each other and with the spirit, or they can separate us from our true nature, rob us of our sense of security and power, and divide us from each other and God. Be careful with your words–the words you use on yourself, or the words you use on others both directly or in gossiping, for all negative words hurt heard or not.

Be careful also with the words of others especially those that disunite, disempower, and separate you from truth. Be careful of what opinions you let through your gate for words have immense power for good or evil. If they uplift you and those around you, if they bring about a sense of security and love, if they treat all beings with respect and honor, then these words have the power to create a powerful and loving world. If they don’t, then you will experience a hell on Earth of pain, suspicion, fear, anxiety, depression, anger, hate, violence, insecurity, hopelessness and loss–pretty much what most of the world is already experiencing.

Be careful with words- listen carefully to the energy they produce e.g. negative or positive, empowering or disempowering, inclusive or exclusive–you get to choose to either run scared or stand confident, embrace life with love or reject with fear and hatred, go through the illusion of the negative or keep that gate firmly locked and guarded. It’s up to you, uh, me.

Unchain the soul: Another ‘allegory of the cave’

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Welcome to the Dark Knight of the Soul Blog. Here you will find articles that speak to the darker or shadow side to our nature and our dreams.

Not too long ago I was reading an article  that made reference to Plato’s Shadow World, you know, The Allegory of the Cave from his book The Republic.

 In this allegory Plato imagined a group of prisoners chained in a cave facing a wall and unable to turn around. Behind them was an eternally burning flame and between the flame and the prisoners there was a parade of objects and people that cast their shadows upon the wall. To the prisoners their reality was this two dimensional movement of shadows before them. Unknown to them was a reality of immense multidimensional complexity that if they had known of it would have totally explained their universe.

In a lot of ways Plato’s shadow world is a reflection of what the unconscious shadow mind that resides in each of us does to our experience of reality. The cave we live in is the one of our conscious mind and its three dimensional way of seeing things. We too, like the prisoners in Plato’s allegory, cannot “see” the reality behind us when all we have is the wall of our conscious mind to perceive with.

What we are missing is a 4th dimension of space, that created by the unconscious mind– that part of us where we have stuffed what we don’t want to look at, that part of us where the archetypes of the whole of humanity lay informing and forming what we see and what we do. There is a world beyond our conscious awareness that makes up 80-90% of the real world. But unlike Plato’s prisoners we have the ability to “turn around” so as to perceive it, so as to understand the meaning of the world we find ourselves in.

How do we do this? How to we loosen our own chains so as to make the shift in perception? Fortunately it’s pretty easy for the universe has given us the tools to expand our consciousness through our dreams and the art of meditation. Both tap into the Great Unconscious, both give a glimpse as to the world behind us that cast the shadows that lay before us.

Our world is not just the three 3 dimensional reality we’re so familiar with– there’s a 4th dimension to the space/time continuum we’re all used to and it is the realm of the greater psyche and the individual and world soul that informs and enriches its every expression.

Just as Plato’s prisoners saw their shadows as neither positive nor negative the objects that move in our unconscious mind are also neither positive nor negative, it is our conscious mind that labels them as such. This shows up especially with those who have low self-esteem for they cannot see the positive aspect shadows that hide within the unconscious. But there is an inestimable reservoir of creativity that resides in the shadow world of the unconscious mind i.e. both that which is labeled positive and that which is labeled negative contribute significantly to what is created in the conscious world.

Next time you have a dream where a dark something or someone shows up and threatens your dream-self don’t run from it, engage it, start a conversation with it. You may find that such a conversation actually illuminates what’s going on in your life. The shadow often has information to enlighten even though it seems to come from the darkness. Using your dreams to unlock the chains that have kept you staring at only one dimension of reality can be immensely rewarding.