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.

The Mystic’s Journey: A voice in the darkness can lead into the light

 

walk-dark-light-5.jpgWalking in darkness, unseen for he had never beheld the light. He didn’t know it was there because for him there had been only the night.

Walking, walking, a forest path, a city sidewalk, a sandy beach, a mountain trail, then down a slippery slope toward the parking lot something reached in and gripped his heart and stole his mind, turned it inside out and twisted his reality.

And it’s never looked the same, sounded the same, felt the same since.

In each a voice overran the mindless chatter and filled him with a sound so complete, so beautiful, and so loving that he found it hard to breathe and the world gave promise to a way of being beyond all its pretty words.

But as time passed the promise of those extraordinary moments seemed to fade into the darkening mist of the every day.

“What now?” said he, and the voice was still and his heart became darker and the black crept back into his world.

Then a soft and loving breeze came upon him and swirled about and within leaving him with barely heard but solidly felt words of assurance, “You’re on your own now. You have what was once secret but now visible to you no matter where you turn your head. But don’t hold for too long for it’s only yours so long as you keep giving it away.”

At that moment everything changed for everything became an opportunity to give it away and the promise came out of the mist and pointed the way. Giving became getting, letting go was an act of love and he walked out of the darkness and into the sunlight.

What is this darkness of which the young man spoke and what of the light that dispels it?

It is the darkness of unknowing, of the unconscious and of not wanting to know what is beyond the horizon of your mind.

The light is of the flash of knowing, and facing the legions of bogey men that hide in the dark alleys of the unexplored. It is the brilliance that dispels all dark things that go bump in the night. It is your beautiful face long unseen because you turned away too soon, listening to others and to the voice implanted by those who knew only the blackness as well. Alas, we embrace ignorance too easily you and I because it feels safer hiding here in this cave, this waking dream of a frightened mind.

Once in a while after much running in the opposite direction the light blows in and disrupts all our best intentions that often produce the worst results and shakes us to our core, scrambling the carefully built fantasy and opening us to the fearsome reality of real love. Once in a while someone awakes from the dream and can never return to the land of the dark. It is called a mystical experience and those who walk into the light of the experience can never fully return to the cave and become obligated to be of the world instead of just in it.

These are the children of the ecstatic, the modern-day mystics if you will. Often the light is thrust upon them in that they weren’t seeking it, reluctant really, but once enlightened, becoming obligated to share it.

But many times it’s the seeker that finds at their darkest moment, the moment when they have given up the search, the light will grab them and shake them awake.

May the light grab you and shake you awake before it’s too late and you have to do it all over again.