In his daily meditation on the Center for Action and Contemplation, Father Richard Rohr spent the week curating posts about the Shadow. This link takes you to a summary of the week’s posts on the topic of the shadow-side of human existence.
Our shadow self is any part of ourselves or our institutions that we try to hide or deny because it seems socially unacceptable. (Sunday)
The shadow-side of ourselves represents the things we tend not to know about ourselves. They remain hidden from our consciousness because we have not integrated them into our “real self.” It is through the process of working on our shadow, making it come into our consciousness, that we become whole.
In his book, the Hidden Wholeness, Parker Palmer writes about “living divided no more.” While he doesn’t make a direct parallel between a “divided life” and the shadow-side of life, I definitely see a connection that feels powerful. A divided life is manifested in a person who has not learned to integrate their soul and their role. Palmer writes:
The divided life, at the bottom, is not a failure of ethics. It is a failure of human wholeness.
Human wholeness is achieved when we have learned to pay attention to our shadow and integrate it into our “real self ” or the role we play.
Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology, brought into the lexicon the idea of the shadow. In Jungian terms, the shadow is defined as:
the portion of our personality which, through the course of our life, is relegated to the darkness of the unconscious. (click here)
If we ignore our shadow it has a way of entering into our way of being through the unconscious and actively influencing how we behave in many ways. It is through building self-awareness, self-monitoring, and reflective skills that we learn to recognize our shadow. Once recognized, we can start the process of integrating our understanding of it into our daily lives, into our roles. In this way, we become whole.
An important thing to remember about the shadow is that it is not negative. It is mainly what we perceive to be “dark” or inadequate about ourselves that we don’t want to admit. So, we relegate it to our unconscious; however, it never leaves and is always there to cause us trouble.
In the Tuesday post, Rohr brings it all together for me when he reflects on the work of Robert Johnson, a Jungian psychoanalyst, who wrote a book, Owning your Own Shadow. Rohr writes by referencing Johnson’s work:
We are all born whole and, let us hope, will die whole. But somewhere early on our way, we eat one of the wonderful fruits of the tree of knowledge, things separate into good and evil, and we begin the shadow-making process: we divide our lives. In the cultural process, we sort out our God-given characteristics into those that are acceptable to society and those that have to be put away. This is wonderful and necessary, and there would be no civilized behavior without this sorting out of good and evil. But the refused and unacceptable characteristics do not go away; they only collect in the dark corners of our personality. When they have been hidden long enough, they take on a life of their own—the shadow life.
In education, we cannot stand around and ignore the way our school cultures contribute to students beginning to see the world as “good and evil.” We have to provide them with the knowledge, skills, and understanding of themselves, so they are more likely to stay on a path towards wholeness. This means for example that we have to help them see that something like patriotism or nationalism can be a way of elevating the ego and closeting the shadow. Are there good and evil nations, or is it that all nations do good and evil things. Healing and understanding come from not demonizing the other.
We see so many political leaders across the globe, as well as other people referenced in the popular press, who live divided lives because their shadow remains hidden and not integrated. All we have to do is listen to their words and watch their actions.
If we are going to heal our world, coming together as one people who occupy a single planet, we must start with ourselves and begin to look at our shadow, understand it, give voice to it, and integrate it. Start with Robert Johnson’s book.