Saturday, 1 February 2014

Recognizing the collective shadow

Recently I posted a first-rate interview with Andrew Harvey in which he comments on 'an inborn hatred of our physical selves, saying that humans are in “a boat of meat that is now exploding,” and the struggle we all go through in acknowledging and loving the evil that’s within all of us.'

Never has there been a time when it has been more urgent to find and acknowledge our own individual and collective shadow

Here is an introduction by Bryan Beck

Currently the collective shadow has run wild. Thus we, as a species, are playing out suicidal tendencies on a global scale - while individually, we are almost entirely unconscious of it.  As this process unfolds, we are going to, collectively and individually, be confronted with more and more shadow material as we face catastrophe and collapse.

The process of exploring and beginning to own our own personal shadows is of immense importance right now. In this way, we can begin to see more clearly, and take full responsibility for, our own roles in the crisis. We can become spiritually prepared instead of being overwhelmed by the shadow material that catastrophes flood us with.

We can grow spiritually into our true Selves and experience more fully the intrinsic link between humanity and the earth/cosmos. Honestly, I see this as our spiritual duty right now, given that the planet seems to be in late-stage hospice.

Only a return to spirit will save us.

Approaching Wholeness
Bryan Beck

Carl Jung’s concept of individuation brought spirituality within the realm of Western psychology. Employing a more holistic approach than Freudian psychology, Jung considered our deepest desires as spiritual rather than sexual. According to his model of the psyche, striving toward wholeness involves reconciling the opposing tendencies within ourselves. This process of individuation, according to Jung, is “the only struggle that is really worth while” (qtd. in Hannah 86).

In order to understand Jung’s worldview, it is first necessary to define a few of its basic tenets. Jung thought of life in terms of archetypes and complexes. He defined archetypes as “active living dispositions, ideas in the Platonic sense, that perform and continually influence our thoughts and feelings and actions” (Stevens 39). Thus, archetypes are ideas that are shared by all of humanity, while manifesting for each of us in unique ways. For example, we can think about the word boy. We all share a fairly common view of what a boy is, yet there are innumerable variations that allow us to differentiate one particular boy from the next. Complexes are “the means through which archetypes manifest themselves in the personal psyche” (Stevens 28).Thus, they are our subjective experiences of the archetypes in our personal lives.

Jung wrote about many archetypes being passed down throughout history. It should be noted that Jung did not consider the archetype as mere metaphor, but rather as a true biological phenomena, a “living organism, endowed with generative force” (qtd. in Stevens 39). Of the Jungian archetypes, a few particular ones are especially relevant to the topic at hand: the Self, the persona, and the shadow.

The Self is the organizing principle of all the remaining archetypes; Jung referred to the Self as “the archetype of archetypes” (qtd. in Stevens 41). This is not the usual concept of self that most Westerners are accustomed to. Rather, as the capitalized S denotes, this is a much broader concept. Many of us may think of our self as our conscious awareness in day-to-day life. In Jungian terms, however, this individual awareness, known as the persona, is just the tip of the iceberg. The Self, to Jung, also contains the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious, a repository of archetypal memories that is shared by all of humanity. In fact, the Self is also equated with the gods and deities of cultures throughout history. In this way, Jung’s conception of the Self is grounded in non-dual philosophy; that is, he conceives of creator and creation as somehow one and the same. By striving toward wholeness, which is each individual’s birthright, we are able to experience our own divinity.

This is not, however, a simple task. Even though we each carry a divine nature, says Jung, most of us rarely recognize it. This is partly because the process of individuation does not typically begin until middle age. During the first half of life, Jung considered it our duty to develop the ego and live a worldly existence. However, there often comes a point, today popularly known as the “midlife crisis”, when individuals can no longer live with the compromises that got them through their earlier life. Explaining this metaphorically, Jung said, “At the stroke of noon the descent begins. And the descent means the reversal of all the ideals and values that were cherished in the morning” (qtd. in Stevens 183). This descent involves a process of identifying and owning our shadow.

The shadow is Jung’s term for the emotionally charged aspects of our selves that have been disowned during our development. In contrast to the shadow is the persona, which is “the role we characteristically play, the face we put on, when relating to others” (qtd. in Stevens 42). The persona is the socially acceptable mask that we wear, and many people consider their persona to be their true self. However, according to Jung, the persona is a superficial construct that only represents a small portion of the personality. By identifying with the persona and ignoring the shadow, we allow the shadow to dissociate and gain autonomy. According to Jung, “Everyone knows nowadays that people ‘have complexes’; what is not so well known is that complexes can have us” (qtd. in Stevens 33). When thought of in terms of the shadow, this means that, as the shadow gains autonomy, it exerts more control over us and causes us to act largely from our unconscious. Jung gives the following definition of the unconscious:

Everything of which I know, but of which I am not at the moment thinking; everything of which I was once conscious but have now forgotten; everything perceived by my senses, but not noted by my conscious mind; everything which, involuntarily and without paying attention to it, I feel, think, remember, want, and do; all the future things which are taking shape in me and will sometime come to consciousness; all this is the content of the unconscious (qtd. in Stevens 31).

And so it is that, the more disowned our shadow, the more we allow unconscious forces to direct our thoughts and behaviors. The process of disowning our shadow, however, is not entirely negative. Indeed, it is necessary for us to build a strong persona as we develop; civilization itself would not be possible if it were not for our tendency to disown the shadow to a certain degree. As mentioned previously, the first half of life is a time dedicated to building a strong ego and finding our own unique places in the world. This process of building a sense of identify involves learning what is socially acceptable; the shadow is disowned during this time out of necessity.

Emergence of the shadow into conscious awareness is typically a painful experience, accompanied by subsequent feelings of guilt and unworthiness. This is another reason that people often have difficulty confronting it. In order to prevent the disowned shadow from impinging upon our conscious awareness, we employ defense mechanisms. Defense mechanisms provide safeguards that allow us to avoid threats to our egos. The chief defense mechanism used to protect us from the shadow is projection. By projecting our shadow out into the world, we see our disowned qualities in others instead of ourselves. While projection is necessary in order for us to develop during the first half of life, it also causes us to misattribute the dark aspects of life onto others, in effect making them our scapegoats. As Jung explained, “projections change the world into the replica of one’s own unknown face” (Jung 9).

According to Jung, all individuals are manifestations of one consciousness, the Self, or as many people commonly refer to it, God. This can be conceptualized by mandalas, which Jung found particularly fascinating. Mandalas are symmetrical works of art that have been used to represent the nature of the soul by mystics throughout the world. Mandalas are designed in quadrants, so that the artwork appears the same no matter which way you look at it. In this way, they represent the infinite nature of the universe. If we think of the world in terms of the mandala, changing one aspect of the artwork creates subsequent changes in the remaining quadrants. Thus it is that Jung perceives reality; our consciousness literally shapes and determines the world around us. By disowning the shadow, we project it onto the world around us and find evil everywhere except within our own selves.

The disowned shadow often presents itself in the form of dreams. It is important to remember that the persona and its defense mechanisms create a barrier that protects us from the unpleasant presence of the shadow. During sleep, however, our persona is no longer in control, and our shadow and other forms of unconscious material are allowed to present themselves. A dream indicative of the shadow emerging might involve being in a military stronghold or other structure that is under attack. An example given by June Singer involves a dream in which one of her analysands found himself in a fortress surrounded by electric fences and barbwire. The fortress was being attacked by elephants who seemed very resilient, and almost impervious to the obstacles preventing their entrance. According to Singer, the elephants symbolize the essential ambiguity of the shadow itself: untamed and disowned, the elephants, like the shadow, create havoc and unwanted destruction. When owned and integrated into awareness, however, the shadow can become a faithful companion, much like a well-trained animal (197-198).

Examples of the contrast between persona and shadow are found throughout mythology and literature: Gilgamesh and Enkidu, Apollo and Dionysus, Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Dante and Virgil, and Faust and Wagner are just a few examples of this “twin” or “unlike brothers” motif. In reference to these pairs, Jolande Jacobi says that “as they form a pair of opposites which taken together constitute a ‘whole’, healing power is attributed to them”; likewise, healing and spiritual growth are found through owning the shadow (40).

While some people are confronted by the shadow earlier in life and some later, most people find themselves in its grip sometime between the ages of 35 and 45. As already mentioned, this correlates with what is known in our culture as the “midlife crisis”. It should be noted that confrontation with the shadow is not something that everyone experiences, but Jung believes that it is necessary if we are to grow spiritually during the second half of life. “Jung saw two possibilities for people as they enter middle age: they either change or they become rigid” (Stevens 186). According to this view, we either confront the shadow and subsequently reap spiritual rewards, or we become more set in our ways and perceive the world in a more dichotomous, “us-and-them”-type manner. I’m sure that we all know of people who seem to become more stubborn and rigid as they grow older; this, according to Jung, is a result of neglecting the shadow and clinging relentlessly to our personas during the second half of life. Coming to terms with the shadow and integrating it into our consciousness is what Jung refers to as the process of individuation:

Individuation is essentially about waking up, becoming conscious and being constantly alive to the possibility in one’s life for growth and development. Jung maintained that some people never wake up, but some wake up early, some in mid-life, others very late – perhaps during a terminal illness or on their deathbed. Possibly in our society those who never wake up are in the majority (Stevens 186).

As previously mentioned, facing the shadow is something that occurs when our previous way of living in the world is no longer sufficient or rewarding. As is common of the midlife crisis, the process often involves confronting our own mortality. Seeing that death is an inevitable part of life, and coming to terms with this fact, are often the first steps toward facing the shadow and loosening its grip on our consciousness. “If one goes on living biologically and economically into the second half without becoming conscious of oneself existentially, then one is missing the point; life, in all essentials, is finished” (Stevens 189). This may seem like a bleak perspective, but it reflects Jung’s emphasis on the spiritual nature of life: if the individual does not develop spiritually through the process of individuation, then one is forfeiting his or her birthright as a spiritual being.

People often misunderstand the process of owning the shadow. It is a common misconception that owning the shadow involves “living out one’s shadow qualities” (Hannah 87). People who understand the shadow in this manner see the process of individuation as a license to get away with all sorts of immoral activities. According to Jung, however, owning the shadow involves becoming aware of the ways in which we project our own disowned qualities onto others. This process does not involve acting out our less desirable instincts; rather, it involves owning those instincts and accepting that they exist, while ceasing to project the blame onto others.

Often the process of owning the shadow is facilitated by a Jungian analyst. The analyst is indispensable in some cases because the shadow is so difficult to identify on one’s own. In fact, it is much more likely for the people around us to notice our projections than it is for us to see them ourselves. According to Jung, “No matter how obvious it may be to the neutral observer that it is a matter of projections, there is little hope that the subject will perceive this himself. He must be convinced that he throws a very long shadow before he is willing to withdraw his emotionally-toned projections from their object” (Jung 9). Anthony Stevens gives an example of what it means to identify the shadow during the course of analysis:

If he happens to possess overt racial prejudices, it is sufficient to ask him what it is about people of different color that he dislikes. Common responses are that they are untrustworthy, sexually promiscuous or perverse, morally delinquent, dirty in their personal habits and so on. Should he deny all racial prejudice, then it is usually sufficient to persuade him to talk about the sort of person that he cannot stand. Once he gets going, he will give you a fairly good picture of his shadow (45).

By pointing out to the individual that these shadow qualities are a projection, the analyst attempts to instill a new sense of personal responsibility in the client. Many people have difficulty accepting this, as they find it much more comfortable and simpler to continue blaming others. It is up to the individual whether he or she wants to continue exploring this path, or simply fall back into the safety of projection.

For the individual who chooses the path of individuation, this is just the beginning of a long, and potentially arduous, process. Owning the shadow is an ongoing process that is never completely finished; the individual who undertakes this adventure is continually confronted by more and more subtle forms of their own projections (Meier 91). As the shadow becomes more integrated into the individual’s personality, other archetypes beyond the shadow, namely the anima and animus, begin to emerge into consciousness. Processing these archetypes involves another process altogether, a process which is beyond the scope of this paper.

Jung sees these processes perpetuated on both an individual and collective level; collectively speaking, groups and factions disown their shadows by blaming and attributing evil to other groups. This is the same process that occurs within individuals, except that its effects can be more disastrous, in cases such as war and mass genocide. Whether we agree with Jung about the validity of his model is a matter of personal opinion and experience. However, I think that we can all benefit from taking time to reflect upon our thoughts and actions before rushing to judgment. As Jesus asks in Luke 6:41, "Why do you observe the splinter in your brother's eye and never notice the great log in your own?" In this world of people quick to point the finger and blame each other, owning the shadow is a very noble path to choose.

Works Cited

Hannah, Barbara. The Inner Journey: Lectures and Essays on Jungian Psychology. Toronto: Inner City Books, 1999.

Jacobi, Jalonde. The Way of Individuation. Trans. R F. Hull. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1967.

Jung, Carl G. Aion: Researches Into the Phenomenology of the Self. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1959.

Meier, C. A. Personality: the Individuation Process in the Light of C.G. Jung's Typology. Trans. David N. Roscoe. Einsiedeln, Switzerland: Daimon, 1977.

Singer, June. Boundaries of the Soul. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1972.

Stevens, Anthony. On Jung. 2nd ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1999.

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