Monday, January 28, 2013
Have you ever thought about your shadow self?
Recently, I wandered into a small bookstore in Beaufort, South Carolina (no big box stores here!). I loved seeing piles of old books lining the shelves and stacked on the floor, their covers tattered and a bit ragged, gently returned to the sea of reading, like a too small fish off the back of the boat.
I asked the owner for books on psychology and he led me to the bottom row of a shelf.
"Here," he said, pointing to a haphazard jumble. "The owner likes to categorize things in a funny way, so I hope this is what you're looking for." I leafed through the collection. An old book on Freud, a manual on counseling school children, a dogeared copy of Psychology for Dummies.
Way down underneath, I saw a book with an unusual cover. I knelt down, flipped it open, and read the dust jacket: a lithograph by George Tooker entitled, The Mirror.
Seven dollars bought me this book, complete with an inscription.
As an archaeologist, I'm always digging. Whether in the earth of Greece, the bowels of a bookstore, or ploughing the depths of my psychic self. This book came to me at a good time. I needed to hear its message - that we are not complete until we integrate the parts of ourself we like and admire with the parts of ourself we do not like or admire, and in fact, we fear. We fear being unmasked. We fear others will find out that we are not always courageous and bold, loving and kind, but that we are sometimes filled with fear, anger, or are ungenerous. We don't like these parts of ourselves.
In Owning Your Own Shadow, I found a new hero of the psychological world in Jungian analyst Robert A. Johnson. A quiet, unassuming man in his 90s, his message rings true today as it did when he wrote this book almost 20 years ago. To plumb the depths of our shadow self takes courage, to look at those parts we don't like, of which we are afraid. But in so doing, we find a richness of self we didn't know we possessed, for the shadow is where much of our creative energies are stored.
"The high creativity of our modern society can be maintained only if we will recognize the shadow that accompanies it and pay out that shadow in an intelligent way," Johnson says. Because our shadow is pushed away, rejected and sealed off into parts of our psyche that make it unreachable, that pent up energy makes itself known as unspoken fears and aggression. No longer able to be contained, it spills over and unleashes itself in so many ways - anger, bitterness and jealousy towards friends and family, or more deeply pathological ways with which we are familiar: shootings, acts of violence and outright war. Johnson advocates for us to acknowledge the shadow through ritual acts that engage our creative self, enabling a balance to occur.
Light cannot exist without a corresponding darkness. Instead of fearing the darkest parts of our psyche, I too recommend we spend some time looking at that shadow. Perhaps, hiding within, will be a lost part of ourself that has been waiting a long time for us to show up. A part that will make us whole.
Speaking of shadows, we are heading into a day most famous for them, February 2.
May you all find what you seek in your shadow.