Monday, January 28, 2013

Shadow Self


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.

26 comments:

  1. This is very interesting, Amanda.

    Yes, I think we need to recognise and come to terms with our shadow self, understand it as much as our sunlight self, learn to control and exploit its dark and creative energy — so that it doesn't take on a frightening, anarchic and uncontrollable life of its own. Though too much control, and perhaps the creative spark may be lost?

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    1. i don't know, robert. maybe control is what we are trying to do too much?

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  2. It was while exploring my shadow that I discovered I was a Bear trapped in a Human body. This was a liberating experience, in that it helped make sense of some things in my life. But that, in turn, led to more challenging discoveries, which still puzzle me, and hint at more things to come.

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    1. it must be challenging to be a bear but i can only imagine the multitude of benefits. watching my own pets, i admire the purity of their needs and lack of concern about what others think.

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  3. interesting. I've always been all too aware of my shadow - it comes out way too often.

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    1. in your writing?? (if so, good for you tom :))

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  4. Interesting. I always wonder about the dark side of our selves. It sure takes a lot of courage to explore it though - there may be many things which we may now wish to know about our shadow self.

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    1. yes, our shadow contains all we fear about ourselves, so we must be brave (or coerced) into exploring it.

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  5. Amanda, you're on to something BIG!
    How is it that we haven't been talking about this? Our dark side is more basic and truthful than our projected self. Time to unearth/redirect our gaze and talk about these things.

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    1. i like your archaeological choice of words, rosaria. the time is definitely here to unearth what is hidden in our shadowself.

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  6. I do like shadows because then, I am sure that there´s the warmth of the Sun above us.And after this post, I guess I will find other ways to face my shadow. Thank you for sharing this message with us.
    And your description about the bookstore took me to places and dreams that someday I would like to go...
    And it reminded me of an old good book: 84 Charing Cross Street by Helene Hanff

    Have a great week, dear Amanda!

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    1. so true, mina. the shadow should always be a reminder that is exists only because there is a source of Light.

      i'm always game for a good book suggestion so will have to look that one up!

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  7. I feel there is a difference between our shadow self and our shadowy side. Our shadow self is a reflecting image with details removed and is an intriguing aspect of life; our shadowy side is to be explored and better known to prevent unwanted outbursts.
    Our shadow is a kind of guardian angel, the shadowy is the Id, the bad angel. You can't escape a christian education, can you? Even if you wish.

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    1. i like the way you combine Christian concepts with psychological elements to explain the shadow self. yes, we are all influenced by our upbringing and whether or not it was religious in nature. i may no longer be a church-goer, but my catholic upbringing has left a rich dent in my psyche.

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  8. So interesting.....the book store (I have an equivilent in SF's Green Apple)), the book inscription, the book itself - and of course - the photos! Shadowy-self - real-self... questions that have been posed for centuries....and how exciting that they were - and still continue to be!

    Love,

    ♥ Robin ♥

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    1. long live the independent book store - yay!! there is no substitute for dust covered shelves and old books out of print. can't get that in a barnes and noble can you? hehe

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  9. Wonderful post..enjoy your shadow journeys! yes the shadow self has always been a fascinating journey to understand and embrace..the space you can truly tap into great energy and creative resource..and even more untapped essence!
    Lovely photos..
    Shine on
    Victoria

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    1. and of all people, i've no doubt that you would truly understand this, victoria♡

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  10. What a find Amanda ... it's been quite some time since my shadow fell across your door; I'm so glad it just did and I got to read this timely post.

    We've had a few days of damaging rain and wind and yesterday morning was the first day the sun broke through the clouds and I was able to take some photos of the fallen trees and limbs, I had to turn to check that I was getting the photos ok in doing so there was my shadow directly below the part of the tree I had just been capturing and without thinking I said hello you, haven't seen you for a while then reached up my arm as if to touch the limb that had been damaged in the storm. Later in the day I thought of all the times I would have loved to hang and watch from that limb and I'd just seen my shadow get to do it ... now I'm wondering which one of "us" thought to take the photo of that moment and return to the blogworld.

    Smiles to you*!*

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    1. annie!!! so happy to see you back in blogland!!

      which one of us indeed - i love the image of your shadow (or you???) hanging from the limb......maybe we will never know!!

      will look forward to visiting your blog once more!!

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  11. Amanda, what a wonderfully inspiring and substantial post. I think I need to get this book. I have once written a similar post on human duality and hinted at much the same subjects, that indeed we are not completely bad or good, but we are a mix of the good and the bad and embracing both, trying to balance these out is what makes us live fully.;)
    I hope Groundhog day will bring some good news, I am so done with winter, even though if it can be beautiful, it always feels way too long to a summer child such as me.;)
    xoxo

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  12. it's a difficult topic for those who want to bring light into the world, but necessary. in the end we have to give up our simple mythologies and dig for deeper and more complicated ones, and yet in spite of the darkness which exists inside of each of us, we must continue to work toward the light.

    in this post i recognize parts of myself i have been unwilling to admit, truly admit. sometimes we use words of definition as a crutch that we can then lazily throw away. i can say that there are parts of me that are selfish, shallow and cruel, but admitting this is nothing. we can articulate and toss. i have a lot of work to do in articulating these shadow selves, accepting them as real and them living with and through them, making the best choices around my very complicated self.

    i love the last photograph especially. in my mind i turn it to black and white, not that anything is black and white, but to see more clearly the mid-tones.)))

    xo
    erin

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  13. You always create interesting posts but this one is really really thought provoking. It's a fascinating subject and one which shaman all over the world have written about. How wonderful that your unearthed discovery of this book has set you thinking. Serendipity? Minerva ~

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  14. I love how you unify your posts with a theme and that final image is stunning - the dark and light are in balance and you can feel the inner glow.

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  15. I like the idea of there being no light or dark, no opposition, but since I've yet to move on to a place of oneness, I agree with you, and Johnson and Jung.
    It seems all the works of art I'm drawn to have a strong dark side, and I think this is so because in order to be truly creative one must know both sides of reality and all the inbetweens.
    Your posts are so refreshing Amanda--they make me stop and think.

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