“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular. ~Carl Jung, CW 13: Alchemical Studies, par 335.
Opposites. A basic theorem of Jungian psychology is that for everything we know about ourselves—beliefs, values, attitudes, emotions—there is a corresponding unconscious opposite. This is because we see everything in terms of either-or, good-bad, and automatically disown and repress the less desirable option.
For example, your family stressed the importance of love and kindness. Growing up you emulated these values and were affirmed for it. You think of yourself as a kind and loving person. Yet, there have been times when you were filled with anger and hate and your good intentions flew out the window. Nevertheless, because being anything less than “good” according to your family’s standards doesn’t fit your image of yourself, you’ve justified your “lapses.” After all, you know how hard you try, how well-meaning you are, so it had to have been the other person’s fault. You were right/good, so they were wrong/bad. Right?
But, guess what. Your “negative” emotions and thoughts don’t go away just because you deny or ignore them. They merely sink beneath your conscious awareness to a place where your ego can’t see them. We call this dark realm the unconscious. As your ego is the center of your conscious self, your shadow is the center of your unconscious self. Since you’re a reasonable person, your ego is probably willing to admit to a few shadow qualities here and there. But for every “flaw” you acknowledge, there are many others of which you have no conscious knowledge.
Projection. This leads to a second basic theorem of Jungian psychology: Whatever we disown in ourselves we project onto others. Those onto whom we project our shadow have a “flaw” similar to one of our own. Jungians say they have a “hook” onto which we can hang a disowned quality of our shadow. The hook can be a minor personality trait that can be easily overlooked or a major one that consistently causes problems for them and others. Either way, we are easily offended by people who remind us of our shadow. This gives us a simple way to see our shadows if we’re willing to look, and provides us with a handy scapegoat if we’re not.
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” ~Carl Jung, Memories Dreams and Reflections, Page 247.
Entropy. A third psychological reality Jung stressed is that when opposites remain isolated from one another, any disorder lurking within them remains constant or increases. Thus, the longer we ignore our shadow, the more apt it is to cause trouble. Refusing to acknowledge it when it shows up is therefore not only psychologically ignorant, but dangerous. Unfortunately, the Western world does not recognize the shadow, either in individuals or in collective consciousness, and our ignorance perpetuates our prejudices, hypocrisy, broken relationships, self-righteousness, crime, war, and destruction of our planet.
“Only an infantile person can pretend that evil is not at work everywhere, and the more unconscious he is, the more the devil drives him. It is just because of this inner connection with the black side of things that it is so incredibly easy for the mass man to commit the most appalling crimes without thinking. Only ruthless self-knowledge on the widest scale, which sees good and evil in correct perspective and can weigh up the motives of human action, offers some guarantee that the end-result will not turn out too badly.” ~Carl Jung, Aion, ¶ 255.
This election season has pitted two candidates who couldn’t be more different against one another. Never, in the history of our country, has the divide between two potential presidents been wider. Never have so many citizens of the United States or the world been so shaken by this ugly polarization. Never has the collective shadow of America been so obvious to all.
Beneath all our conscious beliefs and rationalizations we are being influenced by our shadows. The less self-aware among us are defending the candidate who most represents their ego’s self-image and who promises to serve their self-interest; and they are projecting evil onto the “other” candidate and anyone else who carries hooks for their repressed shadows.
“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.” ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. 1, Pages 236-237.
The only lasting contribution any of us can make to world health and planetary peace is to know our own shadow well enough to restrain it without projecting more darkness into a world that already has enough to destroy us all. One pair of opposites has the power to determine our fate. Love is the most powerful healing and unifying force in life. Hate is the most divisive and destructive.
Hating our shadow and seeing it in others instead of ourselves will set us on a path of conflict and destruction. Owning our shadow will activate compassion, ethical behavior, wholeness and enlightened consciousness.Will we choose to see and befriend our shadow and the people who carry it, thereby serving love? Or will we choose to ignore our inner darkness and hate the people who remind us of it?
Which way will your vote go?
Image Credits: The Good and Evil Angels, Blake, Wikimedia Commons. Sending Out the Scapegoat, Wikimedia Commons. Witch Hunt, Wikimedia Commons. The Red Button, Wikimedia Commons.
While empowering our masculine sides was a necessary phase of our psycho-spiritual development, our ego’s repression of our feminine sides has brought about the dangerous imbalances we see in today’s world. But to put all the blame on males and masculine values, or the patriarchies, Gods and religions they created, is just more projecting! The truth is that most of us are still divided and incomplete. The Great Mystery of Life some call God didn’t want to punish Adam and Eve and the people of Babel any more than it wants to punish us. It wants us to grow into our fullness, but our divided egos are resisting it with all their strength.
There is a time for everything. The dualism that gave rise to our evolving ego and developing Christ potential has become our worst enemy: the anti- Christ. And as long as we repress unwanted parts of ourselves and project them onto others—whether these be our compulsive instincts, dangerous emotions, or frightening aspects of our masculine and feminine sides—we will struggle through the darkness of confusion and the world will be a dangerous place.
Fortunately, our inborn urge to transcend our limitations is still at work. For the first time in human history, the relatively new science of psychology is revealing the unconscious forces within us that led us to this precipice, and this understanding is expanding our ego’s awareness. We are seeing that the cherished God-image of a Father/God/ King who is an objective reality beyond ourselves and prefers our tribe to any other is a product of dualistic thinking which has created religious bigotry, divisiveness, narrow-mindedness, repression, persecution, fanaticism, and terrorism.
The extreme polarization that permeates society today is intolerable to many of us. But what can you and I possibly do if the world’s greatest thinkers, philosophers, political leaders and spirit persons have failed to create healing change? Does it make sense to redouble our commitment to the very thought- patterns and ideologies that brought us to this point, or are we ready for radical change? And if we are, what might healthy change look like?
A lifetime of searching has led me to a path that works for me. There’s nothing new about it. Every mystic and authentic spirit person from every religion has always known about it because it’s always existed in us. This is a way of intentional and persistent self-examination in service to consciously connecting all pairs of opposites. I call it the path of Mandorla Consciousness. Imagine two circles that move toward each other until they overlap. The almond-shaped symbol created by their merging is a mandorla. Christianity has long considered this a holy place of transformation and transcendence because Christianity is founded on compassion, and compassion requires integration with otherness.
Our potential for Mandorla Consciousness is the same potential humanity once associated with Sophia’s holistic wisdom. But before we can return to this holy space and know it for what it truly is, we need to undergo the initiatory ordeal of suffering into consciousness. We need to see our resistance to the pain of growing. We need to understand that our ancestors justified their fear of change by imagining a God who didn’t want them to change either. We need to admit to our own fears, and experience the sacred healing power of love that sleeps at our core and is unveiled when we open ourselves to otherness.
Our hope for personal and world peace lies in self-discovery. This work begins as we acknowledge our individual and cultural shadows, and it comes to fruition when we invite our disowned masculine and feminine sides into our awareness. By facing our own capacity for evil as well as good, we will acquire humility and compassion for others. By accepting our soul’s potential for wholeness we will free ourselves from the chains of inferiority and self- hate. And by honoring the nobility and worth of our inner Mother/Queen and inviting her to enjoy equal partnership with our Father/King, we will embrace otherness and return to our true home: a conscious, evolving partnership with the Sacred Mystery of life.
Note: This post and the previous one were originally published by the Center for Action and Contemplation under the title, The Mandorla Consciousness. Radical Grace, Summer 2012, vol. 25, no 3, p. 18.
The Wilbur Award is given by the Religion Communicators Council for excellence in communicating religious faith and values in the public arena and for encouraging understanding among faith groups on a national level.