Facing Reality — Center for Action and Contemplation

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Facing Reality

Shadow Work

Facing Reality
Friday, September 13, 2019

To love is to be conscious, and to be fully conscious would mean we are capable of loving. Sin always proceeds from lack of consciousness. Most people are just not aware and not fully living in their own present moment. When Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke 23:34), he was absolutely right. Most people are on cruise control, and most of their reactions are habituated responses—not fully conscious choices.

We may have moments when we are conscious of our real motivations and actual goals, but it takes years of practice, honesty, and humility to be consistently awake. Whenever we do not love, we are at that moment unconscious. If we consistently choose to defend our imagined state of separateness, then, spiritually speaking, we are unconscious, or in religious language “in sin.” As has often been said, unless we make the unconscious conscious, it will direct our life and we will think of it as fate.

Spiritual maturity is to become aware that we are not the persona (mask) we have been presenting to others. That is why saints are humble and scoundrels are arrogant. We must become intentional about recognizing and embracing our shadows. Religion’s word for this is quite simply forgiveness, which is pivotal and central on the path of transformation.

This can be painful as we realize that even when we thought we were loving, we often really weren’t. And when we thought we were bad and sinful, we often weren’t that either! Facing reality is also liberating because we recognize that our manufactured self-image is nothing substantial or lasting; it is just created out of our own mind, desire, and choice—and everyone else’s opinions of us! The movement to second-half-of-life wisdom requires serious shadow work and the emergence of healthy self-critical thinking—but without condemning or shaming that same self. That is the truly “narrow gate and hard road that few follow upon” (Matthew 7:14).

There is no shortage of opportunities to discover your personal or corporate shadow. As Jung said, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” [1] In the end, the face we turn toward ourself is the face we will turn toward the outer world.

[1] C. G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, recorded and edited by Aniela Jaffé, trans. Richard and Clara Winston (Vintage Books: 1989), 247.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, unpublished “Rhine” talks (2015); and

Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass: 2011), 129-130.

Image credit: Girl Before a Mirror (detail), Pablo Picasso, 1932, Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NY.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The face we turn toward our own unconscious is the face we turn toward the world. —Richard Rohr
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