Embracing the Shadow
Friday, July 15, 2016
The movement to full wisdom has much to do with necessary shadow work and the emergence of healthy self-critical thinking, which alone allows you to see beyond your own shadow and disguise and to find who you are “chosen in Christ from the beginning of the world” (see Ephesians 1:4ff). The Zen masters are saying the same thing when they speak of “the face you had before you were born.” This metaphysical self cannot die and always lives in God; it is your True Self, and is probably what we mean by the soul.
Jesus said, “The lamp of the body is the eye” (Luke 11:34). Spiritual maturity is largely a growth in seeing. Full seeing seems to take most of our lifetime. There is a cumulative and exponential growth in peoples’ perception, for those who do their inner work. There is also a cumulative closing down in people who have denied all shadow work and humiliating self-knowledge. This is the classic closed mind and heart that we see in some older people. The Nuremburg trials, where many Nazis remained in total denial and maintenance of their positive self-image, is a stark example of this. The longer you persist in not asking for forgiveness, the harder it becomes because you have more and more years of illusion to justify. Allow conversion when you are young, if possible!
All physical shadows are created by a mixture of darkness and light, and this is the entire and only spectrum of human vision. We cannot see inside of total light or total darkness. Think about that. As the shadows of things gradually show themselves as understandable and real, you lose interest in idealizing or idolizing persons or events, especially yourself. As Jesus says to the rich young man, “Only God is good” (Mark 10:18). All created things are a mixture of good and not so good.
This does not mean you stop loving other people; in fact, it means you actually begin to truly love people and things! It does not mean self-hatred or self-doubt, but finally accepting both your gifts and your weaknesses as fully your own—they no longer cancel one another out. You can eventually do the same for others too, and you do not let one or the other fault in a person destroy your larger relationship with them. Now you understand the importance of contemplative (nondualistic) thinking as absolutely necessary for human flourishing. It is the change that changes everything else. It makes love, forgiveness, and patience possible. Without it, we are trapped inside of our judgments.
Gateway to Silence:
Help me see as You see.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass: 2011), 130, 134.