Theme:
Shadow Work

Shadow Work

Summary: Sunday, September 8—Friday, September 13, 2019

Our shadow self is any part of ourselves or our institutions that we try to hide or deny because it seems socially unacceptable. (Sunday)

Carl Jung had a mixed past—don’t we all?—yet his very mistakes usually led him to recognize and heal the shadow self that lurks in our personal unconscious and is then projected outward onto others. (Monday)

Generally, the first half of life is devoted to the cultural process—gaining one’s skills, raising a family, disciplining one’s self in a hundred different ways; the second half of life is devoted to restoring the wholeness (making holy) of life. —Robert A. Johnson (Tuesday)

Any repair of our fractured world must start with individuals who have the insight and courage to own their own shadow. —Robert A. Johnson (Wednesday)

God and religion, I am afraid, have been used to justify most of our violence and to hide from the shadow parts of ourselves that we would rather not admit. (Thursday)

Spiritual maturity is to become aware that we are not the persona (mask) we have been presenting to others. We must become intentional about recognizing and embracing our shadows. Religion’s word for this is quite simply forgiveness. (Friday)

 

Practice: Pay Attention

The term shadow refers to everything within us that we don’t know about ourselves. It’s often called our disowned self. Jesus called it “the log in your own eye,” which you instead notice as the “splinter in your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5). His advice is absolutely perfect: “Take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye” (7:5).

Human consciousness does not emerge at any depth except through struggling with our shadow. It is in facing our conflicts, criticisms, and contradictions that we grow. It is in the struggle with our shadow self, with failure, or with wounding that we break into higher levels of consciousness. People who learn to expose, name, and still thrive inside the contradictions are prophets.

Psychologist Stanley Milgram (1933–1984), who was significantly influenced by the Holocaust, saw the essence of the problem clearly:

Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority. [1]

Working to become aware of our shadow so that we can live in greater alignment with our True Self—which is Love—is rewarding yet challenging work. There are many perspectives on how to best accomplish it. One step that is practiced in virtually all approaches involves increasing awareness by introspective, contemplative practice. Here is one very important shadow work practice as taught by leadership coach Scott Jeffrey:

Shining the light of consciousness on the shadow takes effort and continual practice. The more you pay attention to your behavior and emotions, the better chances you have of catching your shadow in the act. We tend to project our disowned parts onto other people.

One of the best ways to identify your shadow is to pay attention to your emotional reactions toward other people. Sure, your colleagues might be aggressive, arrogant, inconsiderate, or impatient, but if you don’t have those same qualities within you, you won’t have a strong reaction to their behavior.

If you’re paying close attention, you can train yourself to notice your shadow when you witness strong negative emotional responses to others. But we rarely have time to work with those emotions on the spot. At the end of the day, it’s helpful to take five or ten minutes to reflect on your interactions with others and your related reactions.

Whatever bothers you in another is likely a disowned part within yourself. Get to know that part, accept it, make it a part of you, and next time, it may not evoke a strong emotional charge when you observe it in another. [2]

References:
[1] Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View (Harper Torchbooks: 1975, ©1974), 6.

[2] Scott Jeffrey, “A Complete Guide to Working With Your Shadow,” https://scottjeffrey.com/wp-content/uploads/Shadow-Work-Guide.pdf.

For Further Study:
Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled: Humanity at the Crossroads (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1995)

Robert A. Johnson, Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche (HarperSanFrancisco: 1991)

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

C. G. Jung, On Christianity, ed. Murray Stein (Princeton University Press: 1999)

Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1999, 2003)

Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass: 2011)

Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent Books: 2019)

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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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.

References:
[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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Shadow Work

Doing the Inner Work
Thursday, September 12, 2019

People often asked Dr. Jung, “Will we make it?” referring to the cataclysm of our time. He always replied, “If enough people will do their inner work.” This soul work is the one thing that will pull us through any emergency. —Robert Johnson [1]

Historian René Girard (1923–2015) demonstrated that the scapegoat mechanism is probably the foundational principle for the formation of most social groups and cultures. [2] We seldom consciously know that we are scapegoating or projecting. As Jesus said, people literally “do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). In fact, the effectiveness of this mechanism depends on not seeing it! It’s automatic, ingrained, and unconscious. “She made me do it.” “He is guilty.” “He deserves it.” “They are the problem.” “They are evil.” Humans should recognize their own negativity and sinfulness, but instead we largely hate or blame almost anything else.

Unless scapegoating can be consciously seen and named through concrete rituals, owned mistakes, or “repentance,” the pattern will usually remain unconscious and unchallenged. It took until the twentieth century for modern psychology to recognize how humans almost always project their unconscious shadow material onto other people and groups, but Jesus revealed the pattern two thousand years ago. “When anyone kills you, they will think they are doing a holy duty for God,” he said (John 16:2). We hate our own faults in other people, and sadly we often find the best cover for that projection in religion. God and religion, I am afraid, have been used to justify most of our violence and to hide from the shadow parts of ourselves that we would rather not admit.

Yet Scripture rightly calls such ignorant hatred and killing “sin,” and Jesus came precisely to “take away” (John 1:29) our capacity to commit it—by exposing the lie for all to see. Like talking with a good spiritual director or counselor, gazing at the Crucified One helps us see the lie in all its tragedy.

Remember, Jesus stood as the innocent one who was condemned by the highest authorities of both “church and state” (Rome and Jerusalem). This should make us suspicious of power. But those in power do not want us to see this, and that’s why religion has concentrated so much on the private sins of the flesh. More often we admire and accept public sins in our public figures: pride, ambition, greed, gluttony, false witness, sanctioned killing, vanity, et cetera.

As John puts it, “He will show the world how wrong it was about sin, about who was really in the right, and about true judgment” (16:8). This is what Jesus exposed and defeated on the cross. He did not come to change God’s mind about us. It did not need changing. Jesus came to change our minds about God—and about ourselves—and about where goodness and evil really lie.

References:
[1] Robert A. Johnson, Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche (HarperSanFrancisco: 1991), 112-113.

[2] I highly recommend Gil Bailie’s book Violence Unveiled: Humanity at the Crossroads (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1995) which explains Girard’s teachings in a helpful and hopeful way.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent Books: 2019), 150-151.

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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Shadow Work

Nodding to the Shadow
Wednesday, September 11, 2019

I want to emphasize that the shadow is not inherently evil or wrong; it varies from culture to culture. In the United States today, white dominant culture prizes competition, urgency, individualism, niceness (or avoidance of conflict), and logic. Other values and ways of being, such as cooperation, appropriate self-care, community, and vulnerability, are often seen as inferior. We cause so much harm and lose so much possibility by fearing our differences. By reclaiming our shadow we can tap into greater compassion and creativity.

Jungian psychotherapist Robert Johnson continues explaining how the shadow functions and how we might work with it:

It is useful to think of the personality as a teeter-totter or see-saw. Our acculturation consists of sorting out our God-given characteristics and putting the acceptable ones on the right [visible] side of the seesaw and the ones that do not conform on the left [shadow side]. It’s an inexorable law that no characteristic can be discarded; it can only be moved to a different point on the seesaw. . . .

Johnson suggests that we should hide the culturally unacceptable parts from society, but not from ourselves. I agree that we must nod to our own shadow, name it for what it is, and give it the recognition it needs so that it won’t unconsciously control us. Likewise, it may not always serve us to keep parts of our shadow—whether seemingly “golden” (has a gift for you) or “dark”—hidden from the public.

Johnson continues:

The fulcrum, or center point, is the whole (holy) place. . . .

This is one of Jung’s greatest insights: that the ego and the shadow come from the same source and exactly balance each other. To make light is to make shadow; one cannot exist without the other.

To own one’s own shadow is to reach a holy place—an inner center—not attainable in any other way. To fail this is to fail one’s own sainthood and to miss the purpose of life. . . .

To refuse the dark side of one’s nature is to store up or accumulate the darkness; this is later expressed as [depression], psychosomatic illness, or unconsciously inspired accidents. We are presently dealing with the accumulation of a whole society that has worshiped its light side and refused the dark, [1] and this residue appears as war, economic chaos, strikes, racial intolerance [more timely examples: gun violence, imprisoning refugees, and climate change]. . . . We must be whole whether we like it or not; the only choice is whether we will incorporate the shadow consciously and with some dignity or do it through some neurotic behavior. . . .

Any repair of our fractured world must start with individuals who have the insight and courage to own their own shadow. . . . The tendency to see one’s shadow “out there” in one’s neighbor or in another race or culture is the most dangerous aspect of the modern psyche. . . . We all decry war but collectively we move toward it. It is not the monsters of the world who make such chaos but the collective shadow to which every one of us has contributed. [Consider our complicity in centuries of colonialism, capitalism, and nationalism.] . . .

God grant that evolution may proceed quickly enough for each of us to pick up our own dark side, combine it with our hard-earned light, and make something better of it all than the opposition of the two. This would be true holiness. [And, I would add, it can only be done through contemplation.]

References:
[1] Johnson notes: “Our language has lost the ability to speak of the latter in very noble terms. Our philosophy is unbalanced by the very language we use. How do we speak of dark and give it the same dignity and value as light?” At least we are becoming aware of that very problem.

Adapted from Robert A. Johnson, Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche (HarperSanFrancisco: 1991), 10-11, 14, 15, 17, 26-27, 30-31.

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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Shadow Work

Making Holy
Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The shadow in and of itself is not the problem. The source of our disease and violence is separation from parts of ourselves, from each other, and from God. Mature religion is meant to re-ligio or re-ligament what our egos and survival instincts have put asunder, namely a fundamental wholeness at the heart of everything.

Robert A. Johnson (1921–2018) was an American Jungian analyst, author, and lecturer who studied at the C. G. Jung Institute. Many of Johnson’s insights have shaped my own work. In his book Owning Your Own Shadow, he explains how the shadow begins and how we grow:

We are all born whole and, let us hope, will die whole. But somewhere early on our way, we eat one of the wonderful fruits of the tree of knowledge, things separate into good and evil, and we begin the shadow-making process: we divide our lives. In the cultural process we sort out our God-given characteristics into those that are acceptable to society and those that have to be put away. This is wonderful and necessary, and there would be no civilized behavior without this sorting out of good and evil. But the refused and unacceptable characteristics do not go away; they only collect in the dark corners of our personality. When they have been hidden long enough, they take on a life of their own—the shadow life.

The shadow is that which has not entered adequately into consciousness. It is the despised quarter of our being. It often has an energy potential nearly as great as that of our ego. If it accumulates more energy than our ego, it erupts as an overpowering rage or some indiscretion or an accident that seems to have its own purpose. . . .

It is also astonishing to find that some very good characteristics turn up in the shadow. Generally, the ordinary, mundane characteristics are the norm. Anything less than this goes into the shadow. But anything better also goes into the shadow! Some of the pure gold of our personality is relegated to the shadow because it can find no place in that great leveling process that is culture.

Curiously, people resist the noble aspects of their shadow more strenuously. . . . The gold is related to our higher calling, and this can be hard to accept at certain stages of life. . . .

Wherever we start and whatever culture we spring from, [most of us] will arrive at adulthood with a clearly defined ego and shadow, a system of right and wrong, a teeter-totter with two sides. The religious process consists of restoring the wholeness of the personality. . . .

Generally, the first half of life is devoted to the cultural process—gaining one’s skills, raising a family, disciplining one’s self in a hundred different ways; the second half of life is devoted to restoring the wholeness (making holy) of life. One might complain that this is a senseless round trip except that the wholeness at the end is conscious while it was unconscious and childlike at the beginning.

Reference:
Robert A. Johnson, Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche (HarperSanFrancisco: 1991), 4-5, 7-9, 10.

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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Shadow Work

Becoming Who You Are
Monday, September 9, 2019

I have learned much from the Swiss psychotherapist Carl Gustav Jung (1875–1961). Jung brought together practical theology with good psychology. He surely was no enemy of religion; in fact, I would call him a mystic. Late in his life, when asked if he “believed” in God, Jung said, “I could not say I believe. I know! I have had the experience of being gripped by something that is stronger than myself, something that people call God.” [1]

However, Jung felt that Christianity contributed to a discontinuity—an unbridgeable gap—between God and the soul by over-emphasizing external rituals and intellectual belief instead of inner experience and inner transformation. He recognized that Christianity had some helpful theology (for Jung, Jesus Christ served as the central archetype revealing “the hidden, unconscious ground-life of every individual,” . . . and representing “the typical dying and self-transforming God” [2]), but it often had poor psychology and anthropology. Jung was disillusioned by his own father and six uncles, all Swiss Reformed pastors, whom he saw as unhappy and unintegrated. Jung basically said of Christianity: “It’s not working in real life!” [3]

Jung wouldn’t have fit the bill for the classic definition of a saint. He had a number of affairs and for a little while flirted with Nazism. He had a mixed past—don’t we all?—yet his very mistakes usually led him to recognize and heal the shadow self that lurks in our personal unconscious and is then projected outward onto others.

The face we turn toward our own unconscious is the face we turn toward the world. Read that twice! As Jesus said, “The lamp of the body is the eye” (Matthew 6:22). People who accept themselves accept others. People who hate themselves hate others. Only Divine Light gives us permission, freedom, and courage to go all the way down into our depths and meet our shadow.

For Jung, the God archetype is the whole-making function of the soul. It’s that part of you that always wants more, but not in a greedy sense. God is the inner energy within the soul of all things, saying, “Become who you are. Become all that you are. There is still more of you—more to be discovered, forgiven, and loved.” Jungian analytical psychology calls such growth and becoming “individuation,” which I like to think of as moving toward the life wish instead of the death wish. The life wish teaches us not to fragment, splinter, or split, but to integrate and learn from everything; whereas the ego moves toward constriction and separation or “sin.” The God archetype is quite simply love at work calling us toward ever deeper union with our own True Self, with others, and with God.

In the journey toward psychic wholeness, Jung stressed the necessary role of religion or the God archetype in integrating opposites, [4] including the conscious and the unconscious, the One and the many, good (by embracing it) and evil (by forgiving it), masculine and feminine, the small self and the Big Self. By “Self” with a capital “S,” Jung meant the deepest center of the psyche/soul that is in union with the Divine. And, if I understand him, it is shared! It is one and we are all participants, just as many mystics have asserted. I would call it the True Self, the Christ Self, or if you prefer, the Buddha Self, which has learned to consciously abide in union with the Presence within us (John 14:17).

References:
[1] C. G. Jung as quoted in “The Old Wise Man,” Time, vol. 65, no. 7 (Feb. 14, 1955), 64.

[2] C. G. Jung, Psychology and Religion: West and East, trans. R. F. C. Hull, 2nd ed. (Princeton University Press: 1969), 89.

[3] See C. G. Jung, On Christianity, ed. Murray Stein (Princeton University Press: 1999) for selections from Jung’s writings regarding his relationship to Christianity, his psychological approach to theology, and his interpretation of Christian history.

[4] In Jung’s own words, “All opposites are of God, therefore [individuals] must bend to this burden; and in so doing find that God in . . . ‘oppositeness’ has taken possession of [them], incarnated [Godself] in [them]. [Each person] becomes a vessel filled with divine conflict.” Psychology and Religion, 416.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Lineage” audio recordings, Center for Action and Contemplation, cac.org/living-school/program-details/lineage-and-themes/; and

Unpublished “Rhine” talks (2015).

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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Shadow Work

Shadowboxing
Sunday, September 8, 2019

Our shadow self is any part of ourselves or our institutions that we try to hide or deny because it seems socially unacceptable. The church and popular media primarily focus on sexuality and body issues as our “sinful” shadow, but that is far too narrow a definition. The larger and deeper shadow for Western individuals and culture is actually failure itself. Thus, the genius of the Gospel is that it incorporates failure into a new definition of spiritual success. This is why Jesus says that prostitutes and tax collectors are getting into the kingdom of God before the chief priests and religious elders (see Matthew 21:31).

Our success-driven culture scorns failure, powerlessness, and any form of poverty. Yet Jesus begins his Sermon on the Mount by praising “the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3)! Just that should tell us how thoroughly we have missed the point of the Gospel. Nonviolence, weakness, and simplicity are also part of the American shadow self. We avoid the very things that Jesus praises, and we try to project a strong, secure, successful image to ourselves and the world. We reject vulnerability and seek dominance instead, and we elect leaders who falsely promise us the same.

I can see why my spiritual father, St. Francis of Assisi (1181–1226), made a revolutionary and pre-emptive move into the shadow self from which everyone else ran. In effect, Francis said through his lifestyle, “I will delight in powerlessness, humility, poverty, simplicity, and failure.” He lived so close to the bottom of things that there was no place to fall. Even when insulted, he did not take offence. Now that is freedom, or what he called “perfect joy”! [1]

Our shadow is often subconscious, hidden even from our own awareness. It takes effort and life-long practice to look for, find, and embrace what we dismiss, deny, and disdain. After spending so much energy avoiding the very appearance of failure, it will take a major paradigm shift in consciousness to integrate our shadow in Western upwardly mobile cultures. Just know that it is the false self that is sad and humbled by shadow work, because its game is over. The True Self, “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3), is incapable of being humiliated. It only grows from such supposedly humiliating insight.

One of the great surprises on the human journey is that we come to full consciousness precisely by shadowboxing, facing our own contradictions, and making friends with our own mistakes and failings. People who have had no inner struggles are invariably superficial and uninteresting. We tend to endure them more than appreciate them because they have little to communicate and show little curiosity. Shadow work is what I call “falling upward.” Lady Julian of Norwich (1342–1416) put it best of all: “First there is the fall, and then we recover from the fall. And both are the mercy of God!” [2] God hid holiness quite well: the proud will never recognize it, and the humble will fall into it every day—not even realizing it is holiness.

References:
[1] Murray Bodo, Francis: The Journey and the Dream (Franciscan Media: 2011), 88.

[2] My paraphrase of Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, Long Text, chapter 61.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1999, 2003), 162-163; and

Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass: 2011), 135.

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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