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Theme:
Shadow Work

Shadow Work

Saturday, June 19, 2021
Juneteenth

Week Twenty-Four Summary and Practice

Sunday, June 13—Friday, June 18, 2021

Sunday
The movement to second-half-of-life 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 “hidden with Christ in God,” as Paul puts it (Colossians 3:3).

Monday
Usually everybody else can see our shadow, so it is crucial that we learn what everybody else knows about usexcept us!

Tuesday
Western civilization has failed to learn how to carry the shadow side. It is much easier to see things as all-good or all-bad, rather than both crucified and resurrected at the same time, as Christ is.

Wednesday
God embraces you as you are—shadow and light, everything. God embraces it, by grace. —Brother David Steindl-Rast

Thursday
Usually sometime around midlife, we come to a point where we’ve seen enough of our own tricks and we come to feel that my shadow self is who I am. We face ourselves in our raw, unvarnished and uncivilized state.

Friday
When we try to live up to the impossible image of a spiritually enlightened, knowledgeable, selfless, patient, forgiving, easy-going, supportive, generous superhuman, the dark side of our nature just gains in power. —Toko-pa Turner

 

Deep Mercy

Over the last few years in the United States, we (especially those of us who are white) have been asked to examine the collective shadow of racism that has been a part of our nation since its founding. We wrestled with it during the Civil War and again during the civil rights era, but, as we do with so much shadow material, we allowed it to go “underground” and remain there. Part of the reason we do this is because it is so painful to face our shadow and all the destruction we have caused by ignoring it. As Zen Buddhist teacher Larry Ward writes, shadow work requires us to hold the tension of placing our collective shadow within a deeper well of mercy:

The bridge of mercy lies deep within us and among us, however well it is hidden by clouds of conflict, cruelty, and hatred. . . . [But] it seems that as a culture we take great pride in our capacity to be unmerciful. . . .

Look at the prison system in America if you want an example of our collective fragmentation: the United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, with 2.3 million people in prison, and of those people, one-third are people of color. This could not happen in a society of merciful people guided by justice and integrity. . . .

We need the experience of what I call deep mercy. Mercy lies in our mindful actions of thinking, speech, and behaviors toward ourselves and one another. We may not seem as if we are capable of collective deep mercy, as expressed in acts that restore a sense of shared humanity with one another. Yet these acts of mercy are not absent; in fact, they are the invisible web that sustains living connection and progress in human history. We have survived as a species by crossing its bridge again and again. . . .

Mercy’s bridge is kept alive by the energies of deep justice flowing back and forth, the truth of suffering beyond the constrictions of the law. It is the justice of our precious bodies being respected and loved concretely as divinely human.

I invite you to spend some time today contemplating a personal or collective shadow, perhaps even journaling about it or speaking with a trusted friend. Accessing the “deep mercy” that Ward describes only comes about when we have allowed our shadow to come to the surface, faced it fully, and chosen a path of healing and justice for all people.

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

Reference:
Larry Ward, America’s Racial Karma: An Invitation to Heal (Parallax Press: 2020), 95, 96–97.

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, dapple (detail), 2020, photograph, Bellingham.
Image inspiration: Shadows are always influential if not always obvious. Some, in focus in the foreground, are easier to name while others remain hidden in the background. How might we attend to the lessons of our own inner shadow landscapes?
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Shadow Work

A Necessary Negativity
Friday, June 18, 2021

True spirituality, that which invites us to ever deeper levels of transformation and love, does not insist on “staying positive” all the time, but on “staying true” to the journey. Drawing on the wisdom of both the Sufi mystical tradition in which she was raised as well as the teachings of Jung and other scholars, author and dreamwork specialist Toko-pa Turner writes about how facing our shadows will benefit us individually and collectively, even as it makes us uncomfortable:

What if [negative emotions] have something essential to communicate to us and each other, and the real problem is the misguided attitude that negative feelings make us less evolved and need fixing? In the same way that we hold others at an arm’s length when they are too different from us, we avoid the inner encounter with otherness, excluding anything that doesn’t fit the image we’ve been building of ourselves.

‘Negative emotions’ don’t cease to exist because we ignore them. They just find other ways to express themselves. Sometimes we lash out inappropriately, having confusing crying fits, or feel protractedly numb. Most commonly, we slip into depression and anxiety. . . .

If not addressed in a person’s life, these issues can harden into ideologies which are then passed down through the generations. When you add to this equation a loud or charismatic leader, movements like Nazism will be born from the corroborative fear of otherness. Nazism was fomented on the notion of a ‘pure race’ and, capitalizing on people’s unintegrated shadows, convincing a nation to murder millions of people who were the unfortunate bearers of this shadow projection. We think of Nazis as evil, but the truth is we all have the potential for this kind of evil, which is ultimately the act of turning away from the suffering of others and ourselves.

Most of us have been raised to be moral, good, and agreeable, putting all of our ‘unacceptable’ qualities in what Robert Bly calls “The Long Black Bag” we drag behind us, or what Jung termed the personal “Shadow.” The Shadow is the place where everything we have forgotten, denied, rejected, or not yet discovered goes to live. [My emphasis—Richard Rohr] But when we try to live up to the impossible image of a spiritually enlightened, knowledgeable, selfless, patient, forgiving, easy-going, supportive, generous superhuman, the dark side of our nature just gains in power. . . .

You always have the choice to turn away or to look for redemption in the shadows. Sometimes turning away is exactly what you need in the moment, especially if you’re tired from toiling down in there. Trust that whatever you decide is the right decision. Also know that if the issue being presented has roots, it will still be there when you’re ready to look at it. . . .

We cannot simply remove the shadow all at once. It takes wisdom, courage, and forbearance for our shadows to reveal themselves to us so they can be faced and dealt with gently, compassionately, and firmly.

Reference:
Toko-pa Turner, Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home (Her Own Room Press: 2017), 106–107, 127.

Story from Our Community:
Fr. Rohr points out the roadblock that I think limits transformation. We do not accept the shadow side and focus only on the conscious world. As we become aware of our shadows, the divinity waiting there transforms us. Christ’s presence, our healing, and salvation are always taking place in messy parts of life. We have not and never will be abandoned by God. —Ed J.

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, dapple (detail), 2020, photograph, Bellingham.
Image inspiration: Shadows are always influential if not always obvious. Some, in focus in the foreground, are easier to name while others remain hidden in the background. How might we attend to the lessons of our own inner shadow landscapes?
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Shadow Work

Learning in the Shadows
Thursday, June 17, 2021

Usually sometime around midlife, we come to a point where we’ve seen enough of our own tricks and we come to feel that my shadow self is who I am. We face ourselves in our raw, unvarnished, and uncivilized state. This is the shadowland where we are led by our own stupidity, our own sin, our own selfishness, by living out of our false self. We have to work our way through this with brutal honesty, confessions and surrenders, some forgiveness, and often by some necessary restitution or apology. The old language would have called it repentance, penance, or stripping.

In a teaching I recorded with Sounds True about a decade ago, I shared that it wasn’t until I was in middle age, fully embarked on my vocation—a formally celibate priest evangelizing a gospel of love—when I had the courage to ask,

Richard, have you ever really loved anybody more than yourself? [Is there] anybody in particular you would die for?. . . I realized I did not have to do that, that my so-called celibacy which told me that if I did not love anybody particularly, I would automatically love God was not necessarily true. I worried that all I did was love myself in a very well-disguised form.

Much of my forties and my fifties was shadowboxing, seeing my own mixed motives, seeing my own inability to believe and to practice these very things I teach to others. I had become known as a spiritual teacher; and then I would see that very often I had dark thoughts, violent thoughts, lustful thoughts, and then would get up and talk to other people in more mature stages of spiritual development and I was not really there myself. I could point toward those further stages, but I was not really living them. [1]

I believe the darkness in which we find ourselves when facing our shadow can also become the shadowland of Godor what the saints call “the dark night”—if we can see God in it. Maybe this is even the most common pattern. The wound can become the sacred wound, or it can just remain a bleeding, useless wound with a scab that never heals. As I teach in The Art of Letting Go,

The work of the shadowland can go on for quite a long time and if you do not have someone loving you during that period, believing in you, holding on to you, if you do not meet the unconditional love of God, if you do not encounter radical grace, being loved in your unworthiness, the spiritual journey will not continue. You have to discover God as unearned favor, unearned gratuity, or you will regress, you will go backwards. But in the shadowlands, you learn to live with contradiction, with ambiguity. This is true self-critical thinking. [2]

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of Saint Francis, disc 5 (Sounds True: 2010), CD;

The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder (Franciscan Media: 2001, 2020), 186–187; and

The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (Crossroad Publishing Company: 2009), 165.

Story from Our Community:
Fr. Rohr points out the roadblock that I think limits transformation. We do not accept the shadow side and focus only on the conscious world. As we become aware of our shadows, the divinity waiting there transforms us. Christ’s presence, our healing, and salvation are always taking place in messy parts of life. We have not and never will be abandoned by God. —Ed J.

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, dapple (detail), 2020, photograph, Bellingham.
Image inspiration: Shadows are always influential if not always obvious. Some, in focus in the foreground, are easier to name while others remain hidden in the background. How might we attend to the lessons of our own inner shadow landscapes?
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Shadow Work

The Shadow in Christianity
Wednesday, June 16, 2021

We can patiently accept not being good. What we cannot bear is not being considered good, not appearing good.—St. Francis of Assisi

If you are willing to bear serenely the trial of being displeasing to yourself, you will be for Jesus a pleasant place of shelter. —St. Thérèse of Lisieux

The two Christian mystics quoted above have helped me to escape the trap of perfectionism which always leads to an entrenched shadow. The wise Benedictine Brother David Steindl-Rast describes this common ploy:  

In its enthusiasm for the divine light, Christian theology has not always done justice to the divine darkness. . . . We tend to get trapped in the idea of a static perfection that leads to rigid perfectionism. Abstract speculation can create an image of God that is foreign to the human heart. . . [A God that does not contain our shadows.] Then we try to live up to the standards of a God that is purely light, and we can’t handle the darkness within us. And because we can’t handle it, we suppress it. But the more we suppress it, the more it leads its own life, because it’s not integrated. Before we know it, we are in serious trouble.

You can get out of that trap if you come back to the core of the Christian tradition, to the real message of Jesus. You find him, for instance, saying, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” [Matthew 5:48]. Yet he makes it clear that this is not the perfection of suppressing the darkness, but the perfection of integrated wholeness. [Richard: Emphasis mine.] That’s the way Matthew puts it in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus talks of our Father in heaven who lets the sun shine on the good and the bad, and lets the rain fall on the just and the unjust alike [see Matthew 5:45]. It’s both the rain and the sun, not only the sun. And it’s both the just and the unjust. Jesus stresses the fact that God obviously allows the interplay of shadow and light. God approves of it. If God’s perfection allows for tensions to work themselves out, who are we to insist on a perfection in which all tensions are suppressed? . . .

[As Paul writes,] “By grace you have been saved” [Ephesians 2:8]. That’s one of the earliest insights in the Christian tradition: it’s not by what you do that you earn God’s love. Not because you are so bright and light and have purged out all the darkness does God accept you, but as you are. Not by doing something, not by your works, but gratis you have been saved. That means you belong. God has taken you in. God embraces you as you are—shadow and light, everything. God embraces it, by grace. And it has already happened.

Reference:
David Steindl-Rast, “The Shadow in Christianity,” in Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature, ed. Jeremiah Abrams and Connie Zweig (Jeremy P. Tarcher: 1991), 132, 133.

Story from Our Community:
Some years ago I was introduced to Richard Rohr. I was immature in my faith journey, unaware that not knowing is actually a real knowing. After reading “Falling Upward” and “Immortal Diamond” I was filled with a new way of hearing and seeing. I began shadow work, painful and traumatizing at times—it was my own spiritual awakening. Transforming pain has its moments of grace. —Renee M.

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, dapple (detail), 2020, photograph, Bellingham.
Image inspiration: Shadows are always influential if not always obvious. Some, in focus in the foreground, are easier to name while others remain hidden in the background. How might we attend to the lessons of our own inner shadow landscapes?
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Shadow Work

Living the Shadow
Tuesday, June 15, 2021

All God appears to want from us is honesty and humility. There is no other way to read Jesus’ stories of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32) or the tax collector and the Pharisee (Luke 18:9–14). In each story, the one who did wrong ends up being right—simply because he is honest and humble about it. The one who is formally right ends up being terribly wrong because he is proud about his own performance. How have we been able to miss that important point? I suspect it is because the ego wants to think well of itself and deny any shadow material. Only the soul knows we grow best in the shadowlands.

Western civilization has failed to learn how to carry the shadow side. We did not teach our people how to carry the paschal mystery—with its suffering, death, and resurrection—within ourselves, and it is now coming back to haunt us. Christians have little ability to carry the shadow side of themselves, of the church, of history, or of reality itself. It is much easier to see things as all-good or all-bad, rather than both crucified and resurrected at the same time, as Christ is.

In many ways, it’s been a constant dilemma of the church. It seems to want to live in perfect light. It does not like the shadowland called Earth. We see in Christian history the Roman Church unable and unwilling to see its own huge shadow, Martin Luther’s abhorrence of his own shadow, the Swiss Reformers trying to outlaw darkness, the Puritans trying to repress shadow, typical believers afraid of their shadow, and fundamentalists preoccupied with Satan “out there.” All of us, it seems, are trying to avoid the mystery in human life, instead of learning how to carry it patiently, as Jesus did.

There are no perfect structures or perfect people. There is only the struggle to get there. It is Christ’s passion (patior in Latin, or the “suffering of reality”) that will save the world, when we are willing to join him in the pattern. “Your patient endurance will win you your lives,” writes Luke (21:19). Redemptive suffering instead of redemptive violence is the Jesus way. Patience comes from our attempts to hold together an always-mixed reality, not from expecting or demanding a perfect reality. That only makes us resentful and judgmental, which is what has characterized much of Christian history. Grateful people emerge in a world rightly defined, where even shadows are no surprise, but, in fact, opportunity for compassion and forgiveness.

The more attached we are to any persona whatsoever, bad or good, the more shadow self we will have. So we need conflicts, relationship difficulties, moral failures, defeats to our grandiosity, even seeming enemies, or we will have no way to ever spot or track our shadow self. They are our necessary mirrors, and even then, we usually catch it out of the corner of our eye—in a graced insight and those gifted moments of inner freedom.

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder (Franciscan Media: 2001, 2020), 183–185; and

Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Franciscan Media: 2011), 33–34.

Story from Our Community:
Some years ago I was introduced to Richard Rohr. I was immature in my faith journey, unaware that not knowing is actually a real knowing. After reading “Falling Upward” and “Immortal Diamond” I was filled with a new way of hearing and seeing. I began shadow work, painful and traumatizing at times—it was my own spiritual awakening. Transforming pain has its moments of grace. —Renee M.

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, dapple (detail), 2020, photograph, Bellingham.
Image inspiration: Shadows are always influential if not always obvious. Some, in focus in the foreground, are easier to name while others remain hidden in the background. How might we attend to the lessons of our own inner shadow landscapes?
Read Full Entry

Shadow Work

Embracing Shadow and Light
Monday, June 14, 2021

We all identify with our persona/mask so strongly when we are young that we become masters of denial and learn to eliminate or hide anything that doesn’t support it. Neither our persona nor our shadow is evil in itself; they just allow us to do evil and not recognize it as such. Our shadow self makes us all into hypocrites on some level. Hypocrite is a Greek word that simply means “actor,” someone playing a role rather than being “real.” We are all in one kind of closet or another and are even encouraged by society to play such roles. Usually everybody else can see our shadow, so it is crucial that we learn what everybody else knows about usexcept us!

Holy or whole individuals, the ones we call “saints,” are precisely the ones who have no “I” to protect or project. Their “I” is in conscious union with the “I AM” of God, and that is more than enough. Divine union overrides any need for self-hatred or self-adoration. Such people do not need to be perfectly right, and they know they cannot be anyway, so they just try to be in right relationship. In other words, they try to be loving—above all else. Love holds us tightly and safely and always. Such people have met the enemy and know that the major enemy is “me” (to borrow from the comic strip character Pogo). But they do not hate the “me” either, they just see through and beyond “me.” Shadow work literally “saves us from ourselves” (our false selves), which is the foundational meaning of salvation to begin with.

I am afraid that the closer we get to the Light, the more of our shadow we see. Thus, truly holy people are always humble people. Christians would have been done a great service if the shadow had been distinguished from sin. Sin and shadow are not the same. We were so encouraged to avoid sin that many of us instead avoided facing our shadow, and then we ended up “sinning” even worse—while unaware besides! As Paul taught, “The angels of darkness must disguise themselves as angels of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). The persona does not choose to see evil in itself, so it always disguises it as good. The shadow self invariably presents itself as something like prudence, common sense, and justice. It says, “I am doing this for your good,” when it is actually manifesting fear, control, manipulation, or even vengeance. Isn’t it fascinating that the name Lucifer literally means “light bearer”? The evil one always makes darkness look like light—and makes light look like darkness.

The gift of shadowboxing is in the seeing of the shadow and its games in ourselves, which takes away most of the shadow’s hidden power. No wonder that Teresa of Ávila (1515–1582) said that the mansion of true self-knowledge was the necessary first mansion on the spiritual journey. Socrates said the same thing, “Know yourself!”

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass: 2011), 131–133, 134.

Story from Our Community:
Nonviolence starts when we learn how to love ourselves with compassion. Upon beginning shadow work and looking within myself, I was able to heal old wounds, relearn healthy boundaries and thought patterns. Complete love flows through all we say, do, think, and pray after taking steps of transformation. —Susan C.

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, dapple (detail), 2020, photograph, Bellingham.
Image inspiration: Shadows are always influential if not always obvious. Some, in focus in the foreground, are easier to name while others remain hidden in the background. How might we attend to the lessons of our own inner shadow landscapes?
Read Full Entry

Shadow Work

Unveiling the Shadow
Sunday, June 13, 2021

This week’s meditations focus on unveiling the shadow self, an essential concept in my work that comes from Swiss psychotherapist Carl Gustav Jung (1875–1961). It always needs initial clarification and definition.

Let’s begin with the personal shadow. During the first half of our lives (and for many, into the chronological second half of life), we are building up our separate or false self. For the first months of life, human infants feel they are one with their caretaker, usually their mother. But soon the child grows into a sense of separateness, a split between my self and your self that understands “I’m here and you’re over there.” We call this dualistic consciousness.

To put it very simply, as children we learn which behaviors cause approval and disapproval from our family, teachers, and friends. If we want to have some sort of control over our lives and create pleasant outcomes, we tend to develop those things which are acceptable and repress those things which are not. Those things we repress or deny about ourselves become our shadow. The qualities we “place” in our shadow aren’t necessarily or only bad; they simply are the ones that are not rewarded by our family system or culture.

The more we have cultivated and protected a chosen persona, the more shadow work we will need to do. Therefore, we need to be especially careful of clinging to any idealized role or self-image, like that of minister, mother, doctor, nice person, professor, moral believer, or president of this or that. These are huge personas to live up to, and they trap many people in lifelong delusion that the role is who they are or who they are only allowed to be. The more we are attached to and unaware of such a protected self-image, the more shadow self we will likely have. This is especially dangerous for a “spiritual leader” or “professional religious person” because it involves such an ego-inflating self-image. Whenever ministers, or any true believers, are too anti anything, we can be pretty sure there is some shadow material lurking somewhere nearby. Zealotry is a good revelation of one’s overly repressed shadow.

Our self-image is not substantial or lasting; it is simply created out of our own mind, desire, and choice—and everybody else’s preferences for us! It is not objective at all but entirely subjective (which does not mean that it does not have real influence). The movement to second-half-of-life wisdom has much to do with necessary shadow work and the emergence of healthy self-critical thinking, which alone allows us to see beyond our own shadow and disguise and to find who we are, “hidden with Christ in God,” as Paul puts it (Colossians 3:3). The Zen masters call it “the face we had before we were born.” This self cannot die, lives forever and is our True Self. Religion is always in some way about discovering our True Self, which is also to discover God, who is our deepest truth.

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Franciscan Mysticism: I AM That Which I Am Seeking, disc 3 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2012), CD, MP3 download; and

Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass: 2011), 128, 129–130.

Story from Our Community:
Nonviolence starts when we learn how to love ourselves with compassion. Upon beginning shadow work and looking within myself, I was able to heal old wounds, relearn healthy boundaries and thought patterns. Complete love flows through all we say, do, think, and pray after taking steps of transformation. —Susan C.

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, dapple (detail), 2020, photograph, Bellingham.
Image inspiration: Shadows are always influential if not always obvious. Some, in focus in the foreground, are easier to name while others remain hidden in the background. How might we attend to the lessons of our own inner shadow landscapes?
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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
Read Full Entry
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