Ritual of Healing # 5 Embracing your dark side
A man who is unconscious of himself acts in a blind, instinctive way and is in addition fooled by all the illusions that arise when he sees everything that he is not conscious of in himself coming to meet him from outside as projections upon his neighbor. ~ Carl Jung
We all experience thoughts and feelings that we like. We tend to like feeling confident, competent, and joyful. We enjoy having thoughts about our successes, and memories of positive interpersonal exchanges and so on. Psychologists often call these experiences egosyntonic; they fit in with our self-image. Other feelings, thoughts, memories and behaviors are more egodystonic; they do not fit with what we like to experience as “me”.
One example might be: humiliating oneself in the work environment, feeling inferior, acting ragefully, and then being unable to let oneself off the hook about one’s actions. Upon reflection, one often feels guilt, confusion and/or ashamed. And very often, people report that they do not know exactly what happened, it’s as if some dormant creature inside woke up and took over.
We often judge these thoughts/feelings/behaviors as unacceptable/despicable me. We try to cover up their stench, and avoid smelling/exposing these experiences by any means possible, and swear to never allow that creature out again. The truth is however, we all feel, think, say, and do stinky things sometimes.
In Jungian psychology, these unwanted or denied aspects of ourselves are known as the Shadow. The shadow is basically all of our repressed or unconscious weaknesses and vulnerabilities. One might say the Shadow material stinks. The shadow is notorious in Jungian psychology and integrating one’s shadow side is paramount in the process of Individuation.
In his Collected Works, Jung says about the Shadow:
Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it…But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.
In “Good and Evil in Analytical Psychology” (1959). In CW 10. Civilization in Transition. P.872, Jung says:
To confront a person with his shadow is to show him his own light. Once one has experienced a few times what it is like to stand judgingly between the opposites, one begins to understand what is meant by the self. Anyone who perceives his shadow and his light simultaneously sees himself from two sides and thus gets in the middle.
Embracing your light as well as your dark side is about living in “the middle” as Jung describes above. It’s not about denying the shadow sides of ourselves, but more about getting to know them, integrating and loving them. Meditation is a great time to briefly practice compassion and acceptance for these unwanted visitors. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “roll out the welcome mat” to whatever surfaces.
The shadow is part of our beauty, our wholeness, our humanness. Practicing love and acceptance for this part that feels vulnerable, depressed, “needy”, jealous or fearful is healing. Developing a gentle compassionate presence for the shadow side is truly empowering. By default, it will also increase your capacity to tolerate the stinky behaviors of others, such as your children, spouse, co-workers and friends.
One method I often use in therapy is taken in part from Gendlin’s Focusing. The first step entails closing your eyes or focusing on a spot on the floor, then beginning to become aware of your breathing (meditation practice helps here), then allowing your attention to locate the place in your body where you are most clearly experiencing painful thoughts & feelings about something that has happened (like the executive’s example above). Often people feel sensation in their belly area, but it can be anywhere- just tune in to find yours. The instruction is then to simply breathe and be with that place in your body. You don’t attempt to change it, but merely cradle that space with loving kind awareness, breathing in and out, staying there for several breaths and then returning to the room and opening your eyes.
An additional piece to add to this meditation is – while cradling the painful feeling in your body as described above- simultaneously expand your consciousness outward to first the sounds in the room, then take your mind outward to the roof, the tops of the trees and continue expanding and broadening your consciousness while continuing to return to and briefly touch into this pain in your body. Bounce back and forth between the two- expanded consciousness and acute pain-. Then when you are ready return to the room and open your eyes.
For more on beginning a meditation practice, get this book: Full Catastrophe Living
For free MP3 mediation downloads: click here
Best to you- all parts of you,
1. “Psychology and Religion” (1938). In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.131
2. “Good and Evil in Analytical Psychology” (1959). In CW 10. Civilization in Transition. P.872
3. “The Philosophical Tree” (1945). In CW 13: Alchemical Studies. P.335