My Spiritual Journey: Embracing The Shadow.

Carl Jung

Spiritually, it’s been a wild ride for me in this present incarnation.

I was born into a conservative Roman Catholic family, where early on in life I embraced ambitions of becoming a priest.  I also had an early interest in the occult and all things metaphysical.  When I entered the Catholic seminary program, I expected to be trained in deep spiritual disciplines.  Not exactly “Jedi Training,” but something similar.  Instead I underwent 8 years of training which emphasized head knowledge over heart knowledge and which hardly (if ever) taught any deep spiritual disciplines.  But, I did learn how to meditate, and that in itself took me pretty far along my present path.

While in my seminary and college studies I happened to develop a very serious drinking problem.  My friends would joke that my drinking problem more than qualified me for the priesthood, as many of our priests were obvious alcoholics.  But all jokes aside I knew, deep down, that something was seriously wrong.  I had no idea how to address it, so I denied it and buried it deep down in my psyche.  It would take over 30 years of hell for me to finally admit the problem and confront my Shadow self.

My life path took many twists and turns, many of them fueled by alcohol.  Ultimately I found my way into church ministry on the protestant side of the fence.  I was chosen to be the senior pastor of a mixed congregation in a rural agricultural township.  It was a small church of around 35 members, and we had people from many different Christian backgrounds all the way from Catholic to Baptist.  But, different as we were theologically, the one thing we all had in common was living in denial of our Shadow side.

Now, I am no expert in Jung.  But I have picked up some wisdom along the way (gleaned mostly from AA sources) that has introduced me to some basic concepts of Jungian thought.  The one key concept I will deal with here is The Shadow.

The Shadow is an archetypal entity which contains our darker selves.  We all have a Shadow, but few admit it or openly try to deal with it.  The common religious solution to dealing with The Shadow is by denying that it exists in us, projecting it out into our outer world, and then condemning it and fleeing from it.  This “solution” does not work.  Instead it leads us down a path of condemnation where we blame other people and even other Spiritual Forces for our many problems and weaknesses.  Instead of taking personal responsibility for our faults, we blame them on others.  It’s either, “The Devil made me do it,” or the alcohol, or society, or what-have-you.  We (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic alike) play a combination game of denial and blaming others for our faults.  Instead of bravely confronting our own Shadow nature, we hide from it.  We think (in religious circles) that answering altar calls and living pious lives will make us better people.  But, until we are willing to see ourselves as we truly are, we have no hope in overcoming our Shadow side.  This requires mindfulness and “rigorous self honesty” as they say in AA.  Some get it early, some get it late, and the vast majority, sadly, do not get it at all.

In my case my Shadow side was so out of balance, I had to either confront it or give up on life entirely.  My daily drinking of over a fifth of liquor each day was making me a threat to both myself and others.  In desperation I reached out to AA, and there I finally found relief.  In the program I was able to rediscover the Spirituality of my childhood and the strength needed to face my Shadow nature.  I rediscovered the practice of meditation, and engaged in the art daily.  I began to realize that my problems were mostly of my own creation, and that blaming them on others was futile.  In my first 12 months of recovery, I began to realize that I (like all of humanity) was an interesting mix of Good and Evil; a light side and a dark side.  By denying neither and embracing both, I started the path of self discovery that I am still on today.  It’s now been nearly 12 years of recovery from addiction and self destructive tendencies, and I still consider myself a student along the way.   It’s been a wild ride, and an enlightening one.

How can you come to grips with your Shadow side?  It depends.  In my case my Shadow side was so strong, I had to either come to terms with it or face destruction.  Most “normal” people do not find themselves in that extreme.

For people who do not have to deal with addiction or alcoholism or other self destructive behaviors, you can see your Shadow side in the faults you project upon others.  There is a Wayne Dyer observation that, “When you judge another person, you do not define them.  You define yourself.”  Usually the faults that really bother us about other people are the same problems we have within ourselves.  That’s why these faults bother us so much.  We can not see them directly within ourselves, but we know deep down that they are there.  And, when we encounter another person with those same faults, we see the problem within the other person and condemn the problem within the other person, not realizing that we are also condemning the Shadow side within ourselves.  If we want to grow spiritually we have to face certain facts about The Shadow, ourselves, and the world around us.

The first thing we must accept is that all of us are a combination of both Jesus Christ and the Devil Incarnate.  This is a hard truth for many to face, but it is a truth none-the-less.  It does us no good to assume that we are right with the Universe and everybody else is all screwed up.  We must daily take an inventory of the good and bad that we see within ourselves and seek to balance it; learn from it; grow with it.  We must also come to realize that other people can be a mirror into our own souls.  When we see something that really bugs us about another person, we must come to realize that this same fault is also buried within ourselves.  This is where the “religious” mindset of condemning the sins of others is very counter productive.  Condemning other people in no way facilitates our own spiritual growth.  Instead we must learn from others and accept that the faults we find in others do in some way mirror the faults within ourselves.  When we can deal with those problems within ourselves, we can more easily deal with other people who suffer from the same faults.  As Gandhi once famously said, “I can forgive the scoundrels in this world because I realize I have been a scoundrel myself.”  When we take this first step of awareness and self honesty, we are ready for spiritual growth.

Another thing that helps me in my own Spiritual Path is that I do not consider The Shadow to be evil (even though the old SOB nearly destroyed me a few years back!).  Rather I see The Shadow as one of my many physical and metaphysical teachers.  The Shadow exists to teach me the harder lessons in life.  It is no more evil than a hard-nosed instructor or an army drill sergeant.  It is there to teach, and the difficulties I encounter along the way are but the many tests I face to drive the lessons home.  These are tough lessons and tough tests, but extremely valuable ones.   Once learned, you discover a new truth within yourself.

Are you ready to come to grips with your own Shadow side?  If so, you will find yourself on the path of a lifetime.  Look at the world around you with wide open eyes.  Learn to view things from the perspective of love rather than condemnation.  Spend time daily in the practice of meditation and become willing to see the dark and the light within you.  Then get to know your own inner guides and seek their help in striking a balance between the dark and the light.  Be willing to learn from all who can instruct you, and set your mind to learn your lessons with joy.  For, when we learn to truly integrate the dark and the light sides within us, then we find harmony and balance and become true people of integrity.   I find that life is a deeply personal encounter between The Shadow, The Light, and other people that I must incorporate within myself.  Once you are on this path, you are well on your way to Spiritual Growth.

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