Saturday, 29 January 2011

The Shadow

I have many bees in my bonnet – one that troubles me a lot is the linking of religion and faith with all that is good in life, either forgetting the other bits of life or ascribing some devilish intent to the darkness.

And yet if a life is to be lived truly, with integrity, in balance and with wisdom then it must be lived whole. And if our spiritual selves are not turned on and off as a convenience – for example seeing the divine in a rose but not in a slug – then spirituality and our spiritual lives have to be as alive in the darkness as they are in the light. So what do I mean by ‘darkness’?

In this posting I will look at the Shadow which is a term used by Carl Jung. Our shadow influences us usually without our awareness. Everyone has a shadow self. And I believe that every organisation/community has a shadow.

I think one of the problems with our shadows is that they make us think of ourselves as perpetrators or wrong-doers rather than as victims which many painful experiences can make us feel like. It is more comfortable to think of ourselves as the ones who are hurt rather than the ones who do the hurting. Recognising our shadows can be difficult – we have often hung onto illusions about who we are for many years.

Rev. Dr. Ed Piper of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Waynesboro (VA) said in his sermon in November 2010 entitled, Encountering Our Shadow,

Our conscious ego employs several strategies to keep the Shadow at bay. “Shadow work,” as the Jungians call it, involves penetrating the walls that separate us from our Shadow: denial, avoidance, repression, and above all projection, which involves attributing the qualities we deny in ourselves to other people.

I have been interested in the idea of the shadow following my exploration of alternative ways of viewing illness. Thorwald Dethlefsen in his book, ‘The Healing Power of Illness' says this ...

Our shadow fills us with fear. And no wonder, in view of the fact that it consists exclusively of all those aspects of reality that we have pushed furthest away from ourselves, that we least want to live out or even so much as to discover within ourselves. The shadow is the sum of what we are most deeply convinced must be expunged from the world if ever the latter is to become good and whole. Yet exactly the contrary is actually the case: the Shadow contains everything that the world - our world - most needs for its salvation and healing. The shadow makes us ill - un-well - because it is the very thing that is lacking for our well-being.

Within groups there can be a collective shadow. I have observed abuse in the sexual violence sector and have observed bullying in the domestic violence sector - these have not been conscious but I believe were the playing out of the organisations' shadows. So what of our Unitarian communities - is there illiberality? Is there irrationality? Is there intolerance? Is there a lack of freedom of conscience?

It is easy to look at others and point the finger - but can we honestly look to ourselves and our beloved communities, that we are so committed to, and be brave enough to recognise our own shadows. Can we work within our communities to make those shadows visible and then address them and make real change? I believe that this will make us healthier and stop us projecting our shadows onto other organisations/faith groups.

It is a real challenge but one that I think we have to meet.

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