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.

Friday, 14 January 2011

It's 2011 already!

Is really it nearly three months since I last posted? Indeed it is :)

My daughter achieved her majority at the beginning of December i.e. she turned 18. Sometimes we like to hang onto old ways of expressing ourselves - it can be a comfort. Talking about achieving my majority reminds me of when I was 18 - the voting age had been reduced three years earlier to 18 from 21 and I couldn't wait to vote. I expect that I also couldn't wait to be legally served in a pub but that's not my memory - we filter our memories - as people and as groups of people.

I led a Remembrance Day service a few years ago when I looked at memory. We, as people, are defined by our memories to quite a large extent - think of someone with dementia and how we say that they are no longer themselves. Memory has enabled the human race to learn and faulty memory can lead to creation as we adapt to not knowing. We can learn new things by mis-remembering.

And we can make things up or elaborate on our memories. Many stories dredged from our past are much more entertaining if they are elaborated upon. We also have great powers of selective memory – which help us to maintain our opinions regarding ourselves and the world around us. We tend to remember those things which confirm our opinions and prejudices and forget those that don’t.

As a community we also have a collective memory which is not held in one place (similar to the human body which stores its memories across the body – for example transplant patients who have memories associated with the organ donor). Sometimes the memory is about an event which happened many years ago - like Remembrance Day, many of us have no memory of the world wars of the 20th century but we 'remember'.

There is a fine balance to be achieved between respecting our collective memories and co-creating a new reality. Different people have different experiences (e.g. long-standing members and newcomers) and different attachments (from our personal as well as collective memories) – most of us cling onto ways of doing things because that’s how we have always done it and some are much more inclined to do things differently. My view on tradition is that it should serve you well and new traditions have to start somewhere and at some time.

I think as communities it is important to record events – in word and picture (video and audio too, if possible) – to have a sense of shared experience – this is one defining element of a community. But we are not defined solely by our past but also by our present and by the dreams that we have for the future. It is a wise community which manages the tensions inherent in achieving this.