We are counting down the week to Halloween here at Unknown Country! Whatever your personal beliefs about this archaic and arcane tradition, this is a good time to examine the shadow-sides of our personality and the importance of recognising the purpose of the dark side in each and every one of us.
The term “shadow” was first used by the psychologist Carl G. Jung to describe the denied or repressed aspects of the self. We are conditioned to believe that we should exist only in Light, but without the darkness light would not be thrown into focus. Life is an endless struggle to bring light and dark into balance, to learn from this battle and in the process grow and expand our consciousness.
Every action in life has a reaction; this is a world of opposites – right and wrong, love and hate, fast and slow – and none of us can live without stepping at times from one into the other. In general, family, religion, or culture dictates that our "shadow" self is deemed to be unacceptable, the side that we must keep hidden, buried deep and denied.
The New Age movement focuses solely on a movement towards "the Light," with an almost judgemental view of those who do not manage to attract only positive experiences into their lives. Where are they going wrong? Their actions or thinking must be deeply flawed!
But our darkest moments are often the most profound opportunities for extreme personal growth, and berating ourselves for allowing negative experiences into our lives, or making mistakes, merely causes us stress and tension. True wisdom only comes from making mistakes, failing, and falling from grace. Acceptance of these inevitable occurrences and natural aspects of our personalities must surely be one of the first steps towards true enlightenment. For harmony to flow, there must be balance, and balance requires an equal measure of two opposites.
But how do we recognise these positive and negative traits within our psyches, and attempt to bring them into balance?
At some point in our lives, in certain situations, whether consciously or unconsciously, we all take on the role of "victim," "saboteur," "aggressor," "bully," or "destroyer," or any other role that negatively impacts upon the life of another being. The first step towards gaining control of these identities, and achieving some balance, is to acknowledge them. By denying our "shadows" we miss the opportunity to change and begin to see where you can move forward.
In order to find a healthy and balanced level of self-esteem will require a great deal of honesty and courage, and we must first admit our negative personal habits. The next step is to begin to feel comfortable with these, as only then can we begin to feel harmony.
One of the first steps towards creating harmony in your own life is by finding your own "yardstick."We all have a yardstick by which we measure our actions, usually imposed upon us in childhood, but the realisation that these yardsticks vary diversely according to cultural, familial or religious dictates should be the first indication that is may not be appropriate to allow others to set our personal boundaries. There is an argument for learning by the experience of others: stealing another person’s property, for example, is not likely to provoke a favourable reaction and is also a crime in most societies. You can choose to sleep with another man’s wife but he is unlikely to be happy about it, so we may set our own yardsticks of behavior in order to try and avoid situations that we are going to find unpleasant. We do not have to do this; we may want the other man’s car, or we may want to sleep with another man’s wife, so we can continue with the actions but we must then be prepared to accept the consequences. That is our personal choice, and most choose the path of least resistance, but for those who follow their desires and then take the penalties that ensue, the extremes of life experiences that follow may provide valuable opportunities for soul growth.
Is there really a right or wrong? Should we really deny our darker sides or should we follow these desires, accept the consequences and see where that journey takes us?
Who really knows, yet it is said that it is at only the outer edge of experience that true creativity is born. Some of the most creative people in the world have often experienced tumultuous lives filled with extremes of pleasure and pain.
There are some crimes in the world that are universally deemed to be unacceptable, crimes against the helpless and vulnerable are condemned whole-hearted by even hardened criminals and few would contradict this viewpoint, myself included. Yet people continue to perpetrate these heinous crimes, so where do they fit into this tapestry of existence? Are they truly "born evil," are they walking that path because they themselves have known injustice and are re-enacting this because they know no better way of purging it from their own troubled souls, or are they merely finding some balance from a previous life lived in utter harmony, a kind of reverse karma??
All experience, whether deemed to be enlightened or truly vile by society, is nevertheless an experience of sorts, whether we are the victim or the perpetrator. Do our souls choose to incarnate and have these experiences, or are they all just pure chance occurrences of our ability to have "free will?"
One thing is certain: we all have a shadow side, and to deny this can lead to unhappiness and even psychosis. But in setting that personal yardstick, the keyword should surely be "balance." We should observe and acknowledge our darker thoughts and accept them as part of our human identity; if the need to suppress them is removed then their efforts to attract our attention diminish, and they are less likely to gain the ascendancy and start to control us. When what has been previously judged as unacceptable becomes less threatening, then a more balanced perspective of it can be achieved, and we can choose to act – or not – from a stable and steady platform, supported by a yardstick that we have carved for ourselves, and which feels comfortable for many. Others engage with their shadow side and use it to take advantage of others, and even to control them.
So merely observe and accept these thoughts and desires and think about their source – trying to suppress them only causes them to intensify and leads you to be permanently at war with yourself. Try instead to understand them, and to balance them out with the aspects of yourself that you consider to be laudable or “good.” If we leave guilt behind but instead act in a way that makes us feel comfortable, where our actions result in consequences that our authentic self can happily deal with even when challenged, then we know that we have arrived at our personal state of equilibrium, where our dark and our light meet in harmony.