Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Me and My Shadow

Most people think that shadows follow, precede or surround beings or objects. The truth is that they also surround words, desires, deeds, impulses and memories.
-Elie Wiesel

In George MacDonald’s Phantastes *, as we follow Anodos’ journey through the enchanted forest, we see that everything he experiences is an outward manifestation of his inner life. What he perceives (or not) of the world around him is based upon his hopes and fears, his desires and doubts, his belief and unbelief. The story of his shadow finding him is one such manifestation. `

Once Anodos’ shadow begins “attending” him, it alters his perceptions of reality, keeping him from seeing the world and the people around him as they are but, rather, operates as a projector projecting his shadowy image across the landscapes of his outer world. 

“Once, as I passed by a cottage, there came out a lovely fairy child with two wondrous toys, one in each hand….Round the child’s head was an aureole of emanating rays. As I looked in wonder and delight, round crept from behind me something dark, and the child stood in my shadow. Straightway he was a commonplace boy...”

Carl Jung wrote, “It is a frightening thought that man also has a shadow side to him, consisting not just of little weaknesses and foibles, but of a positively demonic dynamism …. Having a dark suspicion of these grim possibilities, man turns a blind eye to the shadow-side of human nature. Blindly he strives against the salutary dogma of original sin, which is yet so prodigiously true. Yes, he even hesitates to admit the conflict of which he is so painfully aware.” ("On the Psychology of the Unconscious.")

The first steps toward enlightenment and salvation require self-awareness. Hesitation must be put aside, if we are ever to experience healing. Anodos learned that his shadow side exists and was laying waste to everything it touched. Jung describes such battles as internecine wars being waged on two fronts: “before him the struggle for existence, in the rear the struggle against his own rebellious instinctual nature.” ("Analytical Psychology and Weltanschauung.").

St Paul said of his own experience, “For I do not do the good I want to do but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep doing.” The struggle against our rebellious nature, the battle to “do right,” opens our eyes to our shadows. The challenge for many serious minded warriors, however, is in seeing that this war is not primarily an ethical one. The shadow lies deeper than the arena of doing right via obeying the Creator’s laws. It is our very being that needs to experience new birth, healing, and transformation. Simply put: we do shadowy stuff because of the darkness in our souls.

For Anodos, the process of being delivered from his shadow and the transformation of his soul began with humbly acknowledging the darkness within. “I learned that it was better, a thousand-fold, for a proud man to fall and be humbled, than to hold up his head in his pride and fancied innocence.” He also knew that this victory was only the first battle in a lifelong war, for our dead shadows often rise again, like a Phoenix from the ashes of its death.

“Doubtless, this self must again die and be buried, and again, from its tomb, spring a winged child…Self will come to life even in the slaying of self; but there is ever something deeper and stronger than it, which will emerge at last from the unknown abyss of the soul; will it be a solemn gloom, burning with eyes? or a clear morning after the rain? or a smiling child that finds himself nowhere and everywhere?”

* George MacDonald, “Phantastes,” Wm Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1964

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2014

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