Wrestling With the Shadow
I took this photo in mid-morning a few days ago. Sky conditions have been overcast creating a dreary scene in the city. The winter chill that hovers near the freezing point adds to the sense of darkness, even though it is daytime. Now that all of my exams are administered and I have begun the task of doing all the required end-of-courses documentation, I have somehow slipped into a deeper mood, one that is daring the unconscious to do its worst.
I can imagine that many would say that this isn’t a smart thing to do, to dive deeper into the shadow world of inner space. Yet I know that it isn’t about being “smart,” it’s about finding the right spaces and times to do what is demanding to be done, a demand that doesn’t come from my ego self. When “I,” the ego version of “I,” would rather just be present in the outer world, perhaps being a bit more sociable and animated, creating less of a headache for my wife and less worry for my children who read this blog; the unconscious aspects of self let me know in no uncertain terms that I can’t defer much longer the work that waits for me. So, rather than resist to the point of overthrow, I accept the task and risk the depths.
I have begun, again, to journal; and, I have begun, again, to attempt putting the images of the past on paper so as to bring some stability back. The mess has a lot to do with the fact that between kindergarten and grade eight, I attended seventeen different schools in four different provinces with changes in residences numbering more than twenty during the same time period. Wandering through the chaos of all of this with the images of places, events and people is proving to be a bigger challenge than I expected.
So why am I doing this? Why am I digging up old bones and skeletons in the closets? Wouldn’t it be best to leave the past alone and focus on living in the present one day at a time? Likely for many, that would be the route to take. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I find myself doing this work in spite of my common sense, daring to think that in returning to these ghosts of the past that I can allow them to finally be heard allowing me to finally be fully present in the day-to-day world.
Doing the work that is pressing upon me makes me think of Jung’s retreat into a similar work, in his Bollingen Tower, a place he built and which he dared confronting his own shadow, dared confronting his own potential madness. Jung had begun his personal confrontation with the unconscious before he built Bollingen Tower, but the tower did give him a sacred space for the last seven years of that confrontation which became part of his Red Book. My work is not comparable to Jung’s work in depth or breadth or scholarship, but it is about the same confrontation with the same risks, the risks one takes when one wrestles with the shadow, with the darkness.
Closer examination of the dark characteristics – that is, the inferiorities constituting the shadow – reveals that hey have an emotional nature, a kind of autonomy, and accordingly an obsessive or, better, possessive quality. Emotion, incidentally, is not an activity of the individual but something that happens to him. Affects occur usually where adaptation is weakest, and at the same time they reveal the reason for its weakness, namely a certain degree of inferiority and the existence of a lower-level of personality. On this lower level with its uncontrolled or scarcely controlled emotions one behaves more or less like a primitive, who is not only the passive victim of his affects but also singularly incapable of moral judgement. (jung, CW 9ii, para. 15)
Yes, it is about wrestling with the shadow, wrestling with the roots of evil that exist within the self, roots which seek to escape the unconscious through the weakest points.