Seeing Dark Things: The Philosophy of Shadows
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Ultimately, we believe these stories, and once we develop a firm belief about something , we unconsciously discard any information that contradicts that belief. In the world of psychology, this is known as confirmation bias : humans tend to interpret and ignore information in ways that confirm what they already believe.
The problem is that literally everyone possesses qualities that society has deemed undesirable. The ideal individual in any society is one who lives up to impossible standards. What no one wants to admit to others is that we are all secretly failing to meet those standards.
If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected. Uncommon thoughts and emotions put us at an even higher risk of being alienated from society. Emotionally, any mood other than happy, or at least neutral, is considered undesirable. Ironically, this need to avoid things that make us and others uncomfortable undermines our ability to confront and either heal or integrate them.
And if this failure to heal is bad for us as individuals, the effects of that failure on a mass scale are catastrophic. When our cultures were in their infancies, past humans beheld their more animalistic tendencies murder, rape, war, etc.
behold Seeing Dark Things: The Philosophy of Shadows
While these ideals were intended to be inspiring, giving humans a model for spiritual growth, they were challenging in their tendencies to go against fundamental aspects of human nature. In many ways this is a good thing, since a society that allows rape, murder, and rampant violence does not tend to be a very good one to live in. However, our collective moral codes fall short because they only offer ideals.
Religious and secular morals only tell us who to be, not how to become that person. When solutions are offered, they are bogged down in esoteric practice that the average person has a hard time understanding—at least not without years of mentoring and study, something that not all of us have the luxury to undergo. The result is that we struggle to change in ways that require us to suppress our base animal instincts without giving them safe outlets through which to manifest.
In other words, we push our failures into the unconscious, where we can ignore them and go on pretending to be the people society wants us to be.
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We get to pretend to be enlightened without actually doing the deep inner work that it takes to move through the developmental process. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. Shadow work, then, is the process of making the unconscious conscious.
In doing so, we gain awareness of our unconscious impulses and can then choose whether and how to act on them. We begin this process when we take a step back from our normal patterns of behavior and observe what is happening within us. Meditation is a great way to develop this ability to step back from ourselves, with the goal being to gain the ability to do this as we go about our daily lives.
The next step is to question. Identifying triggers can be a difficult process due to our natural desire to avoid acknowledging the shadow. Our tendency is to justify our actions after the fact, when really the best thing we can do is avoid acting reactively or unconsciously in the first place. Cultivating an awareness of the shadow is the first step to identifying our triggers—but before we can do that, we must first overcome our instinctive fear of our shadows.
The individual seldom knows anything of this; to him, as an individual, it is incredible that he should ever in any circumstances go beyond himself.
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Having a dark suspicion of these grim possibilities, man turns a blind eye to the shadow-side of human nature. No, not necessarily. Doing difficult shadow work—recognizing and correcting our unconscious destructive patterns—is a crucial aspect of becoming a better person. Once we identify the original sources of our psychological triggers e.
Fear becomes an opportunity for courage. Pain is a catalyst for strength and resilience. Aggression is transmuted into warrior-like passion. This wisdom informs our actions, our decisions, and our interactions with others. We understand how others feel and respond to them with compassion, knowing that they are being triggered themselves. As we embark on this work, we begin to understand that much of our shadow is the result of being hurt and trying to protect ourselves from re-experiencing that hurt. We can accept what happened to us, acknowledge that we did not deserve the hurt and that these things were not our fault, and reclaim those lost pieces to move back into wholeness.
For especially deep traumas, it is advised to work with a trained psychologist on these issues.
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This is a very intensive and involved process and merits another separate article to cover, but those who wish to know more can find a myriad of information on the subject in books , videos , articles , and self-improvement groups. Unfortunately, many philosophies insist that people can become enlightened without doing this deep inner work.
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The proposed solution within these philosophies seems to be to actively ignore unconscious impulses rather than to dig in and understand them. The shadow self acts out like a disobedient child until all aspects of the personality are acknowledged and integrated. Whereas many spiritual philosophies often denounce the shadow as something to be overcome and transcended, Jung insists that the true aim is not to defeat the shadow self, but to incorporate it with the rest of the personality. It is only through this merging that true wholeness can be attained, and when it is, that is enlightenment.
The Jungian model of the psyche. Such a man has saddled himself with new problems and conflicts. He has become a serious problem to himself, as he is now unable to say that they do this or that, they are wrong, and they must be fought against… Such a man knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow he has done something real for the world.
He has succeeded in shouldering at least an infinitesimal part of the gigantic, unsolved social problems of our day. While shadow work is a rewarding way to cultivate a deep and intimate understanding of ourselves, and thus evolve as individuals, the truth is that the world needs us to embark on this journey sooner rather than later. If one person acting on these impulses can do a lot of harm to others, what happens when we act on them as a collective? We can see the answer manifest in our world today. Unfettered greed leads to a stop-at-nothing drive to boost profits, which takes its toll on the Earth as we alter ecosystems and climate patterns to exhaust natural resources.
Regional violence escalates in the areas affected by famine, drought, and climate disasters that irresponsible consumer practices, overpopulation, and industrialization create. The poor become poorer as corporate interests sway public opinion to form policies that benefit the rich at the expense of everyone else—especially those who are most disadvantaged.
We project our own worst qualities onto our enemies to justify the violence against them. We hoard resources, ignore the suffering of others, and continue the patterns of behavior that pollute the world we all call home. These behaviors are not exclusive to the Western world, or to the Middle East, or South America, Africa, or any one region or people. We all do it, either by participating in the entities directly involved in the conflicts, or by allowing them to continue through our own inaction.
While these large-scale problems may seem impossible for any one person to influence, we each have more power in this game than we may think. For all our discussion of the abstract power of societies, they are still made up of individual people. When two people connect, they form a relationship. A group of relationships forms a community, and the place where communities intersect is what we come to know as society. Each of us is responsible for forming the social codes of our communities. Racism, for example, is a huge issue in the United States in the present moment and Americans are struggling to find a way to correct this prejudice and the inequality it creates.
Whereas previously racism was a way to structure American society, modern Americans have decided this racial hierarchy is no longer appropriate. So, now, when people call out and denounce racism in their communities, they establish that racism is not an acceptable part of the social code. On the other hand, people who practice racism establish that it is appropriate, and people who ignore racism enable it.
Every day, you are building the culture of your community. When you smile at strangers, you promote a culture of kindness and connection.
If you avoid making eye contact or speak to others coldly, you build a community based on distrust and animosity. Our actions extend far beyond ourselves—they have a ripple effect on society as a whole.