Integrating the Jungian Shadow
Written by: Michelle Belanger
In the early 20th century, a man by the name of Carl Jung conceived of something he called the "shadow". Carl Jung was a psychologist, in fact, he was a student of Freud, and he was searching for a term to describe those dark spaces in everyone's psyche that all of us have but none of us like to admit are there.
The shadow, Jung believed, was a source of great drive and inspiration for people. Yet it was also a place where we kept many repressed impulses and fears. When it was dealt with correctly, a healthy psyche could make use of the energy and insights stored there. When it was denied and buried, it came out in really nasty behaviors and psychoses. Jung was a proponent of understanding the shadow, no matter how dark and scary it looked to our everyday minds. He felt we really couldn't be whole without it. But since our mainstream culture attaches such significance to darkness and makes it something we should fear and fight and feel guilty about, not a whole lot is done with the shadow these days.
In the Kheprian tradition, there is an underlying current of darkness that some people may find a little scary and intimidating. But the darkness that emerges in our teachings is not an evil darkness or even a destructive one. It is simply an aspect of the integrated shadow. Like Jung, we believe that if you get acquainted with your shadow and make it a part of your Self, then you have nothing to fear from it. You can work with its impulses, and you can choose whether or not to act upon the drives it conveys to you. It is only when the shadow is unknown and suppressed that it can control our behaviors in a destructive manner, but unfortunately suppressing the shadow and denying its existence is the norm for most of Western culture.
What is the use of getting to know your darkness? Isn't exploring those unsavory aspects of your Self fixating on them and encouraging them to come out in your daily life? Think of it like this: you live in a house with an unfinished basement. Whenever you have something in your house that you don't really use anymore but you don't quite want to throw away, you box it up and put it down in the basement. Over the course of many years, all manner of things get stored down there. After a while, there are so many boxes, you're not even sure what you have in your basement anymore. A lot of it's junk, the detritus of your daily life. Yet there are also some useful and very valuable things down there too, mixed up with and hidden among the junk.
Of course, all the boxes that have piled up over the years have attracted bugs and spiders and other crawly things. There are cobwebs and who knows what living in the cardboard and old newspapers down there. Some things have gotten moldy, some things outright stink. But, especially if you ever want to find the good things that are stored there among the garbage, you are going to eventually have to clean your basement out. You will have to pull out all the boxes and sift by hand through the junk, dust, spiders, cobwebs and all.
Throughout this enterprise, if you are afraid to get dirty, you are not going to last very long. If you let the appearance of a little spider send you running, you might miss the valuable antique that was waiting to be uncovered in the next box over. And if, like most people, you let the fact that your basement is dark and dank and a little spooky get to you, you'll probably never clean the boxes out at all.
In Jungian terms, the house represents your Self. The basement is your shadow. It's the dark place in your psyche where you put things you don't want to look at anymore. Aspects of your personality that disturb you, but which you just can't seem to throw away (kind of like that gaudy lamp your Aunt Edna bought you that one Christmas years ago) all get boxed up and shoved down in the dark recesses of your shadow. And some things that get shoved there in the darkness get ugly. They molder and sprout things that don't look natural anymore; they attract darker little things, creepy-crawlies that might just come sneaking up the stairs into the respectable portion of your home when you're not paying attention. That's the price of repression, you see: put it away somewhere that you can't see it, and the moment you forget that it's there, it will choose the time and the place that is comes creeping out of the darkness into your ordinary life.
Not everything in your shadow is nasty and ugly. But very little of it is shiny and bright. In order to have a whole personality, you have to be brave enough to go down into your personal basement and sort through all the boxes -- dust, spiders, cobwebs and all. If you are going to ever throw out any of the really nasty things, then you have to pull them out and face them and ultimately understand why you can't use them anymore. And if you are going to find those hidden treasures that are part and parcel of your gloomy psychological basement, you have to spend enough time looking at them and dusting them off in order to realize their intrinsic worth.
You cannot be afraid. The fear and the darkness are really things that we have put there on our own. We make our own basements, and it's important to realize that just as the basement is still an integral part of your house, so too is your shadow an integral part of your Self. Some really paranoid folk might lock the basement door and cover it with boards, or even brick it up, but what happens when you've got to get to the water heater or the furnace? You've just shut yourself out of something essential to the healthy functioning of your home.
The darkness that we Kheprians understand and integrate into our teachings is not an evil darkness. It is simply another aspect of the light. One cannot be whole without the other. And we cannot be whole without both.