Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Shadow Walking Always With Me

The Shadow Walking Always With Me – A Note on Carl Gustave Jung

I have always been haunted by the words of T.S. Eliot ever since my former English lecturer Mr John Devitt introduced me to the great poet reading his poems in his own inimitable style and in his acquired Oxford English accent way back in the 1970s of the last century.  Eliot’s words have that effect on all who read his poems.  These following words are apt and applicable to my theme and to my title.  They are from his great poem called The Wasteland:

........................... Only There is shadow under this red rock, (come in under the shadow of this red rock), And I will show you something different from either Your shadow at morning striding behind you Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you; I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

(from THE WASTELAND. T.S. ELIOT.
Part One: The Burial of the Dead.)

I must admit I have never completely or even partially understood T.S.Eliot – though I have always attempted to do so - but understanding is always a secondary thing in great poetry – secondary to the experience of hearing it read, having its cadences roll over you as the waves of the sea, of letting it percolate through your being as you might a great piece of music.

Anyway, so much for this tangential reference to shadow, now it’s down to business.  I wish to say something about the great psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Gustave Jung with respect to his treatment of what he termed the “shadow” aspect of the human psyche.  Before I even began to think properly about my topic T.S.Eliot’s words leapt into my mind.  This always happens with great poetry.  Enough tangents.  Let’s get down to the task at hand.

Carl Gustave Jung (1876-1961)

Freud had said that the goal of therapy was to make the unconscious conscious.  An excellent goal indeed and it sums up the ideal end point of therapeutic journey well.  However, Freud’s idea of the unconscious sounds to me like a frightening hell of every type of perverse urge we’ve ever had as a species.  To my mind Jung brought an element of mystery and adventure into the exploration of the unconscious and in so doing made it appealing for us to explore.

Preliminary Terminology

One can’t begin to read Carl Jung without knowing a bit about his terminology.  Firstly, the contents of the collective unconscious are called archetypes.  He had other names for these latter – dominants, imagos, mythological or primordial images – before he settled on the term archetypes.  In short, the archetype has no form of its own but rather it acts as an “organizing principle” on all the things we do or see or experience.  Dr C. George Boeree, whose internet notes on psychology are excellent to say the least, puts it beautifully and succinctly when he states: “An archetype is like a black hole in space.  You only know it is there by how it draws matter and light to itself. (See http://www.ship.edu/~cgboeree/ )(It is marvelous that such a brilliant psychologist shares his marvelous notes with the general public, thanks George)

One such archetype discovered by Jung is what he termed The Shadow Archetype.  The shadow is the inferior side to ourselves, that part of us who wants to do all the things that we would never allow ourselves to do in real life.  It is the Mr. Hyde to our Dr. Jekyll, the portrait in the attic to our Dorian Gray.  Sometimes when we are overcome with rage we get an inkling of this foreign or hidden personality.  Sometimes people even say when they give vent to such fierce emotions, “I don’t know what came over me!”  What came over them was in fact our shadow, the primitive, uncontrolled, and animal part of ourselves. In the Shadow we have an admixture of all the life instincts, including sex of course, all deriving of course from our pre-human, animal past when we were not self-conscious.  In other words the Shadow is the dark side of the ego and all or any of the evil that we are capable of doing is stored there.  There are many symbols of the Shadow and we all know them well from our dreams and from mythology (both of these latter areas were subjects of deep interest to Carl Gustave Jung and he was a quintessential expert on both) – snakes, demons, devils, dragons, monsters.  We have often heard people in therapy or those who attend AA meetings talking about how they have to struggle with their demons.  In essence they are doing shadow work.  

Jung went to great lengths to point out that there could of course be no Shadow without the Sun, no Night without the Day, no Dark without the Light.  Likewise there is no Shadow (in the sense of the personal or even collective unconscious) without the Light of consciousness (the Ego).  The Shadow has been variously called “this disowned sub-personality (Anthony Stephens in Jung, Past Masters Series, OUP, 1994, p 47), “an aspect of our deeper selves (Robin Robertson), or “that other side of ourselves, which is to be found in the personal unconscious.”(Frieda Fordham) The Shadow wishes to remain hidden, because we have pushed it down into our unconscious since we were little under pressure from others along the way – and these repressed contents become personalized or rather personified in the Shadow.  The shadow shows itself much to our surprise, and often beyond our conscious control, in moods, irritability, physical symptoms, accidents, emotions, strange and not so strange behaviours, and even in cruelty.

I will finish this post with a quotation from the great poem maker Rainer Maria Rilke and it goes:   Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave.  Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us. The photograph I have placed above is one I took of my own shadow on Donabate Beach sometime in early Summer 2006

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