The following paper is one that I wrote for one of my Graduate Classes. It discusses personal experiences, applications, and academic understandings of the Dark Night of the Soul. I would like to share this with others in the hopes of eliciting conversation and building an affiliation with others that may have undergone something like this but felt or wondered if they were all alone.
Dancing with the Dark
The tools obtained through my studies this year inspired emotional, intellectual, psychic, somatic, and spiritual transformations in my life. These changes occurred when I deepened my relationship with my Self through various transpersonal practices and introspection. Personal experiences of transpersonal psychology over the past year reflect what Michael Daniels refers to as, “the spiritual transformation of the personality” and living an “integrated and embodied spiritual life” (Daniels, 2005, p. 214).
Jungian concepts provided a map of the psyche that I naturally gravitated toward. They helped me understand the psychic components, their roles, and interpersonal relationships with each other. It added clarity to my blurry understanding of psychic anatomy. Creative expression (CE) exercises provided an outlet of expression for the voices within my psyche, for example my Soul, Ego, Mana, and Shadow.
I learned how the psyche’s sub-personalities vie for attention and carry out the different roles we play (i.e. mother, child, wife, business woman, etc.). I realized there is a connection between the roles we play and our personality traits. The roles we play, much like the aspects of our personality, do not only get expressed when needed but rather, they always influence our behaviors, even through subtle expression. Personality traits (sub-personalities) have needs and concerns. This realization transformed my understanding of Self. I realized how neglectful I was towards most of my personality – ignoring large portions of my own personality and it’s concerns. This exercise enabled me to better meet the needs of my whole personality rather than catering to a particular portion.
My personal life over the last two years has been inundated with recurring issues needing to be dealt with while I questioned who I was and why I was doing what I was doing. Moving to a state where I knew no one put me in a position to really be with myself. I was confronted with obstacles and issues I thought I had worked through. Everything I thought I believed was challenged and everything I thought I was committed to was questioned. This occurred from internal dialogue inspired by external events that overwhelmed me entirely. I did not know what was happening. I knew I was questioning whether or not I was living according to promises I had made myself. I knew I had violated many of those promises. I started holding myself accountable. I reassessed what I wanted in life. I assessed my goals. I wrestled with myself and plunged into a sea of darkness. This was Shadow work and I was experiencing a dark night of the soul. The classes and reading this year helped me give this experience a name and work through it more effectively. The timing was perfect. The discussions and exercises throughout the year, along with an awesome cohort, created a sacred space to befriend Shadow aspects of Self. I realized their underlying motives were not bad but sometimes their expression was unhealthy. I needed to find healthy ways to express these aspects of Self. Simply refraining from unhealthy activity was not working. These areas became repressed. I needed to replace previous methods with new ones more fitting to the person I am today.
Between the fall and winter quarter I received my master Reiki certificate, opening up a new world of energy work previously unexplored. I did inner child work where some past wounds were healed. I took those inner children and aligned them with my present Self. My truth had been steeped in fear and it constructed a wall of pretense and false image for safety. My Shadow cried out when there was too much to repress and I was finally in a space where I would listen. I experienced a lot of pain but I gained so much understanding about myself and things I needed that I had been oblivious towards. I also realized that I had not totally dealt with past fears. They resurfaced often and the challenge of living in a state by myself brought up all the challenges I had when I was emancipated at sixteen years old. I thought I had overcome many of those worries. When placed in a similar situation ten years later, they resurfaced and I felt like that scared girl all over again. I reverted back to behaviors I promised myself would never happen again. I realized fear still held power over me. This was good to know. Fear is the root cause of all the harmful decisions I make (harmful meaning they do not positively contribute to my life).
I tried ignoring these issues as much as possible. I wanted them to go away. I resisted the work. I did not want the pity party to end. It would mean owning my power, being accountable, doing some personal work and making changes. The issues would not leave and the coping mechanisms failed. Resistance was futile. I started reading Moore’s Care of the Soul book which helped me acknowledge my Self without interpreting my issues as problems or pathologies. I would heal myself without judgment or making myself wrong! This was such a novel concept! He wrote that book with so much love that I could not ignore the contrast with how harshly I spoke to myself. My coping mechanisms were harsh. My self-talk was harsh. My whole relationship with myself was harsh and sometimes downright mean.
Making daily progress, I employed the tools discovered through my classes and started making the necessary changes as I worked through various issues and spent more time in meditation. I created a Healthy Living Plan in Psychology of the Body. This made me accountable for honoring my commitments and resulted in healthy habits I continue to practice daily. Coyote gave us somatic meditation exercises where you lie still and really feel all of your body. I hated this exercise at first. I put it off and meditated while jumping on my mini-rebounder (small trampoline). Meditating while in motion is my comfort zone. I left my comfort zone and started practicing Coyote’s suggested techniques. I gained respect for my body’s wisdom, started learning the body’s language, and achieved a state of present-with-Self. The still moments opened my ears to hear the cries of my stymied Soul that had started coming out in other Shadow behaviors. I drew close to God. I took my power back and actually started listening to what this voice said. My time in meditation with Self and Goddess deepened and a new relationship with the long lost Soul began. Additionally, I began being much more attentive to my body. This really deepened my feelings of self-love and self-acceptance. I realized that being a strong woman – being a warrior – did not mean ignoring your body and ignoring your pain. I changed my definition of what it means to be a warrior and started treating myself the way I wanted others to treat me. How could others be gentle, respectful, and loving towards me when I was not being this way with myself?
Learning about defense mechanisms transformed my interpersonal relationships. I became reacquainted with projection in particular. I finally realized how it manifests and learned to differentiate between my projections and someone else’s issues. This revealed a bunch of work that I needed to do with my Self in order to engage in healthy relationships with others. I held grudges from childhood that I took out on whoever pushed the right button. I thought I had forgiven my family and let go of my ill feelings. I had been forgiving others and letting go of anger but never healed the resulting wounds and insecurities within myself. Every time these buttons were pressed it poured salt into the wound and agitated the whole situation. The pain was expressed by getting angry and yelling at that person for unhealed wounds from the past. Again, information like this is priceless. I am ready and willing to continue with my personal work. This year has been life changing and I am grateful for this experience.
Carl Jung based his psychoanalytical theory of psychology on the concepts of archetypes and the collective unconscious. The collective unconscious is, “…a universal level of the mind that is a psychological storehouse of shared memory-patterns (Daniels, 2005, p. 180). The personal unconscious resides in our mind and contains personal experiences. It is connected to the collective unconscious by means of the Soul. Archetypes exist in the collective and personal unconscious. Archetypes or, “universal patterns of human experience” suggest a universal connection between all things (p. 181). Jung differentiates between the conscious and unconscious by stating, “Logical analysis is the prerogative of consciousness; we select with
reason and knowledge. The unconscious, however, seems to be guided chiefly by instinctive trends, represented by corresponding thought form - that is, by the archetypes” (Jung, 1964, p.8). Understanding the unconscious fosters a better understanding of the archetypes. Dream interpretation is one way to tap into the unconscious. Dreams contain symbols. Jung was interested in interpreting these symbols. “Intuition is almost indispensable in the interpretation of symbols, and it can often ensure that they are immediately understood by the dreamer” (Jung, 1965 p.4). Jung believed intuitive interpretation of symbols was important for truly grasping symbolic meanings in dreams. He believed intuition was one of the aforementioned instinctive trends of the unconscious. Intuition gives you a deeper and fuller understanding of the symbol’s purpose in your dream.
The sign is always less than the concept it represents, while the symbol always stands for something more than its obvious and immediate meaning. Symbols, moreover, are natural and spontaneous products. There are many symbols that are not individual but collective in their nature and origin. (Jung, 1964, p.6)
Jung proposed two main stages of human life: outer reality, where the Ego and persona engage in patterns of adaptive behavior, and inner reality, “where we acknowledge the archetypal realities of our journey toward individuation” (as cited in Daniels, 2005, p. 181). Jung explains the meaning of individuation as follows:
Individuation is the psychological process that makes a human being an "individual” - a unique, indivisible unit or "whole man." In the past, it has been generally assumed that consciousness - or the sum total of representations, ideas, emotions, perceptions, and other mental contents which the ego acknowledges - is equal to the psychological "whole" of an individual. But nowadays the rapidly increasing knowledge of phenomena that can be explained only on the hypothesis of unconscious mental processes has made us doubt whether the ego and its contents are really identical with the "whole." If unconscious processes exist at all, they must surely belong to the totality of the individual, even though they form no part of the conscious ego. If they were a part of the ego, they would be conscious, because anything directly connected with the ego is conscious; consciousness is by definition the relationship between the ego and the various mental contents. (Jung, 1939, p.1)
There are four major archetypes: (a) Shadow, (b) Soul-image (Anima/Animus), (c) Mana personalities, and (d) the Self. From a therapeutic perspective,
Archetypes are also seen as useful tools for diagnosing problems and understanding one’s struggle for mental health because they chronicle pain, suffering, struggle, and endurance. They are seen as symbols that help people overcome adversity, reveal prescriptions for change, and encourage ordinary individuals to access the hero within. (Enns, 1994, p. 127)
If something requires change it grabs our attention quicker when it causes a painful experience. Humans have hedonistic tendencies - they seek pleasure and avoid pain. If an activity does not inflict pain and we like it, we repeat the behavior. If something starts hurting our body we immediately tune into that area. “A man who has not passed through the inferno of his passions has never overcome them. Whenever we give up, leave behind, and forget too much, there is always the danger that things that we have neglected will return with added force” (Jung, 1989, p.189). Feeling well is taken for granted by most people, therefore, pain becomes the language used to facilitate change. “Guilt is one form of this pain” (Farrer-Halls, 2004, p. 211). It is a request for change. Learning the language of the psyche and the relationship between its parts facilitate wholeness. “In the products of the unconscious we discover symbols, that is, circular and quaternary figures which express wholeness, and whenever we wish to express wholeness, we employ such figures” (Jung, 1989, p.176).
According to Jungian psychology the Self is an archetypal image representing primal ground and the total integration of the psyche – consciousness and the unconscious (Daniels, 2005, p. 214). Ken Wilber (1995) explains the Self as having three different streams: (1) frontal Self or Ego, (2) deeper psychic being or Soul, and (3) transcendent witness, Self, or spirit (p. 120). Ego interest lies in the gross physical world. The Soul is concerned with subtle reality or pure thought. The spirit is concerned with the causal realm. The Shadow, and other elements of the unconscious, lies within the second stream – the Soul. Psychological development shifts consciousness’ “center of gravity” from Ego to Soul to Self. Changes on any level affect all three (Wilber as cited in Daniels, 2005, p. 203). The Self is an eternal process of realization. It seeks balance and union with other members of the psyche.
The Soul is a personification of the unconscious mind and includes more than Shadow. It links the collective unconscious with the personal unconscious. The Soul contains a distinct personality of its own, portraying a hidden part of the Self. It is experienced by the conscious mind (Ego and persona) as “semi-autonomous” (Daniels, 2005, p. 181). The conscious mind engages in a relationship with the Soul when it agrees to “relinquish absolute ego-control over consciousness” (2005, p. 181). This relinquishment of control allows the Soul to express itself consciously, bringing hidden parts of the Self to the surface. The Soul bridges the gap between the collective unconscious and our personal unconscious.
The Ego resides in consciousness. It illuminates our persona. The persona refers to our general personality and how we handle life’s situations. “Our basis is ego-consciousness, our world the field of light centered upon the focal point of the ego” (Jung, 1989, p.177). Usually controlling our consciousness, the Ego resists when asked to relinquish control. The Ego develops for survival purposes. Survival instincts instruct the Ego to display traits and behaviors that cause others to love and accept us. These behaviors are determined by past interpersonal experiences.
Ombretta Bonvecchi works with the Institute of Sophia-Analysis in Cosenzo, Italy, researching the affects of fetal experiences on the development of the Self, namely the Ego. Bonvecchi believes pre-natal experiences “influence the capacity to give and receive love” (p. 83). This suggests prenatal Ego development is a response to stimuli triggering the survival instinct. This research is fairly new but raises interesting questions about fetal awareness and psychic development, especially involving consciousness. Bonvecchi echoes Jung, noting the importance of reintegrating these aspects of the Self, “If the Ego becomes an ally of the Self, the individual can partake of its profound wisdom…and creativity. The fear, the wounds suffered and the destructive decisions made against Self and against others…can be integrated and transformed” (p. 80).
Bonvecchi believes prenatal experiences repeat until the splintered aspects of the psyche achieve integration into Self. The Ego transforms as we attain freedom from value judgments that assign negative values to parts of our Self or change these negative values into positive ones. Regardless of how this is done (i.e. throwing away negative value judgments, transforming negative judgments into positive judgments, adopting new positive judgments, or seeing the negative judgments in a new and more positive light) the common theme is acceptance. Freedom from value judgments creates the ability for self-acceptance, thus allowing these aspects of Self to be reintegrated and accepted into the Ego. The more this happens, the more Shadow elements emerge for us to reintegrate. Thus, we see how this becomes a process of personality becoming. The becoming implies more expression of what already exists within the psyche rather than developing new traits or characteristics.
The term coincidentia oppositorum refers to the essence of Jung’s depth psychology – the reunification or reintegration of “all opposing aspects of the Self which get splintered and divided during the individual’s life” (Woods & Harmon, 1994, p.169). The Ego dominates the psyche. Egocentricity begins in early childhood (possibly prenatally if you ascribe to Bonvecchi’s claims) when we manipulate our true selves into something fitting for Ego-image. The Ego-image seeks environmental acceptance and adequacy. It is a defense mechanism. Many personality disorders originate here, developing when a severe distortion of the Self arrests or retards healthy psychic development. Usually the psyche continues developing despite our defense mechanisms. Severely denying oneself evolves into personality disorders, according to psychologists such as Kunkel, Fordham, Kohut and Kernberg (as cited in Woods & Harmon, 1994, p.169). Jung believed human pain and complexes or “symptoms represent the psyche’s effort to regain balance and struggle toward wholeness, rather than signs of internal pathology.” (as cited in Enns, 1994, p.128).
The Shadow houses all the fragmented pieces of the Self. Harmon & Woods state, “The Shadow must be reintegrated with the individual’s personality, if the process leading to psychic wholeness and mental health is to be initiated. Reintegrating the Shadow into consciousness produces equilibrium and wholeness” (1994, p.170). How do we know what needs to be integrated if we do not know what we are looking for? Marie-Louise von Franz, a Jungian analyst, depicts the Shadow by describing its usual manifestation as, “those qualities and impulses he denies in himself but can plainly see in other people” (Franz, 1964, p. 168). Jung recognizes his own Shadow explaining,
It occurred to me that I was actually two different persons. One of them was the schoolboy who could not grasp algebra and was far from sure of himself; the other was important, a high authority, a man not to be trifled with, as powerful and influential as a manufacturer. The “other” was an old man who lived in the eighteenth century. Now, I knew that No. 1 was the light and No. 2 followed him like a shadow. There was no doubt in my mind that No. 2 had something to do with the creation of dreams, and I could easily credit him with the necessary superior intelligence. I was conscious of it vaguely, although I knew it emotionally beyond doubt. (Jung, 1989, p.183).
The Shadow holds more than the undesirable or negative qualities of the personality. It houses values needed by consciousness. Many traditions use light to symbolize consciousness. “Light brings our world into awareness, enabling action with an intention and rational intelligence” (Daniels, 2005, p. 72). The light, or consciousness, shines on the socially acceptable aspects of our psyche, illuminating a limited portion of our Self. Darkness symbolizes the unacknowledged, hidden, unconscious reality existing outside our conscious knowledge and control. These values exist in a form difficult to integrate into consciousness. They remain hidden and repressed in our unconscious minds or get projected onto others, who we then come to view as being dark, evil, and unpleasant.
Understanding the Shadow as merely being the unacknowledged part of our Self assigns it moral neutrality and ambiguity. For example, one person may have a problem acknowledging anger. They view anger as being socially unacceptable and place subjective moral judgments on anger. Someone else may place an equally negative moral judgment on sensitivity because they have difficulty acknowledging it. In and of themselves, anger and sensitivity are neutral values. They go in the Shadow when deemed amoral. The Shadow holds negative connotations for most people due to moral judgments made about personality traits. Even the term itself, shadow, implies darkness, evil, and foreboding. Despite these negative connotations, the Shadow is an indispensable element of all human beings, perhaps all sentient beings. There is an African saying that goes, “No one could be real and not throw a shadow. When I die he goes up into the sky to join the sun, but I go down into the earth where he now lies” (as cited by Van der Post, 1976, p.unknown).
Jung’s primary goal of therapy was enabling individual ownership of the Shadow, thereby alleviating psychological and interpersonal difficulties. “At times of stress, intoxication or crisis, there is an uncoordinated return of the repressed, the unexpected emergence of the Shadow into awareness will typically lead to intense feelings of guilt and unworthiness, or to personally and socially destructive forms of acting out behavior” (Jung as cited in Daniels, 2005, p. 73). Repression harms us because it depletes psychic energy and can leave positive values of love, creativity, and joy unacknowledged in unconsciousness. Projection gives the illusion of Shadow characteristics existing externally, usually in other people. This results in a moral devaluation of that person or group, and harmful outcomes can and do occur. Jacobi comments on the energetics of bringing Shadow elements or complexes into consciousness, stating, “Bringing Shadow elements into consciousness resolves complexes. The energy spent on expressing that complex through defense mechanisms is then redistributed elsewhere in the psyche” (1973, p.12). Jung finds no difference between a fragmentary personality and a complex; “complexes are often splinter psyches” (as cited in Jacobi, 1973, p.12). “Reintegration of the Self into consciousness gives birth to your adult Ego and actives the creative power to change your life into a work of art” (Bonvecchi, 1994, p. 84).
The Star Trek episode called The Enemy Within portrays the Shadow and lays the foundation for the whole article Jung and star trek: the coincidentia oppositorum and images of the shadow by Harmon and Woods. In this episode a transporter malfunction results in a physical duplicate of Captain Kirk appearing on the ship. This duplicate is his alter Ego or Shadow. The duplicate is characterized by violence and anger. Mr. Spock states that this duplicate acts “like a wild man” (Woods & Harmon, 1994, p. 172). Kirk becomes increasingly emotional, forgetful, and less decisive whereas his alter Ego possesses strength of will, self-assurance, and borderline paranoia. Both people claim to be Kirk. The opposition between the two aspects of Kirk’s nature is clearly presented when they meet. Kirk confronts his alter Ego, or Shadow, stating, “You can’t hurt me. You can’t kill me. You need me…I need you.” His alter Ego responds, “I don’t need you.” Hostility is a common Shadow characteristic. How would you feel if you were deemed socially unacceptable, shoved in a closet, and silenced? Spock recognizes this fragmentation stating, “We have here an unusual opportunity to appraise the human mind. Or to examine, in Earth terms, the roles of good and evil in a man. His negative side, which you call hostility, lust, violence; and his positive side, which Earth people express as compassion, love, tenderness.” Dr. McCoy tells Spock, “It’s the Captain’s guts you’re analyzing, are you aware of that Spock?” Spock replies, “Yes! And what is it that makes one man an exceptional leader? We see here indication that it is his negative side, which makes him strong. That his evil side, if you will, properly controlled and disciplined is vital to his strength. Your negative side removed from you, the power to command begins to elude you.” Captain Kirk becomes increasingly indecisive whereas his alter Ego also starts to question, “How can I survive without him?” Kirk realizes the need for reintegration stating, “I have to take him back, inside myself. I can’t survive without him. I don’t want to take him back. He’s like an Animal, a thoughtless, brutal Animal. And, yet it’s me! Me!” Dr. McCoy gives further insight into this psychological phenomenon telling Kirk, “You’re no different than anyone else. We all have our darker side. We need it. It’s half of what we are. It’s not really ugly, it’s human. A lot of what he is makes you who you are…your strength of command is mostly in him. You have the goodness, the love, the intelligence, the logic. It appears your half has most of that – and perhaps, that’s where man’s essential courage comes from….” This illuminates the aforementioned statement by Franz that your “Shadow usually contains values that are needed by consciousness, but that exist in a form that makes it difficult to integrate them into one’s own life” (as cited in Harmon & Woods, 1994, p. 170-171). *all the dialogue in parentheses was taken from the Harmon & Woods article and is being cited here so the reading remains fluid*
Reintegration of Kirk’s alter Ego or Shadow occurs with the same technology that caused the initial fragmentation. This bares significance. Often, in physical and psychological cases, “that which causes the illness can usually provide the cure” (Harmon & Woods, 1994, p. 174). The polio vaccine came from the polio virus. Traumatic experiences wounding you in childhood potentially teach invaluable lessons and provide additional strength of character.
Reintegrating the Shadow into consciousness practically requires relationships to serve as mirrors because the Ego does such a good job of keeping Shadow traits hidden. Observe the back of your head without a mirror. Virtually impossible! If the Shadow is the back of the head then our defense mechanisms are the mirrors. They are held in front of us by the other person in the relationship when a situation arises eliciting a projection. Relationships need the Shadow as much as the personal conscious does! Shadow work must be done to cultivate an intimate relationship. The more an intimate relationship is cultivated, the deeper you can delve into the Shadow’s abyss. Intimate relationships magnify the power of the mirror.
We have the choice – do we stay and look at it, owning our own reflection even when it appears we are having a bad hair day? Or, do we disown the figure we see and walk away in disgust, blaming the mirror for what it shows us? Until some level of self-awareness is attained, a knee jerk response in favor of the latter option usually occurs. However, self-awareness makes no promises of reintegration. Sometimes things are too painful to immediately own and reintegrate into consciousness. Reintegration of Shadow requires patience, love, acceptance, and especially the removal of judgment. It requires unraveling social, cultural, familial, and/or religious dogma. It reflects a desire for transpersonal growth and a willingness to do the necessary work within one’s Self.
Therapists cultivate intimate relationships with clients by creating a sacred container for their client to do the work. Some psychologists and other mental health professionals believe that before the client can do his or her work the therapist must have personal experience of what it is like to rest in the client’s chair. I believe therapists should do their own work before helping others resolve issues. I am grateful for the depth that my personal work has attained over the last year. My relationship with my Shadow has taught me some valuable truths: (a) things will get messy when you do your work, (b) perfection is nonexistent, (c) there might not be any place to get to, according to the Buddhists, but energy never stops moving (according to the physicists) so we should have a say (creative power) in where we are going, (d) we gain more say/creative power as we gain knowledge, and (e) knowledge is power because it gives us a flashlight also known as Self-awareness. Self-awareness beckons the whole Self, including that mysterious darkness known as the Shadow. This internal process blossoms via our interpersonal relationships, especially those of an intimate nature, that enable us to see parts of ourselves that might otherwise go unnoticed. This link between the internal and external is one more example of the interconnected transpersonal journey known as life.
My perception of the world has shifted greatly compared to where I was when I started this program. If perception is reality, then my whole reality changed. I have a fuller understanding of what transpersonal means. It is an integrative and holistic psychology that reaches beyond gross physical realms of Self and even beyond interpersonal relationships and seeks to better understand its connection with the Universe.
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