“One does not become enlightened by imagining futures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The latter procedure, however is disagreeable, and therefore, not popular.” Carl Jung
TLDR: Self awareness. Understand and accept that you have the capacity to do horrible things. Viewing yourself as “good” is a default ego investment to make yourself feel better without doing anything. Having the understanding of the depths you can sink to, turn your view skyward and shoot for the opposite. Mimic a tree: drawing strength from both the depths of the earth and the expanse of the sky. If you stopped at just the TLDR, we’ve talked about this, you’re better than that.
There is something to be said for understanding your capacity for the darker parts of your humanity.
I cannot recall who said it, maybe they were building off of what Jung said above, but basically it went like this, “you cannot understand your capacity for good until you understand your capacity for evil.” Having worked with John and Jane Public for the better part of 25 years, I’ve noticed that we all have the tendency to create mountains out of molehills out of… well, so fucking much, actually.
When it comes to our own morality, there is no exception here. It is amazing how high we actually think we stand upon that molehill of morality. We’re all the glorious heroes and crusaders of our own stories and ego-invested morality. Simultaneously we are the pitiful victims of our own stories and morality too, when we feel violated for even the smallest infraction. More often than not, we are ruefully oblivious to our own ironic and hypocritic stances, idiocyncracies and flaws while apparently being able to see the same of the other quite clearly.
It’s that whole plank in the eye thing.
When looking down the slope of our molehill, we see, read and hear about everything from domestic issues to bad parenting to adultery to great atrocities in our city or across the continent and globe and we think, “Oh, such a shame! I could never do that… I would never do that!”
We try to make some sort of sense of it and quickly assent that there are bad people out there and that they hurt people and that we have been hurt by others, too. Our hubris goes so far as to think, “Oh, I could never hurt anyone…” and we are slightly haunted by this thought, like somewhere in the recesses of our mind we are slightly aware of that Shadow in the corner, and then quickly add, “willingly” as some sort of get out of jail clause.
But more often than not, you’ve never been in that exact position so you really don’t know. Do you?
You wish you’d never do that thing.
You hope that your code, your ethics, your religion, your will, can see you through. But with any given cocktail of circumstances… you could. You and I are just as human as the very people who do those things. We the same species and as such, we are just as capable. Like a code needing to be hacked, it really only takes the right keystrokes to become the very things we abhor, fear or hate.
It’s too easy to say, “There but for the Grace of God go I….”, that’s a cop out and it lacks self awareness. I chuckle here, this is feeling like a rant straight from the book of Ecclesiastes or Romans.
“There is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins…”
“All have fallen short…”
Forgive me, I am not here to make a sermon and point the finger at you, dear reader. This isn’t a religious piece either, per se, even though some religious verbiage is present. Understanding our Shadow applies to all: atheists, agnostics and the religious alike.
I’m talking about contemplation and understanding by making the darkness conscious.
We all share these things in common, the darker aspects of humanity, whether we want to admit it or not. We all have that same aptitude and capacity. Not that we will do any given thing, but that we could.
Impatience, petty jealousy, suspicion, gossip, greed (for attention, for love, for food, for money, for things, to knowledge, for power), lies and deceit, cowardice, laziness, apathy… on and on it goes, down the buffet line to the more dark and sinister evils.
Maybe this will help, allow me to put the spotlight on myself, as all of this is really a reflection of my own journey.
I’ve seen my capacity and aptitude for these things and more. Using the food/buffet analogy, I’ve sampled more than my fair share of deceptively tasty morsels. I’ve felt the temptations, salivated at the seductive scents and I’ve filled my plate and glutted myself on my fair share. Whether real or just imagined in the depths of my mind (which depending on the argument, is just as real) I’ve done so many things and I’d be willing to bet you have too. In a way, if there ever was anything that “repentance” could be, facing and acknowledging our Shadow, would be the start. It could be the humbling point where you see how far down into the Abyss you could truly descend. Then you turn, and begin to climb towards a height similar in distance to the bottom of the Abyss.
I was so tempted to give you a laundry list instead of waxing dramatically creative. Airing out, as it were, my own dirty laundry as a cathartic way to clear my conscience. But whatever I have done is done and cannot be undone, it is unnecessary to share it may tempt you to look down at your molehill and utter the refrain I mentioned earlier. Or maybe you would look up from where you are in the depths, scoff and pay no mind either. At this point it is best left up to your own imaginations and assumptions. Suffice it to say, I feel I’ve wallowed and ventured deep enough into the darkness and brought it conscious for my own sake and potential growth.
I’ve seen my Shadow, countless times. And countless times I’ve let him come out to play. Going through the dark, experiencing and understanding the Shadow and my capacity to become the worst version of myself possible has helped me. And, seeing the depths, I can also see the heights to which I could possibly rise.
Little by little, I not only understand myself better, but to a degree everyone around me. And not just understand, but empathize.
Whether Plato, Philo or Ian Maclaren (Rev. John Watson) said it, it holds true,
“Be kind, everyone you meet if fighting a hard battle (or carrying a heavy burden…depending on your view of the author).
Whether confronting, accepting, admitting and understanding the Shadow or going through life ignorant of their human nature: Each one of us is fighting that battle or carrying that burden. Carrying the burden of ignorance (willful or otherwise) or fighting the battle of self awareness and self actualization.
Obviously, one way seems better than the other to me, as I do not believe in this case that ignorance is bliss. I do not wish to see my Shadow, born from the Abyss of human nature, be the dominant course of my life, focused solely inward and downward.
The Shadow has given me an understanding of the direction to which my growth belongs.
I belong in the Light – In the warmth of the Sun and the Day.
And what do I mean by that?
Life and Light. Upward and outward.
Some say we are made from the dirt, dust and clay. That is, made from below. It is also said that we are made up of Stardust. So then, we are made from above. But this doesn’t have to be a binary choice. It isn’t a yes or no, this or that. But a “this and that”. Beings made from clay, so to speak, whose ingredients come from the stars. Maybe we could dare say we were born below in order to take our rightful place above.
“Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter…”
Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back
“You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun, Kal. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.”
Jor-El, Man of Steel
And yes… I just used movie quotes. Would you rather have me quote from religious or philosophical texts? Does it really matter?
For awhile now, I’ve been viewing the way I want to live my life like a Great Tree. My roots expanding down, which would be my understanding of the depths of my Shadow, my struggles, pain and hardships. All the while, my face and branches lifted, stretched outward and upward toward the heavens, reaching and striving to expand further up, further out. Creeping vines that would drag me down, strain and snap from the consistent and relentless pursuit upwards towards that solar origin.