SPIRITUALITY AND THE “SHADOW”

William Miller in his book Make Friends with your Shadow writes:

Substantially more harm has done by denying and repressing the shadow than by coming to grips with it. Those who deny their shadows only project their evil onto others, and see it in them. Those who repress their shadows to maintain their purity and innocence are sometimes overcome by them and swept away in their very own evilI am not a complete person until I incorporate into my conscious self that dark side of my person which is every bit as much part of me as is that bright side which I parade for the world.

Miller mentions the process of projection. This is what happens when we assign to other people those aspects of our own character that we find difficult to accept. An interesting exercise is to ask people to think of someone they know whom they don’t like, and invite them to write a list of what it is about the person that brings about feelings of dislike. Very often what emerges is a list of aspects of our own character that we find difficult to cope with and which we therefore “project” on to someone else. What it is I dislike in certain persons is not their stuff but mine, which I’ve projected onto them because I’ve failed to acknowledges it in myself. Projection is a self-deceptive process, harming not only the person we have projected onto but also ourselves. The gospel story of seeing a speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye while ignoring the plank in our own is an illustration of projection.

For many years I was aware, intellectually, of the need to approach God with a sense of brokenness… Contemplative prayer and reflection has made me slowly but inevitably more aware of the fact that, when I say I want to offer my all to God, this must include those parts of my being which I’ve spent such a long-time burying, hiding, ignoring, and denying. My journey to God really is one of being stripped down and approaching Him in my vulnerability and weakness, in my embarrassment, and disgrace (lack of grace).  Many people protect themselves so well, for so long, it becomes difficult to know the “real person”. Their unconscious contains not only negative aspects, but also much that is positive and attractive aspects which, if it was allowed to develop, would enable them to become much more than they could ever dream of.

It is likely that, because we’re not ultimately in control of our shadow in the way that we are in control of a conscious self, there is a greater opportunity for God to use it to break through into our lives. That is one reason why we so often read in scripture of God speaking to people in dreams, for when we are asleep we relax our control and allow other things to happen. Seen this way, it then becomes essential to pay attention to this aspect of my personality. It will probably be a long and doubtless painful journey I’ll need to embark on, but one full of surprises and abounding in opportunities for growth and rewards.  The important thing to understand is that, when we feel “in control” we are inevitably putting up barriers, making it more difficult for us to be aware of graciousness of God. This is why Paul discovered that our strength in God ultimately rests in weakness. It is when we are conscious of our own shortcomings and fragility, not a morbid self-pitying way but consciously acknowledging the totality of our personality, that we tend to be mostly receptive to the promptings and presence of God’s spirit

Coming to terms with my shadow has not been an easy or comfortable process. It involved stripping down concepts, constructs, ideas, and beliefs I’ve carefully built up over the years, and which I cling to in order to give meaning, a context, and security to my life.

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