Canvas by Peter Rogers, reproduced in his book, The Painter's Quest
To live life fully, we have to gather all sides of ourself - masculine and feminine, light and dark, divine and human, certain and uncertain - and plunge into the cavern of possibility. Any less will leave us dry and incomplete. As Socrates said, "An unexamined life is not worth living."
Light is defined by shadow. Shadow is created by light. Both coexist and play off of each other, each is beautiful in their own way. Culturally we regard the light as pristine, illuminating, hopeful, awe-inspiring and ultimately good. While we are suspicious of darkness, imagining it as uncontrollable, forbidding, dangerous, and probably evil. In our holographic universe - where we are a part of everything and everything is a part of us - the laws of nature apply to the human personality. We are both light and dark.
As small children we learn something when our mother and father say, “Don’t touch that. Be that. Think that. Imagine that.” Early on, we repress and split-off those parts of ourselves that are disapproved of by the family, school, society, religion, government and on - pick your special interests group. We're not stupid. To gain approval and love, we carefully position our culturally sanctioned pretense. Our one-sided mask looks good. We belong. Feeling shame for our unacceptable curiosities and hungers, we push them into the basement of our unconscious mind. And don't even know our hungers and longings exist. It takes a lot of psychic energy to keep the shadow locked up. Somebody is gonna' find out sometime.
“Up jumped the Devil,” my grandmother use to say every time my child-self rebelled against clean clothes and ladylike manners. I got a whipping for stealing her Viceroy Cigarettes, and hiding behind the garage where I taught my two-year-old sister to smoke and playlike movie stars. It was fun! And the whipping was worth it. I wasn't having much of that in my prissy East Texas household. Being sneaky is a skill most of us develop early on.
Here's the thing: that shadowy door that hides our passions won't stay shut. No way. A repressed culture - like ours - creates acceptable outlets to satisfy our raw and dangerous but powerful nature. Game of Thrones. Twilight. Breaking Bad. Zero Dark Thirty. Godzilla. X Men. Homeland and The Americans. Heroes and zombies. Sex and sadism. The scarier, bloodier, sexier the better. Don't go all Walter-White on me somebody says to somebody else. But really, they love it.
The Age of Reason birthed by Aristotle is still the world we still live in, two thousand years and counting. We're split. Mind over matter and forget feelings. They don't count. Keep those messy, uncontrollable, game-changer, outlier feelings under wraps. Man up! Do. Not. Let. Them. See. You. Sweat. And so feelings come out explosively when we finally admit what we feel. We want. We need. Culturally we still - lo these thousands of years - value thinking (which we consider masculine) as superior to feeling (which we call feminine). And religion (the Abrahamic religions: Islam, Judaism, Christianity with a Father God) as superior to earth spirituality (Mother God). What a box. Bound on all sides by either/or. Who can keep from acting out, erupting into something when we're held down, and held in, our whole lives? Surely there is a better way to live than walking on the edge of a crater.
By far the most damaging adaptation in a polarized society is projection and the scapegoating which results. Gays are the new blacks, hispanics are the new gays. It's a given that society operates best from moral values and standards, or we would plunge into chaos. But witch hunts belong in the Dark Ages.
So then, how do we lead our feisty sisters and aggressive brothers out of the closet and civilize them? We must be creative. Fortunately, human beings are technologically advanced and capable of digging in dark places to extract the gold. There is a path to healing. It's called self-honesty, love and tolerance.
I suggest a small effort toward solution: Getting to know and befriend all the aspects of our Shadow Self. The process of shadow integration operates something like this:
1) Awareness. Before we can incorporate our unacceptable hungers, rages and lusts, we have to own up to and admit their existence. Overreacting to someone is a potent clue to our Shadow Self. When we point a judgmental finger - seeing in the other things we won't own up to in ourselves - we are showing our hand and revealing our secrets. Now really? How many leaders who have sponsored legislation to deny gay rights are then found out as having gay partners on the side. Admitting our humanity - all of ourselves - is healing. Having an impulse toward badness is not the problem, acting on it is.
2) Acceptance. In some way, we are like everything we hate. How many times has someone you know well finally acknowledged that they are greedy, manipulative, have a secret habit or two, and wish they could whack someone? You laugh, because you knew it all along. People can see our Shadow!
3) Action. Do something about that nasty habit, tendency, out-of-bounds emotion. Throw shame out the window but keep the guilt, which is useful because it can lead to constructive action. If you are mad, whack rage around the golf course, smack disappointment with a baseball bat, and exhaust your anger with power work-outs. At least admit to yourself that you're pissed. If you feel lusty and are thinking of, or having, an affair that is making you feel miserable about yourself, try substituting some wildly creative and dangerous adventure. Yeah. Maybe you could climb Kilimanjaro, or buy that company and be your own boss, or have a child at forty. Take a first step. Get in shape. Develop a strategy.
4) Patience. Be kind to yourself. Learning Theory suggests that we have to perform new behaviors hundreds of times before they become second nature. You will fail. And you will begin again.
5) Persistence. Keep at it. We are a work in progress. It takes a lifetime to become a loving and integrated human being. What’s the hurry? Life is an endurance contest, not a race to the finish. Be a turtle.
Today is all we've got. Just do it. Maybe before we shuffle off the planet we might truly experience liberation from fear and become our potential, whole and complete SELF. It's a plan...
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
-- Marianne Williamson