The Jungian shadow and the balance between creation and destruction
That's beautiful work Sherry - again, I'm seeing wisdom of an old soul in your writing.
A couple of reflections... I had the rare luck of coming across the novels of Ursula Le Guin when I was about 12 years old. In the Earthsea trilogy, the main character lets loose his shadow and is then chased by it.... eventually he chases it across the Wall of Death...
I don't want to give away the ending as some might love to read this - I wouldn't say it was written with adults in mind... I understand that Ursula was a child psychologist who used stories to reveal ideas to kids...
To my inner Kid, these books pointed me at the need to integrate the Shadow... at an age where I was probably way too young to get the lifetime perspective on this... but the Idea remained.
And remains. Even today, in my morning practice, I'm contemplating shadow elements.... stuff I've worked on in therapy (which people might find helpful... hint is, there's a good chance that if you think you see your Shadow? You may have missed the point - it's IS the parts of you that you cannot see)..
... and there's an idea to play with there, which you can do without a therapist/practice etc... When someone asks you about Who You Are.... make a mental note.. whatever you reply will give you a starting point.... Whatever you say you ARE probably gives you some pointers to what you Aren't (your shadow).
Keep it up Sherry - your writing is something I look forward to.
Excellent piece! I once heard a Jungian describe the Shadow as the "dark side of the moon." Lots of good things can be hidden there, but also evil desires and all that too. I also like the idea of an alternate take of what we usually tell kids: "You can be anyone and do anything!" Quite an optimistic or even hopeful statement on the one hand, but also (dear goodness) a warning too. When we see people on the news we deem as evil, who knows how close we were to being such people ourselves. And who knows if we will become them later on in life? Sartre comes to mind here:)
There's a very easy relationship between pragmatism and spirituality in your writing, and a nurturing tone. You touch on themes that sometimes make me feel queasy, but they're so calmly discussed that I can comfortably digest them.
The how to feel about one's shadow question has fascinated me since before I could put in into words. I was primed to think like a medieval on matters of good, evil and the soul, but philosophically I knew it couldn't be so straightforward.
I'm very drawn to the films of David Lynch because he depicts the epicenters of evil and their effects on the conflicted souls that are drawn towards them.
I struggle to see how anyone who adopts the total darkness phobic stance of a zealous theist could make certain kinds of art. I wonder if devoutly cautious Christians (and perhaps other Western religious conservatives) might make fine landscape painters and composers, but when it comes to poetry, prose, songwriting, cinema, they either fail to create something convincingly human, or become nervous wrecks owing to the tension between creative honesty, and fidelity to goodness.
Good and evil are two sides of the same coin. Both natures reside within us.
There's a legend around the creation of Da Vinci's Last Supper that illustrates this perfectly: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/1190387-when-he-was-creating-this-picture-leonardo-da-vinci-encountered
"To create is to destroy at the same time. We can not cast a light without simultaneously casting a shadow."
I think about this a lot, for both better and worse. It's made the whole idea of "progress" seem false to me. On a personal level, there's a kind of liberation in that (I'm reminded now of a Josh Homme lyric: "The world, yeah / She don't need saving / 'Cept from you and me and our / Misbehaving"). But on a societal level, people seem confined to their belief in progress and the quasi-religious meaning they derive from it.
Philosopher John Gray has a lot to say about this in his book "The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths." In an interview about the book, Gray was asked if progress is a religion in itself. He answered, "Oh yes, it is. Our secular myths are just religious myths rebottled, but with most of the good things taken out." I (a lapsed atheist) think there's a lot of truth in that.
Reading your piece also brought to mind my favorite episode of Parts Unknown, from Indonesia. Shadow play and its associated stories and myths feature prominently in the episode, along with related explorations of light and dark, good and evil, and the cyclical nature of life.
I'm not out to prove anything. I'm not certain about any of it myself. But it sure does seem to me like our endless, simultaneous creations and destructions jive with the idea that we're all moving in circles, and that maybe there are better ways to spend our time and energy than being in constant pursuit of progress.
What a profound and captivating read, Sherry. You are both an amazing thinker and writer. ❤️🙏🏽
Thank you for the intriguing read. Timely considering JBPs latest interview on child slavery
Another way this plays itself out in our lives, usually without our knowing or understanding, is in sex.
A good sex life, to a lot of people, lets you try out things you'd never acknowledge publicly. Lets you play with things like danger and control and selfishness and raw, unmitigated desire.
The ultimate sex life lets you confront the deepest parts of you in a safe way, *through* sex. With somebody who sees you, loves you, and accepts you.
But nobody talks about this. It's something I've wanted to write about for a long time.
Lovely post as usual.
Wow, this was so good Sherry. I think my favourite of your essays I’ve read.
The idea of needing to understand your shadow, the part of you that has the potentiality to be malevolent, to become immunized against it is fascinating.
I also loved the example Peterson gave: If you were living in Germany in the 1940’s, you’d be a soldier. You’d act as everyone else did.
That realization is both humbling and terrifying.
Awesome work :)