Two decades ago, at midlife, I met my devils. Much of what I had counted as blessing became curse. The wide road narrowed; the light grew dark. And, in the darkness, the saint in me, so well nurtured and well coiffed, met the sinner.
My fascination with the Light, my eager optimism concerning outcomes, my implicit trust concerning others, my commitment to meditation and a path of spiritual awakening—all were no longer a saving grace, but a kind of subtle curse, a deeply etched habit of thinking and feeling that seemed to bring me face to face with its opposite, with the heartbreak of failed ideals, with the plague of my naivete, with the dark side of God. At this time, I had the following shadow dream:
I’m at the beach with my childhood sweetheart. People are swimming in the sea. A large black shark appears. There’s fear everywhere. A child disappears. People panic. My boyfriend wants to follow the fish, a mythical creature. He can’t understand the human danger. Somehow I contact the fish – and discover that it’s plastic. I stick my finger through its end and puncture it – it deflates. My boyfriend is furious, like I killed God. He values the fish over human life. Walking up the beach, he leaves me. I wander off, up into the trees, where a blue blanket awaits.
In analyzing this dream, I realized that I had never taken the archetypal shadow seriously. I had believed, with a kind of spiritual hubris, that a deep and committed inner life would protect me from human suffering, that I could somehow deflate the power of the shadow with my spiritual practices and beliefs. I had assumed, in effect, that it was managed, as I managed my moods or my diet, with the discipline of self-control.
But the dark side appears in many guises. My confrontation with it at midlife was shocking, uprooting, and terribly disillusioning. Intimate friendships of many years seemed to turn brittle and crack, bereft of lifeblood and its elasticity. My strengths began to feel like weaknesses, standing in the way of growth rather than promoting it. At the same time, dormant unconscious aptitudes awakened and arose rudely toward the surface, disrupting a self-image to which I had become accustomed, creating distrust in my own authenticity.
The meeting of shadow and spirit had ripple effects throughout my life. My buoyant mood and balanced temperament gave way to deep drops into the valley of despair. I descended into depression, living in a mud hell. Unfamiliar feelings stormed out of me, leaving me depleted and ashamed.
My search for meaning, which earlier had led to intensive questioning, psychotherapy, and meditation practice, resurfaced with a vengeance. My emotional self-sufficiency gave way to a stinging vulnerability. For the first time, I dreamed of an intimate, healthy relationship, one based on reality, not projection, honesty, not hiding.
But for a long while life seemed bankrupt. All that I had known as a fierce reality crumpled like a peppier-mache tiger in the wind. I felt as if I were becoming all that I was not. All that I had worked to develop, strived to create, came undone. The thread of my life pulled; the story unraveled. And the ones I had despised and disdained were born in me – like another life, yet my life, its mirror image, its invisible twin.
I could sense then why some people went mad, why some people had marital affairs despite a strong commitment, why some people with financial security stole or hoarded money or gave it all away. And I knew why the writer Goethe said that he had never heard of a crime of which he did not believe himself capable. I was capable of anything.
I remembered a story I had read somewhere in which a judge looks into a murderer’s eyes and recognizes the killing impulse in his own soul. In the next moment he shifts back to his proper self, to be a judge, and condemns the murderer to death.
My own evil had revealed itself too, just for a moment. Rather than condemn it to death, banishing it once more to the invisible realms of the unconscious, I have tried slowly to redirect my own journey in an effort to face it, to face that which, by definition, does not want to be seen.
After a period of despair, I am beginning to feel a more inclusive sense of self, an expansion of my nature, and a deeper connection to humankind. With the gradual acceptance of the darker impulses within me, I feel a more genuine compassion for the struggle with shadow in others.
For this reason, in the footsteps of Carl Jung, I have developed the method of SHADOW-WORK. Its aim is to help those of you who are struggling with dark or difficult unconscious impulses – rage, jealousy, lying, blaming, addiction, depression, anxiety – to make a more conscious relationship to them, to cast light on your dark side. After you meet the shadow, you learn to romance it, to bring it out of the darkness in order to:
reclaim the disowned parts of yourself;
defuse your negative emotions;
release the guilt and shame of negativity;
recognize the projections that color your opinions of others;
heal your relationships through greater openness and authenticity;
and achieve a more complete self-acceptance.
Whether you meet the shadow within, or in your partner, or in a guru or priest, or in a friend or co-worker, you can experience a richer, deeper, more rewarding life with shadow-work.