The Holy Longing for a Holy War

In this time of religious division, it’s our longing for union with god or the spirit that unites us. This feeling for the divine, this yearning for more than the material world, is deeper than religious beliefs and creeds, which often lead to self-righteous fundamentalism, hatred, and war.

Instead, our holy longing can turn us into lovers, whether we are Muslims yearning for paradise, to be embraced by Allah, or Christians longing to be taken up in the rapture and embraced in the arms of Christ, or Jews wishing for the return of the Messiah, or Zen Buddhists longing for satori, or Hindu meditators yearning for moksha, or union with God.

Today experts in mental health care recognize this longing as a yearning for transcendence, a moment in which people are lifted up out of themselves into something larger than their individual lives. And they seek this experience through their religious institutions or their spiritual practices. Religion promises the faithful a form of immortality that releases them from the shame of their flaws, their powerlessness, and their fear of death.

But I have found in my counseling practice with people of many denominations that our holy longing is a secret feeling with many disguises. And it has a dark side, which plays out when people yearn compulsively for food, drugs, or alcohol, believing that substances can quench their thirst. Or when they fall in love and long for a romantic partner who alone, they believe, can save them from suffering. Or when they idealize a spiritual teacher who, they think, embodies perfection and join a community that requires that they sacrifice parts of themselves. In each case, they ask a person or substance to solve what is essentially a spiritual problem – and in each case they typically meet a shadow, their ideal shatters, and they are left heartbroken and disillusioned. At these times, we need the help of spiritual shadow-work.

Keen observers also can witness holy longing going awry today on the global stage. Islamic fundamentalists sacrifice their lives longing for paradise, mistaking death for transcendence. And Presidents Reagan and Bush, like other evangelical Christians, yearned for salvation – not just for themselves, but for all the world – through a belief in Jesus. Therefore, their messaging and their actions had self-righteous religious underpinnings.

Osama bin Laden was Bush’s mirror image: he too viewed himself as savior of the Muslim world. He apparently believed that he was chosen by Allah to protect his people from the infidels. Like Bush using Biblical scripture to reinforce his certainty, bin Laden used the Koran to buttress his ideology and to build his base. And he turned a deaf ear to moderate Muslims who urged a more conciliatory approach to the West.
Saddam Hussein, too, admitted that he was willing to die for his cause. In a CBS interview with Dan Rather, who asked the former leader of Iraq whether he was afraid to die, Hussein responded, “Whatever Allah decides. We are believers. We believe in what He decides.”

Today these leaders have been replaced by the head of Isis, who seeks to create a caliphate of Muslim believers across the world. But the dynamic is the same: true believers are unconsciously identified with dogma, take it literally, believing it to be reality, rather than seeing through it as belief. Their longing becomes concrete, a divine impulse distorted into a lethal error.

But, like most heroes, political and religious saviors have an Achilles heel, a fatal flaw, a dark side. In literature, these flaws make for compelling reading. On the world stage, there is a lot more at stake if they remain blind to their ambitions.

What is the underbelly of the savior? He cannot feel his vulnerability. He cannot hear other points of view; his alone is right. And most of all he must hide his shame beneath his grandiosity, his fear beneath his aggression. This is the inside story of the terrorist in each of us, who must be right, who must be on God’s side.

Do you recognize this shadow character in yourself as you read this? Can you feel that part within you that clings to righteous indignation, black and white certainty beyond all doubt? That voice within you that insists on being heard, overriding others, dismissing their feelings, demanding that they do it your way?

The mystics in the world’s religious traditions interpret the holy longing for a holy war in a different way: Sufis, mystic Muslims, don’t interpret jihad as a holy war against infidels; for them, it’s an inner war waged against inner enemies in the human soul. Christian mystics don’t long for the second coming of Jesus but for the birth of their own Christ nature, just as mystical Jews yearn for the emergence of their own Messiah nature.
Tragically, history is littered with the deaths of millions of people who were victims of saviors playing out their inner battles on the outer battlefield. Today, with weapons of mass destruction in the hands of men who have shown that they will try to get what they want by any means necessary, as a way of fulfilling their own holy longings, that is no longer an option. The citizens of the world don’t need a replay of the Crusades.

We need leaders who are conscious of themselves, their motives, and their longing for immortality – and how it can go awry with the abuse of power. We need leaders who are conscious of their own vulnerability and will not battle their personal demons on the international stage, adding their disowned evil to the epidemic of destructiveness around us. We need leaders who can hold many points of view, feel empathy for those different from them, yet still take stands for principle and against brutality.

The war on terror demands that Americans ask ourselves: what are we willing to die for? What do we long for that is greater than our individuality? Will we become the terrorists we fear by holding the rest of the world hostage to our beliefs, by using pre-emptive strikes against other peoples, by breaking treaties and acting unilaterally, as if might makes right?
On the other hand, we must not ignore the concrete reality in which others live and die. We must not psychologize concrete reality, claiming it’s all projection, an artifact of the mind. How do we cease making true believers Other, yet acknowledge the very clear and present danger that they represent—no, not represent but actually present.

This is where inner work and outer work collide. When we acknowledge the humanity of those who seek to do us harm, yet we act with as much conscious intention as we can muster. When we acknowledge the darker motives in our own initiative and the unforeseen consequences that always result from “doing good,” yet we act with conscious intent. Much like Arjuna in the Baghavad Gita, who must make war on his own family members for a higher purpose, we are bound by duty and by love to act on behalf of humanity.

The holy longing is leading us unconsciously as a global culture, and we are far more likely to bring on its dark side if we cling to the fiction of our innocent self-righteousness than if we have a relationship to our own dark sides as individuals and as nations.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Third Body: The soul of the relationship

During dating and romance, two individuals meet and a chemical reaction occurs, in which their missing parts overlap and their internal characters begin to shadow-box with one another. Fairly quickly, the persona of the couple develops. Jungian analyst Murray Stein calls this the uniform of adulthood. The partners may present themselves to others as two independent, unconventional individuals with separate interests and groups of friends, or as a united front with a traditional lifestyle and shared values. They may appear to be distant from one another or constantly clinging; they may seem relaxed and open or extremely private and exclusive.

Whatever the persona, the shadow of the couple remains hidden: their apparent compatibility may disguise conflicting values or even domestic violence. Their bon vivant lifestyle may camouflage near-bankruptcy. Their puritanical religious doctrines may belie split-off shadows that act out in sexual affairs or perversions. At a more subtle level, they may agree, perhaps implicitly, that they cannot be vulnerable, angry, or depressed with one another, thereby sacrificing authenticity for the status quo. For most people, this is the foreground or personal field in which relationships take place.

But at a background level, we propose that there is a transpersonal field that contributes to bringing two people together, thereby shaping their fate. From this perspective, the relationship is larger than they are, transcending their individual egos and shadows, perhaps acting like an invisible glue that holds them together. We call this the soul of the relationship or the Third Body.

As shadow-boxing with the Other gradually turns into shadow-dancing with the Beloved, authenticity between the partners deepens and they feel a palpable sense of safety and comfort. Some people might imagine this felt sense as a big, fluffy cushion on which to relax or a pliable container in which the relationship can grow. We have found that at this stage many couples become conscious of the presence of a Third Body — a new entity that is greater than the two separate individuals. With its emergence, the partners feel yet greater trust and can risk yet more vulnerability and authenticity, for they are bound together as if in a joint soul.

People have an intuitive sense of the Third Body and its containing function in their lives together. For each couple, it has a unique texture and flavor: it may feel sweet, soothing, warm, and loosely knit. Or it may feel cool and shady, like a protective covering. Couples know when the Third Body is nurtured because it feels like a positive vibration or loving air between them that hums quietly. And they know when it is wounded because it feels like a wrenching tear in the fabric of their love.

This field that is the Third Body knits together the various dimensions of our lives: it holds our egos, shadows, souls, and the larger world together in a common story. It contains the personal, interpersonal and archetypal realms.

The care and feeding of the Third Body is an ongoing part of maintaining a conscious relationship. Like a plant, it is alive and responds to the correct amount of water, air, and light. If we take it for granted or attend to it only when a problem arises, it may become dehydrated and wither. In its weakened state, it cannot tolerate more stress. But if we nurture it and maintain its delicate equilibrium, it grows strong and supports the life of the relationship.

We suggest that, when the shadow erupts and we feel betrayed, instead of stepping onto the roller coaster of blame or caretaking each other like parents and children, we now have another option: to honor and nurture this larger field that is the relationship. In this way, we make a promise to love that body, to feed someone whose presence we feel but cannot see.

For Stewart and Susan, the care and feeding of the Third Body became a key to deepening their sense of safety and intimacy. Stewart’s father had avoided intimacy in his marriage by engaging in a series of affairs. Stewart also feared losing his identity in his relationship with Susan, so he carried on the family sin by frequently flirting and acting seductive with other women. During the stages of dating and romance with Susan, he made excuses for his behavior. But after their marriage, it wounded her deeply.

One evening, at a summer party, an attractive woman approached Stewart and asked him to dance. Having done shadow-work, Stewart became aware of a shadowy rebellious character that often feels an impulse to do something forbidden. This character in turn triggers another that feels guilty for abandoning Susan and resentful for feeling controlled. Stewart reported that his guilt arose simultaneously with his attraction to dancing with the stranger.

Stewart’s actions with other women are shaped in part by the degree to which he values or devalues his own commitment to the Third Body. When he flirts with strangers, he is not attending to his relationship with Susan in the here and now; he’s time traveling, reliving his parental complex by repeating his father’s pattern and acting out his dependency and anger with his mother. Then he feels terribly guilty, which he believes stems from upsetting Susan but is in fact his passive-aggressive way of attacking her. So, he ends up feeling like a bad person and resents her for “making him” feel that way. This feeling is a signal that he’s turning his partner into a parent.

On the other hand, he says, if he rejects the other woman’s offer, he will feel weak, as if he needs his mother’s permission to dance. With this deepening awareness, Stewart is making conscious those parental complexes that shape his behavior. And he is beginning to romance the shadow projections that emerge from them, which opens the door to healing family sins. In addition, he frequently projects the responsibility for the bond onto his partner. If he dances with the other woman as a rebellious act, this character creates his own guilt. If he refuses the dance out of self-sacrifice for Susan, this character will be caught in a parental complex. But if instead he chooses not to dance out of his own free will in order to honor the relationship with Susan, he will be making a long-term investment in their joint account.

Armed with this new understanding, Stewart returned to therapy the following week and said, “I want to give my relationship a shot. I’m choosing to honor it now.” In this way, he gave up the forced choice: be a good boy and take care of your mother, living with resentment, or be a rebel and disobey your mother, living with guilt. Instead, the choice to honor the Third Body can free us of deep-seated traps of obligation, caretaking, and control by enabling us to shift out of our personal psychology and attend to the larger relationship. As the soul of the couple is nurtured in this way, it gains strength and substance.

The mythic figure Queen Penelope of Ithaca, wife of the wandering hero Odysseus, embodies this loyalty and commitment to the Third Body. Portrayed as the Queen of Wands in the Tarot deck, the auburn-haired queen in a saffron robe and golden crown sits on a throne with a sleeping lionness at her feet and a flaming wand in her hand. While her husband Odysseus sails off to the Trojan War, she holds down the kingdom with faith that he will return alive. During the waiting period, many suitors assume her husband’s death and seek her hand. She agrees to choose only one after completing the weaving of a shroud. But as she weaves the fabric by day, so she unravels it by night. And, in the end, she welcomes Odysseus home. Penelope, an image of the loyalty of the heart, is more than a faithful wife or self-sacrificing victim; she rules her own world with inner strength and inspiration. And she has faith that her husband will return not out of enforced morality, but from an inner conviction that the Third Body will endure.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Longing for God: The Hidden Object of Desire

When you imagine God, what do you see? A stern, bearded male perched on a throne with angels circling his head? A beatific madonna seated with an innocent child at her breast? A black, four-armed Goddess dancing on a corpse? Indra’s net, as it weaves through and interconnects all living beings? The letters of a holy name, a colorful mandala, a sacred mountain, or a sparkling void?

Each organized religion comes with its own images of god full-blown. They may inspire awe, love, fear, guilt, or doubt. They may carry potent and life-restoring energies for a believer, or they may remain lifeless and inert for a skeptic.

According to Genesis, god created human beings in his [sic] own image. Therefore, that image is a link between humans and god. Pope John’s zealous imitation of saints is an example of the imitation of Christ as divine image. It’s an effort to remove the obstacles that separate lover from beloved in the Christian tradition.

In the Hindu Upanishads, the god images, or Ishtadevas, also mediate between the human world and the divine world. The text says, “He is, indeed, initiated whose gods within him are initiated, mind by mind, voice by voice.”
Islam permits no personified image of god. But the Koran urges a worshipper to repeat without ceasing the name of Allah and to celebrate its praises night and day. In this way, a seeker attempts to awaken and cultivate the attributes of god, as exemplified in its ninety-nine names: mercy, compassion, light, love, sovereignty, holiness, faithfulness, peace.

Buddhism teaches that the Self is an illusion (a no-self or anatman); therefore, divine images are illusory. But Tibetan Buddhists use contemplation of a god or goddess as a stage of practice. These meditations can result in the seeker’s transformation into the nature of the divine being. For instance, one contemplates Chenrezig, goddess of compassion, to become more compassionate, green Tara to remove inner obstacles, or Manjusri to sharpen the intellect. In the final stages, however, the images dissolve into emptiness, or non-dual reality.

In Bodhisattva Buddhism, the aspirant moves beyond the ego’s longing to avoid suffering and gain personal happiness. She yearns for the happiness of all beings. To achieve this goal, she desires to attain Buddhahood, to be purified from the veil of conflicting emotions and the veil of objects of knowledge. She desires only to be perfected by ultimate knowledge: the union of emptiness and compassion, which is beyond all concepts and images.

At a mythological level, we are what we imagine. The form we give to our divine ancestors in our collective and personal imaginations is the form we aspire to become. So, these images are, in a sense, architectural: we are building our own futures in the world of imagination. When gods are divorced from matter, seekers will disdain their bodies and the earth. When gods are perfect, seekers will strive for purity. When gods are erotic, seekers will see sexual practices as holy. As Episcopal priest Morton Kelsey put it, “The love and celebration of Wotan can produce Hitler and Nazism; the love and celebration of Christos, a St. Francis of Assisi.”

If our self-images evolve but our god images do not, they may haunt us like ancestral ghosts. From deep within the unconscious mind, they may sabotage our conscious desires. For example, an impersonal image of the Buddha as the earth or as a great refuge, which supports everything and has no need of support, may serve Buddhist monks well. Because Buddhism is a tradition for celibates, its image of the divine does not have to reflect our emotional experience in family life. However, for some people with family, economic, and political responsibilities, it may not serve. When one American Buddhist teacher prepared to marry, he found that the inner image of the Bodhisattva kept him from acting on his conscious intentions to build intimate personal attachments, which involve dependency and suffering.

A static god image also may feed shadows of shame and failure. An ex-Catholic woman approaching sixty called me because she could not recover from the shame and guilt she felt about having an abortion in her twenties. Although she no longer consciously believed in the religion of her childhood, unconsciously she carried remnants of the same unforgiving god image, which threatened to punish her for eternity. Like a water lily, that imago drew its life force from hidden roots in the waters of the unconscious.

We can explore the development of human consciousness through the development of this god image within. These images emerge naturally in the human soul in response to changing circumstances that require distinct symbolic solutions. In contrast to collective symbols of established traditions that are given to us in doctrines or historical events, these images arise spontaneously in our dreams, fantasies, and projections onto other people. And they evolve continuously, offering direct access to the soul, which is not mediated by an institution.

The imago is not a conscious concept; it’s an unconscious symbol, formed by a mix of inner and outer representations of divine figures, beginning with our parents, and our unique temperaments and circumstances. And because it tends to remain hidden from conscious awareness, it carries great charge, often steering the direction of our holy longing.

The spiritual seeker yearns to touch that which is just out of reach or to see that which is just out of sight. In this way, our holy longing can point the way toward an image of god, and it, in turn, can guide us in the direction of the ineffable, ungraspable, unknowable realm behind the image.

Is there a transcendent god blazing behind the image? That is a question for theologians and people of faith. I am not advocating a position here concerning the metaphysical reality of god. That is why I use the small “g” to indicate the divine image or imago dei as it lives within the human soul and as it mobilizes uncanny power in our spiritual lives.

Throughout the book I seek the invisible images at the center of the archetype of holy longing, the fantasies of the soul longing for the divine beloved. Together, they help to account for our indescribable yearnings for something Other, something beyond the bounds of ordinary life.

Like Jung, who suggested that the gods are in our own souls and appear to us spontaneously as archetypal images, I suggest that by contemplating our own sacred images of holy longing, we can uncover our own gods. Finally, we can pass through these images to a transcendent, non-dual reality — making conscious our deepest soul’s desire. For even these divine images are windows onto a greater realm.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shadow-work at Work: Searching for Soul on the Job

A first job is a rite of passage that carries weighty meaning: a separation from the family, a step toward independence, a nascent hope for a creative, successful life. We carry our ideals, perhaps our naivete, into the workplace like a new suit of clothes. We imagine that our company will be like a family to us, our colleagues like friends, our boss like a benign parent, who holds our best interests at heart. We assume that our efforts will pay off; our loyalty will bring security; our ethics will be upheld; and our energies will be rewarded.

In effect, we long for meaningful work that is worthy of our efforts, that fills us with enthusiasm or enthousiasmos, which means in Greek to be inspired by the gods. Besides earning a living, many of us feel compelled by Ananke, goddess of necessity, to contribute to the lives of others and to create something larger than ourselves.

If we imagine our own creativity, we long for beauty, novelty, and originality. We dream of getting a day job that permits us enough leisure time to write or paint. Or we dream of leaving our day job to create an entrepreneurial venture that is wholly owned and operated by us, that will not require the compromises of working for others.

Unlike the tight fit of persona work, in which we identify with a one-dimensional role, soulful work feels spacious. Ideally, it permits us to express our authenticity, rather than bury our feelings in the shadow, so that we feel energized rather than depleted. Ideally, it connects us to bodily and environmental rhythms, deepening our internal harmony rather than mechanizing our lives. It allows us to make a unique contribution, which is needed and valued by others. And it connects us to something greater, a nobler purpose or participation in a larger community, which fuels our efforts.

A story about three masons illustrates how much this larger purpose affects the inner experience of  work: When a mason was asked what he was building, he answered gruffly, without raising his eyes from the work, “I’m laying bricks.” The second mason, when asked the question, replied dryly, “I’m putting up a wall.” But the third man, on hearing the question, stood up and said with pride, “I’m building a cathedral.”

In a soul-centered organization, employees can risk some authenticity without fear of losing their jobs. They also can experiment with their creativity to some degree because they feel safe to learn on the job, take risks, make mistakes, and move on. Sometimes called learning organizations, these kinds of companies make room for experimentation and the creative spirit. They attempt to open communication, rather than keep secrets. They attempt to honor diversity, rather than homogenize workers. And they make an appropriate place for Cronos time, such as in manageable deadlines, rather than permitting this god to rule like a despot. In a soulful collaboration, agreements are honored, roles are fluid, conflict is handled through shadow-work, and the Third Body can be felt to contain the project.

There are many ways to fashion soulful work. People who work inside organizations may want to experiment with greater authenticity by expressing shadowy feelings more directly with colleagues and in this way breaking family patterns. Still others may strive to imbue the workplace with their personal or social values, such as empowering employees to innovate, respect racial or gender diversity, create energy efficiency programs, or donate corporate goods and services. Others may attempt to turn a creative passion into an entreprenurial venture, like Mrs. Field’s Cookies, The Body Shop, or Apple Computers, thereby aligning activities that pay the bills and nurture the soul. And still others may decide to accept the limits of a day job and separate their employment from more soulful work by practicing a craft or working in the service arena after hours. Finally, we may detect the archetypal theme of our lives in our work patterns. Armed with this knowledge, we may discover why what we do is deeply matched with who we are, or why we suffer a mismatch.

One archetypal image of soulful work is Kwan-yin, the Buddhist goddess who hears the cries of the world, the sounds of human and animal suffering, and permits herself to be shaped by them. In one of her forms she has a thousand arms; each hand holds an instrument of work: a hammer, a trowel, a pen, a cooking pot. The goddess has developed the skills to become effective in response to the needs of the world.

This fantasy image of soulful work, like the archetypal image of the Beloved or of the special friend, compels us to seek it out, to yearn for it. For a fortunate few, it can become reality. Work can offer the pride of accomplishment and the self-respect of financially providing for oneself and others. A rewarding collaboration can bear the fruit of friendship, as well as an inventive product or service. A smooth-working team, like basketball players in the zone, can bring the exhilaration of group productivity. And a taste of creative intoxication can leave us hungering for more.

However, for many of us, the new suit of clothes, a symbol of our hopes and dreams, begins to wear thin before too long. If we are promoted, we may find that the weighty meaning attributed to a job quickly turns into weighty responsibility: we work long hours to solve problems under pressure. We are forced to cut back on loyal staff to meet budget requirements and to lower ethical standards to adjust to a commonplace business ethos: the bottom line. If we speak up against these efforts, we may step onto a roller coaster ride that leads nowhere.

If we are not promoted but passed over again and again, we may feel that our efforts go unrewarded. Heartsick with disappointment, we may disappear into the corporate grid and become depressed, resigned, or bitter. If we are fired, offered up as a sacrifice during downsizing or forced to retire early to bring in young blood, we discover that we are inessential and feel abandoned. And, because our loyalty was unrequited, we feel betrayed.

In addition, the chances are great that we will have witnessed the power shadow emerge between collaborators, as one steals credit for the other’s work; the sexual shadow erupt between employer and employee, as a demeaning innuendo goes unconfronted; or the money shadow evoke faint grumblings among employees, then cries of mutiny. Inevitably work, which once glowed brightly with promise, becomes tarnished. And it begins to feel Sisyphean.

The loss of soulful work: the myth of Sisyphus

In a well-known Greek myth Sisyphus, the clever king of Corinth, fought in his arrogance with the gods. Twice he achieved the unspeakable: he outwitted death. The gods, to punish his hubris, devised a tortuous task for him in the underworld: to push a stone uphill, watch it roll down upon him, and push it up again. Sisyphus was sentenced to this task for eternity.

Many people experience their work as a Sisyphean task: a monotonous, repetitive chore, a thankless exertion that leads nowhere, a useless effort that is doomed to fail. Whether they are factory workers on an assembly line, inserting the same parts into the same devices day after day; or corporate executives sitting in endless meetings in golden handcuffs; or homemakers washing limitless piles of dishes and laundry; or students doing interminable homework that has no relevance to their lives, they feel as if they are living the Sisyphus myth, as if they embody dutiful but fruitless striving.

There is in this quality of life a sense of fate without mercy, effort without Eros. Like the devastating recurring problems of humanity on a global scale, like the painful recurring downward spirals in every intimate relationship, the work is never done. The tasks probably will not be completed; the worker will most likely go unrecognized; and the stone will inexorably roll downhill again. The stone, like the shadow, carries us down from the heights, forcing us to face limits, loss, and ordinariness. It will not permit us to outwit death. But it will teach us secrets if we can learn to listen.

Perhaps it is our thinking about work that needs to change; perhaps it is our fantasy of work that sets us up for the frustration, even damnation of a Sisyphus. Perhaps it is this, after all, that leads to a deeply felt enmity between life and work. The purpose of this chapter is to question archaic assumptions about work and to bring psychological insights into this arena. We hope to renew a sense of work’s purpose, deepening its connection to soul life. We aim to lift work out of a workaholic culture and set it in the context of a larger life — and to help individuals make of their lives a work.

Archetypal psychologist James Hillman has pointed out that to understand individual psychology in the West we need to understand the ideas and images of business because they provide the inescapable warp and woof on which our behavior patterns are woven. He writes:

To set aside the profit motive, the desire to possess, the ideals of fair wage and economic justice, the bitterness over taxation, the fantasies of inflation and depression, the appeal of saving, to ignore the psychopathologies of dealing, collecting, consuming, selling, and working, and yet to pretend to grasp the interior life of persons in our society would be like analyzing the peasants, craftsmen, ladies, and nobles of medieval society all the while ignoring Christian theology. [i]

Hillman’s analogy is fitting: like Christianity, business is the framework in which we live. Moreover, work itself has become a religion; it is pursued with religious fervor and filled with the idols of a faith. But tragically for many of us work, like much of institutionalized religion, has lost its soul.

What do you passionately desire from work? When do you feel most alive and inspired? What is the stone that you push uphill, that is, the burden that opposes and resists you at work?

The promises of shadow-work: nurturing soul on the job

While shadow-making begins at home and continues at school, it is highly refined at work, where the persona is required to fit tightly if we wish to achieve success. In fact, many workplaces institutionalize individual shadow-making by implicitly demanding adaptive, accommodating behaviors and discouraging authentic emotional exchange. They often outlaw the discussion of certain topics and may try to discourage dissent. They tend to encourage projection to scapegoat troublemakers, uphold denial through workaholism and alcoholism, and typically hoard power in a few hands. The result: a climate that increases shadow and decreases soul.

This is a commonplace context in which we work. And because it is so pervasive and so familiar, like the sea in which we swim, we typically remain unconscious of it. We simply assume that we cannot be ourselves at work. We believe, instead, that we should disappear and become who they want us to be. So, many of us follow orders, even when we don’t believe they will yield the desired result. We protect our superiors, even when we don’t believe they command respect. And we look away from ethical violations, colluding with others in a conspiracy of silence.

This widespread workplace ethos remains unconscious for another reason: we grow up in schools in which we learn to sit still, regardless of our bodily needs. We learn to submit to others without question, obeying outer authority and disobeying the inner voice of the Self. We learn to compete with peers as enemies, rather than as worthy opponents who inspire us toward excellence. And we learn to structure our days around Cronos time: one hour per topic. Rushed to achieve academically, at an early age we are encouraged to leave behind childish ways, including imaginary play and reverie, the deep sources of creativity. At a later age, we are encouraged to leave behind the arts and humanities, all too often banishing our unique talents into shadow.

With this preparation, we enter the workplace and find that, like individuals and families, each company has a persona or public face and a shadow, which may not shine so brightly: HMO’s that purport to be client-centered restrict doctors’ prescriptions to medications bought in bulk discounts; an alternative healthcare group fires women employees who become pregnant; a snack food company that promotes to the gay market secretly funds anti-gay groups; and a highly creative industry takes for granted 70-hour work weeks, disregarding employees’ health, emotional well-being, and family life.

At the individual level, each of us also lives this lie, a split between persona and shadow, a Faustian bargain in the arena of work: We give up individuality to fit into the collective mold. We trade off soul for money. We sacrifice creativity for security. We surrender emotional relatedness for a mantle of power. Turning a boss into a parent, we become childlike and mute to achieve safety and approval. Then we pick up our shields and come to believe that we are what we do, that our function is who we are. We become so identified with the character who sits at the head of the table in the workplace that we create persona work. As one client put it, “I can’t allow my wife to visit me at work because she wouldn’t recognize who I am there.” In this way, we sacrifice our souls and create the very thing that we dread the most: soulless work.

In medieval society, despite primitive living conditions, work was imagined more soulfully: people joined guilds to apprentice with a master of a particular craft — painters, potters, weavers, masons. The guilds brought social order and offered individuals a valued sense of place in the scheme of things. Each craft had a patron saint, who linked the activity of the craft to the divine realm. The doing of the craft became both a source of identity and a way of life that was inherently worthy. In addition, viewed as the transformation of raw material into beauty, of the invisible into the visible, craft was thought to be work of the gods.[ii]

Today, with the swift pace of change, early retirement, and an epidemic lack of mentoring, the lineage of work is lost. In addition, when we think of a craft we imagine a hobby or a pasttime activity that ends in the production of a handmade object, in contrast to a machine-made object that we produce at work. But for some guild members of earlier times, a craft was an initiatory process, a sacred means of self-discovery, a full-time activity that awakens the subject, as well as produces the object.

In a similar way, with shadow-work many activities in the workplace can become sacred or soulful. Despite widespread institutional impediments, they can become opportunities to deepen self-awareness, nurture the soul, and serve others. Certainly, the job needs to get done; at times, the job may seem tedious or fruitless. However, if we can learn to observe ourselves, discover the shadow characters that interfere with our self-esteem and effectiveness on the job, and obey the voice of the Self, eventually we can return the King to the head of the table and regain our equilibrium at work. For example, we may meet a shadow character that is pushy and self-promoting, or greedy and ambitious, which sabotages team spirit with others. Or we may uncover a character that is secretly lazy and indolent, which unconsciously opposes a more conscious desire to get ahead. As we romance this shadow character by tying ourselves to the mast and witnessing it at play, we can discover its deeper need — the gold in the dark side. As a result, it recedes and we become more self-directive.

As we are challenged to learn new tasks and face frightening feelings of incompetence on the job, we also meet the shadow: we may secretly feel like a fraud, as if we are faking it. Or we may secretly feel blamed, as if we are the company scapegoat. With shadow-work, the characters of the fraud and the scapegoat can slowly become more conscious. As we romance them, they have less hold over us; then we have more choices to respond differently.

In addition, when we learn to identify our emotional reactions on the job as projections from the past — “I can’t stand that ambitious co-worker, that power-hungry boss, or that demure, helpless assistant” — we can defuse negative feelings, reduce blame, slow down roller coaster rides, and thereby decrease overall tensions in the workplace. In this way, each of us can become a more empathic, healing presence at work.

As shadow-work continues, inner freedom can grow. As a result of reconnecting with that part of us that has the capacity for soulful work, our dependency on employers and organizations may lessen. Eventually, soulful work can become, like the breath, a mast to which we are tied. As jobs come and go and relationships ebb and flow, our work can be a familiar place for productivity, contemplation, pleasure.

With shadow-work, then, we can use the job to enhance our self-knowledge, instead of permitting it to use us and eventually deplete us. Like the Roman god Janus, whose two-faced image adorned ancient homes, we can look in two directions at once: inside at the process of working and outside at the product of work. In this way, we can make of ourselves a work.

What shadow character sabotages your efforts on the job? What is being sacrificed by your Faustian bargain at work? How can you nurture your soul to make up for this sacrifice?


[i] Hillman, James. Kinds of Power. New York: Doubleday, 1995, p. 5.

[ii] See A Way of Working, D.M. Dooling (Ed.), New York: Parabola Books, 1979.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Shadow Boxing: Wrestling with Romantic Partners

(excerpt from Romancing The Shadow)

In a famous Greek myth of romance, Eros insists that Psyche make love to him in the dark. Like Eros, many of us want to remain hidden when our passions loosen the reins of the ego’s control. We long to know the Other, but not to be known. We ask probing questions, but reply with half answers. In a myriad of ways, we run from being seen and avoid becoming vulnerable, disguised in tight personas and baggy clothes, hiding in sordid addictions and clandestine habits.

And yet, right alongside the urgent longing to know the Other and the refusal to be known is the converse longing: the urgency to be known and the refusal to see. Like Psyche, we open our arms to love but may not open our eyes. We consent to temporary blindness, giving our sweet love to unknown others, people who are not what they seem, people who become strangers with the light of dawn. Like Psyche, we follow the lead of Eros, god of love — and when we light a candle in the dark, we are shocked at his Otherness.

For this reason the divinity of desire has been called Eros the bittersweet.[i] With the sweetness of love, the bitterness of shadow is evoked. And our desire, which seems to be such an intimate friend, comes to appear as a hostile enemy that brings longing, envy, and even hate in tow.

We long for wholeness, a greater unity that stems from meeting the Beloved, our other half. Eros, our archetypal longing, causes us to reach for that which is missing; our desire is organized around this radiant absence. And we yearn to melt into the Beloved, to find there the missing piece, and to lose ourselves in a paradise of everlasting love. Jung expressed this universal quest of the human soul in this way: “The soul cannot exist without its other side, which is always found in a ‘You.’ Wholeness is a combination of I and You, and these show themselves to be parts of a transcendent unity whose nature can only be grasped symbolically.”[ii]

Yet, as the god spreads its wings of desire, it blinds us to the reality of what is there. In this chapter we move from the tentative exploration that defines dating to the spell cast by romantic love and the infamous blindness that results. We will learn, through the stories of many couples, how romance leads us through dark alleys to the meeting with the Other, the stranger who appears in our most intimate moments to sabotage our feelings of familiarity, safety, and love. And we will show how shadow-work can transform the painful consequences of romantic blindness, so that eyes blinded by persona can see ever more deeply into soul. By reexamining relationships from romance to marriage in the context of the shadow’s hidden needs, eventually we can move from shadow-boxing with the Other to shadow-dancing with the Beloved. We can pierce the veil of illusory projection and see our partner with clear perception. Then we will discover that the Beloved is both the solution and the problem; the Beloved is the answer and the question to be asked again and again. Who do we spend our entire life loving?

Meeting the Other: Projections hit their targets

When two people meet and feel a deep connection with one another, their hearts open like flowers. So do their imaginations. Five-year-old Ned, a blond-haired blue-eyed cutey, played in the park with his parents when a young girl, about his age, approached. She said, “You look just like John Smith in the Pocahontas movie.” Ned grinned and his little chest filled with air. He announced to his parents that he had a new girlfriend.

Projection begins at a young age. We view it as a natural, unavoidable process, not a pathological problem to be rid of or a symptom to be cured. Through projection, the unconscious mind expels both positive and negative traits, attributing them to other people, whereby they can become conscious. Because by definition the unconscious is hidden, like the dark side of the moon, we need to discover indirect ways to catch glimpses of it. And projection is a primary way of doing so.

Rob, an architect in his forties who has been married to his second wife for ten years, recalled how he met his first in an instantaneous romantic projection. “I walked into a college dorm and saw this blond-haired girl sitting on the couch. She was swinging her legs, wearing bobby sox and loafers, to the music of Simon and Garfunkel. I walked up and told her that we would be married one day. She told me I was nuts. But two years later, we were husband and wife.” Five years later, they divorced.

Carrie described a first date with Vince, who appeared on a motorcycle in black leather boots and jacket. She stood on the balcony above and said to herself, “My Romeo has arrived.”

Projection is like shooting an invisible arrow. Each of us carries a kind of archer’s quiver strapped onto our backs. Every so often an arrow shoots out unpredictably, and we say something nasty or we fall in love. When we turn around to find out where the arrow came from, the quiver moves out of sight.

If the receiver has a soft spot to receive the projection, it sticks. For instance, if we project our anger onto a dissatisfied mate or our seductive charms onto a good-looking stranger, then we hit the target and the projection holds. From then on the sender and receiver are linked in a mysterious alliance, which could feel like erotic passion, intense disgust, or unbearable envy.

Julia, 29, a slight, wirey woman who works as a pastry chef, reported breathlessly that she had found the man of her dreams two weeks before. She knew nothing about him, but because of the look in his eyes and the sound of his voice she was certain that they would be married by the end of the year. The therapist asked her to write a short piece about her internal experience of the moment of their encounter :

Her eyes seek the Fit, the match between her world and his. The parallel lines, the flush corners, the edges that rub up against each other. She feels for the Fit, the mesh, the weave that joins her with him.

She saw him in a moment across the empty, white-walled room. She saw him with her whole body. It cried out with the Fit. It moved her toward him relentlessly on a one-way vector; no return. He sat still, waiting. Her body sat nearby and began to pulse. The air between them felt thick, resonant, palpable. The Fit was screaming from her cells.

She looked into his eyes and said, slowly, “I’ve been waiting for you for so long.” He nodded and said, slowly, “I know.” The Fit smiled in her cells. Nothing had prepared her for this moment. She was perfectly prepared.

We might wonder why the sender shoots these arrows into others. Poet Robert Bly uses the following metaphor: When we were very young, we had a 360-degree personality, which radiated energy from all directions. But the adults around us could not tolerate this much exuberance. So, in their own discomfort, they unintentionally but inevitably betrayed us by shaming and humiliating us for certain feelings, such as vulnerability, or behaviors, such as competition, which we then learned to hide. Our teachers may have scolded us for other behaviors, such as daydreaming, or our priests may have imposed terrible guilt for our sexual feelings. [iii] These denied, disowned parts of our souls –anger or depression, jealousy or resentment, intellectuality or sensuality, athletic or artistic ability — get exiled into the dark. As a result, the full circle of energy that was our birthright is sliced away piece by piece, leaving only a thin, proper facade to greet the world.

When we begin dating, as a natural part of development the shadow goes in search of its lost traits in others in an effort to recover the full range of our personality — the gold in the dark side. Like Star Trek’s doctor Bones, who does a high-tech DNA check on his patients within minutes of their first contact, the shadow scans for a love fit, looking for the “one.” When we find romance and fall in love, our unconscious fantasy image of the Other often is a composite of familiar parental qualities, which we inherited through identification, and our own neglected traits, which we banished into shadow through repression. When we feel a harmonic match with another person, a seemingly magical feeling of familiarity or resonance — the Fit — a part of us begins to believe that our soul’s dream of acceptance and belonging can be fulfilled.

Without our knowing it, the shadow is at work attempting to recreate early childhood relationship patterns with a secret mission — to heal old wounds and feel loved. We view this inevitable childhood projection as the first stage of romance, a kind of fusion[iv] that may feel like living inside of an egg shell, an enclosed form in which the couple feels nurtured and self-contained. Like two chicks in the shell, they feed one another on love, which speeds the growth and development of both. Other friendships may fall away as the partners imagine meeting all of each other’s needs and fulfilling all of each other’s desires.

Then, one day, inevitably the shell cracks — and the relationship breaks down. The old rules, often unspoken, which previously provided security (“You are all that I need” or “I pay for everything so we have sex when I want it” or “You carry the feelings for both of us”) no longer hold, and the partners face a crisis of commitment. Once the shell has been cracked, it cannot be put back together again. The partners may try, but they have entered a new stage of relationship: they are now too well developed to remain fused. For those who do not know that this is a natural developmental crisis, the relationship will end, and the partners inevitably attempt to recreate the egg shell with the next person. But for those who can negotiate the new rules, which allow for greater individuality and authenticity, the partners can go play in the chicken yard — a larger psychic space with more room for individuality and clear boundaries — and yet remain a couple. Then the relationship can begin again.

What traits does your lover carry for you, which creates the unconscious attraction between you? What do you give away to him or her that might be returned to your own treasury? How would that influence the way you live your own life?


[i] Carson, Anne, Eros the Bittersweet, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986.

[ii] Jung, C.G. Psych of Transference, pp. 82-83. GET

[iii] Bly, Robert, A Little Book on the Human Shadow  (Ed. William Booth), San Francisco: HarperSan Francisco, 1988.

[iv] For an excellent discussion of the fusion stage of relationship, see The Fantasy Bond by Robert W. Firestone, Human Sciences Press, 1987.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment