The Shadow Knows | An Interview with The Moon

This article originally appeared in The MOON magazine and is reprinted with permission.

Connie Zweig, Ph.D., is a Jungian-oriented therapist and the founder of the Center for Shadow-work and Spiritual Counseling of AIWP. Known as “the shadow expert,” she has written three books on shadow-work, including Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature (with Jeremiah Abrams), Romancing the Shadow: Illuminating the Dark Side of the Soul (with Dr. Steve Wolf), and The Holy Longing: Spiritual Yearning and Its Shadow Side. She and Wolf have developed techniques for drawing the shadow into the light so that clients can understand how and why their shadows have developed, what are the unmet needs or unfilled aspirations the shadow represents, and how clients can address those needs and aspirations more directly, thereby freeing themselves from self-sabotage.

With more than twenty-five years in private practice, Dr. Zweig counsels couples and individuals locally in Los Angeles and internationally via Skype. She also does dream work with clients, particularly around issues of blocked creativity. As a meditation instructor for forty years and a lifelong student of the mystic traditions, she is also available for spiritual counseling with people of all spiritual paths.

She spoke with The MOON by phone from her home in Topanga Canyon, outside of Los Angeles.

The MOON: What is “the shadow”?

Zweig: The shadow is what psychologists refer to as the personal unconscious. It’s the part of us that’s a blind spot, outside of our awareness. It’s elusive. When we catch a glimpse of it, it runs away again. It contains all of the qualities, attributes, feelings and abilities that we were not allowed to develop and that became taboo to us. So it might include our anger, our artistic abilities, our addictive tendencies, our sorrow. It can contain any traits or capacities that were repressed when we were children. They don’t vanish or disappear, however; they are stored in our bodyminds and become our shadows. We don’t have the freedom to express these traits or qualities or to live them out because we don’t even know that they’re there.

The MOON: So how do we engage them, or work with them, if we can’t see them; if we don’t know they’re there?

Zweig: Shadow material tends to leak out, and sometimes it erupts. Sometimes it leaks out in our humor—a joke or a snarky comment that has meanness or superiority in it. Sometimes it erupts in rage. Sometimes it erupts in tears that seem to come out of nowhere. At midlife it might come out in feelings of regret that we haven’t lived our authentic life; we’ve lived someone else’s choices for us. That’s because if we choose conformity in life, a lot of stuff gets buried in our shadow—hidden from our awareness. So in midlife, you see people blow up their marriages, walk away from their jobs, throw their lives into complete disarray so that they can live out those qualities that were buried before.

The shadow also comes out in projection. For example, we see someone we intensely dislike. We think she looks slutty, but it’s because our own sense of sexuality is repressed. We rail against homosexuality, because we’re not willing to face our own homosexual impulses. Or we find a man bossy and overbearing because our own sense of power is repressed. We project qualities onto other people and see them as outside of ourselves. That’s one way of detecting our own shadow—by looking at our projections onto others.

The shadow often shows up in our relationships. We might marry someone who carries qualities that are repressed in us. We might have repetitive fights with our partners about these things because we’re encountering our own shadow material in our partner.

You meet the shadow when your unconscious mind sabotages your conscious intentions. You know that the shadow has appeared when you feel angry, powerless, invisible, envious, greedy, anxious, depressed, or out of control, and you say or do something impulsive or self-destructive, then feel guilty or ashamed afterward. At those times, you are meeting an unacceptable part of yourself.

Another way you can meet the shadow is through negative feedback from others who serve as your mirror. They might say something like, “This is the third time you’ve arrived late without calling.” Their feedback is telling you that there’s a part of your personality that is hidden from you, but it’s leaking out, and others are calling your attention to it.

The MOON: We’ve often heard that those qualities we object to in another are those that we’ve repressed in ourselves. But if we don’t like a quality—even in ourselves—doesn’t it make sense that we’d also find it objectionable in another?

Zweig: Yes, but the question to ask yourself is why am I so antagonistic to this behavior—in myself or another? Usually it’s because we learned to disown a similar part of ourselves very early on. It’s the force of our repression that gives an objectionable behavior such a charge when we see it in another. If it’s just a casual preference—I prefer baseball over basketball, for example—it won’t carry so much energy, as in I can’t stand basketball! I can’t even stand to hear it broadcast! which might indicate that we’ve got an association to basketball with something objectionable in our past. Once we understand why we’re reacting so hostilely to something as mundane as basketball, our reaction will probably lose a lot—if not all—of its intensity. We might still prefer baseball, but basketball won’t trigger such a strong emotional reaction.

I’m currently counseling a couple who are almost complete opposites. She’s like a princess and wants to be treated so that she feels precious. To her that means spending money on her, going to expensive hotels, buying her gifts. That’s how she feels loved. He, however, is kind of a hippie. He’d rather go camping than stay in a hotel; he doesn’t want to spend money on fancy restaurants, excess consumption, or other superficial things. So they’re really opposites in their values. Yet they’re incredibly attracted to each other because each one of them is carrying the disowned side of the other’s psyche. It’s very mysterious, the way the shadow leads us to our physical and emotional attractions to other people. But part of the mystery is that the other person is living out qualities that are buried in us. It doesn’t mean we should be with that person; it doesn’t mean we can be compatible. But in some cases, when you form a relationship like that, it can be a really broadening and deepening experience if you willingly take on sharing the values of the other person.

For example, I’m seeing another woman who has led a very independent, unconventional life. She was committed to being single until she recently married a man who’d had a long previous marriage with children. At first she wanted nothing to do with raising a family, but she has since stepped into the role of wife and stepmother, and she’s really enjoying all of the aspects of domestic life that she’d previously rejected.

The MOON: So it’s a matter of choice. If you choose to engage repressed aspects of yourself—your shadow—you might develop new capacities. But I’m curious about the couple that is so incompatible. Can that marriage be saved?

Zweig: It’s very challenging. They’ll have to find what their deep connection is really about and focus on cultivating that connection, because it’s not behavioral; it’s not about lifestyle. And they’ll each have to adapt because neither of them will get all of what they want from the other. He’s not going to get a camper; and she’s not going to get treated like royalty. So they’ll have to develop the capacity to stretch and accommodate and give their loved one some of what he or she needs if they want to be together.

A lot of repetitive conflict in relationship is about shadow material. You can’t really work on shadow material yourself because you can’t see it. But when you can get help to uncover what is hidden in your unconscious, you start to see that it’s asking for help; it’s asking to be recognized and acknowledged.

For example, one client is always criticizing her husband. She doesn’t like what he wears, how he cuts his hair, what he eats, the fact that he’s overweight, and she’s constantly giving him the message that he’s not good enough; he’s “not doing it right.” So the first question is, “Why does he put up with this?” The answer is, he had a very critical mother. So very early in his experience he connected love with criticism. In his psyche, love and criticism go together, so part of his work is to untangle that. He has to realize that criticism is not loving behavior and choose whether he will continue to tolerate criticism if she cannot change.

The second question is, “Why is she constantly criticizing him?” The answer is that she, too, had very critical parents. Her parents criticized each other and her. But her need to control him is more about her perfectionism. She has an image of the perfect man in her psyche that she is trying to get him to fit into. That’s not who he is; he’s human; he’s not perfect. She has to work with her own perfectionism and need to control. Her criticism is just a symptom of her internal process; she’s objectifying him the way men objectify women. When she learns to open her heart and accept her husband for who he is—rather than an inadequate replica of the image in her mind—then she’ll stop criticizing him. Why would you criticize someone for being the way he is? That’s like criticizing water for being wet. That’s a waste of time and energy. So, what just looks like behavior—criticism—is actually a very profound reflection of what’s going on inside each of their shadows and what needs to be healed. The parts of them that are struggling with this are actually coming into consciousness to be healed. It’s not just his life that will be improved if she stops criticizing. She will be freed from her bondage to an image of perfection and will be able to enter into an actual loving relationship. She has moved in this direction already. She’s much more deeply accepting of him now and criticizes him much less often. And when she does, she’s much more likely to catch it and say, “I’m sorry. My critical shadow came out. It’s not about you. I’m going to take a few minutes and come back to myself now.” The dynamic of their relationship is shifting because they’re gaining awareness about themselves, which is the benefit of shadow work. That which was hidden moves into our awareness so we can choose how we want to deal with it.

The MOON: Harville Hendrix, in his book, Getting the Love You Want, says that we inevitably attract partners who will remind us of the unhealed aspects of our relationship with our opposite sex parent. Even if our partner didn’t start out reminding us of our father, for example, over time we will elicit that familiar father-like response from our partner because we’re unconsciously trying to heal that relationship, that wound. Is that part of the shadow, too?

Can we find healing on our own, or do we always need therapy?

Zweig: Hendrix is speaking there about projective identification. My colleague Steve Wolf and I developed a method for doing that work, which we describe in our book, Romancing the Shadow. Carl Jung, who coined the term “personal shadow,” used dreams as a way to access the shadow. Dreams give us a direct portrait of what’s going on in our unconscious. Steve and I developed a method that adds to dream work. Most people are living at a more superficial level of awareness and, rather than necessarily understand their unconscious, they want to work on feelings and behavior, such as communication and other skills. There are techniques you can learn to acknowledge and accept rejected parts of yourself into your life, to communicate so that you don’t trigger your partner, and so on.

In order to be able to really observe what is going on in your shadow, you need a way to center yourself. The shadow is a container of all this banished material. While in the container, this material forms itself into various characters—a raging monster, a victim, a perpetrator, a tyrant, an innocent child, a mean Mommy, a rebellious teenager, a philandering spouse, an addict. These are shadow characters, and with awareness you can begin to identify these characters and recognize patterns regarding when they’re likely to emerge. When you recognize the signals that indicate this character is active, is about to emerge in your behavior, you can choose whether you want to obey it or not. You do this by listening to your internal dialogue and identifying who is speaking. For example, in the case of the hypercritical wife, she learned to listen to who was speaking in her mind just before she was tempted to be critical—and it was always the exact words. Her inner critic would say, “Oh no, he doesn’t look good.” “Oh no, I can’t be seen with him.” Along with that internal dialogue there are physical sensations: her stomach or shoulders would tighten. She’d also have an emotional response: dread, fear, or anxiety. Now she had three cues, or signals, that her shadow character, The Critic, was about to speak, and she had a nanosecond in which she could choose whether she was going to allow that or not.

If you have some centering practice, such as meditation or martial arts, then you can catch your shadow character before it acts. If you don’t, the shadow character is likely to take over and you’ll only be able to recognize it afterwards, and apologize for it, or make amends. Our method is to help people learn to catch the shadow ahead of time and make a different choice.

What can a person do with that energy that’s about to emerge from the shadow? In the case of the wife who has caught The Critic a split second before she speaks, she can ask herself, “Do I accept my husband as he is?” She can go into her heart and connect with her love for her husband. She can choose a different way to express her concern about his appearance. She could make a suggestion, or a request, for example, instead of voicing a criticism. She could say something like, “Oh honey, I’m so happy we’re going to the party together tonight. I really think you look great in that blue shirt. Would you mind wearing that one?” That kind of communication gives her husband a totally different message.

Another skill we teach is taking responsibility for your shadow and making amends if you fail to catch it in advance. So if the wife doesn’t catch her Critic in time she can say something like, “Honey, I’m so sorry. My shadow critic came out. I’m really sorry I hurt your feelings. This is not about you; this is my shadow, and I’m working on it.”

Other people might want to exercise some form of creative expression with various aspects of their shadow. They might want to draw it, dance it, express it through movement, write about it or write to it, or even act it out in a role-playing opportunity. The point is to get to know your shadow very intimately.

It’s also helpful to trace it back to your family history so you can see where it began and why this aspect of your psyche might have been repressed. As you do that, you begin to have compassion for the deeper need that is embodied by that shadow character. In the wife’s case, for example, The Critic is trying to protect her from shame and embarrassment. She’s fearful of losing control and being in a situation that isn’t safe. Once she recognizes this, she can begin to attend to that deeper need. Is her safety really jeopardized by what shirt her husband wears? Or by how much he weighs? How could she reassure herself that she really is safe in social situations? There’s a deeper need in every behavior and every shadow character that’s actually valid. The benefit of shadow work is identifying that need and and meeting it directly, rather than indirectly.

Say, for example, someone is addicted to a substance. There’s actually an underlying valid need that’s drawing that person to drink too much, or eat too much, or take drugs too much. It usually goes back to our very early childhood when we were figuring out our coping strategies to protect ourselves and meet our emotional needs. However, as children we didn’t have the power and autonomy we do as adults, so most of our coping strategies were indirect. Now that we’re adults we have a much greater range of possibilities for dealing with stressful situations—and we can address them directly. They don’t have to hide in the shadow. They don’t have to affect our lives destructively.

The MOON: I understand that couples, groups, and even nations can have shadows. What do you see as evidence of the United States’ shadow?

Zweig: One of Jung’s greatest contributions was to go beyond personal psychology and recognize that groups also have an unconscious process. So the Catholic Church has a shadow, right? [Laughs] The local Rotary Club has a shadow. The United States has a shadow. It’s a complicated shadow because we’re a diverse nation, but this country was founded on genocide of the Native Americans. It was built on the enslavement of Africans. And it projects superiority and a certain kind of paternalism on the rest of the world to this day. This creates a lot of shadow material in our dealings with other countries. Even our foreign aid is corrupted by our shadow. For example, I just saw an incredible documentary on the unintended consequences of our constant gifts of rice and flour to Africa. Our aid, which is often supported in the U.S. by price subsidies, wipes out local agriculture in Africa. The farmers can’t compete with free food week after week. So there’s a shadow even in our giving. There’s also a shadow in our self-righteousness about capitalism and democracy; our belief that our way is the best and everyone else should follow it—even if we have to kill to get them to. There’s still racism in our culture, and sexism, and classism. Our government is still basically a patriarchal white man’s club and consequently we have a lot of shadow issues around income and class. All of these shadow issues are rarely discussed; they’re mostly ignored.

Climate change, which is only now being taken somewhat seriously, has been recognized by scientists for decades, but ignored. In one sense, it’s too big a blind spot to see. In another sense, there are too many vested interests to allow us to see it. That kind of denial is a defense against the shadow — in this case, the destruction of our habitat.

The MOON: Even as I anticipate publishing your interview, I can imagine a response of “That’s unpatriotic; that’s un-American. Why do you hate America?” That’s the conventional response of people who respond angrily to being informed of genocide, racism, or even climate change.

Zweig: Well, as I said, vitriol—a very intense negative reaction—typically indicates the shadow at work. I think telling the truth is patriotic. I don’t believe it’s patriotic to be in denial of reality. I think we need to define patriotism differently if it means blind obedience to whatever propaganda our leaders or news media tell us. Patriotism shouldn’t mean nationalism. It shouldn’t mean arrogance or know-it-all superiority. To me, patriotism means looking at our greatness and our limitations and doing the work to get better, just as we have to do in our personal lives. We become conscious of where we’ve created harm and we make amends and work to repair the past. To me, that’s patriotic.

Right now the health and sustainability of the entire planet is at risk, and most of humanity is in denial about it. They can’t imagine life without a livable planet because, indeed, it is unimaginable. There won’t be complex forms of life if we wreck the planet. So most people either fall back on the belief that God will save us, if they’re religious; or that Nature will save us, if they’re atheists; or that technology will save us. It’s too unbearable to think otherwise. To me, this is the biggest collective shadow issue. By that I mean, there’s a kind of looking away, an inability to tolerate the truth; an avoidance. Some people rationalize away the truth; for others it’s just too frightening to even contemplate. Meanwhile, everything is at risk. This is not just an individual’s denial; this is a species-wide denial. I believe this is the shadow issue that is carrying the most power right now and therefore is the most dangerous.

The MOON: How could we effectively, collectively engage it—by which I mean, bring it into the light and address it?

Zweig: I don’t know that I can answer that. Scientists have been trying to do it and they’re being mocked, belittled, and ignored. After all, many people on the planet don’t trust or believe in science. A lot of the population is caught up in survival. They’re not thinking about broader issues if they don’t have food, or water, or safety, or a functioning government. I’ve had this fantasy that the children and grandchildren of the men who own the oil companies will take this on, but I don’t have an answer because it’s such a huge and complex problem.

I’ve taken several trainings about dealing with climate change, and the answer for some is that climate change is only going to be addressed—or it’s going to be addressed first—locally and regionally. Several states are now creating regional carbon trading systems; some cities are creating policies for adaptation and resilience. It doesn’t seem as if it’s going to be effectively addressed at the level of our federal government or at the level of the U.N. and the International Panel on Climate Change—at least, not without more disasters. But even disasters only bring reality into the light and mobilize us for a short period of time. Then the media changes focus—to a war, or an accident—and public attention dissipates. I just read today that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is denying climate change. After Hurricane Sandy destroyed his state, he’s rejecting reality. So when you’re up against that level of denial, I don’t know what you do. Unless the young people could organize the adults in power…that’s my only hope.

The MOON: Rabbi Michael Lerner has proposed a day of atonement to address—with humility—the fact that we’ve done wrong. To me, that seems like a promising start, although we don’t yet have a national day of atonement.

Zweig: Exactly. Michael has come up with some beautiful ways of addressing collective shadow work, but I don’t see much movement around them. I think there could be collective atonement about all the national issues we talked about, and about this global issue, as well. But I don’t see it happening. Moreover, atonement for global warming isn’t going to help the planet. We’re in high emergency now.

I was trained by Al Gore to give climate change presentations and they’re so catastrophic that I decided I couldn’t continue making them. Then I was trained to lobby our elected officials in Washington on this issue, and after about fifteen meetings I realized that these elected officials were clinically depressed, so depressed that they were paralyzed. So I don’t have an answer for the question.

The MOON: I appreciate you wading into this because The MOON is about consciousness and community—so how we as conscious people address issues that affect our community is squarely on-target. I also wrestle with this issue myself: how to deal with reality enough that you’re informed, yet not so much that you’re paralyzed by fear and grief. Because we have to maintain our own individual and collective morale so that we can function.

Zweig: I think we keep up morale by empowering ourselves and experiencing our effectiveness in something we’re passionate about. I think there is definitely a role for community on this issue—for people to organize their neighborhood, their church, their friends; to work with their city governments; to lobby their state and federal governments. But all of this activity is incremental and slow. It helps our morale, but I don’t know that it’s going to save us or the planet. In fact, the issue is not prevention any longer. It’s too late to prevent some of the worst consequences of climate change. Now we have to work on strategies for adaptation and resilience—how to get our communities ready and prepared.

The MOON: I’ve also spoken with environmental activist Tim DeChristopher on this issue, and he believes it’s important to tell people the truth and let them experience their grief about it because on the other side of the grief is the will to take sustained action. He says we need the support of a community to handle the grief, but it’s his experience that so long as we’re keeping the grief at arm’s length we’re operating on the surface; we’re skirting denial. We’re not fully empowering ourselves. It’s like the difference in commitment of someone who’s intellectually opposed to drinking and driving versus someone who’s lost a child to a drunk driver. In our case, we have to have faith that if we go through the grief we’ll get to a better place, a place that will inspire more effective action.

Zweig: Yes, but I don’t think there’s a single answer that’s right for everyone. I think his approach could be right for some people. I remember Joanna Macy in the 1970s writing about grief in connection with the nuclear arms race. Whenever there’s a big collective shadow issue, there’s a role for facing our grief and our mortality. I would say the grief is about our mortality. For some people, however, that can be paralyzing. If they tend toward depression, I don’t recommend it unless they have a really strong guide who can take them through. For others, it could be very powerful work because the grief is there, and if we’re defending against it, it’s in the way. It’s consuming energy we could better use for taking action, or even taking better care of ourselves.

Some people are better built to handle grief than others. We have different constitutions and defenses, and I don’t think there’s one right way for everyone to face the collective shadow.

The MOON: How did you become interested in shadow work?

Zweig: In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, I fell in love with reading Jung and I went into Jungian analysis and started working with my dreams. At the time, I was a fulltime meditation teacher and my spiritual life was all that mattered. I was very ungrounded and disconnected from my body and nature, and I was just getting high spiritually. I started analyzing my dreams and realizing I was in denial of my own shadow material. As I stayed with the work I realized I was actually cut off from my own depths. Meditation takes you up, but it doesn’t necessarily take you down into the depths of your psyche. I realized that I wanted both the depths and the heights. So I went through two analyses and got to know my own shadow stuff really well and eventually, in the ‘80s, started writing and publishing about it. In the ‘90s I went back to graduate school to get my doctorate in depth psychology. Meeting the Shadow, my collection of writings about this came out in 1989 and was a huge hit, making me realize there was a hunger for this material. Six or seven years later I wrote Romancing the Shadow with Steve Wolf, followed by the Holy Longing, which is about spirituality and the shadow. So I’ve been following this thread for a few decades now, and it’s been very rewarding—both for my own personal development, as well as for the effectiveness of the therapy I do with people.

The MOON: Aside from your professional success, what have been the benefits of getting to know your shadow? How has it enriched your life?

Zweig: I would say that there’s a level of authenticity that comes from facing your own wounds. There’s a level of truth-telling to me now. There’s a level of deepening into my own soul. I feel that I know myself very well. I have the capacity to witness my shadow material when it comes out and to repair the damage it does. So my relationship with the shadow is very conscious, which translates into a very conscious relationship with my husband. He is conscious of and willing to make amends on behalf of his shadow too. Our marriage has become part of our path for both our emotional and spiritual work. Without this depth work I’d be a totally different person.

The MOON: Can you give us an example?

Zweig: My friends used to tell me I was judgmental. So I started working on this shadow character, “the Judge.” Why was this coming up in me and what were the consequences of my feeling judgmental? The consequence was separation. Judgment breaks the heart connection with people. So I started examining this…and it doesn’t come up anymore. I feel an openness with people I didn’t feel when The Judge was active in me.

The MOON: Are you more loving of yourself? Are you more self-accepting?

Zweig: You can’t be truly self-accepting until you know your “stuff.” I mean, in my twenties when I thought of myself as a spiritual being who was going to save the world by teaching meditation, with nothing else going on, I might have been self-accepting, but it was acceptance on a very superficial level. I didn’t know my fears. I didn’t know my capacity for harm. I didn’t know the consequences of my childhood wounds. I didn’t know my own anger. So, yes, you’re more self-accepting when you really understand what all these shadow impulses stem from and what you can do about them. I’m more aware of projection that goes on in me and all around me. I can recognize when people are projecting onto me and I can make adjustments for it. I can say something like, “I don’t think you’re getting me. Let me explain where I’m coming from.”

When you know yourself in this way, it’s a different life. Your capacity for love, generosity, and compassion is always there; it’s innate, but it’s blocked by all your garbage. Once you clear the garbage away, the love, generosity, and compassion can flow. Quieting your mind is also extremely helpful. My mind used to be very noisy, with a lot of internal dialogue. It’s not like that anymore. It’s quiet a lot of the time, which gives me a sense of internal peace, and less sense of separation from everyone and everything. When I’m out in nature now I feel deeply connected. I’m not still caught up in the dialogue going on in my head. It’s the ego-mind that separates us—the ego’s identification with the mind, thinking that we are our thoughts. That’s very distracting and isolating. When the ego is in its place, however—when it’s not inflated thinking “I’m so spiritual and better than everyone else”; and not deflated thinking “Oh, I’m worthless”—then we can have peace and connection with all that is. That’s a completely different quality of life.

Our lives are determined, I believe, by our level of consciousness and our momentary state of consciousness. So that’s our work: cultivating an emotional and spiritual state in which we can find equilibrium and unity with people and things around us; in which we can experience a quality of awareness that’s inclusive and doesn’t have to be so defended against through repression, denial, and projection.

The MOON: I’d like to try one more time to see if we could find one technique that we as a collective could use anytime we noticed that our national dialogue was very hostile and polarized and that perhaps there was shadow material at work. Is there a recommendation you could give us for helping us to recognize the shadow and change the conversation? Would it be acknowledging a wound? A fear?

Zweig: The liberal/conservative, Democratic/Republican split in this country is all about shadow projection. Some people want change and others are terrified of it. Some people want awareness and others are terrified of it. Some people want inclusiveness—whether it’s women, or immigrants, or minorities—and others are terrified of sharing power, or authority, or whatever we want to call it. These issues are all about shadow projections. There’s research that shows that the brains of liberals and conservatives are different; they respond differently to stimuli. There’s a fear of novelty in conservative people. There’s a fear of intrusion or otherness. That’s the fear of the shadow. So it appears as if conservative people are saying, “We want to maintain power. We want things to stay the way they are. We don’t want those other people to have power.” It’s all about shadow projection of the fear of otherness. And some of my progressive friends have that same shadow fear of conservatives. They rage at the television when Republicans are talking. The same hatred and fear of difference, of otherness, is present.

But I don’t think it gets us anywhere to talk about projection when it’s happening at that scale and at such a primitive level of emotions. It’s the exact same situation with Palestinians and Israelis: ancient, tribal enmity that’s based on fear of otherness. Palestinians want to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth and deny its right to exist. Israelis see Palestinians as primitive, almost subhuman—completely “other.”

To me it’s like stating the obvious: it’s all about shadow projection. What can be done about it? Evolution of consciousness.

Human beings are at a very primitive level of consciousness right now. There are only a relative handful of people on the planet who can even have the conversation we’re having. Most people are living in their limbic brains where life is about survival. Then there are the people who are negotiating for us—whether it’s to end war, or address climate change, or whatever. Those people are operating from paradigmatic frameworks that are heavily invested in national or corporate interest, rather than humanity’s interest. People are not living at the level of concern for humanity. The heart chakra of humanity has not opened. People are not inclusive at the level of the species—that we’re all in this together. As long as the limbic brain, or the ego, is in control, I don’t know what can be done. The unconscious is running the show.

I think a lot of what happens in the United States is that we project this heroic, savior-complex onto our presidents. It happened with Kennedy; perhaps a little bit with Clinton; and it happened with Obama. People think that somehow these leaders can do what hasn’t been done before. But I believe our government policies reflect the level of our collective consciousness. That’s what progressives are upset with Obama about: he looked as if he was going to be different, but the same horrible policies are happening. What does that mean? We teach everyone to meditate and do shadow work? Even if we’re successful, we’ll only reach a fraction of a fraction of humanity.

The MOON: What if it only takes a fraction of a fraction of humanity to make the difference?

Zweig: What I’m saying is there’s no formula and no glib solution, and people who think there is are dangerous. If their solution is to convert everyone to Christianity or Islam, they’re dangerous. People who insist they know what’s best for everyone—whether it’s democracy, or capitalism, or Islam—haven’t done their own shadow work.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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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.

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