|Romancing the Shadow|
The exploration of my dark side was a crucial activity in my self discovery process. I borrowed the title from a book by Connie Zweig and Steve Wolf. Such an elegant way to approach the shadow especially in its more resistant forms. They choose Illuminating the Dark Side of the Soul as their subtitle. (Note 79) My shadow hindered Intuitive Self expression. Sooner or later I had to wrestle with the dark side for intuition to become my companion.
Looking in the Garbage Pail
Grappling with Kali energy, hidden parts I did not want to see came forward. The stage was set for this awareness by Fritz Perls' In and Out the Garbage Pail. His stream of consciousness writing without page numbers challenged my rational mind. Later I worked with a guide who used Gestalt as a primary modality. My acceptance was primed from encountering this technique in Perls' writings years earlier.
One phrase stuck ever since first reading Perls' book, "mind fucking." What a magnificent epithet for the obsessive compulsive mental chatter that hid the contents of my "garbage pail," the shadow side of myself. Perls made an intersting distinction between recovering and uncovering as ways to go beyond mind fucking:
I needed to recover from shadow shelves while uncovering the Meditator in the World. My search was about cleaning out the garbage (recovering) and establishing awareness (uncovering) so I could discover The Intuitive Self. Carl Jung introduced the shadow as a container in the personal unconscious for the dark aspects of the personality. He insisted the essential condition for self knoweldge was to become conscious of the shadow as present and real.
Reclaiming Lost Energy
Childhood traumas were among the ways energy blockages developed in my subconscious. While sugar rationing was still in effect for World War II, I was sent to the store to get a five pound bag with our one remaining coupon. On the way home, I dropped the bag and spilled sugar all over the sidewalk. I ran home to tell my mother who quickly got a pan to scoop up the spill spoonful by spoonful. Not only was I mortified by the accident, I was embarassed having to scrape sugar off the sidewalk. A cautious fearful holding on attitude was set in motion by that experience. This reaction carried over into situations that my subconscious associated with the original event.
Another grocery related trauma occurred a few years later. With my Dad starting a business in our garage, we were strapped for money living on my mother's modest salary. We bought groceries at the neighborhood store on credit. I was sent to buy food when we were behind on our debt. They knew Mr. Henley would give me the groceries regardless of the debt. I dreaded going to the store knowing that we owed money. He let me have the food, but always said something about the money we owed. This was more embarrassing than scraping sugar off the sidewalk. I became self effacing to cover my shame for having to beg credit.
These cautious and self effacing subpersonalities tied up energy whenever I acted out of the past rather than responding to the moment. My creativity was blocked to the degree these parts remained hidden. Accepting a disowned part appropriated the power invested in its denial. Escape into movies offered one way to indirectly discover disowned energies. Watching a James Bond movie, I reclaimed the debonair, sexually enticing man of the world self that was squelched by homosexual abuse. A blockbuster action movie excited my destructive side as my body responded to each devastating scene. This was the opposite of my nice little boy school teacher's son persona.
Realizing the shadow function of movies, I chose films to suit my emotional tone. For a couple of hours, I was a hero who was not embarrassed by situations or a rich tycoon who never worried about money. Connecting with rejected parts in a safe way helped me recognize energy bound up in the subconscious. Robert Johnson spoke of "a broader kind of creativity that folds the darkness into the finished product and finds fulfillment in the shadow." (Note 82) This meant going beyond vicarious experience to release and express energy in constructive ways by transforming the associated subpersonalities.
Dealing with the Shadow
Robert Bly described five stages in shadow work: 1) projecting it onto others, 2) recognizing some inconsistency, 3) trying to make it stick nonetheless, 4) feeling diminished from giving energy away and 5) integrating the shadow element into the personality. (Note 83) My behavior dealing with feelings of abandonment with a companion succinctly illustrates these steps. Our dynamic, which I return to in another thread, was her feeling engulfed and withdrawing, then my feeling abandoned and grabbing on. In this drama, she carried the projection of my solitude.
The first stage opened with my saying "look what you've done to me" by withdrawing your attention. By writing about and telling her what she had done wrong, I eased my victim pain. When the crisis passed and she "returned," phase two kicked in when my fault finding did not seem to fit. In phase three, I would reread my diatribe rationalizing what I had said to make my criticism stick. When I connected with the tremendous energy dissipated in the drama, a sense of loss characteristic of phase four set in. Phase five came when I accepted my need for closeness and sought ways to provide that for myself.
Among other techniques, poetry connected me with the truth behind misunderstandings. In "Demons and Monsters," frustration from my abandonment feelings boiled over. Though this poem ended on a note of desperation, the shadow elements hidden behind the disagreement stood out. The drama provided an opportunity to recognize deficiency needs that drove the dynamic. Her so called "abandonment" was not the issue. As this poem suggested, validation and reassurance needs of shadow fragments energized these relationship breakdowns. These parts of my personal subconscious needed attention.
Beyond the deficiency needs of my fragmented selves, my shadow confrontations with women had archetypal dimensions. The more intimate the relation, the more powerful the charge. Carl Jung's discussion of the projection making factor aided my grasp of this dynamic in my life. The original bond with my mother as the source of all nurture and comfort was projected onto the women in my life whom I wanted to be my feminine side. I needed to discover and express my anima rather than lusting after women to compensate for the unrealized feminine dimensions in my self.
Opening to Anima
Taking Jung's lead, Daryl Sharp personified the anima in terms of Eve, Helen, Mary and Sophia. Eve was the classic mother image, Helen the collective sexual image, Mary the friend and Sophia the wise guide to life. At one time or another, every woman I knew more than causally became the object of projections of one or more of these facets of my anima. It was as if there was something that I wanted each to give me:
The more intimate the relationship, the broader the range of projection she received from Eve to Sophia. I needed to find the nurturing breast, expressive sexuality, eyes of acceptance and soul guidance hidden in the folds of my anima.
My favorite science fiction writer is Robert Heinlein. Among his books, the most compelling was Friday. (Note 86) What a woman - a projection of pure unadulterated anima! As one reviewer noted "a superbly realized heroine." A large portion was Helen, but Eve, Mary and Sophia were there too. I couldn't put the book down. I don't remember any details, but I recall how captivated I was by the heroine. My excitement over the book testified to the powerful feminine energy bottled up in my shadow awaiting release.
To reclaim shadow projections as well as anima, I worked with a guide using Roberto Assagioli's psychosynthesis model of personality to explore the unconscious mind. Along with psychosynthesis, she used Gestalt and creative techniques such as movement and art therapy. Through these explorations of my lower unconscious, I found dysfunctional selves that operated out of fear and desire to inhibit The Intuitive Self. The general shadow forms were like those constellated around my "grocery" experiences. Here are two anima related examples.
At the second sexual chakra, Helen issues manifested in my desire to pursue "attractive" woman. In the classic playboy image, the seducer subpersonality followed the "find them, feel them, fuck them and forget them" motto I learned in high school. Rarely did anything close to this ever happen, but the fantasy was near compulsive at times. One reason this fantasy did not manifest was an equally strong subpersonality that feared it would be rejected because it was not attractive enough. Fear was strong enough to hold the seducer in check.
In my psychosynthesis work, the chakra framework helped me understand the dynamics among subpersonalities. With the chakra hierarchy, I organized the subpersonalities into families. Some family members were occasional visitors while others were relatively constant companions on my journey into the garbage pail. At one time, the regulars were: Observer, Unheard, Workaholic, Victim, Needy, Mr. Right, Unattractive and Outsider. Sometimes I carried a pocket card to remind me to check on these shadow figures in my daily routine.
Two Dimensions of Growth
Psychosynthesis recognized two dimensions of growth: the personal and the transpersonal. Molly Brown, a contemporary interpreter of Assagioli's work, stated "The personal dimension is concerned with the meaning and integration of our personal existence, with the experience of being significant and effective in the world." For the complementary transpersonal, she said "As we grow in this dimension, we consider questions of ultimate, universal meaning; we seek the meaning and purpose of a larger reality." (Note 88) I used subpersonality patterns to explore the flow between the personal and transpersonal.
My subpersonality work alternated between the personal and transpersonal. A fascinating outcome was that dysfunctional selves gradually transformed into productive members of my personality structure. Even though some fear or desire gave birth to each, they originally served a useful function. So rather than reject or subdue them, I discovered their goodness and transformed their presence into useful energy. Alternation between the personal and transpersonal was so strong that the movement from dysfunctional to functional became the primary dynamic.
One way I practiced subpersonality work was journaling shadow encounters. In reviewing the lessons of a primary relationship, I listed things I liked and disliked. Each represented either a positive or negative subpersonality depending on whether it reminded me of a desirable or an undesirable part of my shadow. These observations became food for reflection pointing out subpersonalities to bring to consciousness. If they were positive, I emphasized them, otherwise, I transformed them. I found viewing relationships in this way provided a window into my garbage pail.
The more I cooperated, the more little selves sought reunion with the inner divine - The Intuitive Self. As challenging as it was to fathom, my subpersonalities were fragments of the transpersonal divine. The more they were synthesized and integrated, the more potent The Intuitive Self became in my life. A seminal thought I was not able to locate in assembling material for this section was an article by a biologist who spoke of "the drive in living matter for self perfection." This was my consistent experience from embracing the two dimensions of growth.
The Cosmic Dance
During intensive psychosynthesis work, the dance image loomed large once again. A decade earlier, Ric Masten's "Let it be a Dance" song was a gripping experience. As my connection with archetypes deepened, the dancing Shiva took center stage. While Kali was destructively powerful, Shiva intimated some deeper truth. In my psychosynthesis work, I performed a Shiva dance of creation. In a spontaneous dance, I carried an enormous lingam in both hands spewing the seed of life throughout the universe. The dual creation and destruction aspect of the Shiva metaphor was reflected in this quote:
In the Nataraja image, Shiva dances in the Shakti cosmic ring of fire. Of his four hands, one right hand holds the drum that sounds the first vibration of creation while the other is lifted to mean do not fear. One left hand holds the fire of destruction and the other points to his raised foot meaning liberation. In any city with a museum with an Asian section, I searched for the Nataraja statue. One of the more striking was at the Chicago Art Museum. I gazed at this three foot image walking around it to fix the mental image from every angle.
My favorite image of the Lord of the Dance was described by Robert MacPhail in Aldous Huxley's novel Island. This description went beyond the more conventional expressions to tap into the spirit of the symbols as they apply to everyday life. Struggling with the reality of joy and sadness, pain and pleasure as twin poles of experience, MacPhail showed me how both ends were part and parcel of the same reality. One was not possible without the other. The Tao taught this lesson as well - to rise to the raptures of joy required that I descend into the depths of sadness. That was the story of my primary relationships.
The Divine Romance
When I heard The Phantom of The Opera on Broadway, I was blown away. Some of the lyrics captured Shiva's dancing spirit. They had a power similar to Ric Masten's "Let it be a Dance" years earlier. When the Phantom sang to Christine in his underground chamber, the metaphorical lyrics sparkled with gems of insight. The promise of liberation echoed throughout: "Let your soul take you where you long to be! Only then can you belong to me." Such experiences convinced me every fiber of creation called out for me to listen to The Intuitive Self.
The longer I romanced shadow shelves, the clearer it became that a divine union called out for consummation. When I discovered hieros gamos, the "sacred marriage," this was clear. My poem "In the Church" spoke of the divine other shadow uncovered in my psychosynthesis work. What a revelation. My soul mate was not out there embodied in some Helen creature onto whom I projected my anima, but dwelling within as The Intuitive Self. The Shiva Shakti statue of tantric bliss personified the divine union.The equipoise of Kuan Yin radiating an androgynous visage showed me the union of opposites within the self.
I celebrated the hieros gamos as part of a presentation for my certificate in Psychosynthesis, Gestalt and the Fusion of Creative Technique. In the ceremony, I explored the archetypes central to my discovery of the divine union beyond external opposites. To climax the presentation, I read my poem, "Hieros Gamos." I had sought completion in union with partners. But the real union only took place within. With the inner union receiving attention, external relationships were less likely to be distorted. This leads me to the theme of the next thread.