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The Shadow Knows

© 1996 by James Dolan

n recent times, astronomers have noted the existence of what they call "dark matter" in the heavens. They theorize that this substance is the majority of the mass of the universe, yet it is invisible. This concept, to me, beautifully recapitulates Carl Jung's assertion that astronomy and psychology are deeply connected. The concept of "dark matter" also points directly at the psychological principle of Shadow.

Another Mojave hand float poem


Stated simply, Jung conceptualized a cosmology of the personality that identified several heavenly bodies at play within it. I will only mention here animus/anima, ego, self, and our specific area of concern, the persona and its counterpart, the Shadow. We can say that in the normal and healthy growth of ego, the "I" (I will, I want, I am, I must...), it presents a face to the world of parents, siblings, peers, teachers, etc. These form a molding force that ego adapts its face to, in an ongoing attempt to gain acceptance and mastery in the world around it.

As this effort goes on, the face held up by ego becomes what Jung called persona, after the masks worn by the actors in ancient Greece (you remember, tragedy, comedy?). The persona is the visible aspect of personality. It is the character we send out into the world every day to conduct our business for us. It is the person that everyone recognizes as me. The truth is that this is only a small slice of the reality of me. The rest, as much as possible, I attempt to leave out of my everyday life. Problem is, I can't.


ersona tugs along with it the Shadow. Shadow is standing behind persona, and is composed of everything native to us as humans that is not allowed by the social structure into interpersonal space. Robert Bly, in his excellent book, A Little Book on the Human Shadow, termed this structure the "shadow bag." In childhood, we are busy stuffing our shadow bags full as we learn how to be "good." By early adulthood, the shadow bag is typically groaning under the weight of all the greed, lust, rage, resentment, envy, sexual feeling, and so forth stuffed into it.

As we come to sense the nearness of our own Shadow, we become depressed. We know there is something we must deal with, but we don't know what. Our world itself seems to be shadowed over. Typically, we don't want to do what we must. We just want to "get over it." But we must sojourn in the Shadow, and find and embrace there what longs to come out. This can be any number of things: repressed sexuality, rage, recovery of incest wound, creativity, sadness over early loss.

How do we detect the presence of Shadow? Most obvious to me is the sense of depression, which I interpret as the individual being close to their rage, sorrow, sexual denial, or repressed creativity. A good therapist can help in identifying these sources. If you see yourself as happy and well-adjusted, and therefore shadowless, you might want to think of the person in the world you hate the most. Think of their characteristics. These are your Shadow. Another good exercise is the creation of a shadow resume. In that document, you are truthfully explaining to all potential employers why they should not hire you. Make sure you do not mix this up with your real one, but it is fun to do.

y experience is that shadow work can be enormously rewarding, but requires courage as we accept the unacceptable about ourselves. That is why if at all possible, it is valuable to have a trustworthy guide. Be aware that while muddying your shoes in the long walk, you are traveling through what you came into the world with, and are on your way to a better place.



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