Wednesday, October 16, 2019

#13 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (Shadow)

If men venture into reading any of these pieces, they will be growing increasingly frustrated, irritated and potentially angry at the persistence here on a focus on what Jung calls the unconscious. Ever the hands-on, fix-it specialists, eager to learn the template that explains how anything works, and even more animated if whatever is not working seems to defy the template, most men begin their day in complete and utter unawareness of their/our unconscious. And if and when anyone attempts to parse some attitude or behaviour that evokes puzzlement, many men find an excuse to depart the conversation while also closing their ears, minds and bodies even to remaining as a silent observer of the speculation. Increasingly, in a digital age, we are surrendering our “public identities” to a complex system of algorithms, the bases of which are undoubtedly based on mountains of evidence of what is considered normal, normative and predictive in human behaviour.

Even if these pieces merely prompt some few men, or even just one man, to pause, look in the mirror, especially when he is experiencing an unsettling conflict within himself, and wonder if there are some aspects of the fullness of his “self” that he does not and apparently cannot understand. Such moments frequently, if not always, emerge from a statement, or an action that seemed to be completely “out of left field”, unexpected, unwanted, often embarrassing and occasionally dangerous. And, although western culture bases virtually all of our shared “conventional, normal, normative and acceptable” behaviour on what is empirically evident and verified, a legitimate case can and needs to be made that opens the door of the cultural ‘mind-set’ to the unconscious. Individual denial, avoidance, repression of many memories, traumas and conflicts, parallels a cultural tendency to “leave sleeping dogs lie”…in the words of many who found themselves engaged in conversations about shared trauma.
It is in acceptance and endorsement of the Jungian proposition that only through the “unpacking” of what lies hidden in our individual unconscious (and also in our collective unconscious) will we find the surprising gift of the new insights peeping out of our unpacking that these words are appearing. Referencing John Sanford’s Evil, The Shadow Side of Reality, New York, 1989, we find a quote from Edward C. Whitmont, The Symbolic Quest, Princeton, 1978, p. 160 in Sanford, p.49:

“The term shadow refers to that part of the personality which has been repressed for the sake of the ego ideal.”

Sanford continues:

The “ego ideal” consists of the ideals or standards that shape the development of the ego or conscious personality. These ego ideals may come from society, parents, a peer group, or religious mores. We may consciously and deliberately select them, or they may operate more or less unconsciously to mould ego development…Generally speaking these ideal standards of being and behaving are related in our culture to the requirements of society and to the Judaeo-Christian moral standards. So society tells us that we cannot steal, murder, or engage in other socially destructive behaviour without incurring punishment. Most of us conform more or less to this requirement and, consequently, deny and repress the thief and murderer within us. The Judeo-Christian moral code goes further and urges us to be loving, forgiving, sexually chaste, etc. In trying to conform to this ideal we reject the part of us that gets angry, is vindictive, and has uncontrolled sexual urges. (Sanford, op. cit., p.49)
And a little later, Sanford writes:

In our dreams the shadow personality appears as a figure of the same sex as ourselves whom we fear or dislike or react to as an inferior being…A man for instance, has certain feminine qualities that comprise his anima, but his Shadow embodies rejected masculine qualities that act like an alter ego….The Shadow may also be a passive figure, the personification of a weakness we would rather not notice…The shadow personality can also be thought of as the unlived life. A good example of this is found in Goethe’s famous poem, Faust. Professor Faust, 50 years old, an eminently successful scholar and renowned teacher, has reached the end of his rope. His life has dried up, his soul has become like a desert, and he even contemplates suicide. Enter Mephistopheles on the scene, and the two fo them make a bargain: If Mephistopheles will do Faust’s bidding in this life and see to it that Faust experiences all of the deep emotions and experiences of human life, when Faust dies he will give his soul to the devil. The bargain is sealed in blood and the story goes on to tell how Faust casts off his role as a professor and intellectual and lives out his unlived life of feeling, eros, power and sex. This story also points up the valuable qualities of the Shadow. For while we have largely described the shadow personality in negative terms, in fact the Shadow contains many vital qualities that can add to our life and strength if we are related to them in the correct way. In Faust’s case, for instance the unused energies of his shadow personality brought him back to life and gave him renewed vitality…At other times, too, the shadow personality may be a boon top our personality if we can relate to it in the correct way. It may be, for instance, that a man who has tried to be kind and “Christian” in his relations with people has repressed his anger, and it now appears as part of his shadow personality. Yet if he is able to integrate some of that capacity for anger, it may help him become a stronger, more resolute person, for anger can be, as James Hillman once said, a healthy reaction to an intolerable situation.

 Without our Shadow, then, we may lack the capacity for a healthy reaction to life situations that are becoming intolerable to our spirit….Another important help we get from the Shadow is a sense of humor. An analysis of humor shows that it us usually the shadow personality who laughs. This is because humour expresses so many of our hidden, inferior, or feared emotions. For this reason another way to get at a knowledge of our Shadow is to observe what it is that strikes our sense of humour, for in our laughter we can often see our Shadow being harmlessly released…People in whom the Shadow is too repressed  are apt to lack a sense of humour. They are also likely to be judging and unforgiving of other people, like the Pharisee who looked down on the woman with the unsavory reputation (Luke 7:36-50) However, Jesus respected this woman and said that, having been forgiven a great deal in her life, she also has a great capacity for love which the Pharisee lacked because he had never made any mistakes in life, and so had never been confronted by his Shadow. (Sanford, op. cit, pps. 50-1-2-3)

“The usual way that people try to deal with the problem of the Shadow is simply to deny its existence. This is because awareness of one’s Shadow brings guilt and tension and forces upon us a difficult psychological and spiritual task. On the other hand, denial of the Shadow does not solve the problem but simply makes it worse, Not only do we then lose contact with the positive aspects of this darks side of ourselves, but we will also very likely project thus dark side onto  other people.” (Ibid, p.58-9)

As a guiding, if paradoxical, principle, Sanford writes:

If we strive to be too good we only engender the opposite reaction in the unconscious. If we try to live too much in the light, a corresponding amount of darkness accumulates within. If we go beyond the bounds of our natural capacity for love and kindness, we build up an opposing amount of anger and cruelty within us. Psychology warns us against trying to be better than we are, and urges us to strive not so much for a forced “goodness” but for consciousness, and to live, not out of ideals we cannot keep, but from an inner Center which alone can keep the balance. The grounds for the moral life are thus shifted from a striving for the highest moral ideals (though moral ideals are also important) to a striving for self-knowledge, in the belief that man’s moral values and ideals are only effective within the scope of his consciousness. To try to be good, and disregard one’s darkness, is to fall victim to the evil in ourselves whose existence we have denied. (Ibid, p. 23)

While these excerpts do not attempt a full explication of the Shadow, they do point to a process of self-consciousness that defies what has become the moral code codified, imposed and enforced by the Christian church. Obsessed with specific forbidden, “evil” actions, and the need to both punish and more significantly to expunge all those who commit such forbidden acts, church hierarchies tend to make pronouncements about the gestalt of evil in war, famine, injustice and especially sexuality, while at the same time, embodying a form of authority and power that, in the convex of its own administration in the lives of individuals, demonstrates a denial of both the individual and the collective Shadow. How insulting, how demeaning and how unsustainable as a theology!

If the Christian church is legitimately in the business of seeking God and attempting to enrich and ennoble that process, then it seems obvious that such a process integrates the whole spiritual existence of the organization and the individuals who share responsibility for its healing and for the potential it offers in the spiritual healing of those who don its doors, its narthex and its sanctuary. And such a process seems only to enhance its own capacity to enrich the lives of the people in the pews, and especially in the committees and in the councils of the ecclesial structure by opening the door of its prayer, reflection, teaching, preaching and counsel to admit the relevance of the Shadow, both in its individual and collective capacity.

Many church hierarchies are still filled by men who, themselves, have failed themselves, their God and more importantly their parishoners, by drinking the  cultural mandate of fixation on the empirical. To be sure, one can notice hints of poetry and of story-telling, and even hints of “symbols” as expressions of the broad strokes of a theology of death, resurrection and forgiveness, as outlined in the New Testament. It is the challenge of confronting the concept of the Shadow, as both an organizational principle, opening the private, confidential conversations, prayers, and decisions to an integration of the Shadow, and thereby of extending that opening as a model for the people sitting in the pews and choir lofts, the church schools and the church administrative staff.

Recently, I had the opportunity to verbalize the need for integrating what I called “indigenous foundations” (the history, perspective, attitudes, beliefs and practices of Canada’s indigenous peoples) into the strategic planning of a local John Howard Society planning day. Three times I made the point, based especially on the empirical data that a significant majority of incarcerated males are, in fact, indigenous young men, and any agency, like John Howard, tasked with facilitating the integration of such men back into the culture, following their incarceration, would be well advised to know, and to integrate the foundational perspectives of this indigenous culture, to enhance the relationship between the agency and the clients. Additionally, Indigenous Foundations, if incorporated into the culture of the agency could/would offer an enhanced prospect of prevention of rising numbers of incarcerated indigenous young men. However, my proposals were literally and summarily dismissed!

It is in a similar and parallel spirit and intent that these words are offered, as stimulation to a new and prophetic, if unconventional, approach to how the Christian church begins the process of incarnating its mandate. Denial, avoidance, repression and especially an ethic that promotes “the highest moral standards” at the expense of the inherent Shadow in each of us, not only achieves precisely the inverse of what the church purports to seek to attain. It also does so in a manner that specifically and tragically trashes individuals for their alleged transgressions, without so much as a tip of the bishop’s mitre in acknowledgement of the Shadow.

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