You might be too young to remember the song “Me and my Shadow.” It was written in the 1920’s and became famous again in the early 60’s as a duet by Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. With catchy, rhythmical lyrics, it portrays the shadow as our faithful and constant companion.
On a deeper, psychological level, the shadow is our dark side, and everybody carries one. This was the message given to us by the renowned Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung.
Jung stated that the human psyche is “by nature religious” and is to be explored in depth. Unlike Freud, he thought spiritual experience was essential to our well-being. Jung was considered to have had an indirect role in establishing Alcoholics Anonymous by recommending that a person experience an entire psychic-change (soul/mind) in order to recover from alcoholism.
The shadow may be hidden, suppressed aspects of ourselves that we don’t want to acknowledge. When we do allow it to surface for healing purposes, transformation can take place. To quote a sacred text: “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
I encountered my shadow through a process of self-exploration. My emotional, mental and physical health depended on this process; otherwise, I probably would not have attempted it. Though my exploration of self was painful at times, the “aha” moments came. I never knew exactly when to expect them or how they would affect me, but the moments eventually did appear in the form of clarity, release, and a sense of peace.
“Wholeness is beyond the shadow”, writes Deepak Chopra, in The Shadow Effect, a new book co-authored with Debbie Ford and Marianne Williamson. My spiritual mentor, who is a man of the cloth, says that the further we delve into our humanity, the closer we are able to touch the Divine. As in the Scriptures: “Nothing can separate us from the love of God.”
Sometimes we look in a mirror and receive a wake-up call, or the call goes right over our heads. A harsh judgment of someone or some thing out there may be a cue to look inside as to what needs to be healed in ourselves.
We can see the shadow aspect everywhere. On the world stage, we are shown the shadows of celebrities, politicians and sports figures. Former President Bill Clinton, Tiger Woods, and Michael Vick (to name a few) had their dark sides exposed in front of God and everybody.
Recently, I saw an interview on the NFL Network with Michael Vick and his former Atlanta Falcons coach, Jim Mora. Vick was imprisoned at Leavenworth in Kansas for his role in a dog-fighting operation in which these precious animals were maimed and tortured, and some were destroyed. He had been involved in dog-fighting since his early youth.
Vick told Mora that his whole life had been a lie, and he came to work with a mask on. Vick said that the best thing that ever happened to him was being shipped off to Kansas. There he prayed for a healing.
Before the interview, Vick had been asked how long this road to redemption would last. Vick said that it would not end.
We have a choice when we observe these famous people falling off their pedestals. We can maintain a position of judgment and disdain, or without condoning their actions, we can move on to forgiveness and further on to self-examination. Forgiveness in not a pardon or condoning wrongful acts. It is our path to freedom, and all roads lead to it.
If there is a collective consciousness as Jung and others expound, the shadowy aspect that we perceive in another can serve as a catalyst for our own healing and restoration.
Jung believed that the journey of transformation was to meet the self and at the same time to meet the Divine. The shadow may be the key to unlocking our creativity. Years ago, I would have said that I don’t have a creative bone in my body. While exploring the self, I became a writer. My experience has taught me that transformation is an inside job.
Gandhi challenges us to be the change we want to see in the world, and my response is to continue practicing a non-judgmental attitude while examining self. As with Michael Vick, my road to redemption is ongoing with a living amends to those I have harmed, including myself.