A dimension of our existence that depth psychologists have called to our attention is that of our shadow. This refers to that “dark” side of our being buried in our unconscious that we would rather not see, that aspect which we would describe as negative, destructive, violent, chaotic, evil.
As we look around and within ourselves, we can see an interplay of opposites that make up our concrete existence in this world bound in time and space: good and evil, beautiful and ugly, pleasant and unpleasant, creative and destructive, light and dark, life and death.
Faced with these parts, the “I” or ego-consciousness, which we posit as the standpoint from which we view the world, places itself on the side of the good, the beautiful, the pleasant, the creative, on the side of light and life, and takes an attitude of denying their respective opposites, of disidentifying itself from them.
The ego-centered consciousness which we posit at the center of our personality (from persona, mask, in Latin) thus tends to idealize itself and identify with the positive side of the pairs of opposites, in the process denying or dissociating itself with the negative side. It does so by a mechanism of suppression which is a “deliberate elimination by ego-consciousness of all those characteristics and tendencies in the personality that are out of harmony” with what is valued as positive, or by repression, wherein those negative aspects are simply allowed to fade into the background and become disconnected from consciousness.
In doing so, however, in disidentifying or denying the negative side of the polar opposites, the ego-centered consciousness creates a rift right at the core of our being. This paves the way for these negatives to “lead an active underground life of their own with disastrous results” for both the individual and the community. In other words, the suppressed or repressed side of the polar opposites gathers momentum and comes to the fore with a vengeance, wreaking havoc on the individual as well as on society.
Excerpted from Healing Breath (Orbis Books). Published as Recovery of our Shadow on the Maria Kannon Zen Center website.