The recognition of and reconciliation with our shadow is a crucial element in our healing.
This ego-centered consciousness functions not only on the individual level, but likewise on the corporate level, as we identify ourselves with a larger entity such as a nation-state, a financial corporation, an ethnic group, a neighborhood gang. Such a corporate ego-centered consciousness takes on the attitude of “we versus they,” wherein “we” are on the side of justice, truth, and the good, while “they” are the exact opposite.
We can thus see how a mode of living based on the ego-centered consciousness that also identifies with corporate egos on different planes leads to the situation of perpetual conflict we humans find ourselves in. Whether on the individual or corporate level, the ego-centered consciousness projects its own shadow on the Other and fights it there, thus contributing to its own destruction.
The problem of our own death is one important area that comes up in the consideration of our shadow. Death looms in upon us as a constant threat to our very being. In our attempts to assert our being in the face of the nothingness we associate with our impending death, we embark on all kinds of projects to reassert our being in its continued existence. Such projects, however, issuing from an attitude of denial of death, can be seen as no more than our desperate efforts to shield our ego from our shadow. They come from what we can term an “edifice complex” in us, where we are driven to build all kinds of make-shift structures that we can lean upon and that provide a convenient shelter for our threatened or wounded ego.
The only way to the healing of that wounded ego is not in our continued efforts to give it shelter from reality, a shield from our shadow, but to let it come face-to-face with this dark dimension of our being. We are called to confront our shadow, face-to-face. For example, looking death in the face is the only way to learn how to live with it and no longer be threatened by it. Paraphrasing the words of the Jesus character in the musical play Jesus Christ Superstar, “to conquer death, you have to die….you only have to die.”
The recognition of and reconciliation with our shadow is a crucial element in our healing. Recognition and reconciliation involve first being able to see that there is a shadow side of our very being and then being able to accept it as part of ourselves. Only in the recognition and acceptance of our shadow side can we become whole, integrated, reconciled, and therefore truly and fully ourselves.
This of course does not mean giving in to the power of the negative and destructive side of us, letting it have its sway over us until we become agents of destruction, chaos, and death. It simply means that we break through our mask (persona) fabricated by the ego-centered consciousness, the wall concocted by the idealized “I” that identifies only with one side, and allow ourselves to listen to the deeper dimensions of our own being, where the dark side lurks. In those deeper dimensions we will meet not only the good and the bright side that our ego-centered consciousness wants to identify with, but come fact-to-face with the evil, the chaotic, the destructive, all that constitutes the darkness and the negative in our historical, communal, and personal existence.
Excerpted from Healing Breath (Orbis Books). Published as Recovery of our Shadow on the Maria Kannon Zen Center website.