As long as we live our lives with the I, me, mine at the center as the controlling factor in our lives, then we fall into that trap of tending to idealize ourselves and seeing only the good, the beautiful, the bright side of our being that the “I” wants to identify with.
The bipolar nature of our existence as presented by depth psychology is dramatically portrayed in the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, where the good and evil sides of the same person find themselves acting on different planes unknown to each other, manifesting what is known as a split personality. The unrecognized shadow can continue to remain active and undermine the very status of the good and bright side. We see how such a state of affairs can actually exist in cases where outwardly respected persons come to be revealed as having skeletons hidden in the closets of their personal lives.
Further, we also see how persons deemed to be good and upright citizens or church members, acting as the conscience of the community, can also be the most vindictive, the most judgmental, the most cruel toward those who are perceived as falling short of their moral standards. Such vindictiveness, judgmental stances, and cruelty, depth psychologists would point out, are the outcome of their vigorous efforts to deny the shadow side of their own existence, and this denial projects itself in their attitude toward those they associate with that shadow. “Scapegoating”-laying the blame on some identifiable culprit, whether it be an individual or group or type-is one mechanism arising from the way we humans deals with our shadow side.
On a grander scale, we can see the effects of such a denial of the shadow side of our being as resulting in the hideous episodes of our human history: the innumerable wars fought in the name of some rightful cause; the Crusades, with all their holy fervor at destroying the infidel; the Inquisition, with its religiously and legally sanctioned persecution of those who threatened the belief system of the majority, and so on. In our century, the Holocaust, Hiroshima, Vietnam, the Killing Fields of Cambodia, Gulag, Tiennamen, Sarajevo are salient examples of horrors that we humans have perpetrated in the name of a dazzling ideal, be it “a superior humanity,” “aquick way to peace,” “democracy,” “equality,” “order,” “ethnic purity,” or what have you. Such is the pursuit of an ideal by our ego-centered consciousness, an ideal of the good with that it wishes to identify by suppressing or repressing its opposite or by projecting it on the Other.
Going further, we can also see how our global ecological crisis, an alarming state of affairs that we have wrought upon ourselves, is an outcome of our one-sided worship of the twentieth-century idol of progress. Assisted by its powerful ministers named science and technology, progress is identified in an uncritical way with everything that is good for our happiness, yet has been pursued in a manner that has totally failed to consider its destructive toll on Earth itself.
In short, there opens out a rift at the core of our being as we give ourselves to the pursuit of an ideal of the good in a way that is accompanied by the denial of the shadow side of our existence. Such a rift makes itself manifest in different ways, coming to haunt us in those abhorrent events and situations in our individual communal history. The brokenness and woundedness in the different dimensions of our being can be seen as a manifestation of that rift.
The denial of our shadow is but an inevitable outcome of our mode of living that lets the ego-centered consciousness have its way. In other words…
as long as we live our lives with the I, me, mine at the center as the controlling factor in our lives, then we fall into that trap of tending to idealize ourselves and seeing only the good, the beautiful, the bright side of our being that the “I” wants to identify with.
Consequently, we fail to see the opposite pole that is also part of us, either by just looking the other way or by wishing it away or, worse, by suppressing or repressing it.
Excerpted from Healing Breath (Orbis Books). Published as Recovery of our Shadow on the Maria Kannon Zen Center website.