Spirituality of the Shadow

Shadow    I had no idea when I was a child that the monster or boogey-man chasing me in my dreams was really just me. I had not come across the ideas of Carl Jung on “the shadow” at that point in my life. So it would never have occurred to me that the scary person I was running from was myself.

I can’t clearly remember the dreams now – I’m 65 years old for Pete’s sake. But, based on what I do remember, at that time in my life, I can make a few guesses as to what was going on. There was a part of me that was, frankly, full of rage — raw, barely contained, unadulterated rage.

Every family has certain rules of behavior. Sometimes, they are clearly spelled out, but often family rules are unspoken. Just based on my perception of things as a child, the rules about rage in my family were these: Dad and my older brother could express rage, but no one else was allowed. Dad’s rage was like a volcanic eruption — never physically violent, but very loud and the cause for me running and hiding for cover. My older brother’s rage was expressed whenever he was on the losing end of a neighborhood football or baseball game. He would stomp, yell and then pout and walk off the field in a huff.

But me — not so much. Oh, I would cry sometimes when I was angry, or I would withdraw, or on the other side of my rage, I would make nice as I tried to get on the good side of whoever had offended me. But never, never, never was I to raise my voice. On one occasion, when I fairly calmly told my mother I was angry with her, she went screaming down the hall, stating that I was driving her crazy!

So, I learned my lessons well. Don’t be angry, or if you are, keep it to yourself.

The Shadow feeds on such stuff, growing larger and larger each time we stuff into some invisible place within us the things we either can’t or won’t acknowledge. Like most things that are left in the basement of the psyche, such stuff tends to mold and fester, eventually taking on a life of its own. Anger repressed usually turns into depression or acting out — and I’ve had my share of both, thank you.

Becoming healthy and whole is certainly a lifelong challenge, and when we do our shadow-work, we move the ball of our spiritual growth a little further down the field, so to speak. When the Apostle Paul said for us to “Be angry, but do not sin,” I think what he was getting at is the idea of bringing up from the basement part of our soul the stuff that needs the healing light of day. What we can’t see or feel or touch usually controls us. What we can acknowledge and express in a conscious, caring way becomes a resource for our health and growth.

 

Do Dreams Tell You What to Do?

compass Do dreams ever tell us literally what to do with our lives? Do they tell us what decision to make? When to change jobs, or when to move to a new locale, or what relationship to pursue?

Here is what Carl Jung had to say about this question:

“A dream never says what one ought to do….You must know the details of the conscious condition in order to interpret a dream, for the dream is made up of all we don’t live or become conscious of. In my conscious I might go too far to the right. When you lean too far over on one side, there will be a compensation in the unconscious. The unconscious is like a compass, it doesn’t tell you what to do. Unless you can read the compass it cannot help you.” (Lecture, 1929)

Jung’s words are consistent with his concept of the Self, which is sort of like a psychic compass. He believed that there is an unconscious organizing principle within each of us that is constantly working behind the scenes to bring us into line with who we truly are. It’s as if there is a mysterious person or entity or energy within us that is always praying for our healing and wholeness, whether we are conscious of it or not. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, called this “prevenient grace” – an unfortunate term, actually, since no one ever uses the word “prevenient.” But the meaning, I think, is the same.

In a recent dream, I was deep underwater, and I swam up to a window on a deep water vessel, like a spaceship. As I peered inside, I saw a group of people and a woman in the act of giving birth. As the doctor delivered the child, he looked over his shoulder and shouted, “Well, isn’t anyone going to say ‘thank you’?

I am struck by this poignant question and how it is addressed to my conscious self – my ego (self with a little “s”). It’s as if this larger sense of Self that is underwater, but very active in bringing things to birth for my conscious enjoyment and usage, is challenging the way I am apparently an outsider to my own experience of mystery.

How many times have I been given a solution to a problem by sleeping on it? Or how many times has something new and unexpected come into my life — a new relationship, or a new opportunity, a wonderful new book, or a new and fulfilling direction — and yet, I have treated these instances of amazing grace with relative indifference. It’s as if my sense of gratitude is represented by me “looking in” on the mysteries of my own life, rather than really joining the celebration.

So, my dream doesn’t tell me, “John, be more thankful!” But it sure shows me where I am in relation to the sacredness of my life — on the outside looking in. That’s not where I want to be, for sure. My dream, though, gets my attention, which for me is an invitation to be more aware, less intellectual about the holy, more attentive, and certainly more in awe at the ineffable workings of grace that easily go unnoticed every day.

 

THE SYMBOLIC LIFE: HOW I GOT INTO DREAMWORK

Jacobs Ladder - Chagall  Before beginning group dreamwork, I had a dream. I had heard Joyce Hudson speak at the Summer Dream Conference at Kanuga, and when I came home, I began to wonder how I could develop a dreamwork community in my hometown. So, here’s my dream:

I am in a bookstore in an old two-story house, and I’m upstairs on the second floor. There are tables of books throughout the room, and an elderly gentleman, dressed in a grey suit and white shirt is standing behind me. I turn and ask him: “Do you know where I might find a book called ‘The Symbolic Life’?” He points to the table beside of me and says, “Sure, it’s right there.” I look, and there on the table is a large volume with the title, ‘The Symbolic Life.” I wake up from my dream.

When I awoke, I felt as if I had received an important message, but I had never heard of a book called “The Symbolic Life.” I had a few minutes before seeing my first client for the day, so I decided, “What the heck! I’ll glance through the titles on my bookshelf to see what I might find.” So, there on the shelf where I keep a number of Carl Jung’s volumes from his collected works, I found a book with the title, The Symbolic Life (Jung, 1939/1950, [CW 18, pra.638]). I attached no real significance to this discovery. But I was certainly curious, so I opened the book. There, in the table of contents, was a chapter entitled, “The Symbolic Life.” Now I was excited. What had my dream done?

Later that day, I took time to read this chapter. It was a presentation that Jung gave in 1939 to a group of Catholic and Protestant clergy in London. In it, Jung outlines his basic approach to the psychology of the unconscious, but it’s the ending of his talk that hooked me. Jung tells these clergy that Christianity must stop looking to Jesus to save us from our sins. Instead, Jung went on, the faithful must be as courageous as Jesus was so that they might “take up their own crosses.” This idea is Jung’s basic view of individuation. But Jung goes on to say that the path of individuation leads straight through “the least of these” Jung says, “What if ‘the least’ of these is actually in me?” What if what is most valuable and most essential to my own path of individuation is what I consciously or unconsciously reject or dismiss?

To say that a lightbulb went on for me is an understatement. In reading Jung’s words, I knew what it meant for me to do group dreamwork. I would equip others with the tools they need in order to connect with their own shadows – the “least of these” in me and in them, so that we, too, might live courageously and live with a sense of meaning and purpose, just as Jesus teaches us to do.

So soon after my discovery, I invited people in my church and community to a public presentation on “Dreams as a Spiritual Path.” I put together a PowerPoint presentation, and about 50 people attended. Afterwards, 10 people signed up to study Joyce Hudson’s book, Natural Spirituality (2000), and we agreed to meet every other week for two hours to learn about Jungian psychology and to practice dreamwork by using the projective method taught by Joyce Hudson.

Over the ensuing years, enough people took the course that I offered, that I started two dreamwork groups. I later moved to Charlotte, losing touch with the dreamwork community for a while. But since then, I was invited back to Davidson to join a dreamwork group made up of some of my original group members plus some new folks. This has been an amazing journey and a wonderful coming full circle for me. I continue to be in awe at the ways in which our dreams guide us and serve us in the life and work of the soul.

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Hudson, J. (2000). Natural spirituality: recovering the wisdom tradition in Christianity.                 Danielsville, GA: JRH Publications.

 

Jung, C. G. (1950). The symbolic life. In R.F.C. Hull (Trans.), The collected works of C.G.                 Jung (Vol. 18, pp. 267-290).

John Rowe is a psychotherapist and spiritual director in private practice in Charlotte, NC. John is also an ordained United Methodist clergy (since 1978) and received his Ph.D. in Depth Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute in 2007. He has participated in several Summer Dream and Spirituality Conferences and he completed the Spiritual Direction training through the Haden Institute in 2016. John now serves on the board of the newly formed Haden Foundation which raises funds to provide scholarships for those who wish to receive dream leader or spiritual direction training through the Haden Institute.

RULES FOR LIVING WELL

By what rules do you rule your life. Whether we know it or not, we all live by certain

Masculine and Feminine

Masculine and Feminine Archetypes

rules. Brush your teeth, pick up your clothes, eat your vegetables, don’t hit your brother or sister. Our lives begin with rules, and gradually we pick up others along the way.

The famous couple in the picture to the right lived by certain rules. And yet, they also broke some rules that caused them a lot of suffering and loss of status, job, and who knows what else. Respected rule keepers they were, but those rules did not protect them from near-tragic results due to moral failure.

It would be nice if rules always protected us. But it’s not so simple. Most of us who have made it past the mid-life mark have broken some cherished rules either purposefully or accidentally. It’s a common experience, is it not? What we do with these experiences, what we learn, how those difficult times deepen us, has a lot to do with what rules we live by in the second half of life.

The Dalai Lama has “18 Rules of Living.” I recommend them to you wholeheartedly. There are two that I particularly love: 1) Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck. And 2) Learn the rules so you know how to break them.

Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck. All of us, let’s face it, want what we want. It’s human nature. But how many times in my life would things have turned out so different, and possibly much worse, if I had gotten exactly what I wanted. Many times I do receive what I want, and actually much, much more. But there are times when not getting what I wanted led to opening doors through which I would never have passed if I hadn’t first been greatly disappointed. Those detours eventually led to unimagined opportunities to which I now owe so much gratitude.

Learn the rules so you know how to break them. Rules help us in many ways, and they hurt us in other ways. For instance, if you are the kind of person who believes in a conventional or traditional style of life, and that lifestyle is consistent with who you are on the inside, then all  is well and good. But many try to live a conventional way of life, yet on the inside they are anything but that person. They have been TOO good at learning the rules to the point that often at midlife, they become exhausted, feeling like the rules have become a one ton backpack that weighs them down or crushes them completely at times. Their creativity and imagination are part of what is getting crushed. So their only choices are a) to become stressed out and possibly sick, b) break out of their rut in some creative way, or c) break the rules in ways that cause them an equal amount of trouble and sorrow on the other side.

Creativity — a change of course and values — of course, is the option anyone would choose, right. It might mean surprising some people in your social circles, resigning from certain roles or activities that have lost their meaning, maybe moving to a new location, leaving a relationship, or seeking a new career path. There are a multitude of possibilities. But the Dalai Lama is right: Knowing how to break the rules is everything! So when you’re ready to do it, make sure you do it with gusto, and make sure you do it with as much conscious awareness as possible. Finding a good therapist or spiritual director could also help greatly.

Carl Jung, the great Swiss psychoanalyst who spoke to the human pursuit of a healthy soul and a healthy life, had a rule. It goes something like this: In every man is a feminine counterpart, and in every woman is a masculine counterpart. In order to be healthy and whole, each of us must do the work of balancing and integrating these forms of energy — what Jung referred to as archetypes. When we fail to do so, the result often takes the shape of sickness or trouble or malaise. When we take this challenge seriously, however, and do so with a spirit of discovery and joy, our lives become full of meaning, discovery, and juiciness. If you have never read Jung’s only book intentionally written by him for the general public, you would do well to delve into his thinking. MAN AND HIS SYMBOLS is a wonderful introduction to the rules of the soul. I commend it to you highly.

CALLING ALL DREAMERS

Images

DIVORCE AS SPIRITUAL JOURNEY

divorce decreeMy divorce decree arrived in the mail recently – March 27th actually (the day before my birthday!). I had included a stamped self-addressed envelope with the last small stack of documents which I had dutifully delivered to the courthouse. So the judge or her assistant merely folded the signed decree and slipped it into the envelope; and that was that.

Sterile, this divorce process was for me. Pedantic, inexpensive ($292), and cut and dried. Final. And, I would add — spiritual.

I can say, at this point, that I am as happy and as genuinely pleased with my life as I can imagine being. So much for which I am grateful. Healthy in body, mind, soul, and bank account. Good friends to beat the band, a job as counselor and spiritual director that holds for me so much meaning, and a future that seems full of possibilities. It does, indeed, feel as if I am on an incredible journey.

Not that the ending of my marriage wasn’t devastating. I will tell no lies about that. It was my third marriage, in fact. And now, a third divorce. At times in the past year, the shame I felt about this fact of my life was nearly immobilizing. Without friends to hold me up, friends who reminded me of my goodness and worth, and friends that helped me with the work of healing, I am sure I would not be where I am today.

I hear from time to time what seems to be a stigma about multiple marriages and divorces. I’m in a meeting or at a conference or watching a TV program, and someone is referred to as having been married several times — as if this is something unacceptable. And yet, there are many of us in this category with one, two, three, or more marriages. We keep trying; but hopefully we keep learning as well.

I owe, in part, my healing during this past year to an App on my iphone: Insight Timer. I found it the day after my wife left me, and I used it’s library of Guided Meditations and it’s timer for silent meditations every day for the next year. I began my morning with some meditation on acceptance, self-compassion, surrender, or forgiveness – whether I felt like it or not. This was medicine for my soul. It was literally the only thing that enabled me to go back out into the world each day. And slowly, slowly, slowly, I felt the healing take root.

I haven’t tracked the statistics yet, but I also don’t feel the need to do so. I know, instinctively, that there are many of us who suffer the stigma of divorce. Some of the stigma, of course, is of our own making. But I know this. We are all trying to do the best we know in order to have healthy relationships. Certainly, if we knew more, had better insight, more understanding, more skill…, more of everything, we’d be better at this notion of marital equality, romance, and respect. I’m still learning, and I’m still growing, and I will continue to do so, I pray, as long as God gives me life and breath, and yes, love.

 

GROWING UP, GROWING DOWN

growing-downGrowing up is one thing. Growing “down” is quite another thing altogether.

When we are growing up, we need certain things: food, of course; shelter; warmth, touch, and love for a start. Caring relationships matter greatly. Gradually though, we need to venture out, becoming mobile and slightly independent. When we get hurt along the way — we trip or fall or skin a knee — we need a mixture of assistance from others as well as ample opportunities to figure things out ourselves. Unless we struggle some, we never grow to our full potential.

Moving on along the growth trajectory, education comes into play — quite early actually. The infant brain is constantly learning about his or her environment: what pleases, what meets with disapproval, learning words and sentences, communicating our wants and needs and emotions, mastering our limited but ever expanding worlds. It’s an exciting thing to behold!

And so it goes through the elementary school years, the teenage years, and beyond. The more we learn and the more we grow in the process, the more new challenges we take on, our growth is unlimited. Even in the latter years of life, we are growing and learning until the day that we die, actually.

But growing up is only half the story of our lives. It’s the “growing down” part that really makes life worth living. The roots that we sink into the soil of life are what nurture the limbs and the leaves above. Show me someone who is living life well, and I will show you someone who has spent ample amounts of time in the underground of life — the place where the soul, if you will, grows. They have journeyed into their own unconscious selves, or they have journeyed through times of acute suffering and loss, or they have both found love and lost love; and yet, they have come through these times all the wiser.

I have learned much in my lifetime in the usual places of learning — school, achieving academic degrees, succeeding at various jobs along the way, traveling, watching TV and movies, reading books, and enjoying interacting with friends and others. But my roots have largely grown deeper when life has taken unexpected and often painful turns that I never saw coming. Or when I have dared to look into my own unconscious, through dreamwork, for example. Our dreams often hold within their mysterious images the stuff of growing deeper and wiser. And this takes some courage at times.

Alcoholics Anonymous has made famous the term “hitting bottom.” It’s that time in a person’s journey when they arrive at the end of their rope. Their lives have literally become “root-less.” All of their own efforts at negotiating life’s challenges have failed, and they find themselves up against a dead end. It is, in that moment, the WORST day of their lives — and it is also the BEST day of their lives. It is the day when that man or woman decides to go about the task of growing deeper roots: in their relationship with God, developing compassion for others, and building their lives on becoming as self-aware as possible. I have friends who are recovering addicts, and they are some of the deepest people I know — they have failed big time! But they also have mighty big and deep souls that bring light and life to everyone they encounter.

So, I say, in this infancy period of 2017 — bring me plenty of the good things of life! Bring me light and love, good food, good friends, and money sufficient to my needs. But also, bring on the challenges — even bring on the pain and sorrow — for these are the things that serve as rich compost for the soul. And bring on the experiences that deepen my connection with others who are growing and hurting and succeeding in this thing we call life. For it is only as we are growing downward that we can effectively reach for the sun and the stars.