Luke, trust your feelings – Obi-Wan Kenobi
“When you look at the dark side, careful you must be. For the dark side looks back.” – Yoda
We are each made up of three distinct aspects. There is the Shadow, the Watcher and the Persona. The part of me which I know best and which presents to others is the persona. The Shadow is what lurks beneath the surface of my consciousness and my ego. It is the Dark Side of the psyche, the inner beast. The Watcher is the unseen observer, the inner pilot which comes from the Force. Today I would like to talk about the Shadow.
“This meeting with oneself is, at first, the meeting with one’s own shadow. The shadow is a tight passage, a narrow door, whose painful constriction no one is spared who goes down to the deep well. But one must learn to know oneself in order to know who one is….” – Carl Jung
A friend of mine recently came back from Peru where he had attended an Ahuyuasca retreat*. Over a period of three days he participated in ceremonies where he took a brew made from the Ahuyuasca plant. The plant is a potent psychedelic drug. Users can attest to profound life changing experiences under its influence.
My friend was curious and being a veteran of recent wars he had deep seated issues he wanted to confront and resolve. Depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, self doubt, suicidal thoughts and PTSD clouded his existence as it does with many other veterans.
During one of the ceremonies my friend came face to face with his Dark Side. Decades of repressed emotions were revealed and released. Spiraling deep in to a dark abyss his whole being was made apparent in all its millions of facets. All of the guilt, self doubt, the anguish and pain he held within, all the buried memories were revealed to him in a swirling sea that stretched to eternity. The vision was tangible and alive. It was terrible and wonderful at the same time.
“….For what comes after the door is, surprisingly enough, a boundless expanse full of unprecedented uncertainty, with apparently no inside and no outside, no above and no below, no here and no there, no mine and no thine, no good and no bad…..” – Carl Jung
In that swirling chaos of his subconscious my friend found that he could let go of all that held him back and find peace at last if he chose. His past, present and future became as one. All time was now. Every place was now. Separation and duality did not exist. In that dimension he realized the illusion of self for what it is.
The effect the experience had on him was cathartic and complete. My friend had had nothing less than a deep spiritual experience. I was drawn to this story because it sounded like the spiritual experience that had placed me on the road to sobriety. I had also met my Shadow. The difference was I didn’t take Ahuyuasca then but had fallen into a deep psychic rift leading to a mental and spiritual personal hell which I came back from as if reborn.
“….It is the world of water…..where I am indivisibly this and that; where I experience the other in myself and the other-than-myself experiences me” – Carl Jung
Carl Jung wrote about the Shadow. Jung stated that every person has a Shadow, a Dark Side, which is always present. Some of us keep it buried deep within our psyche and never know of it. Others allow it to bubble to the surface and manifest on occasion but maintain control or keep it buried much of the time. Fewer people are dominated by the Shadow. Very few people are even acquainted with their Shadow. It is the repressed morass of everything we don’t want to know about ourselves. The conscious Ego refuses to acknowledge the Shadow at all.
The Shadow is like the creature that lurked in garbage compactor of the Death Star; hidden and insidious yet indifferent. The Cave on Dagobah was a symbol of the intrinsic Shadow. A place best avoided. The Shadow is in us but we’d rather not know about it.
The Shadow is not necessarily evil. To label anything evil or malign is convenient but not always accurate. No person is inherently evil but the capacity to do terrible things resides in all of us. The Shadow of the psyche plays a hand in that. At the same time the Shadow can also have positive aspects such as risk taking and competitiveness. It can also be entirely unknown to us and have us act in ways that baffle us and those around us. You may not notice your own Shadow but others do and they’ll rarely be up front with you about it. Likewise you will see it in others. You will project your own shadow on others and find fault there.
“There is in every one of us, even those who seem to be most moderate, a type of desire that is terrible, wild, and lawless.” – Plato “The Republic”
We all have an inner moral compass. Much of our personal views and morality is based on societal norms and the influence of our family and friends. It is often said that a person who is “well raised” will display moral virtues even under the most testing conditions. Yet, a sense of morality is also built in to our psyche. We intuitively know right from wrong. Children are naturally empathetic and caring. An infant that is deprived of affection and human touch will fail to grow and likely die. To be human is to be more than just a product of our environment. There is a blend of nature and nurture in everyone.
Yet the Shadow resides within us all. Jung said it extends all the way to Hell. It is part of our nature and buried in the recesses of our psyche to levels you cannot imagine. The Shadow pulls at our sleeve and appeals to the Darker Side of our nature and manifests as aggression, selfishness and greed. There is an evolutionary advantage to that. After all as humans we are driven to compete, dominate and consume. Without that drive our species would not have evolved, prevailed and ultimately populated the Earth.
At the same time coexistence and cooperation has been a requisite for survival and mutual benefit. There remains a duality in Humans, a Yin and Yang derived from millions of years of evolution. But like it or not everyone is a loaded gun. You, I and everyone are capable of good, bad and even terrible things.
“Everyone carries a shadow and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is” – Carl Jung
In Mythology there is usually a Hero and a Villain. Joseph Campbell’s “A Hero with a Thousand Faces” reminds us of this timeless formula. George Lucas based Star Wars on Campbell’s “Heroes Journey”.
We meet the Shadow in Star Wars. There are Heroes and Villains of course but none of the characters act always as expected. Some of the heroes are less than heroic and some of the villains also show redeeming virtues at times. Real life is no different. In reality we are both Hero and Villain in our own life story.
The “Heroes Journey” calls the protagonist to face his Shadow, overcome it and come out better from the experience. Along his Journey the Hero can also be a Villain and an Anti-Hero. This doesn’t only make for a good tale but it also develops character and provides an important lesson which is the purpose of myth.
Han Solo, Asajj Ventress, Boba Fett, Cade Bane, Lando Carlissian, Mace Windu, Quinlan Vos and Qui-Gon Jinn were neither all Hero nor all Villains. Each of the characters displayed attributes both good and bad. They were complex individuals who acted for reasons that seemed correct to them at the time. The Empire was not entirely bad either nor was the Republic entirely good. The Shadow was in everything. That is one of the gems of Lucas’s creation.
“If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” – Obi-wan Kenobi
Living with the Shadow
The Skywalker family seemed utterly cursed. Anakin of course was haunted his entire life by the Shadow of Vader. Leia struggled with her own inner Demons. There was the perpetual conflict in Leia between a responsibility to her family and to her position. Luke was torn by his own inner doubts. On Dagobah he came face to face with his Dark Side in the Cave, a crucial part of his training. Luke confronted it again, for real, as his rage took decades later and he almost killed his nephew. Kylo Ren equally infected saw beauty and purpose in a nihilistic pursuit of power.
Yoda summoned his Shadow and overcame it allowing him to unify with the Force. Obi-wan Kenobi also invited his Shadow “out to play” and let it cut him down thus releasing him to also unify with the Force,
The best way to deal with your Dark Side is to face it, know it and accept it. Ignoring the Shadow does not work. Trying to kill the Shadow is impossible. We Alcoholics are often warned of the danger of the Ego. The Ego we are reminded has a tendency to become inflated. In time we lose our humility to Ego and allow ourselves to be led astray. In fact the much maligned Ego is not all bad. It is essential to our persona as long as we don’t let it get away from us. The Shadow on the over hand is the overlooked enemy if we let it dominate and control us.
“It was on the moral side, and in my own person, that I learned to recognize the thorough and primitive duality of man; I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both” – Robert Louise Stephenson (Author of “Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde”)
Source: Star Wars (Luca Films)
Jeckyll and Hyde
Someone once told me that alcohol does nothing more than bring the real persona to the fore. That scared me because it meant that I was not a nice person. It also meant that I did not know myself at all.
If you knew me sober and then met me when I was drunk you would no longer know me. You would be confronted by a personality completely different to the individual you had previously met. The act of taking a drink had chemically altered my brain. After a single drink I was no longer the same person. One drink would lead to more drinks and the transformation would progress.
Eventually I would no longer resemble my sober self more than a passing physical resemblance. I resembled the duality of Dr Jeckyl and Mr Hyde. Drunk I was as base, antisocial and destructive as Mr Hyde.
Eventually the Shadow began to take over my persona entirely.
“Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
Look deep in to the soul of an Alcoholic in the later stage of addiction and you will see the Shadow staring back. The person you see is now the Shadow having completely taken over the person’s psyche. It is frightening if you pause to think about it. Even the Ego has been muted and forced down. The Ego needs the body to survive and won’t endanger it willingly. The Shadow does not care.
What remains in the late stage Alcoholic is the manifestation of something primal, desperate and nihilist. There is utter selfishness, anger, rage, self pity, self loathing, denial, indifference, resentment, grief and more than anything an urge that must be fulfilled at any cost. This is the Shadow. The only way out of the Shadow is through a spiritual cure.
In order to break from my Shadow I had to confront it through admission of my Alcoholism. My disease showed itself to me in all its detail. I saw clearly the harm I had caused to myself and others. I saw the past and the future laid out before me. The present moment stood still and I knew that I was on the edge of a great chasm.
My Shadow was laid bare before me. It was like I was detached from my body looking down at me and seeing myself for who I was for the first time. At that moment I turned to a Higher Power and asked it to take my burden. I became willing to let go without regret or reservation. In that moment I knew the shackles had been removed. I was free.
“In these ways, the personal shadow reinforces, encourages, and becomes dependent upon the addictive behavior to express itself, to have any existence in the light outside of the closet, the attic, and the basement where it has been locked up and hidden for so long.” – David Schoen “The War of the Gods in Addiction”.
What I meant by a spiritual cure is not Divine Intervention but Faith in a Higher Power. The road to recovery for me had only begun at that moment. In order to express Faith I had to work. Self discipline and tenacity was necessary. Constant and honest introspection was required. I completed my personal inventory and admitted my faults and litany of wrongs to another and to my Higher Power. Little by little my Shadow began to dissipate becoming less black and dense. The spiritual burden I carried became lighter. I began to know myself more in weeks than I had in decades.
The process never ends. Daily introspection is required. Admit faults without hesitation. Seek to make amends where appropriate. Make a daily inventory and meditate on the Shadow often. Review, adapt, modify and improve continuously. Knowledge accumulates and wisdom follows.
“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.” – Carl Jung
Once you acknowledge and accept that life is suffering and you suffer you can begin to dissect the reasons why. It will come as no surprise to discover that much of our own suffering comes from our own choices. Many of those choices will be contrary to your stated principles, values and virtues. An Alcoholic must at last confront the Shadow which afflicts his life and struggle to overcome it. Only by accepting that reality and seeing things as they really are do we stand a chance. Paradoxically healing comes from integrating the Shadow in to our consciousness.
We must constantly question the paradigm we find ourselves in. Does it represent reality or a projection of your own psyche? We must also decide what our values are and the virtues we wish to demonstrate. Are your thoughts, habits and actions objective and in congruence with those stated principles, values and virtues?
A Jedi constantly questions his or her reality. A Jedi trusts her feelings because she knows they are valid. Jedi are never satisfied with appearances alone and delve deeper to uncover the truth discarding what is false or redundant. Jedi practices such as meditation, physical training, mindfulness, awareness, objective inquiry and self discipline all serve to keep a Jedi in reality. Cooperation, diplomacy, reasoned discourse and respect for others creates an environment incongruent to the Shadow. Jedi strive to uphold the Code.
Light repels shadows and only barriers that we construct with our own minds create them. Light offers clarity through knowledge while the Shadow conceals the truth. A Jedi is simply someone who knows who they are both good and bad, warts and all. They know and accept the Shadow and fully and mindfully integrate it.
“People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own souls. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” – Carl Gustav Jung
My friend found answers in his quest for knowledge through Ahuyuasca. In reality all he did was confront his Shadow and fully integrate it in to his being. This he did through acceptance and surrender to the experience. As a result all of the repressed memories and emotions he carried were released. From there he was able to walk away from the experience a free man at least for a time.
Isn’t freedom from suffering what we all seek? Is it enough to confront the Shadow? Is a spiritual experience alone enough to reach self actualization and lasting serenity?
The attainment of virtue, clarity of purpose and wisdom should be the pillars we seek in life. This is the highway on the journey to enlightenment. By confronting the Shadow we come face to face with our Dark Side and knowing it we can better know ourselves. Knowing ourselves we can then begin to lighten the shadow and express what we repress. We invite our repressed feelings out to play. We integrate our Shadow in a constructive way rather than leave it buried deep within our psyche.
All our lives we are conditioned to be and act a certain way. We repress and hide aspects of ourselves that we refuse to acknowledge. Our persona is a mirror of what family, friends and society wants from us. The Shadow retains the hidden morass of repressed memories and emotions like the refuse and the beast in the garbage compactor on the Death Star. Embrace the aspects of the shadow that serve. Be you entirely not a second rate version, a mere shadow of yourself.
“As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.” – Carl Jung
*Authors Note: I do not personally endorse or recommend the use of Ahuyuasca or any other psychedelic drug without the full supervision of a competent practicing psychiatrist. There are many retreats in South America and elsewhere that offer Ahuyuasca ceremonies. Readers who are considering traveling to a retreat and using the drug should fully research the topic beforehand and seek medical advice prior to proceeding with the experience.
Related article on Star Wars.com: https://www.starwars.com/news/star-wars-in-mythology-the-shadow