In her classic work The interior castle St. Theresa of Avila images the soul as a mansion with many rooms and suggests that spiritual growth involves the ability to move freely from one room to another without inhibition. There is one room in which we should always live, the room of self-knowledge. For her self-knowledge is sine qua non of holiness because it leads to humility.
“ Self-knowledge is the traditional term for coming into consciousness of the dark side of one’s personality.” Thomas Keating .
Carl Jung who explored the depths of the psyche discovered that self-knowledge is so important to the health of the soul that it should be considered a religious undertaking. In his psychology, getting to know the shadow, “ the thing a person has no wish to be,” is a way of redeeming all the rejected and lost parts of the soul.
He also speaks of the self which is the archetype of unity of the personality: it emerges around mid-life when the negatives and contradictions of the personality are integrated into one’s life.
Jung used the term Shadow to describe the part of our personality that we repress because it conflicts with the way we wish to see ourselves. If aspects of ourselves like sexuality, anger, ambition, or creativity, do not fit our desired self-image, they will be relegated to the shadow. Shadow is the inferior sub-personality that has its own life, with goals and values that contradict those we consciously hold. Some say, “the brighter the persona, the darker the shadow”. The shadow is the dark counterpart of the persona.
The more we identify with an overly good or righteous persona, the darker will be our shadow. When there is a big gap between our “wishful” image and our true self, we will be constantly troubled by anxiety because we fear that others will see through us.
The shadow is often seen as “ bad” but need not be. Jung saw it as a treasure hidden in a field, a potential source of richness that is unavailable as long as it is buried. It is “that which we have no wish to be, because it contains that which will make us whole.”
Sometimes when the shadow manifests in us, we get surprised and ask, “ is it I?” “How is it possible?” to confront the shadow means to take a mercilessly critical attitude towards one’s own nature. And that is why often we project our shadow or darks side upon others and blame others.
How the shadow is formed:
The poet – philosopher Robert Bly gives a personal account of how the shadow develops:
When we were one or two years old, we had what we might visualize as a 360 – degree personality. Energy radiated out form all parts of our body and all parts of our psyche. A child running is a living globe of energy. We had a ball of energy all right; but one day when noticed that our parents didn’t like certain parts of that ball. They said things like, “ Can’t you be still? Or “ It isn’t nice to try and kill your brother.” Behind us we have an invisible bad and the part of us our parents don’t like, we, in order to keep our parent’s love put in the bag. By the time we go to school our bag is quite large. Then our teachers say, “ good children don’t get angry over such little things. We put anger in that bag.. By the time my brother and I were twelve we were known in our neighborhood as “the nice Bly boys” Our bags were already a mile long..
This bag continues to be stuffed as we accommodate to different environments….. College, office, religious life…The result is that by the time one reaches midlife one ends up with only a slice of the 360 – degree personality that we began with. And then we spend the rest of our lives
reclaiming what is in the bag.
Carl Rogers speaks of receiving conditional positive regard which leads to accumulating “conditions of worth.”
Freud and the Unconscious:
Though Jung speaks of the Shadow, he builds on Freud who showed us the importance of the Unconscious. Freud said that what we are conscious of in our personality is only the tip of the iceberg. Most of our personality is unconscious, not known to us but affects our conscious life all the time.
That is why we don’t understand why we react the way we do at times.
Examples of unexplainable behavior:
We have sympathies which we cannot explain. We have special attractions to some people which we cannot account for.
We have antipathies which we cannot explain either. E.g. transferences…
We notice exaggerated reactions which cannot be explained or understood in terms of the stimulus at hand. Reactions in chapters and in discussions which are out of all proportion to the issue at hand….
In other words, there are layers of our personality or psyche which we are not aware of and yet they influence our behavior.
Freud divided the mind into three or basically three layers.
1. The conscious mind: is what we are aware of immediately, just now. For example our present thoughts, feelings, perceptions.
e.g. I am driving a car and I know I am in a car, on the road and driving and not dreaming.
I am listening to music and I am aware of the sound, and of my act of listening. There can be levels of awareness, however.
2. The Preconscious:
a. Where recent past has been stored
b. Memories which can be recalled to awareness by voluntary effort of the mind
such as reflection, meditation, introspection, examination of conscience
c. Dates of anniversaries, birthdays, multiplication tables.
3. The Unconscious: those contents of the mind which we are not aware of, cannot become aware of unless through special help .
This is the BASEMENT of the mind.
According to Assagoli there are two parts in the unconscious:
1. The higher unconscious: refers to the untapped potential buried here, not utilized potentialities, and psychic energies, because the person is not convinced one has them, or is afraid of using or are not mature enough to become conscious.
2. The lower unconscious contains:
a) Our drives and urges, jealousies and unacceptable impulses, passions which are buried; tensions not yet released trying to get relief.
b) Repressed memories, especially of childhood. Repressed because not acceptable.
- traumas of childhood, sexual traumas
- early training experiences
- unfinished business of childhood.
c) Conflictual material …. Not acceptable to self.
- sexual, aggressive impulses
- inferiority feelings
The unconscious is not known directly.
It is known indirectly, through its effects:
Symptomatic acts such as slip of the tongue, bungled actions; Hypnosis; Multiple personality; Subliminal perception; Dreams
Conscious is only a fraction of the mind, tip of the ice-berg. 90% of our mind is unconscious. Think of the time we sleep, the time in childhood, time when we are really aware of what we do is limited.
Note: the unconscious is very active. It is not static. It is dynamic. It influences our present thoughts and feelings and actions without we being aware of it.
What is stored is BURIED ALIVE.
The unconscious influences us without we being aware of it.
Laws of the unconscious:
1. The unconscious is exempt from contradiction.
Contradictory elements co-exist without discord in the unconscious because they are independent, though they create conflict in the conscious areas.
Same thing can be black and white!!
e.g. Love and hate, pardon and revenge, inferiority and superiority, humility and exhibitionism can co-exist in the same person in the unconscious without nullifying each other.
a. The objective meaning of an action need not correspond to the subjective meaning to the person on an unconscious level.
E.g.,the sexual act can be an act of self-giving on the conscious level but aggression on the unconscious level; service can be a need to be loved and a need for domination.
b. Behavior can express simultaneously opposite and contradictory tendencies.
e.g choose religious life to serve God and to come up in life or study;
mixed motivations are very common.
c. Behavior that is mature in itself can have immature meanings too.
Thus prayer can also be a means to defend against guilt.
2. The unconscious is timeless
the unconscious elements are neither arranged in time nor are altered in the course of time.
- They exist independently of external reality.
- Life-long experiences may not affect childhood feelings
- Even though one has a PhD or is 70 years old, early experiences still determine one’s responses without any influence of age or learning.
3.The unconscious does not take into account reality but influences reality.
The unconscious affects reality and not vice versa.
4. The unconscious has a dynamic force which preserves itself.
It resists self-examination.
E.g. Resistance in therapy :comes to be healed but resists change.
Freud also adds other laws: not fully accepted by others.
1. The unconscious is guided by the pleasure principle : immediate gratification.
2. In the unconscious there is no negation, doubt or uncertainty
3. Energy of the unconscious idea rotates freely and can associate by chance with other unconscious ideas: displacement, condensation in dreams.
For an integrated spirituality it is important to become aware of our hidden motives or mixed motives for our actions.
What looks like charity may actually be self-seeking, or love hiding hatred.
Wilkie Au says: “ the journey toward wholeness necessitates getting to know our shadow and confronting our unknown motivations and attitudes. Because this requires going deeper into ourselves, images of descent rather than ascent seem more descriptive of this aspect of the spiritual journey. Thus terms such as “ going deeper,” “ soul-searching” and “uncovering” more closely capture what the spiritual journey involves.
In his ongoing polemic against the traditions of the Pharisees, Jesus consistently insists on the need to go beyond mere reliance on externals and superficial observations of the Law. In order to grow spiritually we must go below the surface of neat appearance and proper behavior and examine our hearts, “ for it is from within, from the heart, that evil intentions emerge: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride folly. All these things come from within and make a person unclean.
( Mk 7:21-22).
Recognizing the importance of self-knowledge and inner work for spiritual growth, Cistercian abbot Thomas Keating reaffirms the wisdom of depth psychology: “ The heart of Christian ascesis is the struggle with our unconscious motivations. If we do not recognize and confront the hidden influences of the emotional programs for happiness, the false self will adjust to any new situation in a short time and nothing is really changed.” ( Wilkie Au).This means that if we are serious about growing spiritually, we will have to deal with our shadow, something we initially resist because it goes against the grain.
How can be become more aware of the unconscious? It is not easy.
Some suggested methods:
1. Keeping a journal – a record of our thoughts and reflections on events : one may see a thread.
2. Guided affective imagery, guided day dreams
3. Meditation regularly
5. Spiritual direction.
6. Dream interpretation
7. Insight into the workings of defense mechanisms.