I’m wrapping up a program at Rutgers this week, and I’m writing about Jung’s shadow. I came across this passage in my reading today, and noted how much it resonated.
It’s Carl Jung himself, (though I modified the pronouns):
“It is often tragic to see how blatantly a human bungles their own life and the lives of others yet remains totally incapable of seeing how much the whole tragedy originates in themselves, and how they continually feed it and keep it going. Not consciously, of course – for consciously they are engaged in bewailing and cursing a faithless world that recedes further and further into the distance. Rather, it is an unconscious factor which spins the illusions that veil their world. And what is being spun is a cocoon, which in the end will completely envelop them.”
Almost ten years ago, I wrote:
1. Most of what goes wrong in your life is going to be your own fault. Don’t beat yourself up about it. You do the best you can with what you have at the time.
2. It’s like your life is a video game – it’s only after you clear a level that you realize there was a shortcut there the whole damn time. Don’t fret. Just remember it next time.
3. From time to time something really awful will happen that won’t be your fault, but through the intricate absurdity of the universe, know that this will be the thing for which you blame yourself. Try not to.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’m any Carl Jung, but I think the commonality of the expression makes me really settle into his theory of archetypes and collective consciousness. I arrived at those same conclusions after making such a horrid mess of my life there are no words for it. In the aftermath of the disaster that was me, I had this profound epiphany while sitting outside drinking my coffee one morning. I took a sip, and a voice inside my head, mine, but different, stronger, wiser, said, “If you made this mess, which you did, that means you can fix it.” Somehow my higher cognitive processes got the upper hand on my subconscious shadow impulses and sent a message through. I imagine a great struggle happened to do so, with ships and cannons firing, while one brave neuron and synapse broke through the barrier, crossed the moat, and lobbed the bottle with the message into my conscious mind, over the castle wall. (The battle continued on for a few more years with great intensity, and every now and again, I still hear the occasional burst of gun powder, but most days, I think everyone gave up and went home.)
The greatest work we will ever do in life is with our own shadow. Those impulses we project onto others, and the faults we see in their decisions, beliefs, and actions are our greatest teachers. The messes we make, chaos we spin, and arguments we pick can point the way to our own awakening. And if your life feels messy right now, it’s all good. We do the best we can with what we have and know at the time. We’re mysteries to ourselves. Jung also said that our shadow can’t be truly anticipated, only met, in the world, through our action and continuous commitment to understanding ourselves, each other, and our existence.
Which means we’re all in process, and that really takes the edge off.
Citation: Carl Gustav Jung, The Portable Jung (New York: Penguin Books, 1986), 147.