I saw Tarkovsky’s Solaris in a movie theater in Oslo when I was around twenty and it made a big impression on me. I LOVED it.
Here was a movie that reflected how we relate to our own unprocessed psychological material.
On an ocean planet, there is a human research station. If people there have something unresolved with someone important from their past, the ocean will manifest these people. It’s impossible to get rid of them since they just come back, and it’s impossible to leave since it’s a research station far from Earth. It’s the perfect alchemical vessel. Some can’t deal with it and go crazy, and others take it as an opportunity to process and find a resolution.
That’s a metaphor for life. Life (in the form of our mind) will always bring up what’s unprocessed in us, and we can relate to it in a few different ways. We can try to ignore it and pretend it’s not there. We can struggle with it and try to make it go away. And we can meet it, process it, find some kind of resolution, and perhaps even grow from it.
At the time – in my teens and early twenties – I was deeply into Jung. I read everything the bookstores in Oslo (Norli, Tanum) could get from him, which was a few dozen books, and absorbed it like a sponge. And Solaris, of course, fits perfectly with exploring our shadow and finding healing for old unresolved issues.
I haven’t seen Solaris since then so perhaps it’s time to rewatch it. I have also wanted to read the story it’s based on, written by Stanislav Lem.
P.P.S. It’s now a few days later and I have listened to the audiobook and rewatched the movie. The story is certainly very Jungian and about the shadow, and full of reflections and metaphors. I still love the essence and that aspect of it. And I also see that this is something I loved at that time, in early adulthood, and I am now drawn to slightly different kinds of movies and books. (More gentle and heartfelt ones.)
The first two are more loose and poetic. The next three are something we can check out for ourselves in our direct noticing. And the last one either depends on our definition or is an assumption – at least for me now.
POETIC & SENSE OF US
We can mean it in a loose and poetic way.
I have a sense of fellowship and a sense of us.
So I am you and you are me in the sense that we are all in it together.
We are all part of and expressions of larger social and ecological systems.
We are expressions and parts of a larger whole, just like cells are part of a larger organism.
We are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe.
In this sense too, I am you and you are me.
I see in others what I know from myself, whether I know I know it from myself or not.
I can take any story I have about someone else (or anything in the world), turn it to myself, and find genuine and specific examples of where it’s true.
You are my mirror. You are me.
I am your mirror. I am you.
This is something I can find for myself by exploring projections. One of my favorite ways is through inquiry and especially The Work of Byron Katie.
To me, the world happens within and as my sense fields.
To me, any experience is found within sight, sound, smell, taste, sensations, thoughts, and so on.
To me, you happen within and as my sense fields.
Here too, you are me. And to you, I am you.
This is something I can explore and find for myself, by noticing my sense fields and how any experience happens within them. Traditional Buddhist sense field explorations are especially good for this.
WHAT I AM
In one sense, I am this human self in the world. That’s an assumption that’s not wrong and it works pretty well.
And when I look closer at what I am in my own experience, I find something else.
I find I more fundamentally am capacity for the world and anything that happens in my sense fields. I am what allows any and all experience, including what I think of as you.
I am what the world, to me, happens within and as. I am what you, to me, happen within and as.
If I want to put labels on it, I can say that to me, I am consciousness and the world happens within and as this consciousness I am.
In a very literal sense, you are me. And to you, I am you, whether you notice or not.
This is also something I can check out and find for myself, perhaps most effectively through forms of inquiry like the Big Mind process and Headless experiments, and also Basic Meditation.
We can take this one step further.
If we call all of existence Spirit, the divine, or God, we can say that we are all aspects and expressions of Spirit.
When we have a reduced capacity to set aside emotional issues, they tend to naturally surface.
And that can happen in several different situations.
FATIGUE AND DYSREGULATION
I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS/ME), and this is far from regular tiredness. It’s a profound fatigue and dysregulation of the whole system.
When my system is extra fatigued, it’s no longer able to regulate very well. It has trouble regulating temperature (too hot, too cold), thoughts (difficult to think clearly and make decisions), emotions (more sensitive, reactive), and much more.
This includes difficulty regulating emotional issues. When my system has more resources, it can more easily set old emotional issues aside. (Although they will always color perception and actions.) And when it’s more fatigued, these old issues surface more easily.
That’s one reason I prefer to just go to bed when this happens and set aside any tasks or conversations for when my system functions a little better. (And often, I don’t have much choice. My system desperately needs that rest and anything else is automatically set aside.)
OUR NATURE RECOGNIZING ITSELF
When our nature recognizes itself, something similar can happen.
For a while, it takes itself to most fundamentally be this human self, a separate being in the world. Or, at least, it pretends to do this since others do it.
And then, the oneness we are recognizes itself. It shifts out of its temporary self-created trance.
And, as Adyashanity says, this can take the lid off a lot of things, including anything very human and unprocessed in us. What’s unprocessed comes to the surface to be seen, felt, loved, recognized as love, and recognized as having the same nature as we do.
I am not sure of the exact mechanism, but here is my best guess: It takes active regulation for the oneness we are to pretend – to itself and others – that it’s a separate being, something specific within its content of experience. When it recognizes its nature, it is no longer actively regulating, and that (sometimes) means it’s also not actively regulating old emotional issues. It’s no longer setting them aside, so they surface.
This doesn’t always happen. It can happen a while after oneness first recognized itself. (In my case, it happened several years into the process.) And when it happens, the oneness we are can react with confusion, feeling overwhelmed, fear, and much more.
It’s humbling, it can be very messy. And – as Evelyn Underhill said – it’s a very human process. And it’s not necessarily easy. In my case, it’s been the most challenging phase of my life by far.
And it’s also necessary. For the oneness we are to live from consciously recognizing itself, our human self needs to be a good vehicle. And that vehicle needs tune-up and cleaning. Any remaining emotional issues (beliefs, identifications, emotional issues, traumas) operate from separation consciousness, and they inevitably color our perception and life even if they don’t seem activated.
So they surface to be seen, felt, loved, and recognized as part of the oneness we are. They surface to join in with the awakening.
OTHER SITUATIONS WHERE OUR REGULATION FALTERS
There are other situations where our system has trouble setting aside emotional issues.
The most obvious is when strong emotional issues are triggered, and our mind identifies with what comes up. Here, we take on the perspective and identity of the issue and actively perceive and act as if we are that part of us. We may not even try to relate to it in a more intentional or mature way.
I suspect it also happens in some kinds of mental illness, and under influence of some kinds of drugs. (Sometimes this happens when drinking alcohol.)
CHALLENGES & GIFTS
There are challenges and gifts in our system being unable to set aside old emotional issues.
I imagine the challenges are familiar to most of us. It’s uncomfortable. It can feel overwhelming. We may get caught up in the struggle with what’s surfacing. And we may get caught up in what’s surfacing and view the world and act as if we are that hurt and confused part of us.
There are also gifts here. When these issues surface, we get to see them. It’s an invitation to see, feel, and find genuine love for what’s here. It’s an invitation to examine these confusing and hurting parts of us. It’s an invitation to get to know them. It’s an invitation to recognize that and how they operate from (painful) separation consciousness and unexamined and painful beliefs.
It’s an invitation to find healing for our relationship with them and to find healing for the issues themselves.
All of this is can seem obvious if we are familiar with it, but navigating it is often anything but easy. It takes skill, dedication, experience, and time.
It’s not something that’s done and dusted. It’s an ongoing process.
It’s part of being a human being.
It’s part of being oneness taking on the role of this human being in the world and living that life.
And it’s also where awakening and healing become one process. Where the two are revealed as aspects of the same seamless process.
Like many others, I love it for its 80s nostalgia and for being more 80s than the 80s were. I love it for the characters which often are more stereotypical than their inspiration. I love it for the dialogue. I love it for bringing Kate Bushback on the charts and introducing her to new generations.
And as with any story – whether it’s fiction, mythology, or about others or the world – we can explore it as a dream. We can use it as a mirror for ourselves.
What I see in Stranger Things is a group of nerds and outsiders, much as myself at that age. (A part of me wishes I had found the type of community back then that they have, which is perhaps also why I enjoy watching it.) They don’t quite fit in. Some of them are bullied.
And I see the upside-down as one of many representations of what Jung called the shadow. The parts of all of us that don’t fit into our conscious or desired identity. The parts we sometimes push aside or even deny. The parts of us that may take on the form of monsters since they are exiled and we are unfamiliar with them.
In this case, we can take it even more literally and see it as the shadow we tend to create for ourselves if we feel like an outsider, if we are bullied (or bully), and so on. We may experience a mix of emotions and painful beliefs and identities — pain, loneliness, self-criticism, blame, bitterness, anger, sadness, victimhood, and so on. And since these may be painful and confusing to us, we may partially exile these experiences and parts of ourselves. We may also attack the sides of ourselves we feel are responsible for us being outsiders, so these become partially exiled. When these experiences and parts of us are exiled, they tend to take on the form of monsters to us. They go into our shadow. They don’t fit into our conscious or desired self image. And they can look, to us, as the upside-down.
Stranger Things operates from a classic good vs evil duality, at least so far. But it does also have some healing qualities. It shows healing and supportive friendships, which mirror how we can be friends with ourselves. (Even as we may also battle other sides of us.) The new season gives us more understanding of how the upside-down may have been created, and with understanding comes a less adversarial relationship. (Although they’ll still need to protect themselves and their world.)
How could Stranger Things reflect an even more mature process and way of relating to our shadow?
I am not sure, there are several options. In Star Wars, we got the back story of Darth Vader so we could understand him better and find empathy with the person he used to be. We learned that the hero (Luke) and villain (Darth Vader) were as closely connected as two people can be. And the villain was redeemed before his death.
In Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver by Michael Ende, the main characters capture the evil and dangerous dragon. Instead of killing her, they put her in a cage so she couldn’t do more harm. And that allowed her to transform into a golden wisdom dragon for the benefit of everyone.
Stranger Things does hint at intimate connections between the main hero (Eleven) and Vecna and perhaps the upside-down itself. If that theme is continued, it reflects the intimate connection between the two. They are both parts of each of us. And if we create a “good” identity for ourselves that excludes certain things in us, then what’s excluded is often transformed into apparent monsters. (This also goes for excluding discomfort and pain. What we exclude tends to take on the form of monsters to us.)
It’s also possible that One (Vecna) could be redeemed. In terms of contemporary storytelling, that could be seen as a bit naive and sentimental. (Unless it’s well done with realism and grittiness, which they probably could pull off.) But in terms of mythology and reflecting inner processes, it would give us another image in popular culture that shows how we can find redemption for parts of us in the shadow.
And it’s possible that Eleven somehow, through facing her past and the uncomfortable sides of herself, could redeem herself and the upside-down. It could bring about a transformation of her and the upside-down. Again, if the story was to reflect a healthy and deep inner transformation, something like that would happen.
Note: I am writing this after having seen the first release (this first seven episodes) of the fourth season.
There is something beautiful in how Anakin is written The prequels show his journey from a gifted and innocent child and youth to someone who – through loss and trauma – descends into bitterness, resentment, and hatred. Darth Vader isn’t just a regular villain and evil character. He was the boy Anakin who later became Darth Vader through how he responded to his own loss and pain.
THE ARCHETYPES OF STAR WARS
The original Star Wars trilogy was explicitly written around archetypes, especially Luke’s hero’s journey, and that’s one reason it resonates so widely.
These archetypes mirror universal parts and dynamics in each of us in a clear and simple way that brings out their essence. We are fascinated by these stories because, somewhere in us, we want to better get to know these sides of ourselves.
WHERE DOES THE FASCINATION COME FROM?
We may be fascinated with archetype-rich stories for a couple of different reasons.
The fascination may be built into us through evolution. Fascination with archetype-rich stories helps us to get to know more about these universal human dynamics, and that gives us a survival advantage. It helps us relate to them more consciously when we meet them in the world or in ourselves.
We are also inherently whole, whether we notice it or not. Our mind seeks to bring this wholeness into consciousness. One way that happens is through a fascination with what appears as “other” while it’s in reality us. And archetype-rich stories are an especially good way for us to learn more about universal dynamics and how they may play out in our life and in ourselves.
A third reason, which rests on the two other, is that all (?) human cultures emphasize archetypal stories. We grow up with fairy tales, mythology, and other classic archetypal stories. This may even further encourage our inherent draw to these stories.
ANAKIN & JUDAS
I’ll focus on Anakin’s journey to Darth Vader here, and Darth Vader’s redemption, and leave out the other archetypal dynamics in Star Wars.
For me, Anakin is an example of how we sometimes respond to our pain in a way that hurts ourselves and others.
In the case of Anakin, he indulged in hurt, anger, and reactivity. And when this becomes extreme, some like to label it “evil”. (I don’t find it a useful label.)
Judas is a similar figure. He is an image of how we all sometimes react to our own hurt and pain by betraying our inherent kindness, clarity, and wisdom. Judas betrayed Jesus. We sometimes betray our own clarity and wisdom by how we react to our own pain.
And there is no lack of these types of figures from fiction and history. Sometimes, they are presented as just inherently evil. Other times, we are presented with a background story that presents their journey from a relatively healthy person to one who indulges in reactivity to their own pain.
ANAKIN SKYWALKER & DARTH VADER
Anakin’s story shows us what happens when we respond to our pain with reactivity, and specifically bitterness, victimhood, and so on. We all do this, sometimes and in typically less dramatic ways.
And Darth Vader is both an example of how it looks when we live from this, and that we always have an opportunity to turn it around. He turned it around at the very end of his life. He chose to meet his pain and respond to it differently, in a more honest and vulnerable way.
HOW WE RESPOND TO OUR PAIN
We can respond to our emotional pain in two general ways.
We can react to the pain. This can feel good at the moment. And it’s really a distraction from the pain, it tends to create more pain, and it also reinforces the habit of reacting to pain.
And we can befriend our pain, which invites healing for how I relate to it (reinforces a habit of befriending instead of reacting to) and it invites healing for the pain itself.
When we react to our pain, we seek to distract ourselves from the pain. And the best way to ensure distraction is to go into compulsions and a pattern of indulging. We can be compulsive about and indulge in just about anything: Work. Status. Perfection. Sex. Relationships. Entertainment. Food. Anger. Sadness. Ideologies. (Political ideologies, conspiracy theories, etc.) Spirituality. Awakening. Healing. Religion. Victimhood. Blame. Bigotry. And so on.
A MIRROR FOR OURSELVES
Anakin and Judas and a wide range of similar figures from fiction and history are a mirror for ourselves.
What stories do I have about each of these? What do I find when I turn that story back to myself? Can I find genuine examples of how and when it’s true?
How do I react to my own pain in a way that hurts myself and others? In what situations have I done it? Can I find specific examples?
How is it to befriend my pain instead of reacting to it? How is it to explore this when the pain is milder and I am in a supportive setting of exploring how to befriend it? How is it to support and deepen a new pattern in how I respond to my pain?
This is an ongoing process, and it’s important to have some compassion for ourselves in this exploration. Many of us are trained to react to our pain instead of befriending it, at least when it comes to some types of pain and in some situations. It’s often an ingrained pattern, and something we have learned from family and culture.
How is it to befriend any reactions in me when I notice I still sometimes react to my pain instead of befriending it?
SOME WAYS TO EXPLORE IT FOR OURSELVES
Most or all of the approaches I write about in these articles can be used to explore this for ourselves.
We can use tonglen, ho’oponopono, and forms of prayer to shift how we relate to this in ourselves and others. We can shift how we relate to our own pain, and what triggers our pain.
We can use inquiry to examine our beliefs about our own pain, and what triggers our pain, and find what’s more true for us. (The Work of Byron Katie.)
We can explore how our mind – largely through associating mental representations with sensations – creates its experience of all of this, including the identities we create around it. (Traditional Buddhist inquiry, Living Inquiries / Kiloby Inquiries.)
We can engage in dialog with these parts of ourselves. We can listen to what they have to say and how they experience the world and us. We can help them see things in a way more aligned with reality. We can learn to recognize them as parts and relate to them more consciously. And so on.
We can find our nature and what we are in our first-person experience. This helps us recognize all of this as coming and going and living its own life, and it’s not what we more fundamentally are. (Headless experiments, Big Mind process.)
Comparing ourselves with others seems relatively universal although I am sure it plays out differently in different cultures. It’s also part of what fuels our current consumer culture, and advertisers know how to make use of it.
TWO WAYS TO COMPARE
There are two ways to compare ourselves with others.
One is for pragmatic reasons. It can give us useful information.
The other, which is often overlaid on the first one, is to make ourselves feel better or worse than others. This is not so useful. It can feel good to compare ourselves with someone and make up a story that we are somehow better than the other. But it’s a temporary victory since it means we inevitably are worse than someone else in the world, on the same scale, and we’ll inevitably be reminded of it. And it’s hollow since we know – somewhere in us – that it’s just a mind game.
In terms of spirituality, we can tell ourselves we are more advanced, sophisticated, or mature than someone else and it may feel good for a while. At the same time, we know we are less advanced, sophisticated, and mature compared with some other people. And we know, whether we acknowledge it or not, that it’s a mind game.
We cannot know for certain where people are in their process. We know we are comparing to make ourselves feel a bit better about ourselves. And we know it’s a losing game in the long run.
OUTSIDE VS INNER VIEW
When we compare ourselves with others, we often compare the public image of someone with our inside knowledge about ourselves.
We all have a public persona, which is more or less polished and inclusive. We present a certain image to the world and often leave out a lot of the confusion, pain, and unsavory attitudes and behavior. At the same time, we are often very aware of all the confusion, pain, and unsavoriness in our own life.
So it’s inherently an unfair comparison, and it tends to make us feel not so good about ourselves.
Often, it looks like the spiritual path and insights of others is clean, easy, and perhaps even joyful. And we know that our own spiritual path is windy, confused, didn’t go as planned, and so on.
HOW WE TALK ABOUT OUR SPIRITUAL PATH
The pain of comparison is greatly enhanced or diminished depending on the culture (or subculture) we are in.
If we are in a culture where spiritual practitioners and teachers like to present a glossy image of their own path, and of the spiritual path in general, it can lead to a more unfavorable impression of our own path.
If we are in a culture where spiritual practitioners and teachers are open about the messiness of their own path, and the spiritual path in general, it can help us see that we are all in the same boat. My own messiness is less painful since I know it’s similar for others.
And if we are in a culture that encourages us to work with projections, then…
MAKING USE OF THE TENDENCY TO COMPARE
…we can make good use of the tendency to compare. We can use it as material for our own exploration, and to invite in healing and maturing, and even awakening and living from the awakening.
We can make a practice of finding in ourselves what we see in others. (And in others what we know from ourselves.)
We can identify and examine our painful comparing-thoughts and find what’s more true for us. (Often, that the story is not absolutely true, and that the reversals have validity as well.)
We can explore how the comparing appears in our sense fields. What are the sensation components? The mental image and word component? What happens when I differentiate the two and rest with each? What do I find when I follow the associations, for instance back in time to my earliest memory of having that feeling or thought?
Instead of indulging in thoughts and feelings relating to the messiness of our own path, we can take a pragmatic approach and make use of whatever comes up.
I am grateful that these days, in our culture, there is more transparency and openness about the messiness of the spiritual path. People seem to feel more free to share all aspects of their experience. And many work intentionally with projections and inquiry, which also helps.
A glossy image of the path may serve as an initial carrot. But in the longer run, it seems far more helpful to be open about everything that can – and often will – happen on a spiritual path, warts and all.
When mystics (or wannabe mystics!) say “I am the mountain”, “I am you”, “be the river”, and so on, what do they mean?
I don’t really know, and I assume it will vary with the person.
When I explore it for myself, I find a few different possibilities.
ONENESS IN THE PHYSICAL WORLD
Some may use those phrases to acknowledge the oneness in the physical world. We are all parts of the same living seamless systems, so – in a metaphorical or poetic sense – I am you and you are me.
I would phrase it differently, but I understand where it is coming from. We are all part of the oneness of the world. We are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe.
THE WORLD IS MY MIRROR
The world is my mirror.
I can imagine being a mountain, a river, and so on. I can find the part in me that corresponds to it and notice how it feels, how it views the world, and so on. I can have a dialog with that part of me and get to know it.
Similarly, what I see out there reflects something in me.The stories I have about anything in the wider world also apply to me, and I can find specific examples in each case. I can use how I see the world to get to know myself.
TO ME, IT HAPPENS WITHIN AND AS WHAT I AM
To me, any experience – of this human self, the wider world, and anything else – happens within my sense fields. It happens within sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, mental representations, and so on. In that sense, what I experience is what I am at that moment.
To me, all experiences happen within and as what I am. In a very immediate and literal sense, I am the content of my experience. I am what I am experiencing, as I am experiencing it. I am the mountain, the river, you, and anything else. This is the oneness that’s already here in my experience if I notice.
In a conventional sense, I am of course this human self in the world. That co-exists easily with all the other ones, and which one is in the foreground depends on the situation and where the attention is.
FIND FOR OURSELVES
These ways of looking at it are all pragmatic and relatively down-to-earth, and it’s even mundane in a good way We can explore it for ourselves. It doesn’t require anything very mystical or removed from our immediate experience as it already is – if we just notice.
I love Stranger Things, partly for its ’80s nostalgia, its heart, and the friendships.
Earlier in life, and especially in my late teens and twenties, I used to see any and all stories from a Jungian filter. I would see them as a dream with all parts mirroring parts of me and their dynamics mirroring dynamics in me, and then take the opportunity to find it in myself.
I find I don’t do that so much anymore. I mostly just enjoy the story.
But sometimes, it comes up again. For instance, how do stories depict the shadow – the parts of us that don’t fit our conscious or desired self-image?
In Stranger Things, it’s quite polarized and a kind of a caricature. The shadow is just about as terrible as you can imagine, and there is no chance of dialog or reasoning. If we meet something like that in waking life, we’ll likely have to deal with it more or less as they do.
It’s different with our own shadow. We can certainly perceive and fight with some shadow material the way they do in these types of stories, and it’s exhausting.
The only real resolution is to befriend what’s in our shadow, what has been neglected, ignored, pushed away, denied, and so on.
Some stories show that way of dealing with shadow material, and perhaps especially fairy tales and some mythology.
I have been looking for stories that depict a healthy, wise, and mature way of dealing with the shadow. One of the first contemporary ones I found was Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver. Here, the main characters capture a dangerous dragon, put it in a cage so it can’t harm anyone, and through that containment, it turns into a golden wisdom dragon.
If they had killed it, they would never have know what it could be. And if they had let it be free, it would have continued to harm people. Instead, they contained it and let it live – and, to their surprise, transform.
I don’t know if Michael Ende was familiar with and influenced by Jung, but I think it’s almost certain. The story shows, in a simplified way, a mature way of dealing with shadow material.
We don’t need to try to eliminate or escape it, and if we try we may find it doesn’t work. Instead, we can meet it and metaphorically restrain it so it can’t do so much harm. In reality, we find a more conscious way of relating to it so we are less likely to be caught in it and our reaction to it. And by this discipline – meeting and relating to it more intentionally – the shadow material can become a golden wisdom dragon. It becomes a source of healing, maturing, and perhaps even some wisdom.
The shadow is not one monolithic thing. There are a lot of different qualities and characteristics in the shadow of our conscious self-image. And although there is a general way to approach it, we’ll also need to adjust our approach depending on the person, situation, and what’s coming up.
What’s in the shadow colors our perception, thoughts, emotions, and life. As long as we haven’t befriended it, it will run us. When it is triggered, we either get caught up in it and live from it, or we are caught up in and live from our reaction to it, or both. And this will keep going on until we befriend it.
How can we befriend it? I have written about it in many other articles so won’t go into it much here. We can do explicit shadow work and inquiry, notice and allow it when it’s here, do heart-centered practices with it, dialog with it, and so on.
And when we befriend it and get to know it, we find the gifts it has for us. We find a missing piece of ourselves. We expand our repertoire in how we can be and are in the world. We become a little more healed and whole as a human being.
There is something fitting in using stories from our culture as a mirror for our own shadow. What we see as a desirable personality comes largely from our culture, which means that what goes into our shadow will also largely reflect our culture. And the darkness of the shadow depends on the strength of our ideals, which also reflects our culture.
In a Facebook group for The Work of Byron Katie, someone asked for recommendations for how to do shadow work. For me, the most obvious answer is to do The Work! It’s a direct and powerful approach to working with projections in general and the shadow in particular.
In The Work we….
(a) Project out on someone or something else, and do so with pettiness and without much if any filter. (This is the Judge Your Neighbor worksheet.)
(b) Examine what happens when we believe the thought(s). In this process, we also get a more detailed sense of what we see in the other. (Step three in TW.)
(c) Turn the initial thought around in several different ways. This includes finding in ourselves what we see in the other, with several specific and genuine examples. (Turnarounds.)
The process helps us (a) project without holding back, (b) examine this projection, and (c) find what we see in the other (also) in ourselves.
Each step helps make the process gentler and together they make it easier to find in ourselves what we see in the other, recognize it, own it, and – often – experience relief from (finally) finding it in ourselves.
After a while, after doing this process many times, it also becomes easier to do this spontaneously in daily life. The inquiry lives in us.
What is the shadow? It’s whatever qualities and characteristics in us we deny, reject, or overlook, and see more in others (and the world in general) than in ourselves. It’s whatever doesn’t fit the image we have of ourselves or want to have of ourselves. It’s whatever it’s easier for us to recognize in others than in ourselves.
It’s often what we and our culture sees as undesirable, although – depending on our image of ourselves – it can also be qualities our culture generally see as desirable qualities. (In some cases, our own gentleness, kindness, wisdom and so on may become our shadow.)
As we work on our own shadow, the ideas of desirable and undesirable tend to soften and are recognized as our own ideas and culturally created. Even the apparently undesirable qualities and characteristics have something of value in them. By recognizing them in ourselves we become more whole and real human beings. We have a far greater repertoire. We learn to relate to these parts of us in a more conscious way and make use of these parts of us in a more conscious and constructive way. And we realize – in a more visceral sense – that we are all in the same boat.
What I see in you is also in me. And – if you are like me – what you see in me is also in you.
And that’s perhaps more important than holding onto rigid ideas of me as inherently better or worse than you.
I am the educational minister for Trump. He likes me. And I have sympathy for him even as I disagree with much of what he says and does. I am free to do as little or as much as I want.
This dream went on for a while and continued even after I woke up briefly. I did have a genuine sympathy for him in the dream and I noticed it felt peaceful, even if my views on what he says and does is the same in the dream as it is in my waking life. When I briefly woke up, I was aware that this was – in a sense – a shadow dream. It is a dream about befriending the shadow.
Trump does – to some extent – represent shadow material for me. I sometimes see things in him I don’t admit to in myself, at least in the moment. And this dream was a reminder that getting to know someone is often to understand and find sympathy for them even if we still may not agree with much of what they say or do.
Why educational minister? Perhaps because it’s a little less contentious than some other positions so it allowed me to get to know him in a more peaceful setting. And perhaps because this dream is an education of myself.
There are many ways to find peace. Here are some approaches I have found helpful.
We can create a certain life. A life that feels right, nurturing, and meaningful. A life where we have nurturing relationships. Meaningful work and activities. A life aligned with our values and what’s important to us. A part of this is to heal and mend – as far as possible – any challenging relationships.
We can invite in healing. We can invite in healing for parts of us not in peace. We can invite in healing for trauma and emotional issues.
We can reorient. We can learn to befriend our experience as it is, including the experience of lack of peace (!). In this process, we also learn to befriend (more of) the world as it is.
We can find ourselves (more) as our human wholeness. As we find ourselves as the wholeness of who we are as a human being, there is a sense of groundedness and peace even as life and thoughts and emotions goes on. This is an ongoing process, perhaps including body-centered mindfulness and projection work, and the peace is of a different kind.
We can explore our need for peace. If we feel a neediness around peace, what’s going on? Do we have stressful beliefs about living without peace? Do we have identities rubbing up against the reality of sometimes lack of peace? Is there a trauma or emotional issue telling us we need peace? Examining this and find some resolution for whatever may be behind a need for peace can, in itself, help us find more peace.
It’s stressful to feel we need peace and fight with a world that doesn’t always give us the conditions we may think we need for peace. And it is, perhaps ironically, more peaceful to find peace with life as it is.
We can live with (more) integrity. Living with integrity gives us a sense of peace, even when life is challenging. Living with integrity means to clarify and follow what’s important to us, and to live with some sincerity and honesty – especially towards ourselves.
We can follow our own inner guidance. Following our inner guidance – in smaller and bigger things – connects us with an inner quiet and peace, even when life is stormy. We can learn to follow our inner guidance through experience. And it’s also helpful to notice when we connect with our inner guidance and don’t follow it, and examine what fears and stressful beliefs in us made it difficult for us to follow it.
We can connect with the larger whole. This larger whole comes in three related forms. One is the larger whole of who we are as a human being (mentioned above). Another is the larger whole of the Earth and the universe. We can connect with this through Earth-centered practices, the Universe Story, and more. The third is what we are.
We can explore and get to know what we are. What we are is what our experience happens within and as. As we learn to find ourselves as that, there is a different kind of peace. The peace of being like the sky that clouds, storms, clear weather and anything else passes through.
Each of these is an ongoing process and exploration. It’s not a place we arrive at for good and don’t have to pay attention to again.
The kind of peace we find in each of these ways is somewhat different. In a sense, they complement each other.
As for how to find these types of peace, there are many approaches and I’ll mention a few here.
To heal, I have found parts (subpersonality) work, inquiry, heart-centered practices, TRE, Vortex Healing and more to be helpful. To reorient, I have found ho’oponopno, tonglen, and all-inclusive gratitude practice to be helpful. To find myself as my human wholeness, I have found body-centered mindfulness (yoga, tai chi, chigong, Breema) and projection work (inquiry, shadow work) helpful. To explore any neediness around peace, I have found inquiry to be helpful. To live more with integrity, it’s helpful to explore what in me (usually a fear, stressful belief, trauma) takes me away from living with integrity in any specific situation. To follow my inner guidance, it’s helpful to practice in smaller situations and likewise explore what in me (fears etc.) takes me away from it. To connect with the larger whole of the Earth and Universe, it’s helpful to use the Practices to Reconnect (Joanna Macy), Universe Story, and similar approaches. To explore what we are, I have found Headless experiments, Living Inquiries, and the Big Mind process to be helpful.
Some folks see popular culture as inevitably shallow. But is that true? And is it true that shallow is bad?
First, is shallow bad? No. There is nothing inherent in life telling us what we should be into. There are no requirements.
Many have stressful and busy lives and need something undemanding to help them relax and switch gears. Nothing wrong in that. (Although we can question a society that sets us up for such busy and sometimes stressful lives.) At one time or another, easy pop culture serves a helpful function to us.
And for most of us, it’s just one part of a much more varied cultural diet.
Is it true that pop-culture is shallow?
Yes, it’s perhaps true in a conventional and limited sense. There may be less soul and more formulas in much of what we find in pop-culture.
It’s easy to find exceptions. There is often depth to aspects of what we find in pop-culture. Something surprising, moving, or something that gives us an insight into ourselves or the lives of others. And some of what we find in pop-culture obviously has more depth, richness, and complexity to it, for example, stories rich in archetypes like Star Wars (original trilogy) and Pan’s Labyrinth.
It also depends on what we define as popular culture. Bach is quite popular. Is that pop culture? Chopin was a pop-culture superstar in his time.
And it depends on how readily available something is to us. When we have to put more effort and intention into finding something, it can seem more sophisticated, for instance when we are into the pop-culture of another time or culture.
Finally, we bring the depth to it.
When I watch movies, including the most mainstream Hollywood movies, I often look for archetypes and archetypal dynamics.
I take it as I would a dream, see the different parts of the story as parts of me, and find it in me.
I notice what I react to and look for the beliefs or emotional issues it triggered in me.
I notice what I am fascinated by and find what the fascination is about and then see if I can find that in myself.
So when it comes down to it, if we see something as shallow, we can only blame ourselves. We take a shallow approach to it.
We bring the richness or the shallow to it.
A personal note: In my late teens and early twenties, I had judgments about pop culture and went deep into more “high” and “sophisticated” art, music, books and movies. There was nothing wrong with this, and it was very rewarding and I still enjoy that type of culture. But it also came from insecurity. I wanted to be “better” and more sophisticated. I didn’t feel good enough as I was. Now, fortunately, I feel more free to enjoy all of it.
If we have ideas about high or low culture, or one thing being better than the other, it’s a reminder to take a look at ourselves. Where in me does it come from? Do I try to create an identity for myself to feel better about myself? How would it be to enjoy it all independent of labels?
In depth psychology, the shadow refers to what we disown in ourselves. Qualities and characteristics in us that we see (more) “out there” in the world and in others than in ourselves, and that we haven’t yet befriended and gotten to know in ourselves. These are usually qualities and characteristics our culture tells us are undesirable, and that don’t fit our desired image of ourselves.
We are scared to admit to them as part of ourselves and our life, often because of fear of how others may see us and judge us, so it’s easier to pretend they exist mostly or only in the wider world and others.
This means we often become afraid of our own (psychological) shadow.
It scares us when we see it in the world because it seems threatening to our well being. We may be afraid of angry people, or immigrants, or people with a certain ideology, or wolves, or aliens, or ghosts, or anything at all. Of course, sometimes it may be appropriate to be afraid of someone or something. And a sign that its a shadow-fear is that it’s consistent, out of proportion to the situation, and often made into an ideology.
And it scares us when someone (which may be our own mind) suggest it’s part of us because it threatens our desired identity. Often, this scares us because we are afraid of how others may see us, judge us, and treat us if we admit to it in ourselves.
Say I am a US businessman with a checkered history. My father gave me almost all my wealth and bailed me out repeatedly when I went bankrupt. My business dealings are often based on deception and semi-illegal activities. So I feel like a fake and a failure, and instead of admitting it (which would be a threat to my desired image of being a successful businessman) I call others failures and fakes. And since I’ll need to keep this up in order to maintain my desired image, this becomes a habit.
Defending and propping up our desired (and very partial) self image is tiring. So eventually, we may realize that it’s easier to just admit to it in ourselves. It’s a relief. It makes us more human and ordinary. It puts us in the same boat as everyone else.
To the mindset that wants to maintain a desired self-image, this can seem threatening. But when we actually do it, we find it is a great relief. We are able to be more real with ourselves and others. We don’t have to be so vigilant when it comes to our self-image. And our views and actions are more fluid and less dictated by the need to maintain our old desired self-image.
As usual, this is an almost infinitely rich topic so I’ll just add a few things.
It is easier to do this among others who do this. It makes us feel more safe. So making a shift to befriending our shadow sometimes does come along with a shift in who we spend our time with.
And there are more structured ways that makes it easier for us to befriend our shadow. There are specific shadow work approaches. Tonglen is great. Most forms of inquirytends to do it. And for me, the most effective and thorough approach I have found is The Work of Byron Katie.
As we befriend our shadow, it’s no longer a shadow. What seemed scary and threatening no longer is that to us. I suspect that’s why I rarely use the term shadow when I write there. It would make sense to use it since it’s a well-known term but it doesn’t fit my experience so well.
The term shadow makes it sound like something monolithic and one single thing. It’s not monolithic. It’s not a single thing. And it’s not even a thing in the first place. It’s just one thought held as true, which makes my mind see it out there and not in here, and spend some effort trying to maintain that division. And then another thought. It’s something that happens here and now, with the thought that’s here and now.
And the content of that thought varies. Sometimes, it’s about heartless politicians. Sometimes, it’s about idiotic people wanting to shoot all wolves. Sometimes, it’s about a friend who is too angry. Sometimes, it’s about how my mother treats my father. Sometimes, it’s about noisy neighbors.
Since we can project the shadow (any unwanted characteristic) onto anything, we can also put it into the past and future. We can vilify the past, and we can scare ourselves with scary images of the future, whether it’s our own or the world’s.
The image of being afraid of one’s own shadow is a bit comical. And that’s how it is with the psychological shadow as well. We are afraid of something we don’t need to be afraid of. We scare ourselves. It seems real before we investigate it, befriend it, and see it’s literally almost nothing.
In one sense, it’s almost nothing since it’s all created by the mind. In another sense, it’s something since admitting to certain characteristics in ourselves can lead to others judging us and treating us differently. (Especially in more traditional and smaller societies.) And in another sense, it’s something since befriending our shadow allows us to experience ourselves as more whole, more deeply human, more connected to everyone and everything, and it allows us to draw on all of these characteristics in ourselves and make use of them in different situations in life.
How is it all created by the mind? It’s the mind putting labels on the world, others, and ourselves. Deciding these labels are either good or bad, desirable or undesirable. And then making the effort of putting bad labels out there and good ones on ourselves. These labels of good and bad are partially cultural and partially individual. Sometimes, we decide that culturally “bad” labels are good for us. They serve as protection for us. (For instance, being stupid, ugly etc.) So we reverse the usual
These labels of good and bad are partially cultural and partially individual. Sometimes, we decide that culturally “bad” labels are good for us. They serve as protection for us. (For instance, being stupid, ugly etc.) So we reverse the usual good/bad content and tell ourselves “I am stupid, and she is brilliant”. In this case, our own shadow contains characteristics that our culture see as good and desirable. We just don’t think we deserve to see it in ourselves, and we find some sense of safety in it.
Why can it be so difficult to recognize and befriend our shadow? It’s largely because of our culture. It tells us some characteristics are good and some are bad, so we naturally want to see the good ones in ourselves and put the bad ones somewhere else. Our family demonstrates this to us as we grow up, as do friends and society in general. It becomes a habit for us, ingrained almost from birth. So it naturally feels difficult and perhaps scary to befriend our shadow, at least at first, and at least with the characteristics our mind most strongly tells us are bad, undesirable, and scary.
I also assume that in some traditional and smaller societies, it could be risky to openly befriend our shadow. If done with some wisdom, we would just appear as more whole and wise people. But it can also be done in a less balanced, more brash, and less mature and wise fashion, and that could be risky in any culture and society. We’ll get a backlash telling us to wise up.
Our culture does also send messages about befriending our shadow, often through fairy tales, poetry, books, and movies. It tells us humanizing stories about the gifts of befriending our shadow. These are very valuable pointers.
I’ll also say a few words about projections in general. The shadow is one type of projections. And projections are, in one sense, images our mind creates and puts on the world. These types of projections are essential for us being able to navigate and orient in the world.
In another sense, projections are when the mind tells itself that some characteristics are mostly or only in us and not in the wider world, or the other way around, and when these stories are invested with energy (associated with bodily sensations) so they seem more solid, real, and true.
And the shadow are the characteristics our mind tells itself are undesirable, and sees more in the wider world than in itself.
What does it give us to befriend our shadow? When we don’t, we have a unrealistic picture of the world, and we tend to get caught up in (harmful) ideologies and reactivity. It can lead to dehumanizing other people and groups of people, and “demonizing” people or parts of the world. We also make more misinformed and misguided decisions, and we are less able to work around or strengthen our weaknesses. We are, quite literally, prone to be blind-sighted by our blind-spots.
When we befriend our shadow, it gives us a more realistic view on ourselves and the world. We are better able to make good and informed decisions and take care of our own weaknesses (find workarounds, strengthen). It creates a sense of us all being in the same boat. And we are less caught up in reactivity, dehumanizing people, and demonizing parts of the world. We are hopefully a little more able to act from informed clarity and kindness.
In the classic cave scene from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes back, Luke Skywalker meets his nemesis and representative of the dark side, Darth Vader. After a brief sword fight, Luke decapitates Darth Vader, and sees his own face inside of Darth’s helmet.
Luke is what he fears the most. He is the dark side.
That’s how it is for all of us. We are what we fear. And that’s true in a few different ways.
It’s happening within and as what I am. It’s all happening within my world. It’s happening within and as (my) awareness. When it’s here, in awareness, it’s what I am.
The world is my mirror. Whatever I see “out there” in the wider world or someone else, is what I know from myself. Whatever stories I have about the world and other people, I can turn them around to myself, and find specific examples of how it’s true. (It may not look the same, or be expressed the same way, but that doesn’t mean I can’t find the same here as I have stories about in others.)
It pushes back. When I try to push something away in myself, and in the world, it tends to push back. It wants in. It wants to be acknowledged. Life is kinder than allowing me to reject something for good.
And why? Because life invites me to see what’s more real and true than my initial beliefs about it.
Life invites me to…. Recognize it as happening within and as what I am. Find in myself, as a human being, what I see in others and the wider world. Realize we are all in the same boat.
Life invites me to…. Meet it – the fear and what I fear – with respect, kindness, curiosity. Take a closer look and examine by beliefs about it, and how my perception of it is created by my own mind.
Life invites me to see that what I fear is not how it initially appears. (That doesn’t mean we become passive bystanders to injustice or cruelty, or approve of it. On the contrary. We are in a much better position to do something the more clear and mature we are in our relationship to it.)
How does it push back? We may find ourselves in situations where we encounter it again. We may replay a situation in our minds. We may have certain qualities or emotions surface in ourselves.
For instance, if I see anger as bad and try to push it away, I’ll still find myself in situations where people are angry, perhaps even at me. I’ll still replay memories of people being angry, or imagine someone being angry with me in the future. I’ll still experience anger, even if it’s pushed down and perhaps comes out as frustration or restlessness, or even feeling flat. It doesn’t go away.
P.S. I am aware that the usual interpretation(s) of the cave scene is slightly different. I imagine the more standard interpretation is that Luke has the potential to go over to the dark side, just as his father did. He has the anger. The impulsiveness. The restlessness. He is his father’s son, in that way. The cave experience is a warning, and also an invitation for him to recognize this in himself and take it seriously.
From a first-person perspective and in the context of a beautiful and catchy song, I am brought into the inside view of these situations. This allows me to see that it could be me, and open up for genuine empathy from recognition. It allows me to become a little more human.