We will never be completely whole until we accept the invitation that Darth Vader extended to Luke Skywalker.
“Come to the dark side.”
Star Wars director George Lucas learned his mythology from Joseph Campbell, the world’s foremost authority on the subject.
“The self is the totality, and if you think of it as a circle, the centre of the circle would be the centre of the self,” Campbell wrote in Myth and the Self. “But your plane of consciousness is above the centre and your ego’s up there above the plane of consciousness, so there’s a subliminal aspect of the self which you do not know. And this is in play constantly with the ego.”
Campbell’s circle metaphor comes from Carl Jung, the great Swiss psychologist who used the word shadow to describe those dark parts of ourselves we don’t like and refuse to acknowledge.
“The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside as fate,” said Jung. “That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner opposite, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposing halves.”
We are controlled by beliefs and urges we don’t know and until we shine a light down into our own abyss, we’re doomed to dance to a tune we might not recognize. When we were young, we assimilated just about everything our parents, priests and peers told us. Because we wanted, needed, to be part of the tribe, we accepted societal norms and dictates.
The qualities that didn’t fit were thrown into the dungeon of ourselves.
As children, we were told not to lie, not to steal, not to be selfish. But what child doesn’t, so we were punished or ostracized when those “bad qualities” emerged. Even now as adults, when these qualities climb up from the psychic basement like an unloved relative, we lock the door and ignore the knocking.
We project those aspects onto other people. The jealousy, anger, greed, fear, envy, sloth, lust, laziness we don’t like and/or don’t acknowledge in ourselves we see in other people.
The show-off in the weight room, the know-it-all in the classroom, the inconsiderate driver on the highway, the nosy neighbour wouldn’t annoy or upset us if they weren’t exhibiting repressed parts of ourselves. When we react, over-react, to something our children or co-worker did, we’re responding to some unheeded part of ourselves.
The world really is a reflection of us. We look in a mirror darkly and see the monsters and then project them onto other people. That which we fear will, like Job, come upon us unless we bring it into consciousness.
“If one sees only unloveliness in others, it is because unloveliness is a strong element in himself,” Ernest Holmes wrote in Science of Mind. “The light he throws on others is generated in his own soul and he sees them as he chooses to see them, He holds constantly in his mind a mental equivalent of unloveliness and creates unlovely reactions toward himself.”
If we are to fuse our splinter parts, we have to acknowledge that they exist. Pretending they aren’t there causes us problems and embarrassment because they’ll show up like a broke brother-in-law or a tiresome school mate.
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves,” Jung said.
Poet Robert Bly wrote that we all drag a long, black bag behind us into which we stuffed the aspects of ourselves our friends and family didn’t like. By the time we reach middle age, the bag is long and heavy and some people start thinking about lightening the load.
“Your shadow self includes emotional and psychological patterns that come from repressed feelings that you do not wish to deal with consciously for the fear of the consequences.” Caroline Myss writes in Sacred Contracts.
“Your shadow also contains the secret reasons why you would sabotage the opportunities that come your way.”
It requires great fortitude and resolve to admit that we are what we vilified and abhorred, but now’s the time to reclaim our rejected majesty. If we don’t, we stay in the wasteland, adhering to the dictates of the tribe, forever reciting the mantra of don’t.
It isn’t just the negative trait we deny and project onto others. When we tell people what we think about them, when we think they are bright and funny we’re seeing positive aspects of ourselves in them.
“If you admire greatness in another human being, it is your own greatness you are seeing,” Debbie Ford writes in The Dark Side of the Light Chasers. “You may manifest it in a different way, but if you didn’t have greatness within you, you wouldn’t be able to recognize that quality in another person.”
Yet if we own our positive traits, we don’t have any more excuses for not realizing our potential, for being as good as the people we admire. So we prefer to exercise what Abraham Maslow called the Jonah Complex, setting low standards and evading our potential growth with an ah-shucks mentality. Oddly, it’s much less fearful than aspiring to greatness.
“It is your birthright to be whole: to have it all,” Ford writes. "It only takes a shift in your perception, an opening of your heart.”
The shadow knows.