When Eric Neumann wrote Depth Psychology and a New Ethic, Carl Jung was annoyed with him. Although I don’t remember the source, I do remember Jung saying something like “We don’t need a new ethic; we just need to use the one we have”. I was teaching Ethics at Golden West College, in Orange County, CA in the late 1970s and used Neumann’s book as one of the course texts. I wanted to see Philosophy become relevant by acknowledging psychological discoveries about the nature of the human psyche, at least where they affected the concept of human nature. As you might guess, I was way ahead of my colleagues and of the times, a crime for which academia ruthlessly punishes. So it was with delight that I hermeneutically picked John A. Sanford’s book (1981) Evil The Shadow Side of Reality off my bookshelf and opened it: to the importance of integrating the Shadow into our personal consciousness.
Human nature is aptly described with the metaphor of the floating iceberg. Our consciousness is the part above the surface of the water. Most of our humanness is unconscious, below the water level. We have been successfully operating that way for millions of years. Our body and instincts, intuition, and impulses are very capable aspects of our organism. We run, walk, work, and talk without having to use our thinking function very often. Of course the amusing thing about this is that we tend to identify with the conscious aspect, to which Descartes referred using the Latin word “ego”. Imagine the iceberg above water saying to the ironclad steamship Titanic, “Come closer my dear, so that I can see you better.” The ship, not remembering what grandma told her about icebergs, does just that, gets too close to the talking head, and gets broken apart. We similarly suffer when we forget about what’s under the surface of consciousness.
John Sanford, an Episcopal Priest and Jungian Therapist, asks the important question
What do we do with our Shadow? How much expression in our lives do we allow our dark side? To deny the life of the Shadow entirely, as we have pointed out, is to run the risk of having our life energies dry up. There are times when we must allow some of the unlived life within us to live if we are to get new energies for living. Moreover, if we strive to be only good and perfect, we become hateful, for too much of the vital energy within us is being denied. For this reason, there are few people more dangerous in life than those who set out to do good. It can even be said that whenever we try to exceed our capacity for natural goodness we bring about evil, not more good, because our unnatural stance generates an accumulation of darkness in the unconscious. Nevertheless, becoming a whole person does not mean giving license to the Shadow. We do not integrate our personalities if we change from being a person who is too righteous to a person who lives every impulse out without any moral or social restrictions. (p. 65)
My young friend the Fox was raised in a fundamentalist Christian home which emphasized collective morality over self-knowledge, group social control at the expense of finding one’s own way. His family sided with St. Paul in the matter of repression of the evil, “sinful” side of the personality. As Sanford said above, this stance pushes more and more darkness into the unconscious, literally empowering the Shadow. When I met the Fox, he was questioning authority, especially the doctrines of the Protestant Church. He was leaning more and more toward Gnostic Christianity and Hindu yoga, experimenting with Tantric meditation practices, and hiding from his family’s judgmental vision. Then he started using mind altering substances, went to Burning Man, and snapped into his opposite. He became “a person who lives every impulse out without any moral or social restrictions.” Wanting to be helpful, and, not knowing how to access my friend’s psyche, I invited him into my home and my life. I thought my experience of integrating my Shadow could be communicated to him through living together, “in the present moment” as Tolle is fond of saying. We did have a lot of fun and I certainly allowed myself to live out some fantasies. I discovered Ecstatic Dance in Oakland, where I could express myself through movement in a totally supportive environment. But I re-discovered what I already knew: the work can only be done on oneself. We can companion others in their journey, but they have to do the work. The Fox went home to his family and flipped into his opposite, the Pauline Christian. With the support of his family’s repressive stance, he projected his Shadow onto his friend and teacher. Ouch! That hurt, but, as every guru knows, it comes with the territory. You have to maintain relationship and open communication if projections are to be worked through and integrated.
So what are the benefits of being honest, by acknowledging our Shadow side? Sanford puts it clearly. “For one thing, it greatly aids our humility, our sense of humor, and our capacity to be less judgmental of others. It is essential in developing a conscious personality, and therefore of individuation. It can also be said to be the basis for a truly individual morality (p. 65).” And that’s what I was trying to teach my students back in the late 1970s before Sanford wrote his book. In order to own our ethical position, we have to individualize it. This is not Relativism or Situational Ethics, although my ex-wife would probably not agree with me on this point. There must be a balance of the collective conscious morality with the integrated unconscious; and that can only be done on an individual basis.
I find more agreement with my colleagues in this area than one might expect. We talk about the situation, the context and the variables, the basic developmental processes of human beings, and apply all of this to our personal experiences. Often we are in agreement about what would be best to do. Of course we are free to choose otherwise, but we are also going to experience the consequences, the karma of our actions.
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