A Ray of Hope in a World of Shadows

It’s been a long time coming. Since Europeans came to the New World (new to them) and started killing the indigenous people, our collective shadow has loomed large, often obscuring the idealism that created our republic. During and after the decimation of Native tribes, European Amerikans captured and enslaved Africans, who were then used, abused, bought and sold. Women were also subject to the rule of white men, the only persons deemed worthy of owning property, voting and governing. So, it’s not surprising that another white male will soon be installed as “the leader of the free world.”

shadow2-psdDespite her qualifications, Hillary Clinton and untried Donald Trump polled as two of the most deeply disliked candidates in history.  They were ripe for shadow projections from people angry about many different things.  The  voters picked the candidate who best reflected their anger, fear and aggression, one who capitalized on a willingness to ignore important precedents like releasing tax returns or refusing to disavow the Ku Klux Klan.  PEOTUS did insist that these acts stop only after he was elected by pandering to white supremacists. And he still hasn’t released his taxes.


When we try to explain “wha happened,” it defies reason. Truth took a back seat to propaganda and there is no apparent end in sight. Propaganda targets the emotions, those racist dog whistles and fake news stories that were so successful in driving fearful, angry voters to the polls. They speak directly to the unconscious.    We chose to repress guilt, shame, truth and let territoriality and greed light the way back to Amerika’s greatness again. Rather than facing our ourselves in the twisting labyrinth of our collective unconscious, we project our fear, anger and hatred onto each other, manifesting the collective shadow.

‘‘The shadow,’’ wrote Jung (1963),  is a primordial part of our human inheritance, which, try as we might, can never be eluded. The pervasive Freudian defense mechanism known as projection is how most people deny their shadow, unconsciously casting it onto others so as to avoid confronting it in oneself. Such projection of the shadow is engaged in not only by individuals but groups, cults, religions, and entire countries, and commonly occurs during wars and other contentious conflicts in which the outsider, enemy or adversary is made a scapegoat, dehumanized, and demonized. Two World Wars and the current escalation of violence testify to the terrible truth of this collective phenomenon. Since the turn of the twenty-first century we are witnessing a menacing resurgence of epidemic demonization or collective psychosis in the seemingly inevitable violent global collision between radical Islam and Judeo-Christian or secular western culture, each side projecting its collective shadow and perceiving the other as evil incarnate. As it becomes harder to tamp down the strong emotions that remain unexpressed, autonomous complexes are created. These complexes can act independent of reason, morality and even self-preservation.”

This election was bought and sold by every trick of our collective shadow.  Half of eligible voters stayed home and half of the remaining voters succumbed to our collective bias toward bipolar rule.  Unconscious sheeple are easy pickings for the big bad wolves of Wall Street.  Didn’t we just learn that lesson? Wake up already. The shadow demands our attention so we can become whole.

About that ray of hope. Thanks to the leadership of the water protectors at Standing Rock, American Indians confronted corporate Amerika and won. The world was watching, and many came to help. Then hundreds, thousands of war veterans marched to serve as human shields for those who stood up for the river.
They were willing to shield the water protectors from the water cannons, the dog bites and the rubber bullets of the storm troopers, to protect the right of the people to resist incursion.  These veterans then  publicly acknowledged the genocide, the broken treaties, the brutality.

They apologized and were shown forgiveness. Our soldiers fought the shadow: the guilt, shame and horror and were forgiven by its victims. This is an act of consciousness, a light shining in the shadows that threaten to control us. Tears streamed from my eyes as I watched Wesley Clark Jr. name the violence we wrought on the Lakota Nation. As he kneeled before Chief Leonard Crow Dog, everyone was moved to tears. His radical act of bravery, of truth began a healing, “World Peace” as Leonard Crow Dog announced with his blessing.  We are indebted to the indigenous people who should receive reparations from the government instead of more betrayals.

Owning the truth begins withdrawing the shadow projections, the blame and the shame and offers  hope for beginning anew. The shadow is in and all around us. It thrives on ignorance, fear and rage, in violence and despair. Calling it out, naming it and beginning to make amends goes a long way in repairing the damage our denial perpetuates. These warriors and community activists will go to Flint, MI where poor people (largely African American) do not have potable water and the mayor is talking about not providing drinking water for his citizens who have suffered from lead pipe contamination for years. White Amerika must also acknowledge the horror perpetuated by slavery. It is time to make amends to our people who continue to suffer the sins of white entitlement, of privileging the few over the many. Only when we confront our ongoing immoral, opportunistic policies will the shadow begin to lose it’s power and be integrated into a mature, responsible society. It’s up to us, this battle is worth waging.

Shadow play and the Art of Loving in the 21st Century

In times of uncertainty faith is: 1) hard to come by, 2) something we cling to, 3) more necessary now than ever and 4) a way of separating believers from philistines. The current zeitgeist proliferates fear, thanks in part to our constant exposure to the negative thoughts and feelings of others via global communication systems. The resulting contagion of anxiety is corrosive to self and community. Many benefit from religion, having a place of peace and prayer to turn to, although the Abrahamic legacy reflects the harshness of its desert roots, leading many to explore religions focused on peace and compassion. Yoga, Buddhism, Taoist and Humanistic psychology have claimed adherents from the non-believer camp, substituting faith in an external God with faith in Self (defined variously depending on the system). Most agree that the Self is the center of our individual and collective identity, the hub of being.

A recent NY Times editorial, Why the Antichrist Matters in Politics reminded me of the value of Erich Fromm’s theories of rational and irrational faith.

“Irrational faith is the unshakable belief in a person, idea, institution or symbol, which does not result from one’s own experience or thinking, but is based on one’s emotional submission to authority. Rational faith exhibits qualities of firmness and steadfastness arising from genuine intellectual and emotional activity and is not subservient to an authoritarian power based on masochistic attachment.”

Given today’s political hurly burly, the question of faith is pivotal. When Fromm published his 1942 essay on Faith as a Character Trait he asked that we consider faith as an aspect of human character, one not dependent on religious objectification and cautioned us against throwing the baby out with the bathwater .

“The man attempting to live without faith becomes sterile, and hopeless and afraid to the very core of his being. He must resign himself to clinging desperately to an inner and outer status quo, while finding that he has no defense against even the most completely irrational philosophies and doctrines. Was then the development of modern thinking away from and against faith a fatal error? Must we return to religion unless we are willing to accept the kinds of heathen doctrines, which spread their gospel with concentration camps and dive-bombers? Is „faith“ really an essentially religious phenomenon, only a matter of faith in God or religious doctrines? Is it bound up with religion and destined to share its historical fate? Is faith by its very nature something in contrast to or divorced from rational thinking. Or is there on the other hand a less specific faith, which is an essentially basic attitude within the person towards life, a character trait which pervades all his experiences?”

Erich Fromm (1973) The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness

“To have faith means to dare, to think the unthinkable, yet to act within the limits of the realistically possible; it is the paradoxical hope to expect the Messiah every day, yet not to lose heart when he has not come at the appointed hour. This hope is not passive and it is not patient; on the contrary, it is impatient and active, looking for every possibility of action within the realm of real possibilities. Least of all it is passive as far as the growth and liberation of one’s own person are concerned….

The situation of mankind is too serious to permit us to listen to the demagogues – least of all demagogues who are attracted to destruction – or even to the leaders who use only their brains and whose hearts have hardened. Critical and radical thought will only bear fruit when it is blended with the most precious quality man is endowed with – the love of life.”

In 1942, the intellectual climate of the day was severely rational, in response to what Carl Jung described as the “mass psychosis” of the Nazi movement in The Undiscovered Self. Both Jung and Fromm saw the exploration of one’s inner landscape and the ongoing integration of self and other/conscious and unconscious as necessary to bring about equilibrium and equanimity in a world torn by conflict and mistrust. Jung’s incorporation of alchemical motifs and his understanding of the psychological reconciliation of opposites are very compatible with many eastern and western spiritual traditions. Despite his formidable intellect, Jung had a mystical bent, something his professional community disdained. Jung’s father was a Methodist minister and Fromm was tutored as an Orthodox Jew, eventually calling himself an atheistic mystic, a combination of Jung and Karl Marx. Both men understood the necessity of reconciling the individual and collective aspects of human nature and society.

Jung’s theories on withdrawing projections and his call to explore the unconscious and integrate repressed elements that constellate in the shadow were driven in large part by the horrors of World War I and II. The advent of analytical psychology and Humanistic Psychology gave modern philosophers a bridge between individual and collective human identity, both conscious and unconscious. Confronting the shadow can be a nightmare, as we see reflected in our ongoing collective struggles to awaken. To recognize the emergence of the human spirit beyond the Darwinian paradigm of historical precedent is to have faith that we can evolve beyond denial and shadow projection.

A few years ago I had a dream that brought this individual/collective struggle home in a way that continues to unfold.

I dreamed I was in a club listening to music with my sister then returned home and went to bed. I woke up suddenly in a room that looked like one of my childhood bedrooms and saw a tall shadowy figure standing silhouetted black in the brightly lit doorway. It loomed tall and somewhat menacingly and I knew it intimately but not specifically. I leaped out of bed and grabbed it by the neck and shoulders, shouting “Who are you and what do you want from me?” We grappled our way down the stairs and out toward the front door where the sun was rising at dawn. The closer we got to the front door the more the walls started to dissolve. They were replaced by murals of people from around the world, scenes from every continent, people of every race and color, age and sex. The closer we got to the front door the more the shadow started to shrink and become a part of me. It started to dawn on me (don’t ignore the power of puns in dream imagery) that as the shadow lost its threatening aspects, I was able to embrace the world and all the people. I was filled with awe that this was possible and great warmth shone through me and suffused the tableau.

Dreams are vehicles for integrating the conscious and unconscious aspects of our awareness. Compliments of the Self, we are guided to fulfill our humanity, to become whole both individually and collectively. See Ocean.