Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

Me and my shadow

Posted on July 18, 2009 by jimparedes

Illustration by Rey Rivera

This is not going to be another Michael Jackson article. I just thought I’d put that caveat since I think a lot of people are already suffering from an overload of information, analysis and sentimentality.

I find the treatment by media of controversial people who die suddenly quite perplexing. While they were alive, people like Michael Jackson and Princess Diana may have been praised but they were also pilloried and vilified, sometimes with great cruelty. And yet, the moment they die, they suddenly become “beatified” to a certain degree. Their “sins,” or whatever it was that they were pilloried for, are not only forgiven, they are almost always forgotten.

I think what made these famous people bigger than life was because they played out their virtues and vices in really grand ways for all the world to see and go gaga over. When they were good, they were extremely wonderful. But when they were bad, they were shockingly scandalous.

It was Carl Jung who proposed the idea that everyone has a shadow side and, like a statue in late afternoon, the greater the man, the greater the shadow. And this best explains the phenomenon of the lives of the famous and infamous.

On the other hand, I sometimes look at so-called “bad” people and wonder about their good qualities. Surely, there must have been something good about Hitler and Stalin, aside from their being methodical, calculating and well dressed. At some point in their lives, they must have performed acts of kindness, some form of goodness or exhibited virtues; but perhaps the shadow side was just so strong that it took over completely.

Even institutions, countries, races have shadow dramas that play out. Deepak Chopra, in the documentary by Debbie Ford called The Shadow Effect, proposes that the Catholic Church’s shadow side involves pedophilia and the way it dealt with it historically, which was by denying it and protecting its erring priests by transferring them to different parishes where they continued to inflict damage. Germany’s shadow side is the Holocaust. Western civilization justified slavery and the subjugation of cultures in the name of God.

There is much to lament about the history of the world because shadow urges have to be played out. And surely, they will continue to do so.

From a religious point of view, especially if one is a Christian, it is quite important to believe that life’s struggle is all about eradicating the shadowy aspects that lie within us which, in the Christian view, are the source of sin. Thus, there is the need to be saved from this place of darkness and come fully into the light of the Lord. Some extreme sects, for example, even believe in exorcising gays to make them acceptable to God. But it is tempting to ask if extreme scrupulosity is itself a shadow manifestation as well.

I suppose, in its extreme forms, shadows are our neuroses. And they imply something pathological, which leads to dysfunctions and even danger. They need to be addressed, but even so, it seems hard to imagine what it would be like if a person had no shadow whatsoever.

That person would be what people derisively call a “goody two-shoes.” They would be excessively or annoyingly virtuous persons, which implies that they are shallow and insincere. Who was the pundit who said that it is easier to have the devil as your roommate than a saint?

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had an interesting remark about people who are overzealous about trying to be perfect. He said, “Be careful lest in casting out your devils that you cast out the best thing that’s in you.”

Joseph Campbell, commenting on that statement by Nietzsche, said that what is left of a person who is in deep analysis with his shrink is one who acts “as though they have been filleted. There’s no bone there, there’s no stuff!” They have been deprived of the very spirit that used to animate them.

In the light of this, one might ask what people like Van Gogh, Michael Jackson, Edgar Allan Poe — neurotics, drunks and addicts that they were — might have become if they had gone into rehab or hardcore counseling to drive out their demons. Would Van Gogh have retained the capacity to see the colors of life in hyper vividness? Would Edgar Allan Poe have lost his mesmerizing poetic fascination with sadness, terror and loneliness? Would Michael Jackson have smoothed out the edges of his music and made it less interesting? What about Picasso? Would his creative prana have come to a halt if he had zipped up his libido?

How to get rid of ego as dictator and turn it into messenger and servant and scout, to be in your service, is the trick,” Joseph Campbell advised. It requires not just the taming of the shadow. It means that one must also know intimately one’s dark side and befriend it. Popular speaker Debbie Ford recalled that in one workshop, a woman had called her a “bitch.” And while it upset her to be called that, the woman pointed out, “Wasn’t it great to be a bitch when you had to be insistent and have your way for the right reasons?”

An intimacy with and acceptance of the unsavory aspects of our personalities can allow us to access its power over us and use it to our advantage. And it works for us when we bring it to the light.

In practical terms, this means confronting our fears instead of hiding in them. It also means being brutally honest with ourselves about our own vices, reasons and motivations. Marcus Aurelius said, “Know thyself.” Debbie Ford says, “Got a bunch of jerks in your life? Then, embrace your own jerkiness. Guaranteed you’ll stop attracting them. No one to love you? Love yourself first and others love you, too.”

Embracing everything about oneself and all your good and bad aspects is a start. When your life leads to greater authenticity instead of fake virtuousness, the universe will seem kinder, gentler and even more generous with the joy it delivers in our lives. The energy investments we use to cover up our shadows are pulled out and reinvested in being present to one’s aliveness, and life itself, exactly as it is.

* * *

“Tapping the Creative Universe Workshop” is two weeks away. Join me on August 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11 at 7 to 9 p.m. and discover the joy and aliveness of the creative life. I will awaken in you the life force that will make you creative and joyful.

Please call 426-5375 or 0916- 8554304 and ask for Ollie, or write me at emailjimp@gmail.com for questions or reservations. You can also visit http://www.tappingthe creativeuniverse.com for the syllabus, FAQ and testimonials from people who have taken it. Do not miss out. Definitely the last one this year.

1 to “Me and my shadow”

  1. just like any other artist, you sort of need to die to get unbelievably famous.

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