This is the stuff that hardens hearts, promotes wars and fuels hostilities among families, neighborhoods, communities, cultures and finally between countries. We do not realize that it is ultimately our individualized obscured parts that must be addressed. The challenge is engaging the process of uncovering, incorporating and owning our own camouflaged parts.
Alan Jones, the Dean of Grace Episcopal Cathedral in San Francisco and author of The Soul’s Journey insightfully asserts that the “The spiritual journey is not so much about conventional goodness as about wholeness, and wholeness cannot be received by those who are unable to admit to and work with their dark side, the shadow.”[i]
Frequently this uncovering process is unwittingly attained by way of protracted “dark nights”, which is a metaphor for the process of being broken open. “Broken open” is another way of talking about soul work.
Sometimes, in a sudden way we are broken open to our very core or soul (Self) through a life altering experience such as the loss of a loved one or a life threatening illness. Sometimes, we are repeatedly broken through a series of dark nights such as addiction recovery, addressing painful childhoods, or facing who we have become or not become as a result of circumstances and our life choices.
Author and Jungian psychologist Dr. Connie Zweig aptly describes the consequences of such a journey “When shadow-work is neglected, the soul feels dry, brittle, like an empty vessel. Then, people suffer depression rather than embark on a fruitful descent.
When shadow-work is denied, the soul feels banished, exiled from habitats in the wilds of nature, in the soft nights of lovemaking, or in the sacred objects of art.
Then, people suffer anxiety and loneliness, cut off from a sense of place, the mystery of the Beloved, or the beauty of things. But when shadow-work is attended to, the soul is round, full, sated. When shadow-work is invited into a life, the soul feels welcomed, alive in the gardens, aroused in passion, awake in sacred things.”
[ii]Connie Zweig & Steve Wolf. Romancing the Shadow. (1997) A Ballantine Wellspring Book, New York.