It is by going down into the abyss
that we recover the treasures of life.
Where you stumble,
there lies your treasure.
The very cave you are afraid to enter
turns out to be the source of
what you are looking for.
The damned thing in the cave
that was so dreaded
has become the center.
You find the jewel,
and it draws you off.
In loving the spiritual,
you cannot despise the earthly.
One day Miss Berry, my first grade teacher, announced that in a few days we would go to the school nurse. She would prick our finger, squeeze out a drop of blood, and apply it to a glass slide. Then we would come back to our room. It wouldn’t really hurt very much she said. Just a momentary pinprick. We must take these permission slips home, have them signed by our parents, and bring them back.
That afternoon on the school bus I made my mind into a wordless, imageless blank. Almost of its own volition, my right hand crept into the pocket of my dress where it found a small crumpled piece of paper. Just a scrap of paper. I looked in determined fascination at the passing scenery, ignoring the hand that secretly tore the permission slip to shreds in the darkness of my pocket. I shifted the unimportant pieces of paper to my left hand, which moved casually to the open window. I looked calmly around at the chattering children in the bus and ignored the fingers of my left hand as they slowly opened and allowed the scraps of paper to slip away into oblivion.
I was the only one without a signed permission slip. “My mother decided not to sign it,” I told Miss Berry. “She’s a nurse, so she’ll prick my finger herself.” As I sat alone in my corner of the classroom watching my classmates file in, each with a cotton ball between thumb and middle finger, I felt a deep sense of shame. But I willed myself to ignore it and banished the ugly creature that caused it to a dark cavern of my unconscious self. I was a good girl, I told myself as I sighed with relief at successfully escaping the pain of the finger prick.
Such is the morality of youth. Honesty is not very important to vulnerable little girls for whom the most pressing need is to survive with a maximum of need fulfillment and a minimum of personal discomfort. At this, the earliest level of human morality, “good” is anything that protects us from pain and punishment. “Bad” is anything that hurts or gets us into trouble.
At six, I knew it was wrong to lie to my teacher and not to tell my mother about the blood test, but my need to avoid pain had top priority. Because this need was so strong, I ignored the truth I knew at a deeper level: I had broken some rules that were important to the adults in my life. I had lied. I had been bad.
And so, like all children, I learned to play the game of hide and seek. Hiding my secret badness in a cave of denial became a way of life for many years. I believed that because I conformed in public and gained the approval of the people in power, I must really be good, regardless of how I thought or acted in private. In other words, I didn’t know how to separate the game I played and the persona I wore from the way I thought and acted when unobserved by others, which, of course, was not always perfectly “good.”
There’s nothing abnormal about this in children. In fact, research into moral development indicates that we all pass through this stage as we wander through the murky forest of ignorance toward the light of moral maturity. Only we must be careful not to stay there overlong. Years of hiding and feeding the ugly creatures we created as children can transform them into walking, talking conscienceless monsters; and nothing on this earth is more dangerous or devastating to humanity’s hopes for peace and justice than the fearful, dishonest, single-minded, self-interested shadow of a mask-wearing adult in a position of power.
We have to stop our finger-pointing. The real enemies are not out there: they’re right here inside of you and me. They’re our shadows. And we won’t be free to live authentic, fulfilling lives until we acknowledge them, for only then will they give us access to the hidden treasures they guard. Fortunately, we can transform our shadows into guides with a four-step practice of observing, acknowledging, making amends, and forgiving:
(1) Pay careful attention to your shadow when it shows up in uncomfortable emotions, thoughts, and behaviors you try to ignore
(2) Acknowledge the truth of them to yourself and others
(3) Make amends if you hurt someone
(4) Forgive yourself for being human.
Welcome to the human race.
Image credits: cult cave, Shadowman, commons.wikipedia.org
Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at Kobo, Barnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications.com. Watch for her new book, The Soul’s Twins, forthcoming from Schiffer Red Feather Mind Body Spirit on Nov. 17, 2020. For more information, subscribe to her newsletter at www.jeanbenedictraffa.com.
“Welcome to the human race!” Oh, how I’ve missed your rich, insightful posts Jeanie whilst I’ve been deeply quarantined in a dark cave (thankfully) with little internet connection, writing my second book.
As a child I do remember lying often to save myself from many a real and imagined situation. Who didn’t? Especially those imagined ones! And for all those childish lies I forgive myself easily, much more than the lies I told myself as an adult. And yet, how could it have been any other way …
For as I age I realise that creating a “shadow” as a child is important work, vital even. For how else can we grow to understand ourselves and others? And where else would my extroverted, sensate, thinking functions hide out? I feel the same about gender too.
I love how you liken our relationship with our shadow through the game of hide and seek, it’s so true! Especially the part about the treasure that lies hidden within, that waits to be discovered … that wants to be discovered!
In my work as a therapist I explore many Jungian informed ways of working with a client’s shadow. My favourite one is exploring ways in which the client’s shadow traits could be seen as positive and are no longer disowned but developed in positive ways, even those scary, negative traits.
Today my shadow is becoming more friend/known and less enemy/unknown, although at the beginning of the work I can understand your outlook entirely for “shadow possession” like “animus or anima possession” is a very real thing. For those interested in delving further into shadow work I highly recommend the book, “How to Befriend Your Shadow” by John Monbourquette.
Love and light, Deborah
And I’ve missed your poetry, Deborah. I look forward very much to your new book!
“I realise that creating a “shadow” as a child is important work, vital even.” This is an excellent point, as are your examples! And how else to learn humility? Or love? Joseph Campbell’s last line: “In loving the spiritual, you cannot despise the earthly” has been a vital learning in my life. As a young woman I tried hard to rise above earthly things for so long, thinking it would protect me from pain. Now I realize that the head is a most unsatisfactory substitute for the heart, but a perfect partner for it.
Thank you for your example of how you work with a client’s shadow. Looking for the positive in what one has always considered negative has surely precipitated many a mind-opening, life-changing transformation! It must be an amazing feeling to know you have facilitated that process for so many people.
Thank you also for your book recommendation. I don’t know this book and will check it out!
Autumn blessings on you and your writing, Jeanie
Thanks Jeanie, so calm and gentle in your acknowledgement of the lies we tell ourselves and enact them as well. This current necessity of wearing masks has always struck me as a sort of manifestation of our mask wearing, or persona wearing which we do for others as well as ourselves as a way of hiding ourselves. I know that’s a bit of a stretch to see it that way … but we do hide from ourselves and others, wanting others and ourselves to acknowledge the good parts of ourselves. The first task of ‘know thyself’ is to befriend the shadow, and invite it as a guest into your home. Then begins the seeking, all those unknown shadowy parts of ourselves, including the unacknowledged good parts. I love how you end your post, ‘Welcome to the human race’. Love, Susan
Thank you for your observations, Susan. They’ve raised a lot of associations for me.
Masks are archetypal because the persona is archetypal, a necessary aspect of every psyche that needs to be accepted just as the shadow. In fact, recognizing our social mask is a first step that has to be taken before we are ready to take the next step of recognizing our shadow.
I also think of original peoples who wore masks of animals or deities to take on their power. Different kinds of hats and clothes also serve the same function. Think of the pope’s miter, the queen’s crown, the beauty queen’s tiara. I also think of masked balls, carnivals, or masquerades, where people use masks to hide their true identities so they can feel freer to do and say things they would normally repress.
We humans are such complex creatures. It’s no wonder it takes us so much time and effort to become more conscious. Love, Jeanie
Very insightful Jean…thank you!
And thank you. I appreciate you taking the time to stop by and leave a response. Jeanie
Thank you, Jeanie. As always, your writings stretch my mind and my soul. I am delighted that I found them. Best wishes to you and yours,
You’re welcome, Sandra. My blog posts as exercise for mind and soul! I love it! 🙂
My best to you and yours too,
Amen 🙏 .
Thank you, Sally. It’s good to hear from you. Blessings, Jeanie
Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.
Did you listen to that show on the radio when you were a kid? I did. I loved to make the creaking door sound. I thought I was very good at it but nobody else seemed terribly impressed. Of course I had no conception of how that show could have anything to do with me then. It took me many years to figure that out!!
Never listened as a youngster…but cottoned on to it through references later on and listened to a few episodes latterly online.
No, of course you didn’t! You’re just a youngster. You probably weren’t even a twinkle in your father’s eye yet when I was listening to it! 🙂