Monday, August 1, 2011

#7: The Golden Shadow and A Skagway Friendship

My friend Nick is an odd bedfellow to be sure. I use the term metaphorically, yet I have loved Nick from almost the first moment I met him a year ago here in Skagway, Alaska. Rather, I should say I love the inner shadow and light of this man, a dichotomy, a puzzle, a cynical dude who is very much in touch with his dark side. His good side? Not so much, he says, but that's just plain silly. What am I talking about?

Carl Jung was one of the first to name our shadow. For every up there is a down, for every left, a right. Life is a tension of opposites: good and evil; kindness, rudeness; politic and unwarranted. Grace, justice. Daily, unrelentingly, we are required to choose between this or that and our shadow is everything we choose not to do, be, say, think.

For instance, if we choose to be an artist we choose not to be a scientist. If we choose to be tough, we choose not to be tender. Thomas Moore in his The Care of the Human Soul writes that "the person we choose to be... automatically creates a dark double--the person we choose not to be." Robert Johnson calls the Shadow "our psychic twin that follows us like a mirror image." And this is what Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jeckle and Mr. Hyde is all about.

The shadow is not all "bad" however. Much of it is good--surprisingly and wonderfully good. Euphorically good. The homophobic who decries homosexuality in reality can find tolerance in his shadow. Mr. Tough Guy who is self-sufficient, uncaring, and disconnected with those around him can't help but discover the opposite if he looks for it. A racist can find love. It therefore behooves us, as we age and from time to time, to re-examine our inner selves and check out what bag of surprises our shadows hold.

Most of us resist because we have come to believe we are our persona. We're a bad ass. Or we're Nice Guy. In reality we're both. But if we ignore our oppositions, we miss our Golden Shadow--our chance for wholeness and creative expression.

Not that chance doesn't come knocking. Murray Stein posits that at midlife the shadow begins to agitate. Like it or not, he says, our un-chosen self bubbles to the surface--and it needs to be, he says, "dealt with in a new way, because the seeds of psychological renewal and of possible future directions for life lie hidden within it." Ah...renewal, new direction, creativity. He calls it the Golden Shadow, and William Zinzer in his The Golden Shadow tells us that the integration of our oppositions is experienced as an explosion of creative energy, new focus, a wellness of being, and closer connection to God. 

I yearn for that wholeness--and the loss of fear and self-doubt that now fractures me. That hinders my creative edge. My un-chosen self is once again bubbling to the surface.

Robert Johnson says that to own your shadow, to really know it, "is whole making. No one can be anything but a partial being," he writes, "ravaged by doubt and loneliness, unless he has close contact with his shadow." Raised in the evangelical world, it's a handicap in finding this necessary contact with my shadow, yet I believe God brings people into our lives when we're open (or when they are--it's not always about us). But never the person we'd pick.

Amy and Nick
Most certainly, I would not have picked Nick. Totally agnostic, cynical, no filter, mocking, at times unmerciful in his assessments, he is everything I am not. Unafraid of his flaws, well acquainted with his dark side, he's brutally honest and delightful in his humorous and sometimes contemptuous jabs at the pretensions of life. "Why do you need that shit?" he asks me. Why indeed? I revel in the question, for it's portal to the dark unknown that is in me, and key to my Golden Shadow.

Yup, love the guy. He's good for me. Might make him a little nervous to hear it.; in fact, I'm sure it does but I don't give a shit.


  1. Haha! The "I don't give a shit" is a bit of your delightful dark self emerging.

  2. I am sorry to receive this comment, but it does illustrate why it was and is difficult for me to follow Christ's command to shun persona and explore my shadow. I do get this kind of condemnation and "disappointment" from time to time, and it can be lonely. So it's tough at times, like today. Yet I take encouragement from Jesus and the position he consistently took. He never rejected language. How can I?

    "You white-washed sepulcher" in contemporary vernacular is pretty much "you're full of shit." More than that even. He's saying, "You're so full of it, you don't even know it. You judge yourself by the persona you've built for yourself but inside you're just full of crap." He's saying that living this way is death, it's rotting from the inside out. And to knock it off. I don't want to rot from the inside out. And so if the word shit is needed to describe something that needs to be rejected, is of no value, and is toxic, it's the word to use.

    And if I can use a literary spin on Nick's "Do you need that shit?" by saying "I don't give a shit," artistic writing underscores the point my friend was making.

    Truth should never be spurned because you don't like the word. Nick's message should never be silenced. He tells it like it is: a spade is a spade and shit is shit. And, dare I bring it up? He is teaching Christ's message to forsake fear and anxiety, possessions, and everything else that is utterly meaningless in life.

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