Psychologists have often reminded us that we have a have a ‘dark side’.

Yes, you… And me, too!

Sigmund Freud, whose work was behavioural and independent of spirituality, gave us the famous classifications of Ego, Id, and Superego; three seemingly separate parts of who and how we are.

Carl Jung, who was more intent on a personal unity involving the spiritual side of mankind, gave us the construct of the Shadow and the Persona, among other things.

All these terms describe how we view our-selves and the variance between our idealised view of that and what others might see – or what we might see also if we became a bit more objective about how we really are.

They also speak about primal parts of us, including inherited traits and even childhood attitudes and energies that have been suppressed in the name of ‘maturity’. The two psychologists differed in one major respect, and this has implications for any ‘spiritual’ perspective, to which we will return at the end of this post.

We all carry with us an idealised picture of ourselves. We smooth over behaviour that falls short of our professed ‘standards’ or moral codes. We tend towards self-contradiction, and have developed coping mechanisms that forgive and allow what might scream at us under the bright light of self-analysis.

The true maturing of the individual’s human nature is a long struggle between differing levels of hunger and those of satisfaction. Balancing the two requires honesty, sensitivity, and intelligence.

The driving force at the heart of all of this, regardless of the system of classification used, is societal pressure: to behave in an acceptable way – one that initially makes us fit to share a society built by others, then goes on to mark us as potential for that world’s more responsible or ambitious roles. These need not be lofty. Bringing up children is one of the hardest jobs in the world, as is looking after someone in great need, or the responsibility for a person’s health or education.

I’m not decrying society, here. The culturing of behaviour – so that we can all live harmoniously, yet with fulfilment, is a crowning achievement of any civilisation. The long cycle back to barbarism is only prevented by those willing to defend what has been earned.

We are born with an entire set of energetic aspects – from sex to imagination; from jealously to love.

To reduce these to a set of behaviours or manners…is artificial. Whole parts of our foundational layers are being suppressed. But it does represent a code by which we can demonstrate our membership of the society we live in. This is critical to the outward success of our lives. But, psychologically, it produces vivid conflicts within us, analogous to a city built in a volcanic region.

In Freud’s system, the ego is at the centre of our existence: our regular ‘self’, the decision and peace-maker and centre of how we view ourselves. Its opinion of our-selves is critical to how we view our selves and our lives.

Freud’s concept of Ego has an above and a below. The above is the superego – a kind of portable headmaster-cum-mother figure that constantly exhorts us to do better. The ‘below’ is a wild creature: the Id, (Latin for ‘it’ ) that lurks deep within, to which realm have been banished all the unacceptable behaviours and attitudes that do not fit within our aspiring climb to be ‘someone’ in our world.

Jung’s Shadow plays a similar but not identical role, but one destined to open much more potential for the spiritual aspirant.

In a very real sense, the Shadow or Id came first, and is reflected in the lower – and more powerful- parts of both our psyche and the physical structure of the brain; the bits that contain our largest reservoirs of energy, much of which can be viewed as untamed.

A classic example of such ‘dark’ forces is the sexual impulse, which permeates the behaviour of mankind in everything from jewellery to advertising. Never in civilisation’s long rise from barbarism has sex been so blatantly exposed before us.

But now we have a problem…

These primaeval and increasingly needed reserves of life-enhancing strength are locked away and branded unsafe… which they are, if let free in an unguided way.

But there is a way to let them play… and in return be gifted with their precious energies. It’s startling, but it has been shown that the ‘dark players’ in our so-called subconscious (as in ‘not conscious, yet’) will settle for a little time in the spotlight, then return to their slumbers without filling our peaceful valley with red hot lava.

The human ability to imagine has depths that get ignored as we ‘mature’. One of the most precious is the ability to lose ourselves in ‘play’. Later, that play becomes the powerful gift of creative imagination which will serve us both in career and partnerships.

When we watch a ‘primitive’ tribe dancing, covered in body paint and masks, they are showing us that they understand this division of the self – and the means to bridge it, peacefully. A wisdom passed from generation to generation, often in a landscape maintained in perfect harmony.

Jung’s insight was that the powerful shadow of you or me does not stand alone, it has within it various ‘characters’ or archetypes. These are not particular to you and me, they are shared by all mankind – and who knows, perhaps beyond. The ‘Gods’ may turn out to be far more important to mankind’s future than our technology-dominated age could ever know…

How can we turn this knowledge of our own inner makeup into a practical discipline? Any activity that empowers and brings alive part of this ‘cast of archetypes’ in our daily world will serve. Here is the basis of any ritual – from people meeting in love and respect to honour higher and shared ideals, to being involved in local theatre, as supporter or even a budding actor in that summer production.

To quote from the classic film Kiss me Kate, starring Howard Keel, maybe it’s time to brush up your Shakespeare... and walk round the house, hoovering and enacting paragraphs from Hamlet, as we anguish over our own fate…

©Stephen Tanham 2023

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being. and

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: