“Filling the conscious mind with ideal conceptions is a characteristic of Western (New Age spirituality), but not the confrontation with the shadow and the world of darkness. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” Carl Jung
This famous twentieth century Swiss psychoanalyst taught that becoming aware of what is hidden inside our shadows — the dark side of ourselves that we tend not to know very well, and are surprised by when it pops out in behavior we dread or are ashamed of — is crucial to becoming a fully conscious person. Think Luke Skywalker in the cave confronting the Darth Vader within himself. That was a chapter right out of Jung.
It was exceptional then, to hear President Biden mention the dark side of our nation, because peering into the shadow of our country is steadfastly resisted by the public and not part of our political discourse. The “shinning city on a hill” is what Americans want to hear about, and the exceptionalism of America being “the best.” Look what has happened after only one brief year of widespread acknowledgment regarding the racism that permeates our history and society. State legislatures are suddenly debating and passing bills prohibiting schools from teaching “systemic racism.” “Critical race theory” has become a slogan and piece of raw meat for politically conservative pundits and commemorators to chew up and spit out on the airwaves.
So there was Biden, breaking the seal on the cover up over a moment in U.S. history that has been intentionally and successfully hidden from our national consciousness: the Tulsa massacre. “For much too long, the history of what took place here was told in silence, cloaked in darkness. But just because history is silent, it doesn’t mean that it did not take place. And while darkness can hide much, it erases nothing.” Rip, there goes the cover.
Then he said what caught my attention in the first place: “Great nations come to terms with their dark side…” Wow. I have never heard a President or any politician say that before, not even close.
Remember, “enlightenment does not happen by imagining figures of light” — which is what we are always trying to do in this country. No, it happens by coming to know what lies in the darkness within us, and then shining a light on that so we can struggle with it, learn from it, and heal it. Freeing and empowering the angels of our better nature begins with knowing and contending with our darker ones.
Those who wish to ignore, repress, or dilute the truth of the American genocide against Native Americans, or the horrors of slavery and its tentacles of ongoing hatred, segregation, and violence, and of our colonialist and military crimes around the globe in the name of national interest, actually feed the darkness within us. Refusing to have broad, public, and educated conversations about our dark side — with all its seething hatreds, brutality, and inhumanity — keeps all of it festering under the covers. What we saw in Charlottesville 2017, this year at the Capital on January 6th, and with growing frequency all over since 2016, is our dark side.
Steve Shanley says
Wonderfully written, as usual, and very nicely illustrated with that picture of the barren tree against the fallow field. I haven’t read Jung in years, and forget how (or even if) he prepared his patients to process their dark sides. Some folks cling to positivity, idealism, and a carefully constructed self-narrative as if their lives depended on it. Part of the reason stereotypes, denial, and simplistic belief systems even exist is that they serve almost an evolutionary, Darwinian function–they save brain energy. When Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge, they saw that they and everything else around them was naked. It takes a strong stomach and a big heart to see both/and, light/dark, saintliness/sin.
Cam Miller says
Thanks Steve. I would say I am still an idealist but that doesn’t mean being in denial or intentionally ignorant of what’s in my shadow and others around me. Keep on.