“Love is the perception of perfection beyond the protection of our projection.” ~ Eric Micha’el Leventhal
“All shadows whisper of the sun.” ~ Emanuel Carnevali
It’s been an interesting few days. In the wake of Robin Williams’ death and my own personal challenges for the week, I inadvertently opened the door to an unexpected gaggle of guests who’ve been hanging out at my little lake house ever since.
Actually, these phantom guests already, and always, live within and around us — I should say that with a few timely reminders, I am becoming more consciously aware of them this week. I’m talking about the “Shadows”.
I don’t mean the dark, featureless selfies on the sidewalk that follow us around on sunny days. I’m referring to that very important and useful concept of the “Shadow” discovered by our old buddy, Carl Jung.
According to Jung, the “Shadow” is the unrecognized, un-integrated, darker aspect of one’s personality, which we inevitably seem to project onto others. Projection is the psychological phenomenon where someone feels something negative inside themselves that they cannot bear to face — that’s their “Shadow” — and instead of coming to grips with it personally, they blame it on an outside force such as another person, society, the government, global warming, or your local coffee house running out of a favorite fancy coffee flavoring.
“The best political, social and spiritual work we can do is to withdraw the projection of our shadow onto others.” ~ Carl Jung
Here’s an example, imagine a woman who is heart-broken over her inability to mend what she remembers as a loving childhood relationship with her sister. She blames this heartbreak on the sister’s delusional thinking and being stuck in the past. This woman, let’s call her My Big Sister, to be hypothetical (or maybe not), doesn’t stop to ask herself why she wants a relationship with someone she thinks is delusional and stuck in the past? Instead, My Big Sister is incessantly critical of her sibling for ruining the family and stealing her happiness. Um. Yeah. That describes the series of e-mails I began to receive from my sister after she read my blog post about The Dysfunctional Family Reunion last Monday morning (not so hypothetically speaking).
“We each project to others a reflection of the world which includes our choices of perception.” ~ Bryant McGill, Simple Reminders: Inspiration for Living Your Best Life
Have you ever worked with someone whose success in business is the direct result of your efforts? Instead of giving you credit — which may trigger their “Shadow” feelings of inadequacy — they criticize you and claim your work is never good enough? Such were the content of the troubled text messages I received throughout the day, last Monday, from a frenzied business associate who had become overwhelmed by his inability to bully me into returning his phone calls over the weekend. It concerned a somewhat incidental matter he chose to blow out of proportion into an imaginary crisis.
Later in the day, while talking to a friend about this toxic business interaction, I blurted out, “That’s it! I’ve had it — I’m not going to play with people who act insane — done.”
My friend responded sympathetically, “I’m sorry Linda! You ok?”
At first I was taken aback by her reaction. What did she think? I was going to kill myself or something? Really? Then, I realized maybe I was being overly sensitive. Also, I remembered that a very close friend of my friend’s had committed suicide. It occurred to me that maybe she has some Shadow feelings of helplessness around that. She may be unwittingly bringing these feelings forward into our conversation. This is one of the problems with projection, sometimes it’s just plain confusing to figure out whose ‘stuff’ is coming up — maybe both of ours.
“Our minds influence the key activity of the brain, which then influences everything; perception, cognition, thoughts and feelings, personal relationship; they’re all a projection of you.” ~ Deepak Chopra
In general, I find that kids are pretty easy subjects to project upon. They don’t really know what’s going on. Monday afternoon, when I showed up to teach my afternoon preschool fitness class, I brought a variety of emotional stress and confusion that had been building throughout the day. I put on a brave, smiling face and cheered, “Woo-hoo! Let’s play soccer!” To which a truly adorable boy replied, “I don’t like soccer. Soccer is boring.” In a flash, my first thoughts were, “What a brat! I can’t stand these kids! They don’t appreciate anything I do for them! All they do is complain and misbehave! Maybe I’m just a rotten teacher…”
I reigned in my runaway reaction and retorted to myself, “Wow, Linda, shadow project much??!!” Shaking the hysteria from my head, the ‘little monster’ in front of me suddenly transformed back into a precocious 3-year-old. I said, “Oh, yeah? You think soccer’s boring? Well, how about this,” I picked him up, turned him upside down, and tickled him unmercifully. “You think that’s boring, too?” Everybody dissolved into fits of giggles and we were back on track for the rest of the class. Seems like an easy solution, right?
Now that I think of it, I wonder why I don’t see more couples handling conflicts with tickle fights? We’ve all been in relationships or seen couples where seemingly benign issues between them will cause one partner to blame or put the other down; at times making their partner seem as if they have no redeeming qualities. Sometimes it’s the constant little slights and digs into each other that we consciously become accustomed to. Unbeknownst to the couple, this is systematically eroding the intimacy of the relationship. Take a moment and think about what you’ve seen or experienced over the last week. Any of this seem familiar?
“What you meet in another being is the projection of your own evolution.” ~ Ram Dass
A couple hours later, when I was out to dinner at a local pub with Mr. C and a friend, we heard the news of Robin Williams’ suicide. I think all the stress of the day finally culminated in an emotional outburst as I cried, “Oh, NOOO! I know, know, KNOW life can be hard and so many people are eff-ing jerks! But, for God’s sake we’ve got to find a way to LIVE! I’m so fed up with a world that encourages people to pretend and go through the motions of life I could scream! Live! Be who you are! Stop pretending! PLEASE!!!! LET’S BE REAL AND GET DOWN TO SOME REAL LIVING!!!!!”
Of course, at the time I didn’t know anything about Robin’s chemical addictions, his financial problems, or his Parkinson’s disease. I was kind of embarrassed later that I had obviously projected my own anxieties onto a complete stranger in front of everybody. But, in the week that has passed, I have learned quite a bit about myself through teasing out the Truths of all the synchronistic events that played out in my day leading up to that little emotional meltdown of mine.
See, the other thing about Shadows is that when we can bring them into the light where we can see them they hold a wealth of information. This can be used toward our own healing and personal empowerment. It can give us strength to persevere through difficult times. Blind spots become illuminated for those thoughtful souls who are brave enough to look in the face of their subconscious influences.
Now that I’ve pulled myself together after a week of self-reflection, I wouldn’t dream of being so arrogant as to tell Robin Williams whether he should go on living or not. It happens that exploring the news about Robin’s downward emotional spiral leading to his demise and contemplating my reaction to it has paradoxically helped me feel regenerated in my own life. I am more devoted than ever to the ideas and life practices which contribute to a healthy mind and body because I not only want to live, I want to be absolutely, thoroughly alive!
It’s your turn to tell me about the shadows nipping at your heels. Or how about the one’s you’ve illuminated with self reflection? What do you perceive or how have you changed in the light darkness? Please share in the comments below.