If you imagine someone who is brave enough to withdraw all his projections, then you get an individual who is conscious of a pretty thick shadow. Such a man has saddled himself with new problems and conflicts. He has become a serious problem to himself, as he is now unable to say that they do this or that, they are wrong, and they must be fought against. He lives in the “House of the Gathering.” Such a man knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow he has done something real for the world. He has succeeded in shouldering at least an infinitesimal part of the gigantic, unsolved social problems of our day. Carl Jung
+ + +
Lent invites us to consider a very stark reality about ourselves – that we’re a mixture of dark and light. The darkness – what some psychologists call the “shadow side” – is often unknown to us, remaining just beneath our awareness. We often think it’s better left there, anyway. We’re scared of those dark shadows.
Do you want to know your shadow side? Just ask someone who knows you well – a spouse, a good friend, an employee.
Consider this. A boss asks his employee, “How do you experience our relationship?” She says to him, “When I’m around you, I feel imperfect, unqualified, under-performing.” Now, it might be true that the employee is sub par, but the wise employer will ask himself, “What part of my own shadow side am I projecting on to her?” Perhaps he’ll discover his own perfectionism. Or, maybe he’ll see his profound inability to trust others.
In many religious traditions, this self-knowledge is rightly called “wisdom.” However, today we’re often scared to reveal our shadow. How many employers ask, “How do you experience me? How do I make you feel?” How many spouses check in regularly with, “How is my own psychological baggage impacting you?”
However, this Lenten revelation is not just an individual one. Nations are scared of their own shadows, too. Do you hear what I do – pundits and politicians defending America like an entitled child? Over-confident leaders projecting their own insecurities onto other classes and races? Broad declarations of those who are “good” and those who are “evil”?
What we learn, if we consider our shadow, is that much of what we judge others on is what we, ourselves, have not yet dealt with in ourselves. Our baggage is readily transmitted when unexamined, unacknowledged, unexplored. Chances are, if you’re ready to blame or critique, even now, your own shadow might be more powerfully operative than you think.
This is why the early Christians envisioned a season of Lent, a “springtime” of the soul offering new life through an honest acknowledgment of our heart’s dark deception. Lent isn’t over yet. There is soil to be turned over, depths to be explored. And in that most scary, shadow place, you might be even find a ray of light called Truth, with the smile of a forgiving Savior right behind it…