The Shadow Knows

Happy Winter Solstice

The winter solstice marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year in the Northern hemisphere. The word solstice means stopping of the sun. It comes from Latin solstitium, from sol, "sun" and -stitium, "a stoppage." The sun appears at its lowest point in the sky. How does this happen? Since Earth is actually nearer the sun in January than it is in June (by three million miles) what causes the solstice is something completely different. The Earth leans slightly on its axis like a spinning top held in its off-center position. Astronomers have pinpointed the precise angle of the tilt. It’s 23 degrees and 27 minutes off the perpendicular to the plane of orbit. This tilt is what causes the variety of our seasons. Because of the tilt, the Northern hemisphere is now leaning farthest away from the sun causing the longest night.

The shortest day and longest night seems like a good time to reflect upon the shadow, the name given to the less-than-conscious part of our psyche. We humans live in a dual world and, as such, we are prone to dichotomies. Thus, we may ask: Do I transcend the darkness of my shadow or do I go into it? Almost more than we love dichotomies, we love to discard anything that gets in our way. So, the obvious answer for fast spiritual advancement is to transcend the shadow because it clearly gets in the way of the Light of consciousness.

The problem with shadow-transcendence, though, is that it doesn’t work very well. In fact, I don’t know anyone who has succeeded at this. Some have enjoyed small, short-term successes. Others have mistaken shadow-transcendence for denial and then been forced back into the depths of the shadow at some point in an unconscious effort toward balance. Still others flip back and forth as a way of life. And those I know who attempt true shadow-transcendence on an ongoing basis seem to succeed only when isolated, removed from the challenges of ordinary people and everyday life.

In fact, the striving for shadow-transcendence has given birth to a new pathology called spiritual bypassing, a term recently coined by transpersonal psychologist John Wellwood. Spiritual bypassing happens when a person uses spirituality to mask or compensate for other inadequacies. This can take many insidious forms. For example, a person who spends all their time meditating, swimming with dolphins, or volunteering for the cause while they can’t pay their rent. Or a person who is so "spiritually sensitive" that s/he can’t be around anybody else because they have "bad energy." Or the person who appears to have peacefully transcended their shadow but is really just completely disconnected from their feelings and their body. In each of these instances, spirituality is used as a decoy to disguise a real problem.

I suspect that transcending the shadow doesn’t work because it’s not supposed to. Maybe we are not meant to overcome the shadow. Instead, maybe we are meant to use it to the fullest. This does not have to mean getting lost in the depths of the dark, rather, it can mean using the shadow in service of the Light. Since we are all essentially One, the more of our own shadow we are able to reveal and transform, the more we help uplift all of humanity.

We can’t do this kind of service work by transcending the shadow. Instead, we have to go into the darkness of the shadow and work with it in a conscious, purposeful and ongoing way. We must know the strengths and limitations of our own, unique shadow-self so that we can develop the strengths and transform the limitations. We can study ourselves, study our minds, and study our lives.

Meditation and contemplation are fantastic tools for this when used properly. The aim of meditation is not to disconnect, escape, or relax. The goal of meditation for the present time is to research your self, to experiment and incorporate the results gleaned so that you may come to discover what you are and what you are not. When this endeavour is carried out in the service of Spirit, the shadow becomes transmuted into the Light of consciousness.

In service of the Light, we go into the darkness. Once refined, the Light-transmuted shadow then wants to and can best serve humanity, helping to actualize essential Oneness by having become more unified and whole itself.

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