“We all are born whole and, let us hope, we die whole. But somewhere early on our way, we eat one of the wonderful fruits of the tree of knowledge, things separate into good and evil, and we begin the shadow-making process; we divide our lives. In the cultural process we sort out our God-given characteristics into those that are acceptable to society and those that have to be put away. This is wonderful and necessary, and there would be no civilized behavior without this sorting out of good and evil. But the refused and unacceptable characteristics do not go away; they only collect in the dark corderns of our personality. When they have been hidden long enough, they take on a life of their own—the shadow life.”
If we are unaware of this process, we are apt to project our shadow onto others we dislike or call our enemies. The result can be very destructive.
As Americans, we tend to see ourselves as heroic and virtuous—fearless defenders of freedom and democracy. Our enemies must therefore be the opposite of ourselves: cowardly, evil, intolerant. But if we look honestly at our behavior, we don’t seem quite as virtuous and heroic as we imagine. Fearful of being killed, we kill our enemies using high tech weapons such as drones that destroy and mutilate many innocent people, but we call such destruction of life “collateral damage.” On the other hand, if our enemy beheads a reporter or fires a rocket at random, we call such an an act “pure evil.” When we call our enemies Satanic, they are apt to respond in kind.
In Christian terms, this is comparable to what Jesus said when he told us we tend to see the splinter in our brother’s eyes but not the beam in our own. We see clearly and condemn the shadow in others because we ourselves have a deep desire to act in a certain way that our ego self denies and suppresses.
Part of the work of therapy and spiritual direction is to help us to become conscious of our shadow. What parts of ourselves do we consign to darkness? How do we project our shadow self onto others? Where is God at work in the shadow?
Robert Johnson’s book Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche is a fascinating exploration of this complex psychological phenomenon. He shows how we often find the Divine in the shadow parts of ourselves. In the final chapter of his book, he talks about the image of the mandorla—in which two circles intersect. Where those circles meet—the Light and the Darkness intersecting—is where life-giving energy brings wholeness to our psyche.
In my own “shadow boxing" (as Richard Rohr calls it), I have come to realize how my Quaker identity has sometimes blocked me from getting in touch with parts of myself that are life=giving but a little scary. As a Quaker, I am supposed to be peaceful, friendly, kind, nonviolent. Through therapy I have come to realize that I have within me deep hurt and rage that I was totally unaware of—caused by traumas from my childhood, painful experiences from broken relationships, grief, disappointments. As I become more aware of these hidden and suppressed parts of myself, I realize they are not something to reject, but to accept as a gift. I don’t have to be a perfect Quaker all the time. I can be myself—warts and all—just like other people, broken, confused, and at a loss. It’s okay to get angry or to identify with the manipulative anti-hero of House of Cards. That’s part of the whole of who I am.
What I have come to realize is the Great Paradox of Christian identity. I am sinner in need of grace, forgiveness, and God’s unconditional love. I am also God’s beloved child, made in God’s image, loved and redeemed and worthy no matter what I do, or don’t do.
How does this apply this paradox to our international affairs? Clearly ISIS does evil things, but so do we. ISIS and the US have both fallen short of what God intends. Both have committed great evil, yet both have the potential for redemption. How can this redemption happen? How can we learn to express the Divine nature in ourselves and to see the Divine in others? Killing our enemy won’t bring about redemption for them, or for us. Jesus teaches that the only way to redemption is through self-sacrifice and love. This may seem impossibly hard on the international stage. But it is possible, and indeed necessary, to treat our enemy as we would wish to be treated—with dignity and respect. This is the way of negotiation and diplomacy.
In our personal lives, we have opportunities to reach out to those who annoy and anger us. When we do this, and it isn’t easy, spiritual and psychological growth typically occurs.
Great spiritual teachers recognize this: “In the practice of tolerance,” says the Dalai Lama, “Your enemy is the best teacher.” Jesus goes even further: “Love your enemy.” Loving your enemy includes loving parts of yourself that your ego would like to reject.
As a Quaker, I’ve had my share of conflicts with other Quakers as well as with non-Quakers. What has helped me to grow spiritually has been a willingness to see conflict as an opportunity to become honest and whole. What is my part in the conflict? What is my opponent’s viewpoint and feelings? How can we both learn from this experience?
When conflicts arise among Quakers, we have the opportunity to ask for a clearness committee. Those in conflict meet with sympathetic Friends for a time of prayer, sharing and reflection. We usually begin with a time of silent worship, to center down and connect with Spirit and our Inner Wisdom. After this time of centering, each person has a chance to speak without being interrupted. Each is committed to listening to the other, as deeply as possible. Friends who are part of this clearness committee ask questions that help to bring clarity to those who are having a conflict.
I have been part of three or four clearness committees in my 30 years as a Friend and they have all helped me to have a better relationship with those I was having a conflict with.
I wonder if such a process could be applied in the international arena. I know that the Compassionate Listening Project has been successful in bringing together Palestinians and Israelis, teaching them listening skills, and helping them to hear each other at a deep level. What would our world be like if our leaders learned and practiced Compassionate Listening? Would this help us to overcome our projections, our demonization of the other, and see each other as we truly are: broken, hurting people made in God's image, with legitimate grievances and needs.....
This approach may seems naïve, but what have we gained by being “realistic” and engaging in endless wars? When conventional ways fail us time and time again, perhaps we need to consider new ways that our spiritual teachers have advocated, and which have been proven to work.