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The future of mankind hangs by the slender thread of the human ‘shadow’

Carl Gustav Jung

The Jungian archetype known as the Shadow is arguably one of the most powerful and pervasive aspects of the human mind and, as the term implies, it is that part of us all that lies hidden in the darker recesses of the subconscious, ignored, unexplored and often totally unknown, yet capable of disrupting our lives in sudden, destructive outbursts of energy that leave us and those around us baffled. Or it may work away on a more subtle level, poisoning friendships or negating opportunities with its ability to undermine our reason, confidence, and self-esteem.

Our ‘shadows’ include all of those barely conscious aspects of ourselves that we dislike or find impossible to accept, the suppressed anger, judgemental thoughts, jealousy, sexual longings, and the dark, shameful secrets we still cannot admit to. Or it may comprise of qualities that we hate in ourselves and have tried to root out, only to see them come back with a vengeance when we least expect it.

But the Shadow, like all the other archetypes, has both a positive and negative aspect. When we are young we may have been forced to suppress many of our natural, healthy emotions and feelings. If our parents or care-givers refused to allow us our natural anger, grief, spontaneity, joy or sexuality, then much of these normal energies may be distorted, repressed and locked within our Shadow.

Suppressed feelings can lie dormant and festering for years before exploding outwards in self-destructive behaviours that can ruin friendships, destroy careers and leave us wondering who we actually are at times, and if we insist on ignoring or rejecting these natural instincts, we will ultimately be called to pay a penalty.

Compulsive obsessive behaviours, all kinds of addictions, irrational rages, loss of energy, depressions, suicidal thoughts, irrational dependencies and co-dependency, and chronic despair are all symptoms of a Shadow out of control.

What is less known about the Shadow is that it also contains and conceals many of our most positive qualities, frequently relegated to the Shadow in confrontations with authority figures in our formative years. These repressed aspects frequently hold the suppressed joy, innocence, spontaneity, and childlike nature of what Sigmund Freud Called ‘Das Wunderkind’ the ‘Wonder Child’ and Jung referred to as the ‘Imago Dei… the Image of God’ which in turn holds the key to our individuality, our innate creativity, our authentic selves, our spirituality, our soul, and our Calling, which is of course the actual meaning and purpose of our lives.

But the good news is that negative side of our Shadow can be dis-empowered and harnessed, by simply bringing it out of the darkness and into the light. Once the Shadow has been exposed to the sunlight of consciousness and its contents revealed, accepted and dealt with, then the Gifts can be separated from the neurosis, the wheat from the chaff, the negative from the positive, only then can these previously neglected energies can be transformed and used effectively in our daily lives.

In the movie world, one of the most dramatic personifications of the Shadow has been Darth Vader (a pun on Dark Father) of the Star Wars Trilogy, an extreme, archetypal figure representing the dark, ‘shadow’ side of patriarchy, aggressive, non-feeling, unforgiving and unreachable as he urges his only son to join him in serving the evil Emperor on the dark path of demonic intellectual control, “Come over to our side Luke, the power is incredible!”

But Luke Skywalker refused. He was a Jedi warrior, on his own hero’s journey, committed to the transcendent side of the Life Force, and therefore he chose the power of the heart, the classical hero’s choice.

In the third episode, “The Return of the Jedi”, Darth Vader himself is redeemed when he sees the error of his ways and returns to his heart and his humanity by sacrificing his own life to save the life of his son. We last see him as a ghostly figure, reunited with the other Jedi warriors, hovering over Luke, guiding and protecting him from beyond the grave, for in finally rejecting the dark path and sacrificing his life for another, he has transcended both life and death.

Another classical tale of the Shadow is that of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde, which depicts a good man struggling with the darkest aspects of his own psyche. In this case however, Dr Jekyll, whilst tinkering with forces beyond his control, is led by Mr Hyde, down an ever darker path, until eventually he is taken over completely and destroyed by the evil excesses of his alter ego.

The message here is clear. The Shadow needs to be exposed but it also needs to be tamed and disciplined. Our Shadows are a vital force that must be brought out into the light of day or they can destroy us. People who act out in compulsive obsessive behaviours such as alcoholism, drug addiction or compulsive over eating, are clear examples of an out of control shadow,  but there are many other less visible examples; people who are crippled by doubt or shame, suffer endless depressions, talk of suicide, or those who get carried away by monetary success, abusing their power or becoming totally self-centred and self-seeking whilst ignoring the needs of others, have also been overwhelmed by their Shadows.

But we must also remember that the Shadow contains and conceals our greatest gifts and talents, and it is only by working through the various stages of the Hero’s Journey that we will be able to understand, appreciate, and integrate our gifts, our talents and the true mission and purpose of our lives.

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Dr. Viktor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist imprisoned in Austwich by Hitler’s Gestapo in 1942, for no other crime than his religion, was a prominent psychiatrist at the time of his arrest and had worked for many years prior to the war with men and women suffering severe and prolonged depressions as well as various other types of mental illnesses.

As Frankl had worked with hundreds of these patients, he came to realize that none of them seemed to have any purpose or meaning to their lives, they had no goals or dreams to fulfill, and they appeared to have no idea at all where there lives were headed.

These initial observations encouraged him to study the phenomenon at depth, and as his work progressed he came to understand that once an individual had discovered a worthwhile cause or mission in life, their return to health was both rapid and enduring.

Realizing the enormous potential of this discovery, he set about writing a book, expounding his theories in the hope that it would reach the countless millions of depressed, alienated and lonely souls, tormented by various types of mental disorders.

And so, as the overcrowded train the Nazis had forced himself and hundreds of others onto, rolled into the dreaded Death Camp of Austwich, his most pressing concern was that this manuscript, which he had clutched underneath his overcoat since the time of his arrest, should not be lost or destroyed, it was the culmination of his life’s work, or so he thought that day.

Over the following years Victor Frankl would suffer all the atrocities of those abominable camps with the stoicism and courage few of us could ever hope to emulate. Loosing his manuscript immediately on arrival was a devastating blow, made worse by the mindless atrocities that followed. He had his faith to cling to, but with the never ending barbarisms carried out on a daily basis by the brutalized Nazi guards, the starvation, the beatings, the gassing of innocent children, the rapes and senseless murders, faith itself must sooner or later begin to crumble.

Surely in the darkness of those endless nights, Frankl’s theories must have come back to mock him, his fundamental belief that if a man could find a meaning for his life then he could endure virtually any amount of suffering, must have seemed like an impossible dream at times.

Yet one day Victor Frankl awoke, and with the sudden realization that his prayers for salvation were not being answered, he spontaneously changed the prayer from ‘God help me’ to ‘Lord, make me worthy of my suffering.” What a leap in consciousness! And in that transcendent moment, in the depths of that obscene Nazi Death Camp, a new vision was born and with it a new hope for mankind, the belief that once we have found the meaning and purpose of our own lives, then we have the ability to surmount virtually any hardship.

From that day on Viktor Frankl began caring for those of his fellow prisoners who were in acute distress, sharing his meager food rations, comforting those who had abandoned all hope, and kneeling in prayer with the dying. In doing so he rose above his own suffering and not only survived the camps but went on to rewrite and publish his best selling book, (Man’s search for Meaning) and to found what would become known as Logotherapy, the Third Viennese School of Psychiatry.

It has been suggested by others that those few camp inmates that gave away their food were the ones that survived the camps, implying that the ones who accepted did not; but Frankl himself made no mention of this.

Victor Frankl lived to the age of 91, and for the rest of his life worked with men and women of all ages, helping them discover the individual meaning and purpose of their lives. To his last days he was fond of quoting the German Philosopher; Friedrich Nietzsche: “He who has found a ‘Why’ to live, can endure almost any ‘How’.

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Carl Gustav Jung

Every human life contains a potential. If that potential is not fulfilled, then that life is wasted.

Carl Jung

Since the beginning of recorded history legends from cultures around the world have spoken of the ‘Calling’, sometimes referred to as the ‘Hero’s Journey.’ Joseph Campbell described the Calling as ‘Men and women going out into the ordinary, everyday world searching for some worthwhile cause to which they could dedicate there lives too’.

Many people today believe we are living in just such a time. The world we have inherited has become stale and stagnant. Our Kings, politicians and priests had lost their way, and too many people seem to be living without hope or a vision to sustain them, in a difficult and depressing world. But non of this is new; pre-Christian myths from the ancient Celtic Kingdoms of Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Brittany all spoke of ‘the Call’, a quest that would enrich and give meaning to the lives of their people.

A classic image of this ideal was that of the young man or woman, lured on by mystery, following a deer into a dense forest. The deer representing mans original state, the forest representing the subconscious connection to the natural, spiritual world from which so many of us have strayed.

European legends from the 12th Century described the plight of the Fisher King, a monarch lying wounded and impotent as his Kingdom falls into the wastelands of infertility and despair. And Parcival, the naive young male, journeying out into the world alone in the innocence of youth, in search of honour and adventure.

The English tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and the legends of Sir Galahad and Lancelot, all spoke of this same quest, of men and women looking for a meaning to their existence, searching for a cause that would give purpose to their lives.

In European literature the origins of Calling are often associated with quasi-religious endeavours, or images of knights in armour riding out in search of adventure or the Holy Grail. But these images, romantic as they may be, are comparatively recent ways of reinterpreting what are essentially age old, fundamental, pre-Christian myths.

Before Columbus ever set foot in the new world, the concept of finding and following a calling was already deeply embedded in the beliefs system of the Native American, and the tribal legends, initiation rituals, and ceremonial rites of passage echoed these same fundamental principals. The young men and women in those societies undertook ‘vision quests’, often painful paths of initiation prepared for by fasting and isolation, during which they would pray for a revelatory dream so that they might better understand the true purpose of their lives. These visions quests were held in the highest regard as they frequently pertained not only to the wellbeing of the individual but also to the security and prosperity of the tribe as a whole.

These ancient myths and legends from cultures across the globe; all alluding to the same central theme of ‘Calling’, have arisen spontaneously in every age of mankind’s history.  They come to us as variations on a perennial theme, calling to us from a place much deeper than the rational mind, thrusting up from some subconscious source, seeking recognition and demanding to be heard.

One of the earliest books ever written, The Epic of Gilgamesh, a Babylonian legend inscribed on clay tablets almost 5,000 years ago, tells the story of the young warrior King, Gilgamesh, leaving his castle and his lands, to seek out the deeper meaning and purpose of his life.

Plato, in his classic work; ‘Republic’ written 500 years before the birth of Christ, suggests that there is a meaning and a purpose to each and every human life and proposes not only the existence of Calling, but also its origin and function. He then went on to explain in; ‘The Myth of Er’, that just before we are born, a Daimon (a guardian angel or aspect of the divine) joins our soul. This Daimon carries with it our life’s purpose and calling.

The myth suggests that although we may have chosen the particular life that we have, it is our soul’s companion, the Daimon, that chooses the family in to which we are to be born. The Daimon picks that particular family, knowing that in the crucible of that family we will undergo a certain conditioning, and as a result of that conditioning we will develop specific skills and talents, abilities that will enable us to fulfil our mission and our purpose in life.

One of those Daimons for example, carried the Purpose of Mother Theresa, the Catholic nun who dedicated her life to India’s starving. Yet another contained within its blueprint the courage, dignity and destiny of Nelson Mandela. Other examples are people like Martin Luther King, or Florence Nightingale. People called from humble origins to right a wrong or to serve a noble cause.

It is a simple matter to accept that such people were answering a calling, but although they are remarkable examples of this principle, the publicity that surrounds them can sometimes mislead us into believing that only special types of people are singled out for the touch of calling.  According to Plato’s myth this is not so. The essential nature of calling is that each and every one of us comes to the earth called. We are called by our birthright, and the things we are called to do cover the whole spectrum of human endeavour.

Calling connects us to the deepest aspect of our own souls, and in doing so enables us to fulfil our destiny and our purpose. It lifts us from the mundane workings of the everyday world, it leads us to our Reason Detre, our ‘reason for being’, and in doing so offers us the possibility of ennoblement.

*     *     *

Now you may ask, if any of this is even remotely true why are we all not happily working away in our own individual callings? Well, that’s where the ‘Myth of Er’ comes in again. Here Plato suggests that as we are in the process of birth, we pass through a mythical realm known as the ‘Plains of Forgetting’ and in doing so we lose sight of our life’s Purpose and come to earth having forgotten everything that went before.

William Wordsworth in his poem; Imitations of Immortality put it thus:

Our Birth is but a sleep and a forgetting

The Soul that rises with us, our life’s star

Hath elsewhere its setting and cometh from afar

Not in utter nakedness. Nor in entire aloneness

But trailing clouds of Glory do we come

From God who is our home

*     *     *

So what happens to this young child that arrives;  ‘trailing clouds of glory?’ Well, we land in a family, a culture and invariably a religion. We undergo the training and the schooling insisted upon by our parents. We are persuaded ‘for our own good’ to take up sensible courses, and are encouraged to study hard, work hard, and finally to take up careers in secure, well paid positions. This is the way of the world and for some it may well be sufficient, but what of the deeper aspects of our nature, what of our souls intent, and what about the dreams and ambitions of our hearts?

Over the last fifteen years, working with people from many different walks of life, I have come to realize that there are three main groups who are attracted by the concept of Calling. The first are young people in the last years of high school or just starting out on University courses. A surprisingly large percentage of this group have no idea at all of what they want to do as a career, and many of them are not even sure of what they want to study.

Many of them have chosen their particular subjects through a sense of desperation after having discussed their options with parents, teachers or friends, going over and over the various subjects, analysing every detail in a rational, methodical way. What is the most sensible thing to study? What are my long term prospects? Will I be entering a well-paid profession? Will I be secure in that position?

This may at first glance appear to be a reasonable approach, but is it?  If I am to be working at my chosen career for the next twenty, thirty, or forty years, then should my rational brain be trusted to make that choice alone? What about my gifts? What about my deepest drives and passions?

Deciding to follow a strictly rational approach because we don’t have the courage to listen to our own inner voices could be very dangerous. And if we choose our life’s work based on what our family or our friends expect of us, or because of some illusion that financial security alone can offer us a happy, fulfilled life, then we may do so at the expense of our own souls, for that road could well lead to what the poet Elliot called ‘The Wastelands’, an empty, meaningless existence devoid of passion and integrity. For in attempting to avoid the dangers and challenges of our own individual journey we could easily be turning away from the adventure of life itself and obeying what Joseph Campbell called the Dragon, the slavish mentality of following a set of rules we neither comprehend or agree with, and to follow that path can be the most depressing thing of all. For on every scale of that dragon is written ‘though shalt’, for in following that dragon we will be surrendering our individuality, our passions, and the only real opportunity we will ever have of leading a full and authentic life.

Many young people become confused at this point as they have been trained since childhood to use their minds in a rational, analytical way. In their quest for meaning they look forwards, projecting out into the future, seeking inspiration in the unknown. It would make more sense to look backwards. The origins of character and calling lay in the past, not in the future; we are shaped and prepared for our life’s purpose by our earliest days, and the clues to our calling lie embedded in the gifts we posses and the unique history that belongs to ourselves alone. The journey of lifetime is a return to soul, the solution lies within, we are our own destination.

“In the final analysis we count for something only because of the essential we embody,                                      if we do not embody that essential, then our life is wasted.”

Carl Jung

At the other end of the scale you will find older people searching for a more meaningful existence.  Not simply because they have the money and the time as is sometimes suggested, but because they are beginning to regret the years they spent working in occupations that may have supported them financially, but did nothing for the deeper aspects of their being.

Many of this group are actually experiencing a renewed sense of calling, for although we may sometimes forget the pur pose and intent of our journey, the soul does not, and at differing times throughout our lives, times of crisis, times when we feel that life has lost it’s meaning, or perhaps in times of  confusion and change,  the Call will come to us once again.

*     *     *

Recent studies carried out in Australia, Canada, the USA, and the UK, suggest that as many as 87% of the people interviewed were not happy with the work they did for a living. The most disillusioned in the survey were people between the ages of twenty-eight to forty-nine, usually men and women who have arrived at a crossroads and become dissatisfied with their professional and/or their private lives.

Some of these people had become bored with their jobs, others had encountered career setbacks or have become disillusioned with the work they had been doing for years. Others have had health scares, cancer or heart problems, whilst others in this group had experienced a divorce or the break up of a close relationship and were beginning to wonder what life is all about. For it is often only when we are shaken to the very core of our being by the collapse of our everyday world that we are opened up to a deeper level of existence and begin to suspect that there may be much more to life, and more to ourselves, than we had imagined.

Some people will hear the ‘Call’ as ‘the still small voice’, a whispered intuition urging them to take stock of their lives. For others it may come as the loss of a job, or a relationship. Or perhaps it could be that after years of being a doctor, a teacher, a bricklayer, or a nurse, you have become disillusioned with what you are doing for a living and feel that you cannot face another year, or indeed another month on that same old worn out path.

*     *     *

In more recent times the notion of calling has undergone something of a revival due to a great extent to the work of Joseph Campbell, the world-renowned mythologist and author of some twenty books including The Power of Myth, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and; The Masks of God.

Campbell came face to face with his own calling at the age of seven when his father took him to an exhibition of Native American art and culture in a local museum. The young boy was profoundly affected by the totem poles he found there, the carvings capturing his imagination immediately. He knew intuitively that these mythic images were of great importance and he researched at his local library for months afterwards, studying photographs and reading everything he could find on the subject. For him it was to be the beginning of a lifelong passion.

Later on, during his University days, he made a decision not to complete a degree when he realised he had no passion for the subjects he was studying. Campbell left the city shortly afterwards, retreating to a secluded place in the country for four years where he read the classics and studied mythology.

From this instinctual retreat, seen by others as a ‘dropping out’ came one of the world’s most distinguished scholars and authorities on the meaning and value of myth, a man who would, as one critic later put it; ‘Put flesh on the bones and fire in the eyes of the ancient Gods of mythology.’ His writings, seminars and tutorials, both in the USA and throughout the world held his students in awe. Here was a man not only lecturing on the theory of Calling, here was a man engaged in his own heroic journey, a role model ‘following his bliss’.

In the following pages I will present the concept of calling not as some historical mystery to be understood, but rather as a modern, vibrant blueprint for life, a realistic tool to be used by people of all ages not only in finding and following a meaningful career or passion that will fulfil their hopes and aspirations, but also as a key to unlock our own innate potential.

In an age weighed down by political correctness, corporate corruption, and widespread disillusionment. At a time when suppression of individuality and uniformity of thought are encouraged by our governments, our educational systems, and many of our religious institutions, the concept of Calling honours the unique nature of each individual human being. It helps us to understand ourselves and others as never before. It contains a secret that can free ourselves and our children free to unfold naturally into their full and true potential, and ultimately, if embraced, it can free us to live our lives with passion, purpose and integrity.

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