Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.’
C.G. Jung – kind of … he said many things like this, but someone most likely put it into a succinct sentence on his behalf.
We use phrases daily that offer insight into how we interact with and integrate the concept of light.
We can “bring things to light” and we can “shine a light on things”. We can, when waking up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, say to ourselves “let there be light” and hit the light switch so we don’t stumble into objects in the darkness and hurt ourselves.
From these linguistic constructs we can draw a couple of observations:
1. Light seems only relevant in opposition to its counterpart, darkness
2. We speak of light as though it is pertinent in making meaningful maps of the world.
3. Based on how speak of it, light seems to be secondary to darkness. Not in its importance, just in its genesis.
Darkness comes first, is the essential state, and is therefore the more “natural” state and could be said to have more appeal. Human behaviour leans back towards the past, towards the gravity of the dense darkness from which we have come.
In the way it is spoken of, Light seems to operate as a force that exists to penetrate darkness, ignorance and unconsciousness and could be said to be more fragile and requiring more effort to maintain than its counterpart.
Darkness is the default state. Light requires discipline, effort and persistence.
It is said that “ignorance is bliss”. I would say from my observations of the world that perhaps “ignorance is easier.” And anything that is easier, in the field of human activity, tends to become the more normative state.
Jung gave us the concept of “the Shadow”. That part of ourselves that is not in the Light. More primal, less rational, less open to undergoing the processes, rigour and ritual of civilisation. He saw it as a human beings lifework to shine light onto that darkness and to make the unconscious, conscious.
A pretty lofty goal. This life long mission he dubbed “individuation”. Out of the hot collective soup of intergenerational trauma, prejudice and violent instincts to an upright, cool state of self awareness and personal agency.
Individuation could be said to involve two elements: firstly, the process of detaching from the collective conditioning of the tribe, state, family and whoever else may wish to lay down their heavy brain washing dogma on the individual to keep them co-dependent and useful to the external agents purposes.
Secondly it could be said to be the process of waking up from the nightmare of “eternally bumping into objects in the dark night”. By shining a light, step by step, onto those elements of our unconscious that create suffering in our lives.
In the sense of seeking to “wake up” from the dark sleep of the unconscious to the sunny morning of individuation we are doing our best to map, categorise and list the “objects” we were bumping into and to go from “unknown unknowns, to known unknowns, to known knowns”.
This phrase was made famous by secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld speaking at the Pentagon in 2002. According to the deep research I just did 5 minutes ago whilst drinking a coffee and writing this article he got it from colleagues of his who had worked at NASA where the phrase was commonly used. Its actually from a 1955 concept developed by two psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham which they called the “Johari Window”.
The name “Johari Window” is a combination of the names of the psychologists Joseph and Harrington to make “Jo Hari”. Very cute, I’m sure you will agree.
Its actually a very useful model they present which offers a direct means of accessing that which may be unconscious in us, it is well worth looking up.
The issue of Light becomes more urgent when we realise that when we are trapped in darkness we are interacting with “internal objects” functioning as “unknown unknowns” from a place of reactivity, from the id, from instinct and primal responses of fight, flight, fawn and freeze.
The motto of this state could be : “I don’t know whats happening inside of me, I know that it sucks and I’m confused and in pain, someone must be to blame for this, let me find someone and blame them just to be sure.”
That which is unconscious tends to be associated with negative, maladaptive and destructive patterns of behaviour because of this primal, emotional, animalistic aspect. But of course, just because it is “not in the light” doesn’t mean it is all bad.
Sometimes, locked in the darkness, away from the light are great strengths. Disavowed or supressed talents, insights and powerful traits and abilities are also there in the shadow would we but have the courage to “go there” and integrate them.
When we look at it from this perspective, its easy to see how people who haven’t integrated any element of their shadow/dark/unconscious aspect could become anxious, frustrated, bitter and resentful. The pain and self loathing they are in would, over time, make them lash out at those they identify as “having it better” and “causing this pain”.
Is it possible that people in that confused, blind and outraged state could misidentify the targets? Of course.
Is it possible that there really isn’t anyone “out there” to go beat up for this great injustice and to vent this righteous indignation onto and into? Verily.
Continuously bumping into their own unknown internal objects in the perceptual nightmare they are trapped in and at the same time into others unknowns unknowns (the emotionally dysregulated tend to isolate or flock together with like minded people) their lives feel like a series of frustrating, defeating events in which “nothing ever works out” and “life isn’t fair” and the conclusion “someone or something is DOING this to me to hold me down” becomes natural and obvious
We have probably all been there at some point. I know I have.
It was, at that time, and from my perspective the only conclusion that made sense.
And so I gathered evidence, of which there was plenty, of all the things every family member, girlfriend, friend, teacher, institution, government body and hooded illuminate had done to me or caused to be done to me. Every sling and arrow of outrageous fortune was listed.
Surely this was evidence in black and white of the root cause of all my woes!
And there I had it:
My “grievance justification” account.
It was a great relief to be absolved of responsibility for the state of my life. I only wish I had known that the cost of this absolution was that I was simultaneously washing my hands of my agency to make any meaningful changes for myself.
From this place of darkness and self defeat and the ensuing bitterness that will certainly follow, fantasies of persecution flourish.
Without the discipline of reason and critical thinking, powered by a traumatised central nervous system and overwhelming emotions we can sink into the darkest of dark, hot places. A psychological Hades full of screaming, suffering, demonic tortures and the “gnashing of teeth”.
Like a dark hot space on the body that never sees or feels fresh air and light, infections and sickness can and will flourish unopposed.
What can light do here? Light can heal, can illuminate, can bring tremendous relief from suffering.
It can stop us from taking up an endeavour that, from within the darkness, can feel like a tremendously empowering and liberating mission but that will be just one more failed attempt to wake up. One more beating. One more subjugation. One more humiliation.
But from whence? From whom?
Is it from the “great oppressor” or from our inner imprisonment in our own dark unconsciousness?
Oppression and abuse and exploitation certainly exist. But we must draw a careful and clear line between actual oppression and our own unwillingness to look unflinchingly at who and what we are without prevarication, justification or the other exotic acrobatic escape strategies our cowardice commands.
And we are all cowards at one time or another, and that’s ok. And we are all capable of heroism.
We are all born potential heroes within our lives stories, and we should seek to be that, but not without having to bear the burden of courageously waking up, growing up and moving forward.
The key element to this process is courage.
Our mythologies throughout human history are replete with stories of heroic types going into the dangerous darkness to gather a great prize that will serve humanity forever more or to destroy a curse that will free humanity.
Sometimes the freeing of humanity is from the “binding darkness” itself as in Lord of the Rings, and the story of the Hummingbird in the Mojave American legend.
So, if we humans have had the sense since earliest recorded history that it is good and necessary to face darkness, if all religious systems have elements that confront the issue of darkness, if psychology and philosophy tell us time and again we must plumb the depths and face this space in which there is no light, why do we struggle to get on with this work?
Because of fear.
We dread the dark. We have done since we were children. And to the extent that we continue to refuse to face the fear is the extent to which we remain collectively in an infantile state.
No collective or cause can help, despite its promises and appeal. We cannot hide in a group and go into our individual darkness. Nor can we penetrate or resolve a “collective unconscious” or a “group shadow”, there is scant evidence any such thing exists, with all due apologies to Professor Jung, an undoubted genius of psychology, who was however probably in one of his more self-indulgent and wizardly moods when he came up with the concept.
It is the individuals mission to shine his or her own light, with their own individual courage and strength. But this we must face alone. As an individual, in order to individuate.
Alone we go down the dark steps into the Minotaurs maze to face the beast following the instructions of the Maze’s architect, Daedalus: “go forwards, always down, never left or right.”
The temptation to deviate from the path, to use spiritual bypassing, to disappear into the hazy malaise of politics, to placate ourselves with psychobabble and trite aphorisms and to tell ourselves we are “doing shadow work” whilst merely lighting sweet scented candles and writing affirmations on pink paper will be great indeed.
The way to know you are facing the unconscious? Probably through cycles of discomfort and distress where you question who and even what you are followed by periods of real, authentic progress and thriving in your life.
Healing is cyclical, spiral and fractal rather than linear in its procession.
You will know you are really individuating with the growing sense that, without any conscious effort on your part, things are finally beginning to fall into place. A sense of peace and of unaffected authenticity. A tendency towards being more boundaried, courageous and of making good decisions that benefit the self and the tribe around you in lasting ways.
There will also be an enduring sense of having “made allies with the dark”.
In that darkness, and the integration of it, is tremendous power. Many of the things we fearfully and neurotically try to attain externally are cheap copies, mere simulacra for the traits and abilities and prized gifts we really wish to integrate internally.
In Greek Mythology the God of Darkness is Erebus. He was the first God, born of Chaos itself. All other Gods are born of him through his union with Nyx, the Goddess of Night.
Please indulge me in proposing that the proper approach to this process is to not think of the unconscious as evil or to think of darkness as a fearful place. Its what we were born from and through and its to where we will return. We were born of darkness, we live with darkness within us and we need that darkness to keep living. We sleep in the quiet Yin space of a dark cave every night which could be said to be a little death and a tumble into that dark place we fear so much when awake and into the unconscious through dreams.
We do it every day. We die a little, we sleep a little, we go into the Minotaurs maze and return to the sunlight reborn and refreshed every “day”. That is what defines a “day” as a meaningful unit of time: a small cycle of death/rebirth.
If we want to see real progress in ourselves as individuals and as a collective we need to willingly shine a light onto the unconscious and we need to, just as willingly, go down into that darkness, however frightening it may be, trusting that it is a natural part of our growth as individuals and as a species.