I’m starting with this quotation of Friedrich Nietzsche from his book, Thus Spake Zarathustra, to make an important point about our self-discovery, which is invaluable for our evolution. In fact, it’s essential.
We need to see the reality of our selves in order to make real progress in our evolution and in our own happiness. Happiness is the secondary goal – evolution is the first. Happiness is a good guide however, for being on a path of evolution.
The world is full of joy and happiness. But pain is everywhere too.
Aboriginal communities in Canada are hit hard by suicide and nothing is more tragic than when it strikes young people. In some places it can be considered an epidemic.
Recently it was reported that there are strangers on social media who are taunting some of these kids at risk to actually carry out their suicide plans. Many kids use Facebook as a diary, so they expose their raw emotions to these strangers who occasionally act so cruelly.
It’s easy to be horrified at this. But we can profit if we step back from our own knee-jerk reaction and look more deeply. There is one word to describe this situation – pain. People who carry out suicide must feel great pain, coupled with the lack of hope that deliverance is possible. These people require compassion and help to show them that their present situation is temporary and hope for real change is possible.
Not every such person in this pain and hopelessness can be reached, but what are we to think of people who would encourage such emotionally fragile people to carry out what has been called a permanent solution for a temporary problem? It’s easy to react with disgust and anger towards such people who seem so insensitive to others in such pain.
What could lead a person to act in this way to another human being in so much pain? I think it’s clear that these people encouraging suicide of others are in profound pain as well.
Carl Jung speaks of the shadow and of projection. The shadow is our unconscious – the part of us where we keep our darkest fears and attitudes hidden from ourselves – from our conscious mind and ego. At the unconscious level we have these characteristics, but we dare not face them as belonging to our self. So we see them in others by projecting aspects of our shadow.
This now leads us again to Nietzsche’s words.
“Let us speak of this, you wise ones, even though it be hard. To be silent is worse; all suppressed truths become poisonous.”
Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Friedrich Nietzsche
These truths about our self are suppressed, but they affect us. It is impossible for them not to do so. They poison us – not so much because we have these disturbing thoughts and emotions, but because they are supressed and denied. They remain trapped in the unconscious, and they do poison us because they have profound effects on our thoughts and actions regardless, and they encourage us to project these ideas on to other people. This helps us to continue to deny their relevance to our own life and the projection damages our relationships with other people. It builds barriers between us and the other, whom we condemn through these projections. Barriers are anti-evolutionary by closing peoples’ minds and hearts.
I see that the people encouraging a young person to take his or her life are almost certainly dealing with their own suicidal thoughts and pain, but largely, or entirely, in their shadow. They may be (for now) stoically carrying on with grim determination to live, despite their pain. They may see these young people baring their souls online as weak and are reacting to that as well, because they themselves are feeling weak. They could be just holding it together. Lashing out at these vulnerable people can be a temporary salve allowing them to focus their pain and condemnation on the other, rather than facing it in themselves.
It’s easy now for us, in turn, to condemn these people. But in doing so, we are projecting our own unconscious fears and thoughts on these people whom we are seeing as so cruel. To be sure, these people are acting cruelly, but what of us who in turn condemn the condemners?
We are all suppressing truth within our unconscious – within our shadow. And we work to relieve our discomfort by projecting those ideas and feelings outward, making it easier for us to ignore this shadow-land within. The shadow-land is not to be ignored, but has to be made conscious for our evolution and the growth that comes from awareness.
Recognizing our strong feelings of condemnation of the other, is a gift for our expansion. It opens us to the possibility of exploring ourselves, because we are so often condemning in others what we condemn in ourselves. It’s so interesting to see that dynamic in people we know. A father and son can be estranged, yet on the outside we can clearly see that they are both stubborn or judgemental or insensitive – you name it. Their mutual and related shadows reinforce their animosity as they project to condemn the other. You can listen for years as they each attack each other, never recognizing their own inner reality, which could lead to healing. Projection serves to freeze the patterns of thoughts and behaviours making the healing, that deep down both so desire, impossible.
In my own life I have seen this with one of my brothers. No one can make me as angry as my brother, but I now see that I am most upset by those aspects of my brother that I can now recognize in myself. And naturally these are aspects of myself that I have denied and condemned. Staying in the shadow, they will remain as poison to me, but by becoming conscious of them, I can begin to alter my relationship with those parts of myself that cannot be denied. Now the possibility exists to move beyond the limitations imposed by these formerly unconscious aspects of myself.
This all takes work – continual work, but the momentum becomes easier to sustain. I find that I am slower to condemn other people, because when it starts, I look inward to face the real source of that condemnation. It lies not in the other, but within me. And I can only evolve myself – its more than enough work for a lifetime. Condemnation of the other is simply an egregious waste of time and energy. Most tragically, the potential for your own peace and evolution is lost… until you look deeply into your shadow. The unconscious is an incalculably valuable source of wisdom and growth for our being. Above all, Carl Jung explored and showed us this. It was one of his many contributions to psychology and to our evolution, but in many ways the notion is central to his massive body of work.
Face your shadow, and evolve on.