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Thursday, November 01, 2007

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The Candle Inside



My kids wore regular street clothes to school today for Hallowe'en. Their schools all celebrate the holiday with parties, and visits to the pumpkin patch, and little cellophane baggies containing unholy amounts of corn syrup solids, but they don't permit costumes. You might assume it has something to do with living in the Bible belt, or the fact that they attend religious schools, but as it happens, the only school that ever let them dress up was a Baptist preschool, and the local public schools ban costumes in the classrooms as well.

When I've asked about it, I've been told that it's too unmanageable & chaotic to have kids in costumes. I don't buy it. I have a hard time imagining a situation more unmanageable & chaotic than last year's second grade rave Valentine's Day party. Besides, Hallowe'en is about giving vent to the unmanageable and chaotic. It's a nod to our dark side; what they used to call paying the devil his due. Hallowe'en started out as a pagan protection racket.

It was also psychologically sound. As I've mentioned here & there, I practice & teach Jungian-oriented dreamwork on a non-professional basis. Dreams are clips from the hi-def, wide-screen version of who we are. The Director's cut. Our ego goes through waking life, thoroughly convinced it's got the corner on our truth. Dreams subvert that. Dreams are the underground.

In the course of talking to groups about dreams, I have to do a lot of talking about Shadow. Because one of the chief things that dreams are concerned with is trying to coax us to shine a light into the hidden corners of our psyche. If we can't be enticed there, it may jump out and grab us by the throat. Welcome to your nightmare.

Shadow is all the stuff we disown about ourselves, as individuals, or as families, or as entire cultures. It's all the traits, instincts, tendencies, knowledge that we are not allowed to have. Whatever follows "Well, I never...", there's your shadow. Some shadow aspects are repressed for good reason. Hopefully you got the message at an early age that it wasn't acceptable for you to beat somebody senseless because you wanted to play with their toy. Into the shadows that impulse goes. But if you try & kid yourself that the capacity for violence or greed is something that resides in other people, not in you, well, it will leak out somewhere, onto somebody. And, oh boy, will it stink.

A person who says, I never hate, might be sitting on a powder-keg of repressed rage. The person who froths at the mouth against homosexuality might be a closeted gay. The person who is obsessed with the ineptitude of a leader might be insecure about their own authority. You know it's shadow by the intensity of the feeling, by the way the person or issue seems to hook you.

"Think of someone who just flips your switch the minute they open their mouths," I tell my groups. "Write down some of the things that drive you crazy about that person." Even the person who says they never hate doesn't get stuck on this one.

"Now look at that list, and try to consider that those traits exist, in some measure, in you. And then try & think what could possibly be some positive aspects of them." It's usually a pretty big stretch. It's hard and it's scary.

It helps some people to begin with a prayer. There's a beautiful ecumenical one I use often, written by George Appleton. It begins, Give me a candle of the Spirit, O God, as I go down into the deep of my being. Show me the hidden things. Tell me my nature, and my name.

I love that prayer because it reminds me that it's not a descent into a septic tank we're making. Yes, there is darkness, and things that have festered or gone stale. But there's also treasure.

"Now think of someone you who flips your switch in a good way," I instruct them next. "Someone you practically worship. Maybe it's a movie star, or maybe it's your co-worker. When you see this person, when you are near them, you just feel more alive."

I make them do the same list of traits that evoke those strong feelings. Then I ask them, again, to consider that they are looking at their own hidden charms, gifts, & potential. Also their shadow. For some reason, this is even harder to accept.

Someone I read along the way wrote that enculturation is a process of levelizing. Tall-poppy syndrome, Australians call it. Getting above your raisin', they say here in the South. It's asking good people one thing to own their demons; it's asking them something else again to claim that which shines.

Long before it became part of the movie trailer for Akeelah & the Bee, I loved this passage from Marianne Williamson's book, A Woman's Worth:
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. it is light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?"

Okay, but easier said than done.

Statements like that, however wise & inspired, can only take you so far. Consciousness is limited in what it can contain, intellect in what it can apprehend. The self-help movement fails because it gives people insight without action. People become just enlightened enough to beat themselves up with how broken they are and how they can't seem to move forward. They've gone into the deep without a candle.

Our twenty-first century minds would sometimes love to think they've left behind our old need to physically engage the unconscious with ritual and play, but ritual can be the enzyme that helps us absorb what our minds can't fully digest. Dressing up for Hallowe'en is too unmanageable & chaotic for some, too silly or uncomfortable for others. It's okay. It doesn't have to be your cup of tea. But it shouldn't be reduced to candy & themed t-shirts for everyone. Because dressing up is the whole point; the one time of the year we are permitted to openly reach out toward the parts of ourselves we most fear and most long to be.

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8 Comments:

Blogger Geoff Meeker said...

Wow... very provocative. I can't say that I agree with everything you say, but I admire how you just put it out there... and, as always, your eloquence in doing so.

5:33 AM  
Blogger jen lemen said...

oh, this is good. thanks for staying up til the last bit of light got a chance to shine. :) xoxo

7:52 AM  
Blogger Maddie said...

Hmm, I'm really going to have to think about this one. I was especially intrigued by your last statement regarding our Hallowe'en costumes representing those "parts of ourselves we most fear and most long to be." I went as a Scottish Warrior Queen this year--yes, I dress up every year--and indeed, the traits of a warrior queen are aspects I both long for more of and fear in myself. Trick or treat, to be sure.

By the way, I told Maddie you were a writer and a poet. If you have a few moments to go to her blog, which you can get to by clicking my username, she'd love a comment or two. They don't even have to be completely positive. She enjoys getting constructive criticism from people she considers experts!

10:01 AM  
Blogger Marie said...

I love reading especially when you make me think like this... I had a crush on Jung in high school and find it interesting and helpful to contemplate archetypes in everyday life. You've motivated me to spend more time thinking about a recent vivid dream, one of those that is so interesting that it keeping going on and mutating into new aspects... I'd forgotten that you do dream work! Very cool. And here I've been trying to help international students understand the American phenomenon of halloween and why it still appeals to both children and adults.

Thanks for prodding my brains into new directions...

3:52 PM  
Blogger lenniekat said...

Hmm... maybe the fact that I never dress up for Halloween speaks to the very things you mention about fear of brilliance, the dark side, the unclaimed traits... or maybe I'm just too damn busy every October. A Halloween party for the grown-ups would be incentive to tap into that corner, wouldn't it?

7:54 PM  
Blogger Mocha said...

I hate to oversimplify, but the part of that Williamson quote that I adore the most (and it gave me chills the first time I heard it) was "who are you not to be?" because it spoke so loudly to me that I knew I could do that. I could be brilliant or fabulous if I wanted and then came a little voice that said, "But that's what you've been wanting. Others have wanted and gotten. Want. Then, get."

Your words hit me square in the eye just now, too: But if you try & kid yourself that the capacity for violence or greed is something that resides in other people, not in you, well, it will leak out somewhere, onto somebody.

That should be a large, matted poster in my office. Beautiful.

9:29 PM  
Blogger bluebird of paradise said...

the prayer in here is so perfect, too perfect to have been human. it is divine ...just as your writing is.........

by the way at the post office today the mail carrier told me she loves your blog......

4:48 PM  
Blogger K said...

Brilliant post. Maybe I should dress up in a costume the next time I have to visit my family? : )

And now I'm wondering about the deep meaning behind my decision to dress up as a Boston Red Sox player for this year's Halloween. Hmmmm...

1:36 PM  

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