I once attended a drawing class. It was a dismal event, as I struggled to draw the dappled pear that we had been given. But I was writing a novel about an artist, and I hoped that if I opted for full immersion for a couple of hours a week, I might glean some insight. And I did. Not talent, that’s for sure. But some unexpected perspectives. One of them came while scratching away at my awkward doodle. I came to understand that if I didn’t pencil in any shadow, the pear would appear flat. It was by shading beneath its contours that it had dimension. That it came to life. And I pondered if it might be the same for us? Perhaps without shadow, we’re a bit two dimensional? After the class I scribbled in a jotter, Maybe it is our dark side, with its memories, its secrets and its shadows that ultimately defines us.
I have been fascinated by the notion of shadow since then. For a while, I actively pursued Jungian shadow work with a therapist. I taught myself to dig in dark corners as on ongoing practice, a bit like flossing your teeth. I took my shadow to be those parts of myself I do not like, the blind spots, the shameful, the dark. I associated the shadow with what was wrong and bad about myself.
So it came as a shaft of light to hear John van der Steur, author of the book, The Power of Polarities: An Innovative Method to Transform Individuals, Teams and Organizations, suggest that the shadow is where God lives. It is our access to Divinity.
We were speaking about his upcoming course on Jungian Typology, hosted by the Jung Platform in March 2020. John van der Steur is interested in helping people achieve what Jung calls Individuation – the process of developing consciousness by accessing the unconscious. According to Jung, it is only from the tension of opposites that we grow. Based on this premise, John has expanded the Jungian notion of Typology, and the Shadow to grow his work, mainly with organizations and teams.
Jung’s typology refers to the polarities of Extroversion and Introversion, Thinking and Feeling, and Intuition and Sensation. These are seen as the functions of Consciousness. But it is integration with the unconscious that Jung believes creates wholeness. ‘If you wish to individuate,’ says John, ‘you need to focus on the spine of the personality, which is the relationship between dominant and inferior function. The inferior function, or the shadow, is the God function, the way that mystery and spirit enter your life.’
The God function? Mystery and spirit? That got my attention.
‘The thing about the inferior function, or the shadow, is that you cannot develop it. It develops you. It will bring you certain challenges, and you cannot help but go with them, or you will impede your psychological development and become neurotic. The job of the ego, is to explore your shadow, and ask “How can I let this energy into my life in a way that is positive, that will enhance mankind and not destroy it?”
‘It’s not easy,’ explains John. ‘It’s often the thing you find hard, tedious, painful and boring. For instance, I’m an extrovert. And although I find my Introversion tough, it has been very good to me, even essential in meeting life’s challenges.’
Extroverts work best in the outer world. They feel most alive when they interact with others. ‘In spite of that, it is my Introversion that recharges me,’ he says. ‘To allow that to manifest, I have to consciously physically withdraw from the world and check in to a Zen retreat, or something like that, for a week. And as you can imagine, writing my book was pure hell!’
I mention my own Introverted nature. I tend towards reclusion, hypersensitivity. I default to being on my own. ‘And yet,’ says John, ‘your Thinking function will be strongest, most alive and most helpful to you when you interact with others.’ I reflect on my teaching at the university. It explains why my small classes often feel like meditation for me.
‘That’s an example of your inferior function guiding you to an area where your thinking function develops you,’ he explains.
Every polarity has a purpose. For instance, the purpose of the Intuition /Sensation dance, is to bring new ideas into the world, and the purpose of the Thinking/Feeling polarity is to develop something that is technically sound and beautiful, that appeals to the head and the heart.
But I’m still stuck on my previous understanding of the Shadow.
‘Back to the Shadow,’ I revert. ‘Are you saying that God lives in dark places?’
‘I’m saying that both poles of a polarity are true, and have a place. Just as there is a time for day and a time for night. Perpetual daylight would mean a scorched earth, perpetual darkness would mean nothing would grow. The two require dynamic interaction for life on earth to flourish. The illusion of power happens when we think one side is good and the other is bad. Or that one side is right or wrong or strong or weak. If one side tries to manifest at the cost of the other, you implode, you become neurotic. The polarities need to exist in a dynamic interaction, as you find in nature.’
After the conversation, I revert to my introverted rituals, my journal and my pen, to tease my thoughts on this out on to the page. But this time, I choose to do so in a coffee shop full of people, where I tend to work best. I find that exploring my polarities, and considering the balance that they seek, is more interesting, creative and productive than judging my dark side. It invites my shadow to surprise me. It is an invitation in itself.
To sign up for John van der Steur’s evolutionary course on Typology, hosted by the Jung Platform, click here.
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Susan MannResident Blogger
Susan is a writer and a teacher. Her interest in Jung and post Jungian work has grown out of a love for mythology, dreams and the imagination, as well as a fascination for the creative possibilities that exist within the shadow.More Posts by Susan Mann