The Shadow Self
“And one of the elders of the city said, ‘Speak to us of good and evil.’ And he answered: ‘You are good in countless ways, and you are not evil when you are not good.’ ” — Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
One evening, an elderly Cherokee brave told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. “My dear one, the battle between two ‘wolves’ is inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego. The other is good. It is: joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.” The grandson thought about it for a moment and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?” The old Cherokee replied, “The one you feed.”
The tale of the two wolves portrays the good and evil that lives within us, represented by the conscious and the unconscious desire of man.
If we are unconscious of our thoughts, we are at the mercy of feeding the evil wolf.
Our unconscious thoughts are the unresolved or repressed parts of our psyche. The evil wolf asserts its power when we least expect it, because it is hidden from view.
I’m aware of this darkness when a driver abruptly cuts me off in traffic and my ego is threatened. I react in a fit of simmering confrontation, believing I have been wronged. It is upon reflection, I recognise this as an unconscious anger seeking to protect itself.
The ego strives to assert its will to protect and strengthen itself and so we fall prey to its needs.
David Richo, Ph.D., psychotherapist and teacher states, “Our ego was never meant to die, only to be tamed so that its wild energies could be put to better use.”
To mitigate acting out our unconscious desires, we become mindful of our thoughts instead of numb to them. We witness them with openness and tenderness instead of with binding judgement.
Similarly, the shadow self comprises the unknown dark side of our personality. To disown the dark side means going to war with ourselves. Yet, to accept ourselves as whole is to embody our strengths and limitations — our shadow self.
This can be seen in the Yin Yang symbol represented by the two halves that together complete wholeness.
Therefore, what we feed gives rise to goodness or the collapse of character.
A False Persona
“Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man.” — Anthony Burgess
It was Frank Outlaw who said, “Watch your thoughts. They become words. Watch your words. They become deeds. Watch your deeds. They become habits. Watch your habits. They become character. Character is everything.”
We may not realise we are reinforcing the ego’s grip until it grows in intensity, overshadowing our personality. Like a double-edged sword, what we feed is what we co-exist with.
So, how can we stop feeding the fear and anger within?
Without being aware, we confer power to our dark side when we identify with disempowering states. Through a false persona we form an archetype where darkness prevails.
If you walk into a pitch-black room without light, you assume darkness is all that exists. Yet, when a light is switched on, you perceive it instantly instead of the darkness.
The answer lies in knowing darkness is simply the absence of light.
“Experience anger or fear or shock for what they are. But you don’t have to think of them as evil — as intrinsically bad, as needing to be destroyed or driven from our midst. On the contrary, they need to be absorbed, healed, made whole,” states author Steve Hagen in Buddhism is Not What You Think: Finding Freedom Beyond Beliefs.
How do we recognise our inner radiance?
It is the loving aspect of our being, imbued with openness that infuses our hearts and mind.
“When the Buddha found enlightenment, the demons felt consternation at the prospect of so much light coming into the world. This is the archetype of the combination of opposites: Light arouses shadow and shadow arouses light. Goodness is attacked by evil forces, and forces of goodness battle forces of darkness,” affirms David Richo in The Five Things We Cannot Change: And the Happiness We Find by Embracing Them
Nurture The Goodness Within
“The chief beginning of evil is goodness in excess.” — Menander
I recall on one occasion during meditation, drawing my awareness to this inner presence. I later explained to a friend, “I felt I was going deep into my being and I loved what was there.”
In contrast, if we feed the evil within, it grows in intensity since we give it life. Yet, perpetuating evil cannot be maintained because the grim shadow leads to our self-destruction.
Thus, by integrating our shadow into the wholeness of our being, we are called home to where we belong.
I am drawn to Lama Surya Das’ message, “To realize how karma works through insight into its actual mechanics is to become master rather than victim of our fate, and to realize freedom from and even autonomy within causes, circumstances, and conditions. That is why Buddha said, ‘No one can make me angry unless I have it inside.’ ”
In keeping with Lama Surya Das’ statement, we have the power to choose our path and not be victim to our inner demons.
We examine whether our beliefs are useful to help us let go of the negative karma of the past. How do we know if they serve us?
Look to your external world to see life expressing your beliefs or opposing them. Do they create fulfilment and enrich your life, or keep you hostage?
The narrative of the two wolves highlights the division inside us, vying for our attention.
We can feed harmony and joy or light the flame of resentment and false pride.
It was author of The Celestine Prophecy, James Redfield who said, “Where Attention goes, Energy flows; Where Intention goes, Energy flows.”
It is with this intention we direct our focus to nurture the goodness within. Like returning home, our soul calls us to find wholeness instead of remain alienated by the fog of separation.