Embracing the dark side
You remember the famous Star Wars scene.
Luke Skywalker has traveled to Dagobah to train with the ancient Jedi master Yoda.
“Brought you here, the galaxy has,” Yoda says. “Your path, clearly, this is.”
“You know what I’m looking for,” Luke responds.
Yoda muses, “Something lost. A part of yourself, perhaps. That which you seek, inside, you will find.”
During their training they come across a dark and foreboding cave.
“That place,” Yoda tells Luke, “is strong with the dark side of the Force. A domain of evil it is. In you must go.”
“What’s in there?” Luke asks.
Yoda responds, “Only what you take with you.”
As Luke begins to venture into the cave, Yoda says, “Your weapons, you will not need them.”
Luke ignores him and straps on his lightsaber and blaster. (This is a critical detail, which we’ll revisit later.)
As Luke enters the cave, suddenly, Darth Vader appears and attacks him. Luke grabs his lightsaber and cuts Vader’s head off.
Vader’s masked head falls off and rolls on the ground. As Luke stares at the mask, it disintegrates and reveals his own face.
Luke has been shown his worst fear: that he, too, carries the dark side inside him, just like Vader.
In this scene we find embedded some of the most critical and profound truths we need to get unstuck, conquer our fears, heal our deepest wounds, and find inner peace and lasting happiness.
Entering the terrifying cave in our psyche
Each one of us has our own Dagobah cave, into which we must venture to find the deepest, darkest, most painful truth about ourselves.
“…both because it tends to consist predominantly of the primitive, negative, socially or religiously depreciated human emotions and impulses like sexual lust, power strivings, selfishness, greed, envy, anger or rage, and due to its unenlightened nature, completely obscured from consciousness.”
It’s obscured from consciousness because we disown and repress it. We are subconsciously terrified to admit the things about ourselves that we deem evil, inferior, or unacceptable.
Entering the cave of the shadow is the single most terrifying, difficult, and painful task we can ever take on as human beings. And therefore, it is the most rewarding.
As mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote,
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.”
The rewards of bringing the shadow to light and accepting it fully are incalculable: self-awareness, self-acceptance, emotional healing, inner peace — the most fundamental things we all seek.
So how can we identify the shadow and deal with it effectively to find these treasures? Three steps:
1. Recognize the shadow
Step one is to recognize the various ways in which the shadow manifests itself, which include, but are not limited to, the following:
Projection (our criticisms of others)
“Projection” is a psychological term meaning to see in other people the things we don’t like about ourselves. For example, a person who habitually lies may constantly accuse other people of being untrustworthy.
As Carl Jung said,
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
(Yoda was referring to projection when he told Luke the cave holds “Only what you take with you.”)
Emotional triggers, reactivity, taking things personally
Someone says or does something and we feel deeply triggered emotionally. We feel personally attacked. We react in anger.
In cases like this, we can know with certainty that the shadow is in play. As spiritual teacher Colin Tipping explains,
“…you can think of people in your life who have ‘pushed your buttons,’ and recognize that they were mirroring something in you that you may have denied, repressed, or projected onto them.”
“Us” versus “them” (creating enemies)
All “us” versus “them” attitudes are functions of the shadow. This is particularly prevalent in politics. Conservatives make liberals their enemies, and vice versa.
We create enemies when we can’t bear to admit that the things we don’t like about our enemies are in us.
Self-righteously judging, pointing fingers, and preaching down to others is classic shadow evidence.
Making the same mistakes over and over again
When we make the same mistakes repeatedly, our shadow conditioning is running the show.
This is made particularly obvious by addictive behaviors. When we turn to our drugs of choice, subconsciously we’re trying to fulfill unmet needs. We turn to the drugs, instead of actually meeting the needs, because the shadow is governing our behavior.
We often put on “positivity blinders” in order to stifle negative emotions. We think feeling negative emotions is somehow wrong, bad, or undesirable.
When we refuse to admit the truth about ourselves and our experiences, this is an inherently shaming process.
The truth is that there’s no such thing as “negative emotions.” Emotions simply are. What’s important is what we do with our emotions.
The feeling of anger itself is not wrong; engaging in road rage because we’re angry is where it becomes a problem.
Refusing to admit mistakes
When we won’t admit our mistakes or acknowledge how we’ve hurt others, our shame is in the dark. We refuse to take accountability because we can’t bear to feel like we’re being blamed.
2. Accept the shadow
Once we’ve gained an awareness of what the shadow is and how it operates, the next step is to simply acknowledge and accept when it’s in play.
Every time we get triggered or reactive, every time we catch ourselves criticizing someone, every time we find ourselves pointing a finger of judgment or blame, we simply admit to ourselves, “That’s my shadow. There must be something in me that I’m not yet aware of.”
With that admission, we’re empowered to turn inward and fix ourselves, rather than incessantly trying to blame and fix everyone else.
3. Embrace and love the shadow
There are two critical points to understand about our shadow triggers. They are the things within us that:
- we haven’t recognized and/or acknowledged,
- AND, the things about ourselves that we haven’t yet learned to love.
The only way to deal with the shadow effectively is to accept, embrace, and love it.
This is precisely why Yoda told Luke he wouldn’t need any weapons in the cave. He was trying to tell Luke not to fight against the shadow.
As he explained it, anger, fear, and aggression are the dark side. Fighting against the dark side of the shadow ironically turns us to the dark side.
Unfortunately, many religious and cultural traditions have implicitly taught us to fight against our shadow. To overcome our flaws and recurring mistakes, we try to shame and berate ourselves into submission. We turn everything into a battle.
This we must not do. Resistance only strengthens the shadow.
When Luke asks how we can know when he’s using the Force, Yoda responded, “You will know. When you are calm, at peace…”
We become calm and at peace through self-acceptance and self-compassion. We see the worst in ourselves, and we accept and love it unconditionally.
And as we become at peace within ourselves, we’re able to magnify our compassion and kindness for others. As writer Debbie Ford said,
“Embracing our dark side gives us a newfound freedom to be with the darkness in others. For when I can love all of me, I will love all of you.”
Facing our worst fear
Just as Luke Skywalker’s greatest fear was that he carried Vader’s dark side within him, so is it true for us: We carry within us the worst things we see in and hate about others.
As long as we hate others and ourselves for our shadow aspects, we will never find inner peace or lasting joy. We will be stuck in blame and victim mode, trapped in the undertow of the shadow.
As Carl Jung said,
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
We must enter the cave of our shadow — without weapons — and learn to love what we find in our darkest parts.
If you feel ready to begin your shadow work, start by listening to the audio program “Knowing Your Shadow: Becoming Intimate With all that You Are” by renowned psychotherapist Robert Augustus Masters.
This program is, in a word, phenomenal. It’s one of the most comprehensive discussions on the shadow you’ll find anywhere. It is profoundly enlightening and healing.
If you’re tired of being stuck, of repeating the same mistakes over and over, of blame and shame, then don’t hesitate. Get the audio program now.