A rambling post about the shadow side

Johnnie Moore

I’m Johnnie Moore, and I help people work better together

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Here in Cable Bay the brilliant winter sunshine of the past few days has been replaced by blustery cloudy weather. It might be my fault for picking up my friend’s copy of a book called Meeting the Shadow.

FYI, the wikipdedia explanation of the shadow, as conceived by Jung, is here.

I feel pretty ambivalent writing a post about Shadow work, not least because hey, this is not what someone on holiday should be seen as doing is it? Also, because I think the whole notion of the shadow sometimes seems to lead to rather spooky and mystical new-age-at-its-worst conversations. On top of that, there’s only such much of the Jungian world view I can take before needing to go for a swim to get away from the headiness of it all.

(I wonder if it would be more helpful to think of the shade rather than the shadow, to get away from the polarities of light and shadow. That might create more space for embracing more of our experience.)

Some of the best essays in the book are the ones showing how many gurus and cults create darkness by apparently evangelising the light. The search for purity leads to the repression and denial of our less admirable qualities, so that they are become hidden and split off rather than dealt with. The book predates the War on Terror, but I’d cite that as pretty good example of the concept of a disowned shadow being projected out onto the world.

Anyway, the essay I’ve just read is by W Brugh Joy and tells of his experience at the Findhorn community. He gives a talk in which he voices some concerns and fears about what he sees there. This provokes a massive backlash which stigmatises him as some kind of power-obsessed American. It sounds like people just dumped a whole lot of rage on him, and he recounts how he managed to sit there and not defend himself but frame it as healthy vent for the community.

This struck a chord with me as I’ve occasionally found myself having to do the same in my day job as a facilitator. I remember one particular occasion where I tried to facilitate a discussion on branding in an organisation. It was one of those gigs where you realise you’ve walked into a minefield of suspicion and distrust. You make a few inadvertent remarks and realise that you’re no longer the facilitator of your imagination, but the blundering interfering consultant of the group’s. Your offhand remark is actually the last straw on the camel’s back. And as an outsider, you offer a much safer target for people’s wrath than the real powers that be in the organisation.

I remember taking a lunch break and realising that this was one of those days when my job was probably to go down in flames so the group could vent its anger and reunite – ostensibly on getting the task done despite my ineptitude. Which they did, quite satisfactorily I think. They got to be angry without having to challenge the authority of management. You could argue that this wasn’t very authentic or rational, but I’d say it got the job done and led to useful progress. For me, it was good practice at getting out of the way, but not the sort of thing that gets repeat business.

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