From the Shadow Side of My Bookshelf

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That’s the side I never look at. The side scarcely touched by my superficial housework. Where the dust is.

This week, I stuck the duster behind the books, though I didn’t bother to pull them out, and I encountered a slender volume that had shifted into the shadow side. I’ve always believed that if a book literally, physically jumps out at me, I may need to read it. This one had ducked back and hidden from me. I pulled it out. It was Jungian psychologist Robert Bly’s A Little Book on the Human Shadow. I’m Jungian enough to appreciate synchronicity. shadow3

I opened it at random and found a chapter that’s an interview with Bly and his editor William Booth. It starts with Booth asking Bly how some ordinary person, a hypothetical woman in a small town in Minnesota without access to a Jungian therapist, might find her shadow. (The shadow, by the way, isn’t necessarily the bad side of the mind, it’s the unacknowledged side, the aspects of ourselves that we have, in Bly’s imagery, stuffed into a bag we carry around on our backs.) In his answer, Bly suggests that this hypothetical ordinary person look where her attention is drawn. Does she tend to think too much about a member of her community that she sees as sexually loose and immoral? Does she find herself obsessing on a member of her PTA who she thinks is fake and dishonest? If these other two women dominate her attention, her shadow may be calling her to look at her own sexuality and at her own level of sincerity and honesty.

In essence, Bly says, to find your shadow, look at what you hate.

That’s different from what you disagree with. It’s quite possible—more so face to face than in social media conversations—to disagree without hatred. I find it valuable to talk with people with whom I disagree so we can stay in a constructive relationship. But I hate yappy dogs that won’t shut up. I’m an extravert, a talker, and I’m persistent as heck. Maybe I need to acknowledge my inner yappy dog. The other day during my outdoor yoga practice between the tennis courts and the college president’s house, the president’s dog objected to my presence exactly at the time I was ready to practice savasana. Deep relaxation. Quietness. What could I do? I focused on the spaces between the barks. Maybe I can do this with my own yapping thoughts. My tendency to object to things.

Back to the book. Bly chose Abraham Lincoln as an example of a well-known person who seemed to have incorporated rather than rejected his shadow. I agree. One thing I admire about Lincoln is how he handled anger. He would write his “hot” letter to the person he was angry with, then put it in a desk drawer. A few days later or whenever he felt calmer and could think more clearly, he would communicate rationally with the individual, never sending the angry letter. He felt anger and expressed it, but processed its meaning rather than lashing out. That’s my reason he seems integrated. Bly gives the illustration of Lincoln’s sense of humor, his ability to laugh at himself and not take offense.

A woman meeting Lincoln on a train told him that he was the ugliest man she had ever set eyes on. Lincoln asked her, “What do you suggest I do about it?” She said, “You could stay home.” He liked her answer and enjoyed telling the story.

The shadow, once explored, might be a source of lightness, or of strength, peace, or beauty.shadow_of_a_dune_in_death_valley

 

 

Image: Shadow of a dune in Death Valley by Brocken Inaglory

Spider Old Woman, Part Two

A synchronicity isn’t just a coincidence. It’s one that means something to the person to whom it happens. My synchronicity story is about a Spider Old Woman story.

Quite a few years ago, I was in a relationship with a man who denied that he was keeping secrets from me, secrets that were unhealthy for our relationship, but the evidence added up and I broke off with him. A few months later he got in touch and persuaded me that I had misunderstood what was going on. I had planned to drop him from my life and move home to New Mexico, but I chose to disregard my intuition and judgment and trusted his words instead. I still moved, but we had an unexpected reunion the day before I left. After his visit, I sat on my back porch in rural Virginia gazing out into the woods, and the herd of deer I had come to know as my closest neighbors came into view. I was stunned to see an unfamiliar animal among them. At first I thought it was a horse, though it made no sense for one to be in the woods—but it was a white deer, gazing directly at me. It felt miraculous, a sign of some kind.

On my way out of town early the next day I stopped by my landlady’s antique shop to drop off the key to the house and she had a sculpture of a white deer on display in the window. The message seemed to be begging for my attention. I was sure it had to do with this man, and since the deer was so beautiful, I took it as a positive message that I’d done the right thing.

I stayed in touch with him while I lived in Santa Fe, but we didn’t see each other until another change of jobs brought me back East, this time to Northeastern North Carolina. Shortly after we had our reunion number two, I went to the Meherrin tribe’s powwow where I bought the book, Spider Woman’s Web. In it, I found the story, The Woman Who Kept Secrets. My short retelling below doesn’t do justice to it, but you can get the message—and then read the book.

A long time ago, on one of the ancient Pueblos, there was a woman who waited until all her friends had married before she would commit, and only when she was lonely did she finally agreed to marry a young man who loved her, though she didn’t love him. He was kind, and for a short whole they were happy enough, but then she became restless. Sometimes he woke at night and discovered that she was gone. One night—though she claimed he must have dreamed her absences—he decided to find out where she went. He pretended to be asleep, but once she’d gone far enough from their home, he followed her by moonlight and came to kiva outside the pueblo. (A kiva is a ceremonial underground chamber) He peered in and saw a strange ceremony going on.

Some versions of the story have a shape-shifting shaman in this scene, an act of possible witchcraft; other versions have people misusing the sacred chamber by coupling with partners other than their spouses. The man was discovered and thought he might be hurt or killed, but instead he was invited in. His wife sat beside him and assured him all was well, better than it seemed, and he fell asleep with his head in her lap. When he woke up, he was on a narrow ledge on a cliff, hungry and thirsty and alone. His wife and another man were on the far side of the canyon on another cliff. They threw roasted corn to him, but if he moved to catch it and eat it he would fall. He had to avoid snakes, too, so he held very still. He lost consciousness and woke again, this time in the home of Spider Old Woman. She gave him medicine, an ointment to rub on his wife’s shoulders, which she promised would solve the problems in their marriage.

That night as the man and his wife lay together he rubbed the ointment on her shoulders. To his surprise, she became agitated and got up and went outdoors. He followed her. She began to pace, looking wildly about, and then her body started changing. Her legs, her torso and then finally her face became those of a white deer. The deer gazed at him for a moment with tears in its eyes, and then joined a herd of other deer and ran off. He never saw her again, and he got on with his life.

In my new home in North Carolina, I encountered another white deer, this one grazing with its brown herd-mates in the field behind my house. I’m not the only person ever to see a white deer—Northeastern North Carolina has a few of them—but for me, they carried a message. I had been right the first time. I needed to send this man out of my life for good, and I did. He was the man who kept secrets. The white deer.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/528968.Spider_Woman_s_Web