It is a delicate dance to write about Unity’s shadow, but it is a dance I have agreed to do.
As Unity ministers, people, congregants, and students we usually place our focus on the Light. It’s hard to even imagine we have a shadow—but we do. Twentieth Century Swiss psychiatrist and Freud’s protégé Carl Jung is quoted as saying, “We all have a shadow, that everything substantial casts a shadow.” Our Unity movement is substantial and as a result we too cast a shadow.
Although, as Unity people of the Light, it is difficult to entertain the idea that we have a shadow, let alone how it might show up in our personal and collective lives, or in our spiritual centers and movement.
Shadow as Archetype
Carl Jung went on to further enhance and develop Freud’s concept of the unconscious. Jung broke it down into delineations of a personal unconscious (individual) and collective unconscious (humanity itself). Jung then also developed the concept of archetypes and the shadow was categorized as one of the four major patterns. He defines “shadow” as “that which we do not want to be” or “that which we do not want to face within ourselves.”
Shadow as an archetype is a dark yet powerful pattern that reveals itself throughout humankind and Unity is no exception. The shadow exists both in the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious. One might think of ISIS for, instance, as a big twenty-first century global depiction of shadow. The shadow plays out on the world stage, in our personal lives, and it plays out in our Unity movement as well.
Carl Jung said that anything you repress perverts itself. In order to avoid repression and therefore potential perversion, we want to make what is “unconscious” “conscious.” The shadow is usually hidden in the unconscious area of the mind and finds openings and opportunities to reveal itself.
Polling of Colleagues
I was aware of my own perspective of shadow within Unity but I wanted a broader sampling. As a result I considered the best way to go about getting a bigger picture. I received an intuitive nudge to poll others, colleagues as well as other highly evolved Unity people.
Aspects of Shadow in Unity
Unity’s Shadow and Prosperity Teachings
I began by polling a number of senior ministers in the field to get their take on how the shadow shows up in Unity. I admit that I received some surprising input and insights. One person said: “Well, we have our prosperity teachings in Unity but overall we don’t seem to be demonstrating (manifesting) them. That really bothers me.”
“Hmm,” I thought, “there seems to be some truth here.” One place in particular where I have observed the shadow in action is when people withhold their tithes as hostages in order to get their personal/private agendas fulfilled. I have never agreed with that tactic. It’s a sort of tithe-terrorism if you will. How could the results be anything but skewed? Tithes are intended to be pure clear giving, a giving from Spirit to Spirit. Not giving with a chosen outcome in mind. In his book Prosperity, our co-founder Charles Fillmore calls that “a bribe.”
I had a congregant in a spiritual community with financial issues once say to me, “You know Rev Sandy, when the cookie jar gets empty people get weird.” That has often proven to be true. We must always be at the oven baking new cookies. Our jar need not become empty. Our collective creativity can generate delightful cookies, enough for everyone!
I realized that while we have our powerful prosperity teachings, they are not really integrated into our movement effectively. When we integrate something, we own it; we embrace it and it then produces results. How can we teach prosperity, abundance, contagious generosity, (call it what you will) and not demonstrate or manifest it within our movement? Something is amiss here. We demonstrate or manifest in a manner that depicts the impact of our passion. It’s not always money (but money is a significant component). It can be community effect, the transformative process inherit in Unity and so on. It is possible we need a fresh new look at our prosperity teachings and consider new creative ways to integrate them into our movement.
Another colleague responded with “victim consciousness” as an aspect of shadow. They said: “The shadow shows up quite often in Unity as victim consciousness.”
Victim consciousness is certainly one way that shadow shows up in Unity. We teach a lot about “consciousness”—“that your consciousness is your life,” so why would “good Unity people” participate in victim consciousness? There are a myriad of possible reasons but overall, in a world perceived as one of lack, there are many self-proclaimed “victims.” Some people never get down off the cross. Personally? I think that victim consciousness is in polarization to self-esteem as people with low self-esteem tend to house a victim consciousness to try and compensate for that lack.
But? What might be an antidote to victim consciousness? In just one word? Action. As Rev Mary Morrissey tells us in her work Prosperity Plus II, the magic is in the action. As we take action, positive mental action, positive physical action, we change consciousness, in our community and in our world. When people discern and take action, they don’t have time to remain in a state of victim consciousness. Recently I was invited to protest an unpopular change that had taken place in our movement. I took a look at my life and thought, “I’m just way too busy to find any time to protest. Besides, it’s not something I enjoy. I prefer to be ‘for something’ rather than ‘against something.’ ”
Lack of Boundaries
One colleague mentioned a lack of boundaries. I remember witnessing missing boundaries early on in my Unity path. Although there are a number of stories to tell, I recall the following two incidents in particular. The first was a young woman at Unity Village who climbed one of the once-upon-a-time-gnarled-trees in the courtyard. I was stunned and quite frankly concerned for her safety (not to mention her psyche). But? Management at that time said she had a right to climb that tree, (freedom of tree climbing I thought). The second was at my very first annual meeting as a senior minister and the board president’s wife lay down on the floor near my feet. Internally I thought: Only in a Unity community could someone do this. If this occurred at the Art Institute, Museum of Science & Industry, or any other place in Chicago, we would be calling 911 right now. In Unity this was considered okay, and even acceptable behavior. I have heard it said: “If anything goes? Nothing works.” It is impossible to accomplish much of anything without some structure and boundaries.
Boundaries, sorely missing in some Unity centers, can create burn out in ministers. I consider boundaries as structure, much like the skeletal system in a human body, without which there is a collapse. I encourage healthy boundaries in all relationships and particularly in our spiritual centers. I believe good boundaries create healthy environments.
Integrity and Accountability
During a recent ministry crisis, a congregant scheduled a visit to see me. During that session she said, “You know, Rev Sandy? There is no accountability in Unity. Ministers think they are beyond reproach and they get possessed by their power. This is very hard on churches and congregations.” A lack of accountability is one of many forms the shadow takes and, as ministers, when we put on the cloak of benevolence, we agree to answer to a higher set of standards.
Private Practice and Shadow
Fire of the Shadow
In my work as a therapist, I commonly encounter the shadow. The shadow is also defined by Jung as disowned parts of ourselves. People come to see me to work through something, to find, or face, the disowned parts of themselves. The “somethings” are numerous and varied ranging anywhere from a surprise pregnancy (at 42 with 4 children already) to 20+ year marriages destroyed by technology-related discoveries (smartphones and discoveries of infidelity) and everything in-between.
During the therapy session, when the mask drops and we come face-to-face with the shadow, I am very careful, rather cautious and generally judicious. I use a wary approach … as if to a wild animal or an unidentifiable creature. It is frequently something that’s been hidden, tucked away in the basement or the attic and is raw and unrecognizable. Many times it is a traumatic event. Traumas tend to get buried as aspects of shadow and as a result traumas often define the personal shadow. Traumas get buried in order for the soul to survive. When they and the soul are ready, they come to the surface, to the conscious mind. In my work, my mission is to help make the unconscious conscious. Traumas tend to reveal themselves during a search for spiritual healing.
Once the shadow is clearly present in our session, we stay as long as we can based on my assessment of my client and the session. Generally I don’t let us stay too long, especially in the beginning. Why? Because the shadow burns its way forward, fueled by the fire of the desire of the unconscious to be unveiled, revealed and now even listened to. It burns the client, and although I have good lengthy professional distance, I feel it as well. One can only stand the heat so much at any given time. It is a carefully choreographed session and timing is everything.
Too much shadow revealed at once is dangerous. It has the capacity to kill someone or something such as an incredible actor like Philip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman’s psyche was subsumed by his addiction and shadow reined. So many great writers, musicians, and artists have succumbed to the power of the shadow by way of addiction. My estimation is: where there is addiction there is shadow at work. The subject of shadow and addiction is a book unto itself.
A note of caution here; should shadow go unattended it becomes increasingly present and powerful. It’s been said that fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Courage and unwavering wisdom is required in working with the shadow.
I believe that every minister should have a therapist or spiritual director, someone that is completely trustworthy and has a good ear for listening. A place to go that is a safe haven to express shadowlike feelings and thoughts. As we clear our personal unconscious, we contribute to clearing the waters of the collective unconscious. And, we make a difference in the collective psyche of our Unity movement.
There are things that the shadow shuns. As for example, if a client would come in and I would foolishly ask, “Ok … shall we work with your shadow today?” It would never work. No, the approach is too superficial, too shallow and on the surface. The shadow must first be observed, make itself known, and voluntarily approach the table. And it still may or may not participate. There may be a roaring fire of expression, or simply embers offered.
The shadow always has a mind of its own. It may simply witness the work in stony silence (and one can feel its presence) and wait until another time to unveil itself. The shadow is not trivial and will not be trivialized. It is not so much to be feared as it is to be respected. If given the respect it deserves (craves), it may calm down allowing access to some true creative treasure. There is often treasure and even gold hidden in the shadow.
Shadow Shows Up in Spiritual Community
So, how does the shadow show up in your spiritual community? You might ask yourself this question from time to time. As you ask the question, awareness increases. Awareness is a crucial key in working with the shadow. The mission is to make the unconscious conscious.
Affirmations and Denials: At times when we use affirmations to cover up something that needs to be brought to the light, it’s an aspect of shadow.
Chemicalization: One way in particular the shadow forces its way into personal consciousness in Unity is when we go through a chemicalization process. Something has been stuffed so far down in our unconscious, into the basement of our psyche, and as we work with truth principles and the light of Truth which is so fierce, that chemicalization results. Spiritual centers also go through times of collective chemicalization.
The movie Star Wars has recently made a major comeback with the release of the seventh movie in the series. The earlier movies carry a great mythological depiction of the shadow in the role of Darth Vader. Can we notice the nuances of how powerful, fearless and confrontational he is? The shadow is fearless and can be highly destructive, especially if ignored or denied. There can be a fiery fury of the shadow if left unattended. Like any fire it must be tended and tending the fire brings results.
Shadow and Creativity
As we work with our shadow in Unity, we cannot sweep everything under the rug of Light. We are a good movement, and have done a lot of good in the world. We are good Unity people. We wear our cloak of benevolence with joy, peace and love. However, we must be aware of and have savvy of what lies beneath that cloak. We don’t need to just peek under it, sometimes we have to open it wide and really “see” what is beneath, clearly searching to see if we might have cynicism disguised as benevolence, which will not take us where we want to go.
Carl Jung wrote, “In spite of its function as a reservoir for human darkness or perhaps because of this, the shadow is the seat of creativity.” Much like Pandora’s Box granted us hope, the shadow, while revealing itself in often the most negative ways, is actually the seat of inspiration.
Our hope for the future of our Unity movement stems from the idea that “the shadow is the seat of creativity.” In other words: Our creativity is at the center of our redemption, salvation, expansion and vibrancy. While our shadow is not something necessarily pleasant or tenable, it can deliver the gold if we lean into our creativity. If we work with the shadow, rather than sweeping it under the rug of Light, we can harbor hope for our future.
Without expression or revelation of the shadow, creativity is stifled and without creativity there can be no vibrancy in our movement. We want big wide roads of expansion with creative thoughts, ideas, prosperity and actions for Unity Worldwide Ministries.
Whether our dance is the two-step or a ballet? As we dance into our next evolution of Unity, it is still a delicate dance but one within the dazzling brilliance of the shadow, and it is definitely ours to do. We are, after all, a substantial influence of good and Light in this world.