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Have you ever seen a truly scary movie? What primordial, dark fear did it bring up for you?
When I was a young boy I saw the film Frankenstein, and had nightmares for a few years afterward. I dreamt there was a monster in my closet, who only came out after dark. My parents had to close the closet door or I couldn’t go to sleep. (I know – why couldn’t the monster just open the door? Well, I didn’t say it was a logical fear.)
Much later in life, studying the mechanisms and meaning of dreams, I realized that those scary childhood monsters are symbols for our deepest fears. In my case, I now suspect that Mary Shelley’s brilliant literary creation Frankenstein symbolized my own growing childhood awareness of the real darkness that exists in the world. I had no way, as a young boy, to understand that darkness – so it took the shape of a monster in my closet.
The great philosopher and psychiatrist Carl Jung said that we all have our light and our dark, our bright shining attributes and the corresponding shadows they can cast. Jung knew that the world of our dreams often shows us those shadows.
Self-knowledge and acceptance, that critical step on the spiritual path, only comes when you recognize your shadows and stop being frightened by them. True spiritual search illuminates our shadows – the instinctive, irrational and unconscious parts of our reality – and brings them forward into our active consciousness, where we can, in the light of self-knowledge and awareness, recognize and accept all of our inner truths.
Many people put off or avoid the whole idea of spiritual search because of this fear, afraid of what might lurk in their own unconscious. They fear digging up or examining those inner thoughts and feelings. But if we want to progress, to grow, to find ourselves, taking this step on the spiritual path is essential. Self-knowledge, the first goal of any spiritual journey, means knowing the entire self. Understanding and unlocking the shadows in our souls frees us from fear.
Which brings us to number five on the Nine Mistakes Seekers Make hit parade:
5. Fear. Of my own shadow.
You Jungians already know what I’m describing here. Here’s how it works: we fear what we try to hide or deny about our inner life. We tend to push those things down into our subconscious, usually at a young age. Then we deny them, ignore them, run from them. When we’re a little older and wiser we search for something deeper in our lives, trying to find the answers to life’s big questions in the process of our spiritual search, we meet and confront our shadows. Then we realize that coming to know and accept everything about ourselves, integrating those aspects into the whole, becomes one of the biggest parts of our spiritual growth.
The antidote for fear, as always, is truth:
I see that you are seekers after truth. You are not held in bondage by the chains of prejudice, and your greatest longing is to know the truth. Truth may be likened to the sun! The sun is the luminous body that disperses all shadows; in the same way does truth scatter the shadows of our imagination. As the sun gives life to the body of humanity so does truth give life to their souls. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 127-128.
Our spiritual growth and development requires this profound and powerful process. Without it, we limit our joy and severely restrict our ability to overcome our fears and anxieties:
The divine messengers come to bring joy to this earth, for this is the planet of tribulation and torment and the mission of the great masters is to turn men away from these anxieties and to infuse life with infinite joy. When the divine message is understood, all troubles will vanish. Shadows disappear when the universal lamp is lighted, for whosoever becomes illumined thereby no longer knows grief; he realizes that his stay on this planet is temporary and that life is eternal. When once he has found reality he will no longer retreat into darkness. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, pp. 69-70.