Today begins a series looking at the role of the shadow in cultivating new stories. Madness, darkness, the untamed and unpredictable—what do we do with these fearful things? Fairy tales and myths always made a place for the shadow: the evil stepmother, the witch, the monster in the forest. The wild forest itself. The bottomless well, the unexplored cave, the labyrinth beneath the king’s castle. Those unknown, uncharted places that house beasts, witches, demons, and all manner of nasties.
In the stories, they mirror our own psyches—at least that was the understanding for quite a long time. We tend now to prefer our villains to live outside of us, so we can point to them and say, “Not I.” Depending on who you are, your proxies might be Karl Rove, the Koch brothers, and Ann Coulter, or Amy Goodman and Barack Obama. We impoverish ourselves by offloading our inner darkness onto other people, real or fictional. As Carl Jung teaches us:
“Wholeness . . . is not achieved by cutting off a portion of one’s being, but by integration of the contraries.”
In the time and the place before human beings came to live on the earth, they were beings of light without form. Because she could not do it herself, the Creator asked them to take form, to go and live on the earth, and feel and hear and see and taste of her magnificent creation. The human beings recognized that this request was a great honor and were humbled by it.
“O, Creator, when you can ask any of your creatures – the brilliant eagle of the skies or the noble elephant – why do you choose us?”
“I have designed you for a unique purpose. You are the voice of my creation. You will tell the stories, paint the pictures, sing the music, and dance the dances. You will celebrate the resonance and beauty of the world, full of surprises and intricacies.”
The human beings were awed by this assignment. “O, Creator, please guide us,” they implored. “What must we know in order to fulfill this role successfully?”
“I cannot say for certain. This is all a grand experiment. But do consider this one thing: you must balance the opposites. You will experience – and, indeed, cause – great extremes: passionate love and searing heartbreak, freedom and slavery, connection and separation. You alone can negotiate the ongoing balance of the world through your stories and pictures, your music and dance.”
So the human beings came to the earth and for many years they fulfilled their role admirably. They invented rituals and ceremonies, enlisting the help of their brothers and sisters, the animals and plants. In return for this help, they made a great many promises to their relations, promises which bound them ever more firmly to the earth and its treasures.
Eventually, the human beings began to forget their role. In their great curiosity, they began to make astonishing discoveries, causing them to chafe at the opposites, cringing and ducking from some, forcibly changing others to fit their ideas. They denied the ceremonies and declined to participate in the rituals. Eventually, the ceremonies and rituals were forgotten, along with the purpose behind them.
Instead, when the human beings encountered opposites – which, being the way of the world, continued to occur – they rigidly aligned with one side or another. And when one group encountered another that had chosen to align with the other side, each group worked very hard to convince the other of its mistake. Some made eloquent arguments, others drew elaborate scenarios and formulas and theories to make the case for their truth. If they failed to convince the other side, they would try forcible conversion. Failing that, wars were fought.
To escape the brutalities of force and war, the human beings turned to their religions, especially soothed by the teachings that said opposites are only illusion, a trick of form on earth. Very wise persons taught that there is only the Oneness, the Light of All Energy. And they taught practices, such as meditation and prayer, to help people experience the bliss of escape from opposites, a state they called non-duality.
What the human beings forgot is that the Creator knows that part, the bliss of Oneness. It’s the experience of contradiction that she’s interested in. That was the point of this experiment, this world. That was the point of gender, of day and night, of winter and summer, good and evil, truth and lies, justice and tyranny. The whole entire point.