Dark Gold: The Human Shadow and the Global Crisis

Written by Community Solutions Fellow, Carolyn Baker

Dark Gold: The Human Shadow And The Global Crisis endeavors to educate, challenge, and most importantly inspire the reader to engage with the shadow as a necessary first step in both individual and collective healing. It emphasizes and elaborates on the abundant emotional and spiritual treasures that invariably issue from shadow exploration and transformation. Dark Gold challenges us to become courageous enough to be accountable and compassionate enough to love ourselves and the earth community fiercely, even when we feel it will make no difference.

This thing of darkness, I acknowledge mine.

~William Shakespeare~

Why would any author intending to sell books write one about the shadow? Why would anyone already aware of the unprecedented severity of the global crisis want to read a book on the shadow? Wouldn’t this reader prefer the “catastrophe respite” of indulging in a book offering the hopeful consolation of radiant light and love?

Such questions arise from modernity’s polarization of light and dark, love and adversity. In fact, this is a book of consolation, light, and love, but it does not lay out the culturally expected trajectory toward these values.  The reader will not be able to grasp this, however, unless they are willing to dance with paradox---a reality with which the title, “Dark Gold” is replete.

The first concern that may arise is that this book has been written to shame the reader, perpetuating the notion that perhaps if one is sufficiently overwhelmed with guilt, one will realize the error of one’s ways and shape up. After all, isn’t that the Calvinistic American way? Indeed, shame is not the response I desire, but rather, the cultivation of love, wholeness, and relatedness with all living beings, for when the shadow remains unexamined and unintegrated in the human psyche, these experiences are virtually impossible or at least hollow, muted, and significantly less vibrant than they might become with a more robust integration of the shadow. James Hillman writes that “Loving oneself is no easy matter just because it means loving all of oneself, including the shadow where one is inferior and socially so unacceptable. The care one gives this humiliating part is also the cure.” [Meeting The Shadow: The Hidden Power of The Dark Side Of Human Nature, Edited by Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams, Jeremy Tarcher/Putnam, 1991, p.242]

Carl Jung is said to have proclaimed on many occasions that the human shadow is eighty-percent pure gold---in part, Jung’s response to the Freudian perspective that humanity’s dark side had absolutely no redeeming qualities. Conversely, Jung argued that rather than writing off our inner darkness as hopelessly irredeemable, we can choose to explore, excavate, and mine it because therein lie priceless riches of love and compassion. Or has Hillman would say, “…rotten garbage is also the fertilizer.” [Ibid, p. 243]

But what is the human shadow? Mythologist and student of Jung, Joseph Campbell, states that “The Shadow is, so to say, the blind spot in your nature. It’s that which you won’t look at about yourself. This is the counterpart exactly of the Freudian unconscious, the repressed recollections as well at the repressed potentialities in you.” [Pathway to Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation. Google Books, p. 123]

In the following pages, we will closely examine both the personal shadow with which we all must contend individually and the collective shadow to which the personal shadows of some seven billion people contribute. The influence of both on the human species is gargantuan, and the current global crisis which threatens to erase all life from planet Earth is a horrifying testimony to the destructiveness of the shadow unseen and unhealed. This book offers options for embracing an alchemical odyssey that could alleviate the carnage and potentially transform the shadow of anyone willing to embark on the journey. With each passing conflagration of war, each ecological atrocity, each ethnic cleansing, each rape, pillage, and plunder of species and the planet, it seems less likely that the collective shadow will be healed, but if that transformation is possible, the only way to begin taking responsibility for the collective shadow is to be willing to be accountable for the personal one. Doing so may not transform the world, dear reader, but it may very well transform your world.

In The Shadow In America: Reclaiming The Soul of a Nation, Jacquelyn Small notes that:

Until made conscious the shadow causes us to act in ways that create catastrophe or explosions of emotionalism. It stands there on the threshold of our unconscious mind, reflecting back to us our blind side. We must learn to embrace the shadow without trying to win it over. It is our teacher. We are often not able to hear the more kindly offerings of our friends, consequently, it must pop out from time to time to remind us from inside. When we try to deny the shadow, it multiplies. When instead, we choose to invite it in, we gain stability and expand consciousness, losing our self-righteousness, and becoming flexible, less defended, more balanced. [The Shadow In America: Reclaiming The Soul Of A Nation, Edited by Jeremiah Abrams, “Sacred Hunger,” by Jacquelyn Small, p. 165.]

In her 2005 book The Sacred Purpose of Being Human, Small refers to the shadow as “…our holy grit. It’s the sandpaper in your psyche that rubs you raw until you make it conscious.” [p. 78] Thus, the reader does not need the reminders of the shadow’s presence and power presented in this book to be goaded, annoyed, discouraged, or flummoxed by it. On its own, the shadow relentlessly reminds us of its ubiquitous agenda. However, beyond providing information, this book offers specific practices and exercises for implementing deep shadow healing.

In my two previous books, Love In The Age of Ecological Apocalypse: Cultivating The Relationships We Need to Thrive, and Collapsing Consciously: Transformative Truths for Turbulent Times, I repeatedly emphasized the urgency of living lives of compassionate service to the planet. To that end, a number of tools were offered in both books. It is now incontrovertibly clear to me that without engaging with the personal and collective shadows in a process of conscious healing, the noble and necessary intention of compassionate service will be thwarted or perhaps even sabotaged by the machinations of unaddressed shadow material.

But we commit to working with the shadow not only because failing to do so impedes our loftiest intentions but because we are “prospectors” in search of the “dark gold.” If there are precious metals to be mined, why would we settle for less? For as Robert Johnson reminds us in Owning Your Own Shadow, “…these disowned parts are extremely valuable and cannot be disregarded. As promised of the living water, our shadow costs nothing and is immediately---and embarrassingly---ever present. To honor and accept one’s own shadow is a profound spiritual discipline. It is whole-making and thus holy and the most important experience of a lifetime.” [Robert Johnson, Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding The Dark Side of The Psyche, Harper One, 1991, p.x]

In Meeting The Shadow: The Hidden Power of The Dark Side of Human Nature, Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams clarify six monumentally important reasons for transforming our relationship with the shadow which are fundamental reasons for writing this book. They note that, “A right relationship with the shadow offers us a great gift: to lead us back to our buried potentials.” Through shadow-work, the authors assert, we can:

Experience more genuine self-acceptance, based on a more complete knowledge of who we are

Defuse what we perceive as the negative emotions that erupt unexpectedly in our daily lives

Feel less guilt and shame with respect to our so-called “negative” feelings and actions

Recognize the projections that color our opinions of others and learn how to reclaim those projections

Heal our relationships through honest self-examination and direct communication

Access and use an untapped storehouse of creative energy through our dreams, artistic expression, and sacred ritual [Connie Zweig, Jeremiah Abrams, Meeting The Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature, Jeremy Tarcher, 1991, xxv]

It must be noted, however, that when Zweig and Abrams edited their magnificent collection of articles by masters of Jungian psychology in the early 1990s, the global crisis had not reached its current magnitude of severity. At that point in human history, almost no one was discussing the possibility of near-term human extinction or the termination of life on Earth. While the anthology contains a number of articles addressing the collective shadow, that is, the shadow carried by the community at large, what was not yet glaringly obvious was the extent to which humans were annihilating the planet.

Thus one gift that may be added to Zweig and Abram’s list is the potential offered by doing shadow work for healing significant aspects of the Earth community. Since the collective shadow is comprised of the projections of individuals, even minimal reclamation of our own projections facilitates harmonious communication and interaction within the human community.

At the end of each chapter in this book, the reader will find specific suggested practices and exercises that support the reader in taking the material deeper and forging a more distinct path toward shadow healing. If one desires to mine the dark gold, these practices provide the working tools for launching and continuing the extraction of riches from the shadow. The suggested practices are also structured so that they might be employed not only by the individual reader but utilized with groups of “shadow prospectors” as well.

With each writing of every book I have penned, I become increasingly aware of all of the beings to whom I am indebted for making it possible to carry my voice and work forward. I am forever indebted to my friend and “soul brother, Andrew Harvey whose wind is always at my back. I deeply appreciate my associations with Guy McPherson, Pauline Schneider, and Jill Angelo as well as the tireless efforts of Peter Melton and Dean Walker in supporting my work.

I owe an eternal debt to Carl Jung, Meg Pierce, and all Jungian analysts and therapists worldwide who carry his work forward in a culture that cares little for his contribution to the healing of the human soul.

Much gratitude to Kermit Heartsong and the editorial team of Tayen Lane.

Thank you Janis, Judith, Daphne, and Kristen. Thank you Sammy for faithfully lying under my chair and inspiring me with the sounds of your dreams.

Thank you, reader, for picking up this book and daring to contemplate the journey of shadow healing.

Now, onward and inward.