Margins as the shadow

I’m grateful to a friend, Mark, for leading me to a talk by Alan Watts on Carl Jung. Alan Watts was responsible for popularising Eastern Philosophy for a Western audience. In this talk, given a few months after Jung’s death in 1961, Watts reflects on Jung’s understanding of the shadow.

Watts emphasises Jung’s view of the importance of recognising those parts of ourselves that we may label as the shadow, or margin. Some of the passages that particularly struck me were as follows:

‘To the degree that a person becomes conscious that the evil is as much in himself as in the other, to this same degree he is not likely to project it on to some scapegoat, and commit the most criminal acts of violence upon other people.’

‘He [Jung] was the sort of man who could feel anxious and afraid and guilty without being ashamed of feeling this way. In other words, he understood that an integrated person is not a person who has simply eliminated the sense of guilt or the sense of anxiety from his life – who is fearless and wooden and kind of sage of stone. He is a person who feels all these things, but has no recriminations against himself for feeling them.’

‘…He (Jung) knew [his shadow]…so strongly, and so clearly, and – in a way – so lovingly that he would not condemn the same thing in others, and therefore would not be led into those thoughts feeling and acts of violence towards others, which are always characteristic of the people who project the devil in themselves upon the outside, upon somebody else, upon the scapegoat.’

‘…behind all your pretentions to being either a good citizen or a fine scholar or a great scientist or a leading politician or a physician or whatever you happen to be – …behind this façade…there is a certain element of the unreconstructed bum. Not as something to be condemned and wailed over, but as something to be recognized as contributive to one’s greatness and to one’s positive aspect; in the same way that manure is contributive to the perfume of the rose.’

I am reminded of the letter that Jung wrote to a Christian friend in which he said:

“I admire you Christians, because when you see somebody hungry or thirsty you see Jesus. When you see someone in prison or hospital you see Jesus. When you see somebody who is strange, a stranger or naked you see Jesus. What I don’t understand is that you don’t see Jesus in your own brokenness. Why are the poor always outside of you? Can’t you see they’re inside of you: in your hunger and thirst? That you too are sick: that you too are imprisoned in your own fears or need for honour and power; that you too have strange things inside of you which you don’t understand; that you too are naked?”

(Quoted in ‘Disability in the Christian Tradition: A Reader, Edited by Brian Brock & John Swinton).

I am also struck that many of the same qualities that Watts saw in Jung I see in Jean Vanier: not being ashamed of feelings, the sense of integration, the lack of condemnation of others and even – though he may not use the same language – the sense of an unreconstructed bum beneath the facade.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *