Ecological Intelligence: Rediscovering Ourselves in Nature - Ian McCallum (2008)
Part I. REMEMBERING WHEREWE HAVE COME FROM
Chapter 4. FACING OUR SHADOW
DESCRIBING IT AS THE SUM OF ALL THOSE UNPLEASANT QUALITIES WE like to hide from ourselves and from others, but that we readily recognize in others, Jung gave the dark side of our nature a name. Calling it our shadow, he described it as “a moral problem that challenges the whole ego personality” and added that “no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable effort.”
Without an understanding of the shadow, effective self-examination is impossible, which is why, if we are serious about exploring the notion of an ecological intelligence, it needs to be addressed early. Who are the people and animals that irrationally get to you, those you instantly dislike and with whom you would rather not associate—priests, prostitutes, policemen, gargoyles, beggars, hags, hyenas, vultures, or snakes? How inflated is our opinion of ourselves? How far removed from Earthiness has our self-deception taken us? These are questions that are probing for the shadow and they are important questions. Why? Because we all have something of the hag and the hyena in us. We are all, in our own subtle ways, manipulators, con men, and we all own a little bit of the beggar too. We are pathetic, but we are also wonderful. And when we know this, when we recognize our inflation, or the scavenger, the con man and the roadrage creature within us, then we can learn how to say yes and no to them.
When we avoid entering the territory of the shadow, says scholar and author Michael Meade, “then we begin attracting shadowy figures who will one day explode into our lives.” Our shadow has deep biological roots. At home at the level of the brain stem, it is as if it has a life of its own. It is not interested in delayed gratification or the different shades of gray. “The shadow always wants something for nothing,” says analyst and writer Richard Chachere and, as naturalist Lyall Watson writes in his book Dark Nature, “it is bound to be selfish, angry, jealous, lustful, greedy, infantile, suicidal and murderous.” However, because of the energy that it generates, it is vital that we become conscious of it, that you put its energy on your side. Unacknowledged, it can be destructive. It is at the core of xenophobia and racism. Make no mistake about it, it is real. It is in our blood. We cannot escape it, for as Robert Louis Stevenson reminds us in his famous story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, wherever Jekyll goes, Hyde comes along with him. In other words, wherever the evolutionary younger forebrain goes, the older brain stem comes with it.
Stevenson’s story is a shadow classic in that it tells us what happens when one’s shadow is disowned. In an experiment in which Dr. Jekyll concocts a potion that would separate his good side from his bad side, he discovers to his dismay that he slowly becomes Mr. Hyde. In the end, the “good” doctor takes his life, also ending the life of the “bad” Mr. Hyde.
But why do we deny or repress it in ourselves? When considering the development of the human ego, it seems that we do it because we have to. Deception, as we shall see, is part of our survival and so is self-deception. It is a subtle strategy to escape the emotions that come with self-examination and accountability, and, like any strategy that is employed excessively or unconsciously, it is bound to become maladaptive.
Apart from the metaphysical association with the brain stem, it would appear that there is indeed an important neurobiological link to our psychological shadow. This link is recognizable in patients who suffer from a brain-damaged condition called right hemisphere syndrome. One of the manifestations of this syndrome is a phenomenon called anosognosia—the loss of an ability in a person to recognize that he or she has a disease or a physical defect. Sometimes paralyzed down the left side of their bodies, these patients often deny that there is anything wrong with them, even to the point of delusion. Mark Solms and Oliver Turnbull, two neuropsychologists who have investigated these patients, write:
If a patient who claims she is able to run is asked why she is in a wheelchair, she might respond: “There was nowhere else to sit.” If asked why she is not moving her left arm, she could say something like: “I exercised it a lot today, so I’m resting it.” These patients seem prepared to believe anything, so long as it excludes admitting that they are ill. Not uncommonly, they deny that their paralyzed arm belongs to them, saying that it belongs to someone else. They also frequently express intense dislike and hatred toward the paralyzed limb.
Sometimes, in an act reminiscent of the good Dr. Jekyll trying to get rid of the bad Mr. Hyde, they even go as far as to physically assault the limb. It should not be difficult to see the neurological parallels of the shadow in this example, but it begs another question. Are these patients really unaware of their condition? The answer, it would seem, is no. With one-on-one psychotherapy, what begins to emerge is that they are aware of their condition and that the denial of it stems from being unable to tolerate the emotions that arise from this awareness. Solms and Turnbull, in their investigations of two of these patients, write:
In their psychotherapy sessions, both patients burst into tears for brief moments during which they seemed to be overwhelmed by emotions of the very kind that are normally conspicuous by their absence. This gave the impression of suppressed sadness, grief, dependency fears and so on, rather than a true absence of such feelings…
The authors remind us that “you cannot come to terms with a loss if you do not acknowledge that it has happened”—an explanation that helped them in their analysis of a third patient with the same syndrome. In this instance, in the same way that we ignore or sometimes attack the targets of our negative projections, “Mrs. A did have an internalized image of her damaged, crippled self, and she attacked that image to the point of twice attempting to kill herself.”
To me, these examples point not only to the reality of our shadow, but to our personal fragility as well. They tragically reflect the degree to which every one of us unconsciously denies the “crippled” side of ourselves. Yes, the human ego is fragile. It needs to be defended, but at what cost to our capacity to grieve and to heal? And at what cost to the land, the animals, and our fellow human beings? There may well be a survival element in the denial of our shadow, but are we really unaware of what we are doing? I don’t think so. Deep down, we know that what is happening to the Earth has something to do with us.
In order to learn to embrace the shadow, it is important that we take a closer look at what happens when we remain unconscious of it, more especially the way in which the projection of the shadow rein-forces the establishment of out-groups, minorities, and scapegoats. Unacknowledged, the shadow becomes the enemy—dangerous, disorderly, fugitive, distasteful, stupid, lacking spirituality, and with no purpose beyond what is immediate. Every time we laugh at someone else’s misfortune, says Lyall Watson, it is our shadow showing. Every time we take pleasure in the pain of a rival, it is a genetic pleasure. Each time we display exaggerated feelings about others or behave out of character, we are seeing the genetic shadow in action. It can be frightening, even shocking, to come face-to-face with our dark side in these ways, but it is necessary. It is one thing to experience the pleasure of one-upmanship, it is another to get tangled up in the smugness that comes with it. It is one thing to know that we have a psychological shadow, it is another to be aware of what makes it so dangerous—projection: the act, albeit unintentionally, of pinning it on someone or something else.
Animal: any animal, other than man…an inhuman person; brutish or beast-like…pertaining to the physical or carnal nature of man, rather than his spiritual or intellectual nature (Hamlyn Encyclopaedic Dictionary)
One of the greatest insults to the animal kingdom is to describe unacceptable human behavior as that of a wild animal. Hyenas and snakes, for example, are well known targets for shadow projections. In a remarkable slander of Africa’s spotted hyena, Crocus crocuta, a recent book designed to identify corporate illness identifies a “corporate hyena” as follows:
Narcissistic, immature and neurotic. The corporate hyena most probably carries scars of a dysfunctional childhood [with] societal maladjustment embedded in their behavior. The corporate hyena is a control freak… true to the nature of scavengers and gluttons they will destroy and stuff themselves in our weaker moments.
This is anthropomorphic thinking (attributing human qualities to animals) at its worst. These are human attributes and they have nothing to do with these incredibly intelligent and social creatures. Apart from what seems to be a sad lack of knowledge about hyenas, these authors say there is nothing wrong with comparing particular types of human behavior with that of certain animals as it is commonplace all over the world, adding that “people have come to expect colorful expressions from Africa.” Indeed, comparisons are commonplace. However, there is a huge difference between comparisons and projections, which is precisely what these authors have failed to distinguish. They have projected onto hyenas the shadow qualities we are least likely to acknowledge in ourselves.
Recently, while guiding a group of international participants attending a conference at a South African game lodge, one of the delegates on a first-time visit to Africa announced that she did not want to see any hyenas or vultures. I asked her, “Why not?” and she answered, “Well… there’s something evil about them…you can’t trust them…and hyenas are cowardly aren’t they?” “Where did you get that information?” I protested. “From the movie The Lion King,” she replied awkwardly.
I have been privileged to observe and to follow hyenas in the wild—it teaches you to see them differently. Take, for example, the interactions between lions and hyenas. On the one hand they are the ultimate competitors, both species predominantly nocturnal, both hungry for the same prey, both chasing the other off their kills with equal frequency. In the bigger picture of wilderness, they are partners, each alerting the other to the source of meat. They keep each other on their toes, so to speak, contributing to a high degree of vigilance and athleticism in both species. There is nothing narcissistic or dysfunctional about them at all. In fact, they are a vital component of the wilderness. As for their humanlike qualities, would it not be more colorful to expect something along the lines of what African poet and medicine man Credo Mutwa wrote in his praise song to the impisi, the Zulu name for the spotted warrior of the night—the hyena?
You are the impisi that
pieces together the assegais
of our forefathers.
You are the living broom
of our great-grandmothers…
You, impisi, are the friend
of the warriors
and those who walk
through the night.
These words, too, are projections, but there is no doubt about the sense of partnership in this poem. Embodying the noble part of ourselves, the hyena Mutwa describes leaves us with a sense of respect and reverence for these animals. Thank you for that, Credo.
And what about the snake, that age-old serpent from Eden? Wrapped around the Tree of Life, that first chapter of Genesis makes it very clear that snakes exist on an axis of evil. But let’s take another look at these remarkable reptiles.
Snakes are among the oldest of the living species on Earth. They have been around close on 150 million years. Their scales precede the evolutionary leap of feathers, the softened forms of their reptilian skin, and they grow by repeatedly shedding their skins. The symbolic significance of their capacity to outgrow their skins was not lost on the ancient Greeks. It became a powerful symbol for the teachings of the god of healing, Aesclepius, who believed that a willingness to change, to outgrow old attitudes, and to become conscious of one’s suffering, was essential to the healing process. Now, wrapped around the legendary staff of this great son of Apollo, the image of the snake remains, to this day, the long-standing symbol of the medical profession. In this poem, called “Snake,” I pay tribute to this much-maligned creature:
Would you believe me
if I told you that the thief of fire, Prometheus
is my other name,
that Aesclepius is my friend
and that I am the message on Hermes’ staff?
Would you believe me
if I told you that my serpentine course
is how the stars unfold,
how water finds its way
and how flames shape themselves
on their journey back to the sun?
Would you believe me
if I told you that whenever a man
says “Yes!” and “No!”
something in my skin stands up
for I have heard a soul maker speak?
Would you believe me
if I told you for every season in a child’s life
and for every twist in your fate
I shed my skin
and that this is the remedy for a rigid life?
Would you believe me
if I told you that I am the shadow of Eden’s God,
that to wrap myself around you
is not to constrict you but to know you
and that even a god must shed His skin?
When Hitler, prior to World War II, declared in that famous quote, “I am Germany,” he clearly identified himself as being the all-good, all-seeing, all-powerful, all-knowing führer and father of Germany. In that moment of supreme grandiosity, he confirmed that he had risen above any need to acknowledge his own flawed humanity—his dark side. And so, what he could not tolerate in himself was projected and acted out in the form of a xenophobic storm aimed at Jews, Gypsies, anyone non-Aryan and, in the long run, anyone not like him.He believed this to be in the interests of his country, and many other people believed it too. He certainly did not believe that he was evil.
We need to remember that power and paranoia go hand in hand. Power is an archetype geared for dominance and the earliest signs of having identified with it is an intolerance of criticism. Our projections are always emotionally charged, and when we are stuck in them what usually happens is that we begin to perceive the world in terms of ideals and absolutes. Unaware that we are doing it, we become blind not only to the objective nature of the other, particularly those onto whom our own shadow issues are targeted, but, like Dr. Jekyll, they cause us to hold unrealistic expectations of ourselves.
Projections are at the heart of fanatical thinking, and they play right into the hands of powerful biological strategies of personal survival—be nice to the in-group, be cool, if not nasty, to the out-group. It is easy to point fingers and to ask questions about evil demagogues. It is not that easy to face up to our own complacency, ignorance, or indifference to the suffering of others. I think we need to be very careful about defining the role of others along an axis of evil. It is very easy to speak about another country’s weapons of destruction and our weapons for peace, of our principles versus the fanaticism of the other, of our needs versus someone else’s greed.
The shadow is archetypal. It is huge, emotionally charged, and, as we have seen, potentially destructive. But it can also be creative, albeit in an unfocused sort of way. It is essential therefore that we become a lot more aware of it. Our task is to acknowledge the beast, at the same time learning how to harness its vitality, its emotion, and its raw power with an intelligence that knows how to say yes and no to it. It must not be underestimated, says Lyall Watson, but it should not be given any more credit than it deserves, either. “Together we become formidable,” he says, or as Jung wrote, “we become whole.” “How can I be substantial,” Jung asked, “if I fail to cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also, if I am to be whole; and in as much as I become conscious of my shadow, I also remember that I am a human being like any other.” Putting it another way, he once asked: “But what if I should discover that the very enemy is within me, that I myself am the enemy who must be loved…what then?” It is in this light that we should not be surprised to discover that the shadow of our Judeo-Christian-Abrahamic teachings is both long and dark and that its negative impact on the natural world has been profound. For everything that is valuable about the teachings of these great religions, it is nevertheless essential that we do not shy away from examining that shadow. By facing up to it, we may discover that something in us is beginning to shed its skin.
In April 1970, a landmark symposium was held in Claremont, California. Entitled “The Theology of Survival,” it was a challenge to the teachings of conventional theology, more especially its contribution to the environmental crises of our time. Analyst Edward Whitmont, in his book Psyche and Substance, summed up the proceedings thus:
It was generally agreed that the traditional Christian attitudes of the Old and New Testaments, namely, the rejection of the pagan belief in the divinity of nature and the consequent designation of man as the center, with all nature subservient to him, had significantly contributed to overpopulation, air and water pollution, and other ecological threats. By emphasizing the value of nature only as it contributes to man’s welfare, traditional theologies had tended to create an absolute gulf between man and nature.
We have paid a huge psychological price for the rejection of our socalled pagan beliefs—a price that can be readily translated as a loss of soul. As entomologist, sociobiologist, and Pulitzer-winning author E. O. Wilson says, this rejection “has caused the spirits our ancestors knew intimately to flee the rocks and the trees and then the distant mountains. They are now in the stars, where their final extinction is possible but improbable.”
We cannot escape our Western cultural roots and neither should we, for we are steeped in its values. In other words, it is not my intention to encourage a return to paganism, animism, or to the ancient doctrines of pantheism, which is the worship of many gods. Instead, I support the attitude of the Kalahari bushmen who remind us that all the animals say one thing—we are inseparable. However, I want to honor the legend of Pan, for that legend will not go away.
Pan was the pagan god of the woods and fields. A wild, irrational deity with the horns and hooves of a goat, he was believed to evoke sudden fear in solitary travelers in the wilderness, hence the origin of the word panic. And yet, in spite of his frightful qualities, Pan was also seen in a playful and positive light. He loved to play the pipes, also called the panpipes, and the nymphs who inhabited trees, streams, and caves were said to be his partners in dance. The embodiment of the eternal spirit of youth, he eventually came to be regarded as the representative of paganism and the personification of all Nature.
The name Pan literally means “all,” and because pantheism was a doctrine that denied the existence of God as a personality in favor of God as an expression of Nature, it is easy to see why it was to become the enemy of a monotheistic Judeo-Christian church that was anxious to replace it with the teachings of an invisible, masculine God and in whose image we alone, the human animal, are made.
As the story goes, it is said that at the time of Christ’s birth, a mysterious voice was heard in the Greek Isles announcing that the great Pan was dead. The battle lines between the teachings of those who believed in the soul of Nature and those who believed in the spirit of an invisible, monotheistic God, had not only been drawn, but a victory for the latter proclaimed.
And then came the Nicene Creed. A little over a thousand years ago, in the year 869, in the ancient city of Constantinople the all-male principals of the Holy Catholic Church finalized what we know today as the Nicene Creed—the formal and final statement of the chief tenets of Christian belief as adopted by a previous Council in the city of Nicaea eighty-two years previously. On that day, at that meeting in Constantinople, says psychologist and writer James Hillman, soul finally lost its dominion. “Our notion of a tripartite cosmos of spirit, soul and body, devolved into a dualism of spirit (or mind) and body (or matter).” Soul as an image of depth, darkness, warmth, moistness, and animation, in short—creativity and femininity—was displaced, or rather, incorporated into the more masculine-orientated notion of spirit. Hillman continues, “What the Constantinople Council did to soul, rejecting this image, only culminated a long process beginning with Paul, the Saint, of substituting and disguising, and, forever after, confusing soul with spirit.”
Spirit and soul are not the same. Like the rows of thorns on the ziziphus, they anticipate each other. They are complementary opposites. Spirit is cool, pointed, and soaring. It gives us wings. Soul is Earthbound and warm. It gives us roots. It loves the Earth and everything that comes out of it. Soul knows about the shadow. And as any-one involved in healing will tell you, the wounds of the spirit are most often healed by soul.
In the psyche as it is in the world “out there,” what we subdue, deny, and dominate comes back to us—if we let it. If we don’t, it comes back at us. It is evident, in spite of the Nicene Creed and the long history of attempts to negate the pagan belief in animal deities, the image and influence of animals in the human psyche refuse to go away. As biblical scholar Louis Charbonneau-Lassay wrote,
Our unconscious bond with animals might explain why the fantastic stories of animals, birds and trees brought back to the West by the first great world travelers of the second half of the Middle Ages were so rapidly taken over by the Western symbolists to represent the gifts of God and even Christ himself.
It may also explain the shared and troubled visions of the seventh-century Hebrew prophet Ezekiel and the evangelist Saint John, both of whom saw the coming to life of four animals in the mysterious crown of Christ:
And the first beast was like a lion and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had the face of a man and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle. And they were saying holy, holy, holy—which was and is and is to come.
Is it any wonder that these visionaries were troubled? Is it any wonder that we have established societies to prevent cruelty to these creatures—these second-class citizens of human society? And is it too much to suppose that the core of the modern feminist as well as the environmental movements of our day are the inevitable psychological rebellion against the long-standing negation and oppression of soul?
When the great myth of Pan is reviewed, it should become clear that the pagan god of the wild did not die at all. Instead, he went underground. His hiding place, for the past two thousand years, has been in the shadowy depths of the human psyche. Psychologically, the death of Pan can be interpreted as the repression of the instinctive, spontaneous, raw, or wild parts of the psyche that occurred with the rise of a monotheistic consciousness. Great Pan did not really die, however, for nothing in the psyche dies. Like molecular particles, which can be changed but not destroyed, ideas can be repressed, yes, but extinguished…no.
It is well known, in analytical work, that that which we reject we project, and in this light, says social scientist and naturalist Herbert Schroeder, it is no wonder that the horned and hoofed image of Pan was so easily incorporated into the Christian mythology of Satan. This tells us that when a natural archetype such as Pan is repressed, it becomes part of our shadow, only to reappear in a negative form outside of us, as the great enemy, a source of danger, suffering, and evil. In the case of Pan, however, the inner psychic struggle between instinct and consciousness, between our biology and what we might become, was then projected beyond the concept of Satan to the outer world of soul and Nature—the playing fields of Pan. What ensued has been an ongoing, archetypal battle between Light and Darkness, with wild nature, including the wild parts of ourselves, cast in the role of Darkness, a phenomenon to be conquered, civilized, and subdued.
The history of colonialism bears testimony to this claim, an example of which is the 1492 “discovery” of America by Columbus, the same year that Jews, by royal edict, were evicted from Spain. Barry Lopez writes “a process was set in motion that would lead to the incredible sixteenth-century atrocities by the conquistadors against the natives of the New World.” It was against those who lived close to Nature and to the animals. These atrocities were not confined to the Americas, by the way, but to almost every country where indigenous people were deemed by those who colonized them to be heathen, pagan, and in need of conversion to their way of thinking and to their notions of Nature and of God.
And what about the notion of Man as the apex of creation? A clue as to the perpetuation of this inflated belief can be found in the twenty-eighth verse of the first chapter of Genesis: be fruitful and multiply and replenish the Earth and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the face of the Earth.
At great cost, not only to ourselves but to the environment, we have taken this admonition all too literally. Looked at critically, it can be seen as an admonition for survival, and not without profound biological undertones either. It tells us that the enemy is out there, that we are the in-group, the champions, the blessed, and the inheritors of the Earth. It has played right into our genetically driven needs for territory, rank, status, security, esteem, attachment, and belonging—us versus them. Inevitably, it has reinforced the inf lated belief that human beings are at the cutting edge of creation. But it has done more. It has defined the other as different, to be subdued, and there-fore less than us. We have tended to regard the importance of “every living thing that moveth upon the Earth” not according to the intrinsic worth of all living things, but according to how useful they are to us. We have forgotten not only the meaning we derive from them, but, more importantly, the profound inf luence they have in our lives as soul makers.
If there was indeed a voice from the Greek Isles announcing that the great Pan was dead, how different is it from that of the eighteenth-century philosopher Nietzsche (1844-1900) who, in his book JoyousWisdom, shockingly announced “God is dead!” What did he mean and, in the light of an ecological intelligence, what—if anything—is its significance? Could it be that the voice of Pan is being heard once more, this time in the psyche of the human animal, telling us that the animals are within us, that every living thing is an expression of God and that we are the keepers of our zoo? For me, analyst Edward Edinger answers this question beautifully: “God has fallen out of heaven, and into the psyche of man. Each individual is now obliged to find his or her own unique relation to the numinosum.” In other words, each individual must find his or her own relationship to the religious experience. Then there is writer Thomas Elsner, who sees the “death of God” as the beginning of individuation in Jung’s sense of the word, and also the beginning of a process of transformation and a renewal of the God image itself. The “death of God” then, is the shedding of a skin.
It is time to shed our prejudices against things that are wild, untamed, or unconverted—more especially our animal nature. Historically, almost every animal—from the fabulous beasts, the phoenix, sphinx and centaur, to birds, sea creatures, insects, and domestic animals—has, in some way, struck a chord in the human psyche. How can we forget them? They are on our family crests and they are in our dreams. More than forty constellations in the southern night sky are named after them, and every other sports team has its animal totem.
In any modern home there is bound to be a picture, a painting, or a calendar that features some kind of nonhuman animal. We have toy animals, animal carvings, and animal stories. They are in our blood and in our imagination. And now, with the unraveling of the human genome, we have proof of a kinship of science and soul. And let’s not forget those animals that rarely feature on our family crests—hyenas, vultures, and the other shadow animals in our psyche. Let’s welcome them back again. After all, we named them. They, too, are our soul mates and we can learn a lot about ourselves from them. Life without animals would be unthinkable. It is what the poets and the shamans have been trying to tell us for years. Let’s remember our wild side.
So you see, if you fall into a lion’s pit the reason the lion will tear you to pieces is not because it’s hungry or because it’s bloodthirsty… but because you’ve invaded its territory.
Yann Martel, The Life Of Pi
One of the biggest intellectual challenges of the 21st century will be to construct unified images of human nature that do not denigrate our animal past or our future potentials as members of the human family.