A day of shadows and bags

March 14, 2016

I have said before, and I will say again, that I don’t really like to write about myself. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this, except maybe that it’s a bit of an awkward thing for a writer to feel, especially in the world of blogs and social media, both mediums that encourage and expect people to write about themselves.

Here’s an example of something I normally wouldn’t talk much about: I’m not religious. I am, however, quite spiritual, and I suspect (believe is too strong a word here) that consciousness is far too miraculous a thing to be entirely explained by the mundane, and could in fact be a universe in and of itself. I often find myself thinking that my death will be the end of my universe, and it is only those universes perceived by other consciousnesses that will go on. I don’t very often go out of my way to mention this (possibly because of the fact that there aren’t a whole lot of opportunities to open up about one’s deepest beliefs about existence). I’m not uncomfortable talking about it, I just don’t often see a point in bringing it up.

The list goes on. Moving from core beliefs to the more ordinary: I’m politically progressive, though fiscally conservative; I have the best parents in the world and am incredibly grateful for my upbringing; I am often driven by fear–I make hasty decisions to dive into things I’m afraid of, precisely because I’m afraid of them; I’m not very good at teamwork–I find working with myself more rewarding than working with others; I am a fan of board games, but my enthusiasm for them has been waning over the last year.

I take these things for granted. They are the walls of my personality, and like the walls of my apartment, are quite mundane to me; I don’t look for opportunities to talk to others about them, even though they could be objectively interesting to someone not used to seeing them.

Here is another example of a story that I wouldn’t normally talk about.

This morning I went for a walk, and listened to a podcast by Robert Bly about what Jung called our “shadow,” which is essentially a word used to describe the entirety of our subconscious. In his discussion of the shadow, Bly goes into a lot of detail about what he calls “the bag.” The bag is the place in our subconscious where we hide all of the parts of ourselves that others have told us are unacceptable or unwelcome. The idea is that, as small children, we are complete beings in contact with our entire personalities. At a certain age, our parents begin to tell us that certain things are not acceptable. “Don’t stare at people.” “Don’t tell stories.” If you’re a girl, “go make friends with that boy who treated you badly.” If you’re a boy, “only sissies cry when they get hurt.” We hear these messages and in our utter dependence on and trust in our parents, we suppress those aspects of our personality, so that they don’t come out. And then, as we grow, we forget they are a part of us. We continue to receive messages like these when we enter school, from our teachers, and later from our friends, and by the time we pass through the crucible of our teenage years, much of our personality has been stuffed into the bag and is no longer available to us.

As I listened to Bly talk, I wondered which parts of myself had been placed into the bag, and just how big my bag was. Was it the size of my living room? Or was it miles and miles long?

At some point, I got to wondering if this hesitance to share things about myself is caused by something in the bag, as opposed to a legitimate aspect of my personality.

I don’t know the answer. I don’t know why I’m comfortable talking about myself but don’t seek out opportunities to do so. It’s as if the opportunity, rather than the information, is what makes me uncomfortable.

And this, you see, is why Jung called it a shadow: it’s hard to see our own. It’s hard to evaluate ourselves when we’re so busy being ourselves. And it will always be hard. The shadow isn’t going away anytime soon, and neither is the bag. But they aren’t bad, especially once you recognize their presence in your life.

I believe that we are, each of us, on a journey of self-discovery that lasts for as long as we are alive. I think it is our life’s work to pay attention to the journey. I do not know if I will ever be comfortable talking about myself, but I do hope to someday understand why I am this way.

So what’s something you’ve learned about yourself recently? Something that surprised you, or that you’ve previously been resistant to? Please share!

And thanks for reading.