James W. Jesso is an activist promoting the use of psychedelics in mental health. He’s a podcast host, YouTuber and the author of Decomposing the Shadow. An excerpt from James’ book is found below.
The shadow was first introduced by psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung. As a part of his model of the human subconscious, the shadow is the personification of all the aspects of self that we avoid facing; all the aspects of self we choose to not deal with consciously. He felt that if the shadow is not addressed and integrated into a conscious understanding of self, it would become darker, denser, and we would not be able to become whole. This concept of the shadow has evolved since Jung presented it, and a variety of different perspectives on it, and its functional role, have since been presented.
As I have come to understand it, the shadow is one’s potential for dark emotional experiences—i.e., fear, anger, sadness, regret, selfishness, guilt, shame, etc. It refers to the amalgamation of all dark emotions. Many theories focus on one’s dark personality traits as being the shadow. I believe, however, the shadow is actually the emotional root associated to these traits, which are only a surface level manifestation of the shadow. They are unconscious reactions to the emotional potential for darkness that lay within, played out in accordance to the conditioning of the ego.
The surface level aspects of the shadow we can observe and relate to—i.e., personality traits such as a tendency to unconsciously manipulate others—are only the branches and leaves. It is in the depths of the emotional being that we find the roots of this darkness. In these depths we find the origins of chronic fear and the cultivation of psychospiritual maturity. Jung felt as though we cannot become whole if we do not understand and integrate the shadow. I feel this is because until we face the emotional darkness within, we will continue to play out unconscious conditioned patterns in order to avoid facing the shadow. We cannot become whole if there are elements of ourselves we evade. The result of this evasion is further emotional repression and the negative aspects of life associated with repression, such as dark personality traits portrayed through the conditioned reactions of the ego.
Facing the shadow is as important to psychospiritual growth as allowing for the emotive-psychosynthesis of repressed emotions and overcoming chronic fear. But the challenge of facing the shadow is a great one. It is the expression of all that we fear most within ourselves. Many are reluctant to even consider addressing this challenge. Instead, the reaction is to only focus on the light aspects of life, of “living in the love dimension”. It is important not to get weighted by the darkness of life, but to avoid responsibility for its presence is as destructive to psychospiritual maturation as wallowing in self-deprecation and judgment.
I feel many people choose to focus on this light rather than addressing the truth of their own darkness for two major reasons. The first is that the darkness inside of us is powerful and the longer we have avoided facing it, the darker and denser it becomes. Consequently, it becomes easier to center on the light than face the challenge of emotive-psychosynthesis and facing the shadow. The second is that we lack the personal experience of knowing we can face this darkness and so we do not see our courage. Both of these reasons are expressions of chronic fear, and later, we will discuss how they can be addressed through conscious work with psilocybin mushrooms.
Until we face the shadow, address the truth of darkness, and become aware of how this darkness is playing out in our lives, we will condemn ourselves to being creatures of impulsive evasion, repression, and reactivity. These impulses will work against psychospiritual growth and negatively affect the people around us—as is the case in manifested judgment, which is an obvious expression of evaded darkness—but one people may not fully understand.
For more information on James and his book, Decomposing the Shadow, click here.