Face the shadow side of yourself, but do not identify with it. It represents only part of who you are. Totally identifying with the shadow leads to much evil in the world. If you live there, you will be driven and motivated by fear, guilt, shame, and even malice. So there is a difference between relating to the denied parts of yourself (bringing light to them), and totally “acting them out” (which is to leave them in their unconscious and dark state). This is why it is so foundational to know yourself, and to learn to be honest about your real motivations.
When we meet our shadow self, our response should not be anger or surprise as much as sadness. I am sure this is what so many of our saints meant by “weeping over their sins,” which to most of us seemed a bit dramatic—or impossible. We can experience days of deep sorrow after encountering what we’ve denied in ourselves for a long time. We get a glimpse of how broken and needy we are. It is a huge humiliation to the ego, and so most people just refuse to do much shadowboxing.
The hero in us wants to attack, fix, or deny the existence of our dark side. We can also be tempted to share dramatically everything about it as a way to control it (sometimes called ventilating or dumping). The saint merely weeps over the shadow and forgives it—and by God’s grace forgives himself for being a mere human. He opens his arms to that which has been in exile and welcomes it home for the friend that it often is.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, On the Threshold of Transformation: Daily Meditations for Men, p. 201, day 195
Prayer: I long for the light.