From Shadow Work to Soul Craft
By Gary Z. McGee
“In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.” ~Jung
Shadow work is soul work. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something. All soul work must begin in shadow work, otherwise there is no depth, no roots, no core experience, no wholeness.
As the old Zen proverb states, “Before enlightenment, chop wood. After enlightenment, chop wood.” Likewise: before lightwork, shadow work. After lightwork, shadow work. Before carpe diem (seize the day), carpe noctem (seize the night). After carpe diem, carpe noctem.
What does it mean to seize the night? It means getting down and dirty with shadow work. It means facing your inner darkness, baptizing your inner beast, and assimilating your demons. It means leveraging a Dark Night of the Soul. It’s realizing that life is less about getting what you want and more about making the best of what you get.
As Shakespeare said, “You are an alchemist; make gold of that.” Make pearls out of your grit. Forge diamonds out of the coal. Create sharpness out of your dullness. Grow sacred wounds out of your pain. Transform shadow work into soul craft.
When you integrate your shadow, depth, rootedness, and stability are born. You become grounded, courageous, self-reliant, and more secure in your skin. A kind of antifragility emerges.
The ability to transform a negative into a positive manifests. Best of all, shadow work gives you purpose, and having a purpose quells fear. You become capable of using fear as fuel for living your most authentic life.
When you emerge from the cocoon of shadow reconciliation, you discover that you are no longer limited by boundaries, you are liberated by horizons.
Transform wounds into wisdom:
“The cure for the pain is in the pain.” ~Rumi
We are mortal mammals outflanked by entropy. We will die. This fact creates endless amounts of anxiety, angst, and existential pain. But these are not ailments. These are fundamental ingredients of the human condition. To be anxious is to be alive. To have angst is to be aware. To experience pain is to be human.
How could we not be anxious? How could we not feel angst and pain? Life is a sequence of impossible decisions veiled by uncertainty. We are fallible creatures cast out upon an infallible cosmic ocean without a boat, or even floaties.
As Colin Wilson said, “Death reveals to us that our lives have been one long miscalculation based on triviality.”
So, what do we do in the face of these gross miscalculations, these egregious trivialities? We should integrate the pain. We should reel in the angst and transform it into grace. We should honor the anxiety by employing it as a catalyst that can launch us into artistry and mastery. Pain is the medium of catharsis.
There is more wisdom in an inch of hard-earned scar than in a mile of easily gained knowledge.
We should practice existential masochism. Existential masochism is the pleasurable experience of transforming pain into strength. It’s seeing the obstacle as the path. It’s the empowering process of transforming our wounds into sacred wounds.
The wound becomes a sacred wound only when we allow it to sharpen us. We must move past self-pity. We must stiff-arm woe-is-me weakness. It’s our responsibility alone to rearrange the nightmare. We must become the wound in order to heal. We must make use of our suffering, or it will devour us.
The wound of yesterday has the potential to be the wisdom of tomorrow, but it must be reconciled in the present. This is soul craft.
Transform setbacks into steppingstones:
“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” ~George Bernard Shaw
The greatest art is created from the greatest mistakes. The pebble is a mistake to the oyster but a pearl to the master. The diamond in the rough is forged by the rough. Quality comes from quantity, and the quantity is almost always a plethora of mistakes that became steppingstones that led to quality.
As the old African proverb states, “Through mistakes one becomes wise.” Indeed.
The worst mistake of all is to stop making mistakes. The worst wrong of all is nonaction due to the fear of being wrong. This is a mistake of laziness. The best mistakes are mistakes of ambition. The courage to be wrong is daring to make mistakes that could lead to deeper curiosity, healthier action, more profound art, and a higher perspective that has the potential to broaden the view of humanity.
As Robert Greene said, “Timidity is dangerous. Better to enter with boldness. Any mistakes you commit through audacity are easily corrected with more audacity.”
We should never be afraid of being wrong or making mistakes. We should be afraid of never trying. We should be afraid of laziness. We should be afraid of procrastination.
The courage to be wrong keeps the human leitmotif open-ended. It transforms periods into question marks. It switches out one profound truth for another profound truth. It keeps things in perspective by allowing fallibilism to trump all other isms.
As Neil Gaiman said, “Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before.” Then transform those mistakes into high art. This is soul craft.
Transform victimhood into a Hero’s Journey:
“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.” ~Marcus Aurelius
We live in unhealthy cultures that tend to create victims. We have become abstract abstractions. Our cultural conditioning has us chasing our own tails, clogging up the clockwork, and forgetting that Nature and the huma soul are one. It’s all connected and yet we are disconnected from it all. We have become twice removed from cosmos and interconnectedness.
But as Albert Camus said, “The greatness of man lies in his decision to be stronger than his condition.”
What does it mean to become stronger than our condition? It means overcoming cultural conditioning. It means reconditioning our conditioning. It means, most of all, taking our own unique hero’s journey.
Civilization has made us soft. Domestication has transformed our wolf heart into a preened puppy. Adventure, challenge, and adversity is the cure.
Taking the hero’s journey is a way to break the cycle. It’s a way to transform our boring life. It’s a way to come alive despite a culture that seems to want to keep us half-dead.
We break the spell by looking at our life as a journey rather than a grind. We take the leash off our victimhood and replace it with the crown of a hero’s journey.
Taking the hero’s journey is daring to take the grit of our current self and test it against the rub of the universe. It’s taking the coal of our ego and testing it against the pressure of a challenging world. It’s taking the dullness of our life and sharpening it against the whetstone of adversity.
If we survive, then we’ll have become a pearl for the rub. We’ll have become a diamond for the pressure. We’ll have become sharper from the honing. But without the rub, the pressure, and the sharpening, all we would have is grit, coal, and dullness. All we’d have is a wasted life.
The Hero’s Journey is a whetstone. It’s a way of sharpening our character. It’s a way of testing our mettle against the crucible of a life well-lived. It’s a way of strengthening the muscle of the soul.
As Joseph Campbell wisely surmised, “The modern hero must not wait for his community to cast off its slough of pride, fear, rationalized avarice, and sanctified misunderstanding. ‘Live,’ Nietzsche says, ‘as though the day were here.’”
We must not wait to overcome our own threshold guardians, shadows, and dragons. We should live as though the day were here. We should pluck the strings of destiny, discover the magic elixir of competence, and then gift it back to the “tribe.”
Life is too short to remain a victim. And there are too many victims in need of a hero who can lead by example. The hero’s journey is that example. It’s a mighty beacon in the dark. It’s a beacon of darkness in the blinding light. It’s a psychosocial symbol for next-level transformation, individuation, self-actualization, and enlightenment. It’s soul craft in its purest form.
Image source: Compassion God by Sarper Baran
About the Author:
Gary Z McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide-awake view of the modern world.
This article (From Shadow Work to Soul Craft) was originally created and published by Self-inflicted Philosophy and is printed here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Gary Z McGee and self-inflictedphilosophy.com. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this statement of copyright.
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