Americans love Halloween, don’t you think? In fact, as our culture is increasingly polarized and each side seeks to be “purely” what they want to represent, the Halloween frenzy seems to increase. Halloween is a time to pretend we are someone else – usually some dark and sinister version of the pleasant and light version we reflect out into the world.
We each have both light and dark aspects of ourselves. And each aspect has its strength, beauty and benefit.
As a girl growing up in the Midwest in the 1950’s, I was repeatedly told that girls were supposed to “be nice.” “Nice” was the word given for characteristics such as calm, quiet, cooperative, polite, thoughtful, submissive, and considerate. If we were loud, aggressive, demanding, too honest, or called attention to ourselves, we were definitely “not nice.” A proclamation of “nice” would be accompanied by a smile, whereas when we were told, “that’s not nice,” a frown would follow. We were then expected to immediately snap to attention with a nicer version of ourselves.
As Robert Bly explains, as society rejected certain aspects of our personality or being, we hid them away in what he calls our “black bag.” Jungian psychology terms this our “shadow.” The more we try to portray ourselves as only “good,” the larger our shadow becomes. Although we believe we have safely put away these important aspects of ourselves, they manage to sneak out in our words and actions. They seek to again become a part of us and to bring with them the power, strength, discernment, and sense of wholeness that we once felt.
Many years ago, in a group on psychological wholeness, I made a series of masks that portrayed the wholeness of my own psyche. Although I am usually seen as a quiet and thoughtful person, there was a ferociousness in several of the masks. As I sat looking at them, I clearly recognized those “not nice” parts of myself. I realized they were the very parts that allowed me to get through the rigors of medical training, to leave bad relationships, to deliver powerful presentations, and to continually seek to serve people who are suffering.
Thinking back on my life, I recalled hours of playtime climbing trees and in other rough and tumble activities (definitely not nice), racing our bikes through the neighborhood, playing sports to win decisively. There was always an aggressive streak in me that was not welcomed but has served me well at many times.
As the trick-or-treaters show up at your doorstep tonight, I wonder which “dark and sinister” qualities you will recognize in yourself. How have those qualities served you? Is it time to welcome them back into your whole being, to no longer see them as negative and instead acknowledge that they bring an aliveness that you might have been missing?