“My memory of Thanksgiving is the one where you were working on a paper and your mom was asleep on the couch while I was trying to make dinner with a new born screaming at the top of her lungs.” At my insistence that I had forgotten about that time, my wife reassured me that I should never forget. This was puzzling to me as I truly had forgotten about that scene nearly twenty years before, even though my wife has reminded me every Thanksgiving in which I have had homework (what can I say, I like to go to school). What is puzzling is that I do remember when she reminds me, but I all to quickly forget the memory (and apparently didn’t learn to not procrastinate on my homework during Thanksgiving break). Why do I repress this uncomfortable memory? According to Daniel Z. Lieberman’s book, SpellBound, It is the mystery of the unconscious and my shadow side that I would rather not access.
SpellBound and The Dark Side
SpellBound dives deep into the often unexplored aspect of the mind, the unconscious, arguing that its effects are evident in our lives even if not within our conscious awareness that can be described as a type of “possession.”. The book explores how the unconscious aspect of ourselves works, and the ways that magic and ancient stories reveal insights into the unconscious. Lieberman weaves the work of Carl Jung, ancient stories, symbolism and modern science to shine light into this unexplored part of our lives.
One level of the unconsciousness that is near the known conscious level is called “personal unconscious.” This is the part of ourselves that was once known but has become repressed, like an old memory of a terrible Thanksgiving. This “shadow side” is the entry point into the deeper regions of the unconscious that need to be access if one is to come to terms with their true character and seek to integrate toward transcendence.. That means, unfortunately, I would need to come to terms with the shadow part of myself that procrastinates and may be a bit self centered and self involved (ouch).
This, of course, made me think of the iconic scene in Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back when Luke faces his worst fear, his dark side. As this was scene was flooding my mind, I came to the section where Lieberman makes the case that we have to “harness the power of the shadow” to be our fully integrated selves and how Han was the more interesting character in Star Wars because of this. This resonated with my experience as I have had numerous times in which I harnessed what I affectionately called, “dark side energy” to accomplish tasks when I felt slighted by someone else. I resonated with Lieberman’s example of the student who channeled their anger to achieve results that would have taken significantly longer without the shadow aiding the pursuit.. Until reading Lieberman, I felt ashamed by the motivation but I enjoyed the benefit of the heightened concentration and productivity.
Integrating The Shadow
This makes me wonder if it is possible to access this kind of motivation without having to be triggered by an event or a person? Lieberman argues that the integration of the shadow and conscious self is the place of growth, although it “contains even more treasure and more danger.”. I can see the danger of digging deeper into the “dark side” of what has provided the burst of focused motivation and coming to terms with why those have been relegated to the shadow side of my unconsciousness, yet that is the uncomfortable journey toward growth. It is Luke going into the cave to face the danger waiting for him.
While I negotiate my journey into the cave, one thing I know is that Thanksgiving is not the time to do homework. While I might be hesitant to face my shadow side, I have heard my wife loud and clear. That is motivation enough to finish my homework this Thanksgiving.
1. Daniel Z Lieberman, Spellbound (BenBella Books, 2022), p. 7.
3. Ibid., 104.
5. Ibid., 104-105.
6. Ibid., 113-116.
7. Ibid., 113.
8. Ibid., 116.